Thousands of cars and trucks packed with government supporters traversed the Chilean capital Sunday in the climax to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's campaign to win eight more years in power in this week's presidential plebiscite.
Sending up a din of blaring horns, the caravans circulated through the streets for five hours in the broadest show of public support for Pinochet since the formal campaign began a month ago. Organizers said that 30,000 vehicles took part, many carrying several passengers. With the cars circling back and forth, it was impossible for independent observers to estimate the number accurately.
The high-spirited demonstration appeared strongest in the well-to-do suburbs of Providencia and Las Condes. In the working-class districts of La Victoria and Nunoa, smaller anti-Pinochet demonstrations took place.
Police fired tear gas at point-blank range into the front of a car and bicycle caravan of Pinochet foes in Nunoa. A two-hour melee ensued, with youths raining rocks on roving police patrols, one of which fired shots into the air. The skirmishing subsided after an army truck with two mounted machine guns arrived.
The caravan of the Yes campaign was intended as a final big show of support for Pinochet before Wednesday's referendum. A day earlier, the opposition had mounted its final rally, and the No Command estimated that 1.2 million people attended. That would make it by far the largest public demonstration of any kind since a military coup against Marxist President Salvador Allende put Pinochet in power in 1973.
Pinochet's campaign organizers contend that they are backed by a silent majority of Chileans who want stability, and they have avoided mass rallies during the campaign.
The No Command has claimed the momentum in recent days, based on opinion polls and visible outpourings of public support. A significant number of voters still declare themselves undecided or refuse to answer pollsters' questions, making predictions difficult.
The government television channel broke into its scheduled programming during the afternoon to cover the pro-Pinochet caravans, after having given scant attention to the No rally on Saturday. Media publicity was to have ceased Saturday, and all campaign activity is legally barred today and Tuesday to allow time for reflection before Wednesday's balloting.
Blanketed With Flags
Sunday's Yes cars were blanketed with Chilean flags, posters of a smiling Pinochet, banners of pro-Pinochet parties and the spider-shaped emblem of Fatherland and Liberty, a political organization of the extreme right.
"The president saved us from the chaos we were enduring (under Allende)," said a 44-year-old factory employee in the Yes demonstration. "Now there is freedom, and housing."
His wife added, "The food lines of those days--we don't have those problems anymore. We had to line up all night to get a kilo (2.2 pounds) of bread or sugar, and often there was none." The couple did not want their names published.
The national electric company said that a bomb attack caused a power blackout Saturday night affecting customers along about 1,000 miles of this long, narrow country for 30 minutes to several hours. There was no claim of responsibility.