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Friday, March 6, 1998 Published at 14:49 GMT

World: Americas

Chilean protests over "Senator" Pinochet
image: [ President Frei: appeals to Chileans to abide by the constitution ]
President Frei: appeals to Chileans to abide by the constitution

Chilean President Eduardo Frei has appealed to his people to honour the constitution and accept the former dictator General Augusto Pinochet as a senator for life.

"We oppose the existence of non-elected senators," the President said. "But let's be clear: the constitution establishes the existence of appointed senators and senators for life and everybody knows that our repeated efforts to amend the constitution have been frustrated."

[ image: General Pinochet: fresh controversy]
General Pinochet: fresh controversy
The right-wing opposition has blocked efforts by two civilian governments to amend the constitution.

President Frei made clear that he personally was strongly opposed to the move.

But he warned that refusing General Pinochet's constitutional right to a senate seat "could weaken the progress we have made" in restoring Chile's democracy.

General Pinochet, who seized power in a bloody 1973 coup and held the presidency for 17 years, must give up his position as military commander this year.

But the constitution, which he drew up, allows him to become a life senator.

Thousands died or disappeared

The Pinochet regime is said to have killed nearly 3,200 people for political reasons, including some 1,000 dissidents arrested by security services and never seen again, according to the civilian government that succeeded the dictatorship.

[ image: Protester is led away]
Protester is led away
General Pinochet, 82, surrendered the presidency in 1990 and plans to step down as army commander on Tuesday and assume a senate seat.

He has the support of the right wing, but members of the government centre-left ruling coalition are mobilising against him.

The anti-Pinochet campaign includes a planned impeachment attempt by members of Mr Frei's Christian Democratic Party.

The President has said he opposes such a move, "although I deeply feel the injustices and human rights abuses (that) occurred" under Pinochet.

Other legislators have formally asked the senate not to allow the former dictator to be sworn in.

Final salute on Tuesday

[ image: A Pinochet supporter]
A Pinochet supporter
A debate on the subject is expected to take place on Tuesday, as General Pinochet leads a solemn army farewell ceremony at the Santiago military academy.

Neither move appears to have any chance of blocking the seat because the right wing, which still supports General Pinochet, holds a majority in the senate.

Labour and student organisations were planning anti-Pinochet, including one in the port city of Valparaiso.

The former dictator is due to be sworn shortly after leaving the army he has commanded for a quarter of a century.

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