Rival protests are being held in Chile’s capital ahead of the 50th anniversary of a military coup that ousted the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.
“The crowds have been very very mixed and so have their messages. It’s been a very violent day so far,” Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Santiago, said on Sunday.
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“It was mayhem,” she said.
More than 3,200 people were killed or “disappeared” – abducted and presumed killed – by Pinochet’s security forces. About 38,000 were tortured during his 17-year dictatorship. The general died of a heart attack on December 10, 2006, aged 91. He was never tried in court.
Sunday’s march through the streets of the capital to the general cemetery that houses a memorial to the victims of Pinochet’s brutal regime, stopped briefly at the presidential palace, La Moneda, where then-president Allende was overthrown on September 11, 1973.
Leftist President Gabriel Boric joined the procession of some 5,000 people, according to the government – becoming the first leader of Chile since the end of the dictatorship in 1990 to do so.
“When the leftist president, who has a coalition similar to the one Allende had 50 years ago, started to honour the former president, people dressed in black balaclavas came throwing stones and almost broke into the presidential palace,” Al Jazeera’s Newman said.
Inside the cemetery, some mausoleums were damaged, including the tomb of a right-wing senator killed in 1991.
“Those responsible for this violence are adversaries of the government,” said Deputy Interior Secretary Manuel Monsalve, adding three police officers had been injured.
Three people were arrested, authorities said.
“We are hearing that members of the Communist Party and Socialist Party are peacefully marching while others [who support Pinochet] are carrying rocks and Molotov cocktails,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.
“So, it’s becoming a day of not a peaceful march in homage to what happened 50 years ago to reject military coups, but rather yet another day of violence, unfortunately.”
The bulk of the participants, bearing Chilean flags and chanting slogans such as “Truth and justice now!” or “Allende lives!”, marched peacefully.
“September 11 is a date that fills us with memories but also gives us some anguish, because instead of advancing, we have regressed,” 76-year-old Patricia Garzon, a former political prisoner, told AFP along the route.
“With this march, we remember that 1973 broke democracy in Chile, and now we continue fighting to maintain and strengthen it,” added Luis Pontigo, 72, a retired teacher.
In the morning, Boric inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to Allende’s memory at La Moneda, in the presence of the deceased Marxist leader’s family members.