Dozens of people were injured in Chile's capital Santiago on Sunday after fierce clashes broke out between riot police and hundreds protesting the screening of a documentary glorifying the former military regime of General Augusto Pinochet, media reports citing officials said.
Police used tear gas and water cannons after angry anti-Pinochet demonstrators attacked security personnel following clashes with supporters of the former military junta. Officials said the violence left dozens injured and caused massive collateral damage.
According to officials, thousands of anti-Pinochet demonstrators gathered in the city as the controversial documentary was being screened at the Caupolican theater in central Santiago and began attacking security personnel as well as the ex-dictator's supporters who had arrived in the city for watching the film.
Earlier, the film's screening had brought the largest gathering of Pinochet supporters as well as right-wing politicians and former military officials after the death of the former dictator in 2006. Organizers of the event said they were attempting to show that Pinochet was not a ruthless dictator as portrayed by his opponents and the the media.
While the anti-Pinochet demonstrators, mainly relatives of the victims of the autocratic ruler, were outraged by his glorification in the controversial documentary, his supporters insisted on their right to free speech and expression.
The former General's grandson Augusto Pinochet Molina, who was present at the theater for the screening, said: "This is not just an homage to my grandfather, I believe it is an homage to the entire military junta. My grandfather was the leader of this government but I tell you, it wasn't just his work."
Pinochet came to power in Chile on September 11, 1973 after leading a coup against the country's democratically-elected Marxist President Salvador Allende. He remained in power in the Andean nation until 1990.
Thousands of political rivals and dissidents were jailed or tortured during Pinochet's tyrannical rule. While some of the detainees were killed while in prison, hundreds disappeared or were forced into exile.
Pinochet died in December 2006 without ever facing trial for crimes committed while in power during which more than 3,000 people died, 28,000 were tortured and about 200,000 fled into exile. The presence of hundreds for screening of the documentary indicates the support the former despot still has in the divided Andean nation even after his death more than five years ago.
Although a vast majority of Chileans still see Pinochet as a brutal tyrant who tortured and killed hundreds of his political opponents while in power, a small section of the society believe that he saved the country from Communism.
Some Chileans still believe that Salvador Allende, who was ousted by Pinochet, was a Marxist determined to turn Chile into another Cuba. Allende's Left-leaning radical policies had divided the Chilean society and incensed the U.S., which backed the coup that eventually ousted him.
by RTT Staff Writer
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