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Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was born the son of a customs official, rose quickly through the officer corps and, as early as the 1950s, was involved in politics, as he headed the clampdown on the Chilean Communist party.

Paradoxically, it was for his apparent lack of political ambition that he advanced to the rank of commander-in-chief, under the left-wing Popular Unity government, led by Salvador Allende in the early 1970s.

But in September 1973, President Allende discovered how wrong he had been. He lost his life in the coup led by General Pinochet, who lead a military junta representing Chile's armed forces.

Pinochet ordered the purges that saw more than 3,000 supporters of the Allende regime killed, and many thousands more tortured or forced into exile.

He closed down the Chilean Parliament, banned all political and trade union activity and, in 1974, appointed himself president.

But by the mid-1980s left-wing parties had re-grouped and organised huge protests, while in 1986 he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

The 1980 national constitution, brought in by his military government, set a timetable for the election of a president. It allowed for a referendum on whether or not Pinochet should be the only candidate.

Much to his surprise and dismay, this proposal was rejected, and Pinochet was forced to allow the return of civilians to government.

In 1990 he reluctantly stepped down as president. However, he remained commander-in-chief of the army, a position he used to ensure both that there were no prosecutions against members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses, and to block any radical political initiatives.

In 1998 General Pinochet finally relinquished his post as commander-in-chief. The next day, he took up a seat in parliament as a senator-for-life, another position he had created for himself in the 1980 constitution.

The same year, Spain sought his extradition from Britain to face charges connected with the “disappearance” of Spanish nationals. However, Britain ruled that he was not fit to stand trial and denied the request. The attempts to prosecute him for his atrocities are ongoing.

Pinochet suffered a heart attack on the morning of December 3, 2006, and subsequently the same day he was given the last rites.

This occurred days after he was put under house arrest. On December 4, 2006, the Chilean Court of Appeals ordered the release of this house arrest.

On 10 December 2006 he died of congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema, surrounded by his family. His last word was believed to be "Lucy", the name of his wife (Lucia Hiriart).