General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Chile's democratically elected leftist president in a bloody coup and ruled this Andean nation for 17 years, died on Sunday at age 91, dashing hopes of victims of his regime's abuses that he would be brought to justice.
Pinochet was hospitalized with a heart attack on December 3 and underwent an angioplasty to improve blood flow. His death was announced by the Santiago Military Hospital. Doctors said relatives were by his side.
Supporters of the former dictator, some of them weeping, stood at the entrance to the hospital, chanting "Pinochet! Pinochet! Long Live Pinochet!" Some reacted angrily to anti-Pinochet motorists passing by.
Chile's government says at least 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during his rule, but after leaving the presidency in 1990 Pinochet escaped hundreds of criminal complaints because of his declining physical and mental health.
Pinochet took power on September 11, 1973, demanding an unconditional surrender from President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace in downtown Santiago. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.
As the mustachioed Pinochet crushed dissent during his 1973-90 rule, he left little doubt about who was in charge. "Not a leaf moves in this country if I'm not moving it," he once said.
But when it came to his regime's abuses, Pinochet refused for years to take responsibility, saying any murders of political prisoners were the work of subordinates.
Then on his 91st birthday less than a month before his death he took "full political responsibility for everything that happened" during his long reign. The statement read by his wife, however, made no reference to the rights abuses.
Pinochet, born November 25, 1915, as the son of a customs official in the port of Valparaiso, was commander of the army at the time of the 1973 coup, appointed 19 days earlier by the president he toppled.
The US Central Intelligence Agency had tried for months to destabilize the Allende government, including financing a truckers strike that paralyzed the delivery of goods across Chile, but Washington denied having anything to do with the coup.
In the days following Pinochet's seizure of power, soldiers carried out mass arrests of leftists. Tanks rumbled through the streets of the capital.
Many detainees, including Americans Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, were herded into the National Stadium, which became a torture and detention centre. The Americans were among those executed by the Chilean military, their deaths chronicled in the 1982 film "Missing."
Source: China Daily