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Chile marks 40th anniversary of Pinochet coup

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    Activists from Chilean Human Rights organization "Detained and Disappeared People" rally outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, on September 11, 2013. (AFP)

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    Chilean troops positioned on a rooftop fire on the La Moneda Palace in Santiago, on September 11, 1973. (AFP/File)

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    A photo taken on September 7, 1996 shows Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet attending a ceremony in Santiago. (AFP/File)

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    Chilean students enact military and detained-disappeared in front of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on September 11, 2013, as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed President Salvador Allende. (AFP)

Chile marked the 40th anniversary Wednesday of a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, amid violent protests and a call for reconciliation by the president.

In a sign of persistent divisions in the South American country, unrest erupted overnight in and around the capital Santiago ahead of commemorations marking the September 11, 1973, overthrow of then-president Salvador Allende.

He was Chile's first elected leftist leader and in the Cold War context of his rise to power, Allende did not last long.

At least 68 demonstrators -- who torched cars and barricades -- were arrested, police said. In one neighborhood, attempts to set fire to a public bus filled with passengers was thwarted by the driver Wednesday.

Authorities played down the disturbances, saying it was anticipated and more subdued than expected.

President Sebastian Pinera, meanwhile, used a ceremonial address to urge fellow citizens to come together.

"The time has come, not to forget, but to overcome the traumas of the past," he said.

"The best legacy we can leave our children is a country reconciled and at peace."

Pinera, Chile's first conservative head of state since democracy was restored in 1990, stressed that reconciliation will require Chileans "to continue on the path of truth and justice."

He condemned those responsible for human rights violations during the 17-year military dictatorship while singling out those of influence "who could have done more" at the time to stop abuses.

There is increasing pressure in Chile to unmask the whole truth about the dictatorship, which was hated for its human rights abuses but also put Chile on a market-economics path to prosperity.

The Pinochet regime left more than 3,200 dead and some 38,000 people tortured in the nation which today has 17 million people and South America's highest per capita income.

On the left end of the political spectrum, there is intense unhappiness at Chile's gaping wealth disparities and how financially strained many in society are. Many also complain that the political system is not inclusive enough -- and that since it was born of a Constitution imposed by Pinochet, that should not surprise anyone.

Pinochet died in 2006 without ever having gone on trial and the Chilean court system has some 1,300 cases open involving crimes committed during his rule.

Nearly 1,200 remain missing from the Pinochet era and on Tuesday a thousand people lay on the ground near the presidential palace in their memory.

Later Wednesday, a candlelight vigil was planned in Santiago's National Stadium, where many political prisoners were tortured.

The 40th anniversary of the coup has brought with it a flood of plays, movies, books and photo exhibits that seek to illustrate the repression and censorship-induced cultural black hole that Chileans endured during the Pinochet regime.

On Monday the rightist government and leftist opposition held separate ceremonies to remember the coup -- evidence of how the Pinochet years continue to divide Chilean society.

With presidential elections two months away, the future of the economic model is at stake.

Former socialist president Michelle Bachelet, the favorite, has pledged broad political reform to do away with the vestiges of the Pinochet era.

She promises a new constitution to replace the one Pinochet instituted in 1980. Her main rival, the conservative Evelyn Matthei, wants to maintain the status quo.