Former president becomes senator-for-life

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The Independent US

Former president Eduardo Frei on Tuesday became a senator-for-life, a post created for the nation's former leaders in the constitution written by the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet himself is also a senator-for-life, but is virtually retired from politics since his return on March 3. He had gone to London in 1988 for back surgery, and remained under house arrest while British officials considered whether to extradite him to Spain to stand trial on human rights abuse charges.

Frei, who was succeeded as president 10 days ago by Ricardo Lagos, brought to 24 the number of seats in the Senate held by the center-left pro-government coalition, to the right-wing opposition's 23.

Responding to criticism by the opposition, Frei said he still opposes to the existence of non-elected senators, but feels he is constitutionally obligated to become one unless and until the position is abolished.

In addition to the senator-for-life status granted to the former president, the 1980 constitution created nine other appointed Senate seats, including four reserved for former commanders of the armed forces.

The two civilian post-Pinochet civilian governments, including Frei's, tried to amend the constitution and restore an entirely elected Senate, but were blocked by the rightist opposition backed by the non-elected senators.

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