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1973: President overthrown in Chile coup

President Salvador Allende of Chile, the world's first democratically-elected Marxist head of state, has died in a revolt led by army leaders.

One report says the 64-year-old leader committed suicide rather than surrender to the commanders of the armed forces and the paramilitary police.

Air Force planes attacked the presidential palace with rockets and bombs and tanks opened fire after President Allende rejected an initial demand for his resignation.

According to military sources, Dr Allende asked for a five-minute ceasefire in order to resign. But the armed forces said that was impossible because snipers loyal to the president were operating from buildings near the presidential palace.

Economic crisis

At least 17 bombs were dropped in an attack on the palace, one of which scored a direct hit.

Martial law has been declared throughout the country, a curfew has been imposed and the carrying of guns has been banned.

Although Dr Allende called on his followers to support him, there appeared to be little organised resistance.

Troops blasted buildings in the city centre around the presidential palace in an attempt to dislodge pro-Allende snipers. Helicopters repeatedly machine-gunned the top floors of buildings near the British Embassy.

Bullets ripped through the windows of the embassy - but no-one was reported hurt.

Thousands of workers are said to be marching on Santiago from the north, despite a warning any resistance would be met with air and ground fire.

Opposition to President Allende has been growing for months. He was elected to power in 1970 with only 36% of the vote. He has not held a majority in Congress and gradually his authority has been eroded.

His attempts to re-structure the nation's economy have led to soaring inflation and food shortages. A prolonged strike by lorry drivers who opposed his plans for nationalisation has recently been joined by shopkeepers angry they have nothing to sell.

President Allende brought senior army officers into his government last month in an attempt to head off a revolt.

But the final crunch came three days ago when the two major opposition parties called for the President's resignation.

In Context
General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean Commander-in-Chief and a member of the military junta, appointed himself the new President. His Cabinet was made up almost entirely of military men.

President Allende's widow and a number of his other supporters were granted political asylum in the Mexican Embassy and flew to Mexico five days later.

Reports claimed thousands had died - but the military junta said fewer than 100 people lost their lives in the CIA-backed uprising.

It is still not clear whether President Allende committed suicide.

General Pinochet's regime was characterised by brutal repression and 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during his 17 years in charge.

He died aged 91 in Santiago in December 2006.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death.


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