Chile Pinochet tribute sparks a riot (PHOTOS)


Anti-Pinochet demonstrators are dispersed by riot police wielding water cannon in front of the Caupolican Theater in Santiago, on June 10.


Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

On Sept. 11, 1973, a US-backed Chilean army commander led a coup to topple President Salvador Allende. That commander, General Augusto Pinochet, went on to rule Chile in one of South America's most notorious military dictatorships.

Pinochet's regime tortured, killed or "disappeared" thousands of Chileans, claiming it needed to crush communism. The regime lost power officially in a 1988 referendum, but Chile's transition toward democracy began in 1990. Pinochet died, age 91, in 2006.

While most Chileans remember the horrors of Pinochet's rule, a handful still mourn the loss of a man they revere as a national hero.

“We owe our lives to Pinochet — he was a good president,” an elderly woman told The New York Times.

On Sunday, Pinochet sympathizers gathered at a theater in Santiago to commemorate the late ruler and to watch a film called "Pinochet." This was no ordinary  biopic about a tyrant. The film reportedly glosses over the regime and seeks to justify the military ouster of the democratically elected leftist leader Allende.

Outside the theater, fierce protests erupted.

The accompanying photo gallery, by photojournalists for French news agency AFP, captures moments from the commemoration — nationalist Chileans chanting "Viva Chile!" — inside the theater, as well as scenes from the violent clashes on the street among fascist sympathizers, anti-Pinochet protesters and water cannon-wielding police.