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Sep 11, 5:03 PM EDT

Chile marks 41st anniversary of military coup

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AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo
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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- President Michelle Bachelet marked Thursday's anniversary of the 1973 military coup that toppled Marxist President Salvador Allende by urging Chileans to come forward with any information they might have about people forcibly disappeared during the country's dictatorship.

About 40,000 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons during the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and about 1,000 of them have never been found.

"Forty-one years have passed and the witnesses, survivors and victims who saved their own lives are now elderly people," Bachelet said. "Many of them have died waiting for justice. Many have died in silence. We've had enough of painful waiting and unjustified silences. This is the time to join together in the search for truth."

The complex structures that Pinochet created to protect human rights violators have been falling. About 700 military officials face trial for the forced disappearance of dissidents, and about 70 have been jailed for crimes against humanity.

Still, Chileans remain divided over Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship, and the coup anniversary is often marked by violence. Officials reported Thursday that vandals clashed with police overnight, throwing rocks and gasoline bombs and setting up flaming barricades. A public bus was burned. Police arrested 21 people and said at least one officer was injured.

Tensions have been high since a bomb blast in Santiago on Monday injured 14 people at an underground shopping mall connected to a subway station. It was Chile's worst such attack in more than two decades.

"If there's a lesson to be learned from the 1973 coup it is that in Chile, there's no room for violence," Bachelet said at La Moneda presidential palace. "In Chile there's no space for fear."

Bachelet was joined later by Allende's daughter, Senate leader Isabel Allende, in a ceremony remembering the late president and other coup victims.

During the coup, fighter jets attacked La Moneda, and tanks and soldiers surrounded the building as it burst into flames. Allende, who had been elected in 1970, killed himself rather than surrender to coup plotters led by Pinochet.

The coup was initially supported by many Chileans fed up with hyperinflation, food shortages and factory takeovers. But it destroyed a political and economic system they had proudly described as Latin America's most solid democracy.

Pinochet cut short Allende's reforms. He privatized pension and water systems, slashed trade barriers and encouraged exports, building a free-market model credited for Chile's fast economic growth and institutional stability.

But the prosperity came at a high cost. Pinochet shut down Congress, outlawed political parties and sent thousands of dissidents into exile.


Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report.

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