Crowds take to streets to celebrate Pincohet's demise

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The Independent US

The streets of Santiago were a cacophony of car horns and cheering yesterday, as Chileans took to the streets in droves to celebrate the demise of South America's most notorious dictator.

Estimates range from the tens to the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. And while some came to lament the passing of General Augusto Pinochet, the vast majority of those taking to the streets and plazas around the capital were celebrating the death.

"This is a moment of freedom, of joy, and of catharsis for an entire nation that lived through one of the worst dictatorships of all of Latin America," said Daniela Lillo, a mother and actress who stood in Santiago's Plaza Italia square, with a glass of champagne in hand.

With her four-year-old daughter in tow, she said her daughter she would never forget this day and her first sip of champagne.

But others say they were disappointed that Pinochet never saw his day in court for the 3,200 deaths and disappearances that took place under his rule.

"Pinochet has died without ever served justice," said Carmen Soria, the daughter of a Spanish diplomat assassinated during the dictatorship. "The courts and four government of the Concertacion [Chile's ruling left-wing coalition] were not able to condemn Pinochet.

It is ironic that he also died on the International Day for Human Rights. "This day is bittersweet because we weren't able to make him spend a single day in jail," lamented Ximena Muñoz, a human rights activist for an association for Chile's disappeared.

"Still, he's been judged by the public and that will go down in history, so today he is dead and you see today that it's a carnival for Chile's people. The dictator has died. Now we must forge ahead to try the rest of the assassins and torturers of his era."

But Pinochet maintains a fanatical following, and tens of thousands of weeping supporters surrounded the military hospital, where he was pronounced dead yesterday. "All of the hatred he inspires is so unfortunate," said a supporter, Juan Agustin Vargas, who stood wearing badges showing Pinochet's face, and singing patriotic military songs. "They don't recognise or thank him for having given us the liberty, the education, the social security and the economic stability we enjoy today."

Police remained on guard last night amid fears of violent clashes, and water cannons and tear gas were used to separate supporters and opponents in the capital and in Valparaiso, Chile's second-largest city.