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Chilean Communists announce support for Michelle Bachelet in presidential vote

Chile's small Communist Party on Monday officially announced its support for socialist Michelle Bachelet's candidacy to regain the presidency.

Party leader Guillermo Teillier announced the pact after meeting with Bachelet, who was Chile's president from 2006 to 2010 and is now the front-runner for the Nov. 17 vote.

Communist and other leftists were considered enemies of the state during Chile's 1973-90 military dictatorship, when thousands of people were killed and disappeared for their politics. Since Chile's return to democracy in 1990, the Communist Party has remained in the opposition and has banded with other leftist groups rather than join Bachelet's coalition.

As a candidate, Bachelet had been looking for the backing of Communists by echoing their demands for education and constitutional revisions in the face of mounting protests clamoring for a wider distribution of Chile's copper wealth, the protection of the environment and free schooling.

"They have decided to support a collective project that seeks to advance toward a more inclusive and fair country," Bachelet said about the Communists' support. "I'm convinced that most Chileans want an end to inequality, to abuses and the fine print."

Although Communists only account for roughly 5 percent of the vote, it could be crucial in a runoff. In 1999, Ricardo Lagos of the Socialist Party beat Joaquin Lavin, a conservative, by less than three percentage points.

In return for the Communist backing, Bachelet is letting famed student activist Camila Vallejo run for Congress without a challenge from her center-left bloc. Vallejo, who has publicly said she does not back Bachelet, is part of a push to expand Communist strength in Congress from three to 10 seats.

"Everything I have said and think about Michelle Bachelet has been said on the instances of the party's discussion," Vallejo said via her Twitter account. "The final decisions are made by the collective."

Bachelet's military father worked for Socialist President Salvador Allende and, like his wife and daughter, was detained and tortured after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that ended Allende's democratically elected government.

After returning from exile in 1979, Bachelet studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics. She also rose through the ranks of the Socialist Party and became a key player in the center-left coalition that dominated Chile's government for almost 20 years after Pinochet lost power.

Enormously popular in the last year of her presidency, Bachelet returned to Chile in late March after spending 2 1/2 years in New York as the first executive director of the United Nations agency for women and gender issues.

The other leading political group in Chile is the center-right Coalition for Change, which has been unable to capitalize on the country's economic success under the bloc's standard-bearer, current President Sebastian Pinera.

Members of the conservative governing coalition criticized Bachelet's deal with the Communists.

Former Defense Minister Andres Allamand said the coalition risks becoming radicalized and moving too much to the left. Former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira, a veteran politician who was close to dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, said the Communist backing for Bachelet is a "backwards" step for Chile.

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Eva Vergara on Twitter: https://twitter.com/evergaraap