Screening of Pinochet documentary sets off riot in Chilean capital

Police stop protestors from reaching a theater filled with the dictator's admirers

A Pinochet supporter is attacked by a demonstrator Sunday in Santiago.
A Pinochet supporter is attacked by a demonstrator Sunday in Santiago.VÍCTOR RUIZ CABALLERO (AP)

More than two dozen people were seriously injured and 64 were arrested after a riot broke out in Santiago on Sunday during a screening of a new documentary honoring the late dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Twenty of those injured were carabineros military police officers, according to Chilean authorities.

Some 1,000 people showed up at Santiago's Cauplicán Theater to view the documentary and pay homage to the rightwing dictator who ruled Chile from 1973-90 and died in 2006.

"Thank you, thank you, Pinochet, from the bottom of our hearts," they chanted.

I am convinced that in Chile there are many Garzóns who need to be exposed"

Dozens of human rights groups and other organizations had asked the government of President Sebastián Piñera to stop the event from going ahead. The ceremony was organized by the September 11 Corporation and the Union of Retired Officers of the National Defense - two groups still faithful to the Pinochet legacy.

"We are happy because for 20 years we have remained quiet while having to hear how history has been twisted," said Juan González, one of the organizers of the event.

At a nearby square, hundreds of demonstrators held what began as a peaceful protest against the Pinochet supporters. Chanting "murderer, dictator, thief," about a hundred masked protestors rushed toward the theater, which was heavily blocked off by police.

More than 500 officers in full riot gear responded by firing tear gas and water cannon to prevent them from disrupting the screening. Officers pinned many demonstrators down during the two-hour skirmish. "The authorities who are currently in control were part of the Pinochet regime and were involved in genocide. That is why they are still trying to repress us," said Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Families of Arrested and Disappeared.

Human rights groups say that some 3,000 people disappeared during the dictatorship, which began with the bloody overthrowing of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.

The Piñera administration, the first conservative government to be elected since democracy was restored in 1990, said it didn't support the event but it would not ban it. Ignacio Zegers' documentary Pinochet portrays the dictator and his 17 years in power in a positive light.

The ceremony began with a speech by the late dictator's grandson, Augusto Pinochet Molina, and was followed by remarks from Spanish lawyer Jaime Alonso, who filed one of the complaints against High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón for investigating crimes against the Francisco Franco dictatorship. "I am convinced that in Chile there are many other Garzóns who need to be exposed," he said.

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