Aylwin Takes Power in Chile, Pledges Reform : South America: Tens of thousands celebrate. New leader grants pardons and restores East Bloc ties.


Gen. Augusto Pinochet handed over the Chilean presidency Sunday to his elected successor and old political foe Patricio Aylwin in a raucous and emotion-filled ceremony that ended 16 years of military rule here.

Aylwin, 71-year-old leader of the coalition that unseated Pinochet, immediately granted pardons for all "prisoners of conscience" and restored diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries as the first official acts of his four-year term.

After he assumed the presidency in the new Congress building in the port city of Valparaiso, Aylwin returned to Santiago to a jubilant celebration by tens of thousands of Chileans in front of the government palace. It was there that Chile's last elected president, Marxist Salvador Allende, died during the military coup on Sept. 11, 1973, that began Pinochet's long reign.

"I hope that in four more years--a short time compared with some--I can present myself to you and say: Together, Chileans, we have built a free, just and brotherly Chile for all our children," Aylwin declared in a brief speech from the palace balcony.

He pledged to broaden the rights of workers, women and the poor and "to rebuild in our country a true democracy, not only of freedom but of justice and solidarity." He said it would be a priority to discover the truth about human-rights violations during the Pinochet years, but he stopped short of saying he would seek retribution.

As Aylwin spoke, a portion of the crowd at the back of the palace broke through police barricades, and authorities used tear gas to try to control them. Some people threw sticks and bottles, forcing the police to regroup closer to the building, and witnesses said that at least two dozen people were hurt, including several police officers. Police then fired water cannons and sprayed tear gas from vans to disperse unruly elements, while the ceremony itself concluded peacefully.

Earlier, thousands gathered along the 70-mile route between Valparaiso and Santiago, and the roadside was festooned with banners and posters proclaiming, "This Is the Way I Like Chile."

When Aylwin took the oath of office, South America's last military government fell away, completing a steady march back to democracy that began in 1979 on the continent.

A group of demonstrators threw tomatoes and other objects toward Pinochet as he arrived in a vintage Ford convertible. In white gloves and dress uniform, he entered the unfinished Congress building to a mixture of cheers, boos and catcalls. The commotion turned what was meant to be a solemn ceremony into a symbol of the divisions that have riven Chile since the 1973 coup.

Aylwin strode into the chamber to applause and shouts of "Bravo!" and took his place on the dais beside Pinochet. They exchanged a stiff handshake. Some confusion slowed the formal hand-over; Aylwin shrugged with a smile at one point as the new Senate president, Gabriel Valdes, looked for the presidential sash to place on Aylwin's shoulders. In a country that has not sworn in a president for many years, the lack of practice was apparent.

Pinochet then handed to Aylwin the presidential clasp dating back to the era of Chile's liberator, Bernardo O'Higgins, and gave Aylwin a much warmer handshake before leaving the chamber to more hoots and cries of "Murderer!" from some of the onlookers, including a few Chilean reporters.

Several socialist deputies wore photos pinned to their suits of some of the more than 700 people who disappeared during Pinochet's regime. One socialist legislator, Maria Maluenda, wore the photo of her own slain son. Among the guests invited by Aylwin was Joyce Horman, widow of American free-lance journalist Charles Horman, whose disappearance just after the coup was the subject of the movie "Missing."

The issue of human rights abuses is likely to prove to be one of the thorniest for Aylwin's government, since Pinochet will remain commander of the army and has warned against trials of his men. Left-wing parties, however, are seeking some form of justice.

Aylwin's new justice minister, Francisco Cumplido, announced that Aylwin had signed a decree pardoning all "prisoners of conscience" but excluding persons convicted of crimes involving violence. It was not immediately known how many of an estimated 450 political prisoners are covered by the decree.

Foreign Minister Enrique Silva Cimma, veteran leader of the Radical Party, signed accords with representatives of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland restoring relations broken by Pinochet in 1973. The accords underlined the end of Chile's diplomatic isolation.

Only three heads of state, those of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, along with U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, met with Pinochet before the ceremony, a condition he set down for visiting leaders attending the inauguration. Eleven others, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, chose to arrive in Chile after the ceremony so as not to have to salute Pinochet.

Aylwin's Cabinet ministers have outlined some of their immediate priorities, many of them aimed at overturning the so-called 11th-hour laws adopted by Pinochet's four-member military junta in its final months in office. Those include restrictions on the government's power to appoint personnel and rights accorded to the military to set its spending priorities.

Other plans include moves to abolish nine appointed Senate seats, which in effect deprive the 17-party coalition of a majority in the 47-member upper chamber despite its majority of votes in the December elections; remove restrictions on press freedom and trade union rights, both crimped by Pinochet, and allow the election rather than appointment of the nation's 360 mayors.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in the Santiago suburb of Las Condes outside Pinochet's home to bid him farewell. Some carried banners proclaiming, "In four more years, a second time around"--expressing hopes of a future Pinochet candidacy.

Pinochet has repeatedly expressed pride in the macro-economic successes of his government, unparalleled on the continent. Chile kept inflation to 21% last year while the economy grew by nearly 10%.

Aylwin faces pressure, however, to expand the number of people sharing in that export-based wealth. Statistics show that poverty has engulfed a larger percentage of the population of nearly 13 million than in the past, and the new government plans tax increases for businesses to generate funds for new social programs. However, Economy Minister Carlos Ominami of the Socialist Party and Christian Democratic Finance Minister Alejandro Foxley have stressed they will not stray from the basic economic policies of recent years, hoping to reassure investors of continuity and stability.

Andres Zaldivar, president of Aylwin's party, the Christian Democrats, said that another priority will be to restore the normal rule of law. He said that means removing the military courts' jurisdiction over cases involving civilians, a frequent occurrence during Pinochet's years in power.

The two parties to the right of center in Congress, National Renovation and the smaller Independent Democratic Union, have indicated they will support some of the reforms. National Renovation had distanced itself in recent months from Pinochet and his supporters, suggesting that the ruling coalition will find the support it needs for a number of the changes.

Memories of the 1973 coup surfaced throughout the day, beginning with a morning visit by legislators to Allende's tomb in Vina del Mar. And after Aylwin spoke at day's end from the palace balcony in Santiago, Allende's widow Hortensia placed red roses in one of the windows facing the square.

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