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Chilean Generals Support Pinochet

March 7, 1998

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Chilean generals pledged continuing loyalty Friday to outgoing commander Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator who faces growing criticism over his new role as senator for life.

The decision by Chile’s powerful military to declare the 82-year-old soldier its ``meritorious commander-in-chief″ was a symbolic gesture, but it reflected the military’s support for Pinochet as he assumes his Senate position.

This is ``a commitment of gratitude, backing and support forever,″ said Gen. Rafael Villarroel, Pinochet’s second in command, to the applause of some 2,000 officers and their families.

When he formally steps down Tuesday as the top military commander, a post he has held for a quarter of a century, Pinochet will become senator for life, authorized in the Constitution written by his military government.

The government did not immediately react to the generals’ declaration, but Pinochet’s opponents said it will have no practical effect.

``This kind of statement has nothing to do with the democratic period we are living now,″ said Christian Democratic congressman Juan Carlos Latorre.

Pinochet’s critics, many of them pro-government politicians, say a man who shut down Congress during a military coup has no place in the legislature.

Despite the criticism, President Eduardo Frei said this week said Pinochet’s right to enter the Senate is mandated by the Constitution.

Pinochet seized power in a bloody coup in 1973 and the military ruled Chile until elections were allowed in 1990. More than 3,000 people were killed for political reasons during the military regime, according to an official report.

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