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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 03:51 GMT
Pinochet funeral reopens wounds
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Santiago

The gun carriage carrying the coffin of Gen Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet's coffin was driven away by a horse drawn carriage
At first sight, the Chilean capital, Santiago, with its high rise office blocks, designer boutiques and streets crammed with brand new 4x4s has moved a long way from military rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

But with the death on Sunday of former military ruler Augusto Pinochet, aged 91, the wounds caused during his 17 years of rule appear to have reopened.

His funeral on Tuesday, at the military academy in Santiago, attracted thousands of supporters.

Four thousand family members, close friends and Chilean dignitaries had pride of place in the patio of the school from where Gen Pinochet's coffin was driven away by a horse drawn carriage.

Angry supporters

It was a military funeral. The socialist government of Michelle Bachelet, herself a prisoner under military rule, didn't think it appropriate to grant state honours to a man who was not elected president.

Without General Pinochet we would have been another Cuba or Russia, but even worse
Pinochet supporter

Outside, on the sun drenched streets, supporters waving Chilean flags were angry with the government for that decision.

They hurled abuse at the defence minister, Vivianne Blanlot, when she arrived at the funeral to represent the government. President Bachelet did not attend.

Many supporters were carrying photographs of their former leader, some with the word Gracias - thank you - printed across them. But thank-you for what?

"He gave us everything," said one man. "Without General Pinochet we would have been another Cuba or Russia, but even worse."

"We were suffering a civil war," said a middle-aged woman, her jacket decorated with badges bearing Augusto Pinochet's photograph.

"People get killed in civil wars but everyone forgets about the soldiers and policemen who died. Please tell the truth about our country."

'Cheated of justice'

A lot of anger from Pinochet's supporters is directed at foreign journalists, whom they accuse of distorting the story.

Soldiers remove the uniform and flag from Gen Pinochet's coffin
Gen Augusto Pinochet took power in a bloody coup in 1973

"You're all liars," shouted a group of well-dressed middle-aged women draped in Chilean flags outside the military school. "All you write about is human rights abuses."

Some supporters admit that human rights abuses took place under Gen Pinochet's rule but say they were exaggerated or he knew nothing about them or they were necessary at a time of great conflict.

More than 3,000 Chileans were tortured and killed by Gen Pinochet's police and soldiers after he took power in a bloody coup in 1973, overthrowing the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. Thousands more were tortured or fled into exile.

The survivors and the families of those who were killed feel that the former president's death has cheated them of the chance to bring Gen Pinochet to justice.

Several charges of human rights abuses and fraud have been levelled against him in recent years.

But each time he managed to convince the authorities that he was too sick to stand trial.

No collaboration

Lorena Pizarro, the president of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, said so much more still needs to be done.

"The armed forces in this country have never collaborated in trying to investigate the human rights abuses committed during the years of the dictatorship, the repression.

"The military should not honour him. No one should honour him - least of all the army," she said.

"The only kind of army that would grant honours is an army that collaborated.

"If this was a democratic army that supported a real democracy, which in Chile we don't have, then they would not be granting honours."

Chile is a modern country with a thriving economy and the majority of the people here were probably hoping that the death of Gen Pinochet would allow them to move forward and put the past behind them.

They see him as a historical figure, barely relevant to their lives today - but that does not appear to be the case.

Mourners pay their last respects to Gen Pinochet

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