SANTIAGO, Chile – A march Sunday on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the military coup that installed former dictator Augusto Pinochet ended in clouds of tear gas as police dispersed demonstrators throwing rocks and bottles at government buildings, including the presidential palace.
Several thousand people joined the 40-block march from downtown Santiago to the city's main cemetery to pay tribute to the victims of Pinochet's 1973 to 1990 regime, but only small contingent appeared to provoke the violence.
The anniversary of the coup in which Pinochet toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende falls on Monday, Sept. 11, but the march was moved up to take advantage of the Sunday holiday.
Police did not provide an estimate of marchers but said there were fewer than in previous years. The annual event often ends with clashes between a small group of violent demonstrators and police.
The government and march organizers blamed the violence on infiltrators.
"There were two marches today," regional Santiago Gov. Victor Barrueto said. "One was a march of respectful citizens marking a sad date for our country, and another march of violent individuals, real criminals."
He said 15 people had been arrested but expected the final number to be much higher. Police commander Gen. Jose Bernales said three officers were injured, one of them seriously, after being hit by rocks.
The event began peacefully in downtown Santiago and ended at the city's General Cemetery, where a memorial has been erected to honor the 3,197 people who were killed for political reasons under Pinochet. The death toll was established by an official report.
As the march reached the presidential palace, where Allende committed suicide the day of the coup rather than surrender to the rebellious military, a masked man threw a Molotov cocktail at a window of the building, which caused some damage but was quickly put out by police. Other demonstrators continued throwing bottles filled with paint at police and the palace. Police reacted with tear gas and water cannons blasting a stinging agent.
The march continued to the cemetery, and similar clashes continued along the route. Windows were broken at banks, shops and other buildings. Traffic signs were destroyed and a Burger King restaurant was heavily damaged.