Woman tortured by Pinochet leads Chile's presidential poll

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The Independent US

On 10 January 1975, Michelle Bachelet, a 23-year-old medical student in Chile, was arrested with her mother by General Augusto Pinochet's secret police. The pair survived three weeks of torture, but Ms Bachelet's father, arrested earlier, did not.

This weekend Ms Bachelet, now 54, could become the first elected female president of a South American nation. Gen Pinochet is now the one under arrest, on multiple charges of rights abuses and corruption.

The former paediatrician was 24 points ahead going into today's presidential election in Chile, and if shedoes not win outright, she will be the favourite for the run-off vote.

The 54-year-old has taken Chile by storm. Commenting on Chilean Catholicism and conservatism recently, she said: "As the old joke goes, [to Chileans] I have all the sins together. I am a woman, socialist, separated and agnostic." Joke or not, it seems to be working.

Ms Bachelet, the candidate of Concertación, a coalition of Socialists and Christian Democrats, had already become South America's first woman defence minister in 2002 - a job that put her in charge of some of the men who may have ordered her torture, and caused her father's death.

On the issue of whether Gen Pinochet should be tried, she has always said that she is not an "avenging angel" and wants to be a "bridge" between supporters of the former ruler and those who despise him.

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