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Chile: Scientific autopsy confirms Allende suicide

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A scientific autopsy has confirmed that Chilean President Salvador Allende committed suicide during the 1973 coup that toppled his socialist government, court officials announced on Tuesday.

British ballistics expert David Prayer said Allende died of two shots fired from an assault rifle that was held between his legs and under his chin and was set to fire automatically. The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.

The forensics team’s conclusion is unanimous, Spanish expert Francisco Etxeberria said: “We have absolutely no doubt” that Allende committed suicide.

Prayer said there were two bullets fired, two casings recovered and that there is no evidence a second person was involved in Allende’s death. That ruled out theories that Allende, the first socialist in the Americas to come to power at the ballot box, was killed by the military as troops stormed the presidential palace during the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

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Chilean Sen. Isabel Allende, daughter of Chile’s late President Salvador Allende, touches his exhumed coffin in Santiago, Chile. A scientific autopsy has confirmed that the former president committed suicide during the 1973 coup.

Allende had said he wouldn’t be taken alive even as Pinochet ordered an all-out attack on La Moneda. The palace was bombed by fighter jets and the air thick with tear gas and smoke as the building went up in flames. Allende had ordered his allies to surrender, but he stayed behind. What happened next has always been shrouded in mystery.

The deposed president’s body was exhumed in May for its first authoritative autopsy as Chile’s independent judiciary began a criminal investigation into the death of Allende and hundreds of other victims of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Dr. Patricio Bustos, who directs Chile’s Medical Legal Service, announced the autopsy results, which he described as definitive. Ever since Allende’s death, Chile’s military has held that he committed suicide, while others, notably Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote that Allende went down fighting. Others more recently claimed he tried to kill himself but was only gravely wounded and was then killed by a bodyguard, who then died as well.

This was the second autopsy performed on Allende’s cadaver. The first was done secretly and in irregular fashion by the military that night, before the body was quickly buried in a relative’s crypt. Allende was eventually reburied with honors in Santiago, and his daughter Isabel, now a senator, had refused for years to allow another autopsy.

Now, however, she said it is a relief to know that science supports what the family has always believed.

“President Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973, faced with the extreme circumstances that he was living through, took the decision to end his life, rather than be humiliated,” Allende said.

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