Chileans protest pro-Pinochet tribute; 7 injured

AP News
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Posted: Nov 22, 2011 5:10 PM
Chileans protest pro-Pinochet tribute; 7 injured

Chilean police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators who protested an event honoring a former military officer imprisoned for killings and other abuses committed during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

At least seven people were injured, including six police officers, during the clashes Monday night outside an exclusive club in Santiago, where about 1,000 protesters had congregated. Protesters hurled rocks at police and eggs at those who attended the tribute. Nine people were arrested.

Chilean human rights activists organized the protest to condemn the gathering in honor of former Brigadier Miguel Krassnoff, who is serving a 144-year prison sentence for the kidnappings and killings of leftist opponents during Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990.

Several hundred people attended the tribute, where a new edition of a sympathetic biography of Krassnoff was sold. The event was organized with the help of Cristian Labbe, the right-wing mayor of Santiago's Providencia district, who also was a police official in Pinochet's regime.

Those hurt during the protest included a woman who was struck in the abdomen with a tear gas canister.

Krassnoff has been imprisoned since 2005 after being convicted of homicide, kidnapping and torture. He was charged in 23 separate cases, which officials said involved 128 deaths or disappearances and 18 instances of torture.

A judge on Monday opened a new case against Krassnoff and three others for the disappearance of an engineer in 1974.

When word of plans for the tribute emerged, activists promptly organized the protest.

"The possibility of paying homage to Miguel Krassnoff ... is a product of the impunity we're living with in the country," said Lorena Pizarro, president of a group of families of the detained and disappeared.

Pizarro and another activist are suing Labbe and demanding to know whether any public money was used in planning the event to honor Krassnoff.

The mayor condemned the violence at the protest, saying the demonstrators had committed "acts of intolerance and vandalism." Labbe is seeking re-election in October 2012.

Krassnoff's lawyer Carlos Portales spoke at Monday night's event, criticizing the government for failing to speed the trials of former military officers. Krassnoff's wife also demanded that her husband's rights be respected.

The 65-year-old former military officer appears to have a small but vocal following. One blog dedicated to his case describes him as a "hero ... in the fight against the Marxist enemy."

Krassnoff was born in Russia and arrived in Chile as a baby with his mother and grandmother. His father and grandfather were both convicted and executed in 1947 in the Soviet Union for aiding the Nazis and committing war crimes during World War II.

Krassnoff played an important role as the Pinochet regime captured and killed leftist opponents, according to the accounts of some survivors. Dr. Patricio Bustos said in an interview Tuesday on the Chilean radio station Cooperativa that Krassnoff was one of two officers who tortured him in a secret jail known as Villa Grimaldi. The old house has since been turned into a "Peace Park" by former prisoners.

A national commission has determined that 3,095 people were killed or disappeared during Pinochet's dictatorship.

The controversy over the tribute for Krassnoff also touched Chile's government. Andrea Ojeda, an adviser to President Sebastian Pinera, resigned after appearing to wish the organizers well in a letter in which she declined an invitation for the president to attend the event. In the letter, the presidential adviser sent "best wishes of success" to the organizers.

Ojeda resigned and said in a statement that an incorrect response was mistakenly sent, Cooperativa radio reported.

During the tribute, a letter from Krassnoff was read aloud in which he called "illegal" his nearly seven years in prison.

Krassnoff is being held at a special prison at an army base, where inmates sleep in small cabins and live in better conditions than those of the country's lockups for typical prisoners.

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Associated Press writer Eva Vergara contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that Krassnoff has been imprisoned since 2005)