SANTIAGO - The music of choristers was briefly drowned out by jeers and catcalls at the funeral of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in Santiago yesterday as mourners protested against the presence of a representative of the centre-left Government of President Michelle Bachelet.
Emotions ran high throughout the private funeral Mass held in a courtyard at Santiago's military academy. The priest called for calm when booing began after the arrival of Defence Minister Vivianne Blanlot, the only member of the Government to join the mourners.
Military officials said as many as 60,000 Chileans had stood in line to pay their final respects at the open-topped casket of the former leader on Tuesday after his death from heart disease in a nearby military hospital.
After the Mass, attended by members of the Pinochet family and senior military officials, the remains of the general were flown by helicopter to a secret location for cremation.
In contrast to the jeering, there was loud applause as the casket was carried into the courtyard at the start of the Mass by uniformed pallbearers.
The death of General Pinochet has still left deep divisions in Chile with some recalling his 17-year-rule as a period of dark repression and torture of political opponents and others arguing that it saved Chile from Marxism and opened an era of economic wealth.
The eldest daughter of the general, Lucia Pinochet, said her father had lit "a flame of freedom" when he helped to stage the violent coup in 1973 that overthrew Salvador Allende, who had won open elections three years earlier. His son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, said the Government had been "petty" denying him a state funeral and was "incapable of taking a noble stance at this moment in history".
News reports said that the remains of the general were being flown for cremation to a location close to the seaside city of Valparaiso, where he was born 91 years ago. Family members said they could not reveal where his ashes would be interred for fear that the site would be vandalised.
As the Mass ended, a large crowd celebrating the death of the former dictator, who died while facing charges of human rights abuse and fraud, had gathered outside the presidential palace in bright sunshine. Officials said that 39 people had been arrested in clashes between demonstrators and the police since news of his death first trickled out.