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Chile marks 40th anniversary of Pinochet coup

Pictures of victims of human rights abuse are displayed before a ceremony to commemorate 40 years of the military coup at the "Parque Por La Paz" (Park for Peace) on the grounds of the former Villa Grimaldi torture centre in Santiago, Sept 10, 2013.
Pictures of victims of human rights abuse are displayed before a ceremony to commemorate 40 years of the military coup at the "Parque Por La Paz" (Park for Peace) on the grounds of the former Villa Grimaldi torture centre in Santiago, Sept 10, 2013. Four decades after a military coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile, a fierce debate over his long rule has shaken up the presidential election, with some right-wing politicians under fire for their past support of the former dictator. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Demonstrators lie on the ground to represent people who disappeared and went missing during Augusto Pinochet's regime, during a peaceful protest marking the 40th anniversary of the coup d'etat that ushered in a 17-year dictatorship under Pinochet, in
Demonstrators lie on the ground to represent people who disappeared and went missing during Augusto Pinochet's regime, during a peaceful protest marking the 40th anniversary of the coup d'etat that ushered in a 17-year dictatorship under Pinochet, in Santiago Sept 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
In this April 11, 2013 file photo, students march through the streets demanding free education in Santiago, Chile. As the nation is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973, a socialist is poise
In this April 11, 2013 file photo, students march through the streets demanding free education in Santiago, Chile. As the nation is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973, a socialist is poised to reclaim the presidency and a new generation, born after the return to democracy in 1990 has taken to the streets in vast numbers to demand the sort of social goals Allende promoted. -- PHOTO: AP
A woman wears a photograph of a victim of the military dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet as she arrives for a ceremony at the Villa Grimaldi detention centre marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Sept 10, 2013.
A woman wears a photograph of a victim of the military dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet as she arrives for a ceremony at the Villa Grimaldi detention centre marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Sept 10, 2013. The Villa Grimaldi compound was a detention and torture centre after the Sept 11, 1973 coup. -- PHOTO: AP
Activists from Chilean Human Rights organisation "Detained and Disappeared People" rally outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, on Sept 11, 2013, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto
Activists from Chilean Human Rights organisation "Detained and Disappeared People" rally outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, on Sept 11, 2013, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: AFP
Chilean students hold a scale model of the presidential palace as it looked after the airstrike carried out by the rebellious forces of General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende, in front of La Moneda Presidential palace in San
Chilean students hold a scale model of the presidential palace as it looked after the airstrike carried out by the rebellious forces of General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende, in front of La Moneda Presidential palace in Santiago, on Sept 11, 2013 as part of the commemorations for the 40th anniversary of the coup. -- PHOTO: AFP
The relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship carry a sign that reads in Spanish "Allende lives" referring to Chile's late President Salvador Allende as they march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013
The relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship carry a sign that reads in Spanish "Allende lives" referring to Chile's late President Salvador Allende as they march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Chile is marking the 40th anniversary of the military coup by General Augusto Pinochet that overthrew Salvador Allende by remembering the leader at the La Moneda presidential palace that fighter jets bombarded on Sept 11, 1973. -- PHOTO: AP
A man dressed in the likeness of Chile's late President Salvador Allende, front right, attends a tribute to Allende on the 40th anniversary of the coup that overthrew him, outside a side door of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wedne
A man dressed in the likeness of Chile's late President Salvador Allende, front right, attends a tribute to Allende on the 40th anniversary of the coup that overthrew him, outside a side door of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. It was through this side door, known today as "Morande 80," that Allende's body was carried during the coup that overthrew him on Sept 11, 1973. -- PHOTO: AP
A man holds a photograph of Chile's late President Salvador Allende outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. Chile is marking the 40th anniversary of the military coup by General Augusto Pinochet that overth
A man holds a photograph of Chile's late President Salvador Allende outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. Chile is marking the 40th anniversary of the military coup by General Augusto Pinochet that overthrew Allende on Sept 11, 1973. -- PHOTO: AP
Activists from Chilean human rights organisation "Detained and Disappeared People" rally outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on Sept 11, 2013, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto
Activists from Chilean human rights organisation "Detained and Disappeared People" rally outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on Sept 11, 2013, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: AFP
Chilean students enact the part of military and detained-disappeared in front of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on Sept 11, 2013, as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet tha
Chilean students enact the part of military and detained-disappeared in front of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on Sept 11, 2013, as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: AFP
Demonstrators with masked faces take part in a protest to commemorate the 1973 military coup, in Valparaiso city, about 121km north-west of Santiago, Sept 11, 2013. Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the coup d'etat in Chile that ushered in a 17
Demonstrators with masked faces take part in a protest to commemorate the 1973 military coup, in Valparaiso city, about 121km north-west of Santiago, Sept 11, 2013. Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the coup d'etat in Chile that ushered in a 17-year dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A girl lights a candle at the gates of the National Stadium, on Sept 11, 2013 in Santiago, Chile, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO:
A girl lights a candle at the gates of the National Stadium, on Sept 11, 2013 in Santiago, Chile, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: AFP
People light candles at the gates of the National Stadium, on Sept 11, 2013 in Santiago, Chile, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: A
People light candles at the gates of the National Stadium, on Sept 11, 2013 in Santiago, Chile, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. -- PHOTO: AFP
Relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. Chile marked the 40th anniversary Wednesday of a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, amid
Relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. Chile marked the 40th anniversary Wednesday of a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, amid violent protests and a call for reconciliation by the president. -- PHOTO: AP

SANTIAGO (AFP) - Chile marked the 40th anniversary on Wednesday of a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, amid violent protests and a call for reconciliation by the president.

In a sign of persistent divisions in the South American country, unrest erupted overnight in and around the capital Santiago ahead of commemorations marking the September 11, 1973, overthrow of then-president Salvador Allende.

He was Chile's first elected leftist leader and in the Cold War context of his rise to power, Mr Allende did not last long.

At least 68 demonstrators - who torched cars and barricades - were arrested, police said. In one neighbourhood, attempts to set fire to a public bus filled with passengers was thwarted by the driver on Wednesday.

Authorities played down the disturbances, saying it was anticipated and more subdued than expected.

President Sebastian Pinera, meanwhile, used a ceremonial address to urge fellow citizens to come together.

"The time has come, not to forget, but to overcome the traumas of the past," he said.

"The best legacy we can leave our children is a country reconciled and at peace." Mr Pinera, Chile's first conservative head of state since democracy was restored in 1990, stressed that reconciliation will require Chileans "to continue on the path of truth and justice."

He condemned those responsible for human rights violations during the 17-year military dictatorship while singling out those of influence "who could have done more" at the time to stop abuses.

There is increasing pressure in Chile to unmask the whole truth about the dictatorship, which was hated for its human rights abuses but also put Chile on a market-economics path to prosperity.

The Pinochet regime left more than 3,200 dead and some 38,000 people tortured in the nation which today has 17 million people and South America's highest per capita income.

On the left end of the political spectrum, there is intense unhappiness at Chile's gaping wealth disparities and how financially strained many in society are. Many also complain that the political system is not inclusive enough - and that since it was born of a Constitution imposed by Pinochet, that should not surprise anyone.

Pinochet died in 2006 without ever having gone on trial and the Chilean court system has some 1,300 cases open involving crimes committed during his rule.

Nearly 1,200 remain missing from the Pinochet era and on Tuesday a thousand people lay on the ground near the presidential palace in their memory.

Later Wednesday, a candlelight vigil was planned in Santiago's National Stadium, where many political prisoners were tortured.

The 40th anniversary of the coup has brought with it a flood of plays, movies, books and photo exhibits that seek to illustrate the repression and censorship-induced cultural black hole that Chileans endured during the Pinochet regime.

On Monday the rightist government and leftist opposition held separate ceremonies to remember the coup - evidence of how the Pinochet years continue to divide Chilean society.

With presidential elections two months away, the future of the economic model is at stake.

Former socialist president Michelle Bachelet, the favourite, has pledged broad political reform to do away with the vestiges of the Pinochet era.

She promises a new constitution to replace the one Pinochet instituted in 1980. Her main rival, the conservative Evelyn Matthei, wants to maintain the status quo.