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Pinochet ceremony draws thousands

Farewell follows night of violence

SANTIAGO -- Thousands of mourners honored General Augusto Pinochet yesterday, many weeping as they kissed his glass-topped casket in a military ceremony that exposed deep divisions over the legacy of his 17-year dictatorship.

The ceremony followed a violent night of clashes that left 43 police officers injured and led to the arrests of 99 demonstrators. The fights between Pinochet's supporters and opponents capped a jubilant evening for thousands of Chileans who took to the streets to celebrate his death Sunday at age 91.

This is a time "to pray for the soul of General Pinochet, but also for the soul of Chile," Santiago Archbishop Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz said.

Waiting for hours to view his coffin inside the Santiago Military Academy, the crowd sang the national anthem and criticized President Michelle Bachelet for denying Pinochet a national mourning period and full state funeral befitting a former president.

Bachelet relegated the former army commander to his military past by ordering flags flown at half-staff only at military barracks, and sending her defense minister to the ceremony in her stead.

"Chile cannot forget," Bachelet said in her first public comments about Pinochet's death. "Only then will we have a constructive vision of our future, guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of all Chileans."

Like tens of thousands of other Chileans, Bachelet was herself a victim of the Pinochet security state. Her father died after being tortured by Pinochet's forces. She and her mother were jailed, mistreated, and forced into exile.

"Pinochet is not a figure who encourages national unity," said Interior Minister Belisario Velasco. History will view him as "a classic right-wing dictator who gravely violated human rights and who enriched himself -- that's the pattern of right-wing dictators in Latin America."

Government officials said Pinochet did not deserve the state funeral because he took power by force and was never elected.

Pinochet will be cremated to avoid desecration of his tomb by "people who always hated him," said his younger son, Marco Antonio Pinochet.

The general's followers called the government's stance mean-spirited. "Pinochet was a real president, not what we have now," said retiree Jose Erazo, after viewing the open coffin.

Carlos Larrain, president of the far-right Independent Democratic Union party, said "it's absurd to deny Pinochet was president. That's like trying to cover the sun with one finger."

Sergio Melnick, a minister under Pinochet, said "the government has lost a chance to show some greatness."

Pinochet's family, however, does not want anyone from the current government to attend his funeral today. "I do not want any hypocritical acts," his son said. "My father has not been forgotten and is a man who is loved," he added, referring to the thousands filing by his coffin yesterday.

Many of the retired general's loyalists praised Pinochet for toppling elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973 and ruling Chile with a firm hand in the years that followed.

But Pinochet's fervent supporters represent a dwindling minority in Chile. Many who endorsed his firm hand against communism turned against him after learning that his family allegedly spirited $28 million into foreign accounts.

His death puts an end to hundreds of criminal complaints over human rights violations.

However, his wife, Luicia Hiriart, and four of his five children still face charges of tax evasion and using false passports to manage the family's overseas fortune, and Pinochet's colleagues still may be held accountable for human rights abuses under the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

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