Former dictator takes seat in Chilean senate

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Socialist lawmakers filed a petition with the Constitutional Court on Thursday to eject Gen. Augusto Pinochet from his new seat as a senator-for-life.
Other legislators, meanwhile, said they planned to seek the impeachment of the man who ruled Chile as a dictator from 1973 to 1990.
The constitution, which was written by Pinochet’s regime, grants former presidents a Senate seat for life. Pinochet was sworn in Wednesday, amid demonstrations in several cities and protests by his Senate colleagues over massive human rights violations committed by Pinochet’s government.
In their petition, 21 legislators told the court the clause in the constitution does not apply because Pinochet “has never been a President of the Republic,” since he took power in a coup, not an election.
The seven-member Tribunal Court has the power to unseat congress members and its rulings cannot be appealed.
But the move is seen as mostly symbolic, since at least four of the Court members are considered sympathetic to Pinochet. The Court has no deadline for making a ruling.
On Monday, other legislators from the ruling coalition will open impeachment proceedings against Pinochet, accusing him of “seriously damaging the honor of the nation” by allowing the rights violations.
More than 3,000 people were killed for political reasons during Pinochet’s rule, according to official figures.
Tomas Jocelyn-Holt, a congressman from the ruling Christian Democratic Party, said 25 legislators have already signed the impeachment request.
But the impeachment bid also appears doomed, because right-wing opposition members hold a majority in the Senate and they are expected to block the attempt.
The worst that may happen to Pinochet is seeing the impeachment passed by the lower House of Congress, which would suspend him until the Senate vote.
Just before Pinochet’s swearing in ceremony Wednesday, lawmakers on the Senate floor displayed pictures of dissidents killed under his regime. Police clashed throughout the day with protesters around the Congress building in Valparaiso and in several other cities.
Police said Thursday that 582 people were arrested nationwide during the protests, and an unspecified number were injured, none of them seriously.