Dictator's Fans Open Pinochet Museum in Chile

Admirers of former dictator Augusto Pinochet inaugurated a museum in his honor on Friday, a move they hope will burnish the image of a man reviled by much of the world.

Visitors to the four-room museum can see the general's uniform, sabers, books and knives — even his collection of toy soldiers.

Guided visits for groups of 12 will start on Monday and more than 150 people have registered to visit.

Pinochet's widow, Lucia Hiriart, said the inauguration shows that "little by little justice is being done" for her husband.

Pinochet led a military junta that overthrew elected Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973 and launched a brutal campaign to root out leftists. An official report says that 3,197 suspected leftists were slain for political reasons before he left power in 1990. Many seemingly vanished — kidnapped, tortured and killed, leaving relatives no word on their fate.

Attempts in Chile and abroad to prosecute Pinochet for human rights abuses continued until his death two years ago at age 91.

But he still has a core of defenders who insist the general saved Chile from being transformed into a communist dictatorship and say he rebuilt an economy that the leftists had left in tatters.

Conservative retired Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Medina said this week that some of those who claim to seek justice for violations of human rights under Pinochet are actually seeking revenge.

The new museum is sponsored by the Pinochet Foundation, backed by supporters and aides of Pinochet. The foundation's director, retired Gen. Luis Cortes, said it was financed with $23,000 from private donations.

"Anyone wanting to see this can come, as long as they do it with due respect," Cortes said.

Pinochet's desk can be seen behind ropes, next to a large show case containing the collection of hundreds of lead soldiers.

"This desk is exactly the way my general left it," Gen. Cortes told a reporter. "After retirement, he used to come here often to work quietly."

"This is very beautiful, so that all Chileans who want to can see these things he was given because of the important things that he did, not just out of support," Hiriart said.

The idea of the museum has appalled some Chileans. Sen. Jaime Naranjo of the governing Socialist Party said it "will rather look like a museum of horror."

Most early comments posted by readers on the Web site of Chilean newspaper La Tercera praised the museum dedicated to a man one called "Chile's liberator."

But another asked, "Are they exhibiting torture instruments, too?"