The Miami Herald
Thursday, September 10, 1998
Chile to end coup holiday
Pinochet opens door to a `day of unity'

             By EDUARDO GALLARDO
             Associated Press

             SANTIAGO, Chile -- It will be a legal holiday for the last time. There will be no
             military parades. And Gen. Augusto Pinochet is no longer the army commander.

             The 25th anniversary of Pinochet's bloody military coup of Sept. 11, 1973, will
             not be just like the others. But there will be similarities.

             Authorities say privately they expect the usual clashes, as well as continuing
             protests over human rights abuses under Pinochet.

             In past years, thousands of people who suffered under Pinochet's repression
             watched in anger as the national holiday was created and the armed forces and
             right-wing groups celebrated the coup every year.

             This year, leftist groups said they would challenge a ban on marching past the
             presidential palace on Friday by including the building on their route to the General
             Cemetery for a tribute to Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president
             overthrown by Pinochet.

             Pinochet, 82, ruled until March 1990. He retained the powerful post of army
             commander until March, when he was made a senator for life -- a job he gave
             himself in the constitution he created.

             According to a report by the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet's, 3,197
             people were killed for political reasons under his military rule, including 1,102 who
             disappeared after Pinochet's security agents detained them. Thousands more were
             tortured or forced into exile, or both.

             The coup anniversary has been a legal holiday since 1981. The
             right-wing-controlled Senate has blocked three attempts by post-Pinochet civilian
             governments to drop it.

             But last week, in a surprise move, Pinochet agreed to replace the holiday with a
             ``day of national unity,'' to be observed on the first Monday in September, starting
             next year.

             Pinochet said he acted ``for the sake of national unity and reconciliation among

             Senate President Andres Zaldivar and rightist senators promptly approved the

             ``This will contribute to improved relations between civilians and military,'' Zaldivar
             said. But, he said, ``it also shows that Pinochet retains a very decisive leadership
             on the political right.''

             The decision to eliminate the coup holiday was followed by other surprises.

             The commanders of the armed forces and the national police said there will be no
             anniversary celebrations at the barracks this year, a change the government called
             ``positive, important, valuable.''

             The top military commanders joined President Eduardo Frei and other government
             officials in a Mass for national reconciliation in which Santiago Archbishop
             Francisco Errazuriz urged ``a great national embrace'' of unity among Chileans.

             Pinochet did not attend and reasons for his absence were not known.

             Still, victims' relatives have angrily objected to establishing a day of national unity,
             saying the military should first disclose the whereabouts of their missing loved ones
             and show repentance.

             In a rare interview with Radio Cooperativa of Santiago last week, Pinochet said
             dropping the holiday was a gesture in that direction.