Catholic dictator dies, state funeral denied

A Chilean Cardinal has led the first of several religious ceremonies planned for General Augusto Pinochet, who died yesterday, but there will be no state funeral for the late Catholic dictator who took power in Chile's own "September 11".

The Associated Press reports that hundreds of supporters of General Pinochet, many in tears, filed past the wooden coffin for the ex-dictator, who was denied a state funeral normally granted to former presidents.

While Pinochet's relatives mourned his death Sunday from heart failure at age 91, his many opponents celebrated with champagne and lamented that he escaped justice for the torture and killings that marked his 17 years in power after a bloody coup on 11 September 1973.

Police surrounded key buildings and intersections Monday to prevent more of the violent protests that spread past midnight to several working class districts.

Deputy Interior Minister Felipe said 43 police officers were injured and 99 demonstrators were arrested in the clashes, which were blamed on a small contingent of the thousands of demonstrators who jammed streets to denounce Pinochet's legacy.

In lieu of a state funeral, Pinochet was granted only military honours at the Santiago Military Academy, and he will be cremated on Tuesday to avoid desecration of his tomb by "people who always hated him," said his son, Marco Antonio.

Flags were lowered to half-mast at military facilities only, and President Michelle Bachelet, who was jailed as a young woman and lost her father during Pinochet's takeover, said it would be "a violation of my conscience" to attend a state funeral.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz led the first of several religious ceremonies at the academy. The Chilean flag was placed on top of the coffin, along with Pinochet's blue military hat and gala uniform jacket. Visitors kissed the glass of the coffin, crying openly.

Pinochet took power in 1973 demanding an unconditional surrender from democratically elected President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.

The US had been working to destabilise Allende's Marxist government, but the world reacted in horror as Santiago's main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners to be tortured, killed or forced into exile after Pinochet came into power.

Although his dictatorship laid the groundwork for South America's most stable economy, Pinochet will be remembered as the archetype of the era's repressive rulers who proliferated throughout Latin America and, in many cases, were secretly supported by the US.

Chile's government says at least 3,197 people were killed or "disappeared" for political reasons during Pinochet's rule, but courts allowed the aging general to escape hundreds of criminal complaints as his health declined.

In a statement read by his wife on his 91st birthday, General Pinochet said he accepted "political responsibility" for acts committed during his rule, Canada.com noted.

"Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else," his statement said.

Chile's Gen Pinochet dies at 91 (BBC News, 11/12/06)
Hundreds pay respects to Chilean ex-dictator Pinochet at military ceremony (Canada.com, 11/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Chile military coup 1973 (Wikipedia)

Pinochet bailed over coup priest "disappearance" (10/11/06)
Pinochet asks for forgiveness, wife says after anniversary Mass (CathNews, 11/9/06)
Chilean Bishops ask Pinochet cooperation in human rights lawsuits (CathNews, 12/3/00)
Pope's support for court being undermined says former Australian minister (19/4/99)

12 Dec 2006