| Allende became Chile's first socialist president when he came to power in 1970 [Reuters]
Chile is launching its first investigation into the death of President Salvador Allende, 37 years after the socialist leader was found shot through the head during an attack on the presidential palace.
Allende's death, during the bloody US-backed coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power on September 11, 1973, had until now been ruled a suicide.
The investigation is part of an investigation into hundreds of complaints of human rights abuses during Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.
Beatriz Pedrals, a prosecutor in the appellate court in Santiago, said on Thursday that she had decided to investigate 726 deaths that had never previously been explored, including Allende's.
"What has not been investigated, the courts will investigate ... This will finally establish what happened," she said.
'More than important'
Chile's "truth commission" reported in 1991 that the Pinochet dictatorship killed 3,797 people. Most of those cases have been investigated, leading to human rights trials for about 600 military figures and a small number of civilian collaborators.
The task of investigating the previously unexamined 726 deaths now falls on Mario Carroza, an experienced investigative judge who already is handling hundreds of other human rights cases.
Judge Carroza described it as "work that is more than important, a tremendous responsibility".
He told reporters that he would seek information from a variety of sources, including a judge now investigating the deaths of Allende's comrades, who disappeared after surrendering to the military outside the palace.
Allende became Chile's first socialist president when he came to power in 1970 after winning a narrow
election victory. But his ascent to power was not welcomed by all.
Conservatives in Chile and Washington feared his attempts to pave "a Chilean way toward Socialism" - including the nationalisation of US mining interests - would usher in a pro-Soviet communist government.
Henry Kissinger, US secretary of state under then president Richard Nixon, made quite clear what US intentions were after Allende's election.
"The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves ... I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," Kissinger said at the time.
Allende was found dead in the presidential palace as soldiers supporting the coup closed in and warplanes bombed the building.
An official autopsy ruled that he had committed suicide, although the results have long been questioned by some politicians and human rights groups.
Osvaldo Andrade, the president of Allende's Socialist Party, applauded the decision to investigate.
"Truth and justice remains a pending subject in Chile and whatever is done so that the truth comes out will always be well received by us,'' Andrade said.
"There remains a deficit of truth and a deficit of justice in Chile and we hope that the deficit becomes ever more small.''
Pinochet governed as a dictator until March 11, 1990, and died in 2006.