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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006, 22:49 GMT
Pinochet 'takes responsibility'
Gen Augusto Pinochet (r) and his wife Lucia Hiriart (l)
Gen Pinochet's wife Lucia Hiriart (l) read out his birthday statement

Chile's former military ruler Augusto Pinochet has said he takes political responsibility for everything that happened during his 18 years in power.

In the statement read by Gen Pinochet's wife on his 91st birthday, he defended his bloody 1973 coup, saying he had acted in Chile's best interests.

More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" while Gen Pinochet was in power from 1973 to 1990.

He is facing indictments in two cases of human rights abuses and tax evasion.

"Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all," the statement read by his wife Lucia Hiriart said.

"I take political responsibility for everything that was done."

Mariachi band

The general said his bloody overthrow of the democratically-elected Salvador Allende had "no other motive than to make Chile a great place and prevent its disintegration".

His wife read the statement from the porch of their home in suburban Santiago.

Gen Pinochet could be seen sitting behind her. Later he stood to wave to a crowd of supporters, including a mariachi band which played his favourite song El Rey (The King).

His statement condemned the ongoing trials of military officers, including himself, for the human rights abuses committed under his rule.

He said they had prevented a political and economic crisis.

"Thanks to their courage and decision, Chile moved from the totalitarian threat to the full democracy which we restored and which all our compatriots enjoy."

Gen Pinochet is facing indictments on two cases involving human rights abuses and tax evasion, and there are other suits pending.

He was briefly under house arrest earlier in November for alleged human rights abuses committed at the infamous Villa Grimaldi detention centre.

He enjoys legal immunity as a former president, but the courts can strip him of this privilege on a case-by-case basis. This has happened in a number of human rights and financial cases.

Gen Pinochet has yet to be cleared or convicted in any of the cases, some of which have been dropped because of his ill health.

His lawyers have argued he is too infirm to stand trial.

General Pinochet's wife reads out his statement

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