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Chileans March in Coup Anniversary

September 11, 2000

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Thousands of Chileans marched in a downpour Sunday to recall the 27th anniversary of the bloody coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, demanding the former dictator be brought to trial.

Amid a heavy police presence, demonstrators walked 2 1/2 miles from downtown Santiago to the cemetery where Salvador Allende, the Marxist president who committed suicide during the coup against him, lies buried.

Cold and a steady rain did not dampen the spirits of the leftists, human rights activists and families of those who died during Pinochet’s dictatorship, many of whom carried banners demanding his prosecution. Police said between 4,000 and 5,000 people took part in the march.

The way was opened this summer to the possibility of a Pinochet trial _ something long viewed as inconceivable _ when the general was stripped of the immunity from prosecution that he enjoyed as a senator for life. The Supreme Court announced in August that it upheld a lower court decision to end the immunity.

An official report after Pinochet left power in 1990 said 3,197 people died or disappeared under his right-wing military regime.

Allende killed himself on Sept. 11, 1973, rather than surrender to the coup leaders as the takeover was in under way. Pinochet took power and ruled for more than 16 years.

On Sunday, socialists gathered on the side of the presidential palace at the exact site where Allende’s body was found 27 years ago.

In other commemorations, socialist President Ricardo Lagos attended a Roman Catholic Mass to remember Allende in the chapel at the presidential palace, La Moneda. He was joined by Allende’s widow, Hortensia Bussi, Cabinet ministers and others.

Following the service, socialist Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza said he had never seen the former strongman ``shed a tear″ for any of the abuses committed under his rule.

Pinochet and leaders of the armed forces have said all along that there has never been any reason to ask forgiveness for what occurred. The former dictator has said he was fighting to save Chile from chaos when he took power.

Some 170 criminal complaints have been filed against Pinochet and are now being investigated by a federal prosecutor, Judge Juan Guzman.

Among those cases, his opponents want to try Pinochet for the October 1973 disappearances of 19 dissidents who were plucked from their jail cells shortly after the coup and never seen again.

Myrella Garcia, who belongs to a group of families whose relatives disappeared under the dictatorship, said this anniversary still ``fills us with pain.″

But in apparent allusion to Pinochet’s legal battles, she said ``this year there is more hope and joy.″

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