Chilean and Mexican presidents call for democracy before 50th anniversary of Chilean coup

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The presidents of Chile and Mexico called for the strengthening of democracy in Latin America during a joint address on Sunday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a 1973 coup in Chile, hours after a peaceful march culminated in violent clashes with police.

Monday will mark half a century since the overthrow of President Salvador Allende by the regime of General Augusto Pinochet, which ushered in 17 years of brutal military rule that saw some 40,000 people imprisoned, disappeared, tortured or killed.

Mexico gave political refuge to 3,000 Chileans during the Pinochet regime.

"The visit of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ... is a concrete example of this history that unites us and of his commitment to strengthening democracy in Latin America," said Chilean President Gabriel Boric, referring to his Mexican counterpart.

Lopez Obrador recalled how Pinochet's coup impacted him while he was a university student. He praised Allende and called his death during the coup a "horrendous crime."

"We are united by history, brotherhood and the desire to continue building an authentic democracy," said Lopez Obrador.

The address by the two presidents at the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago came hours after a peaceful march past the building erupted in clashes between civilians and law enforcement.

The annual march, composed of relatives of victims of Pinochet's dictatorship, turned violent when small groups of people "sought to break up the demonstration," attacked other demonstrators and "brutally violated graves in the general cemetery," said Boric in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Civilians threw Molotov cocktails at police vehicles and police fired water cannons at demonstrators, according to a Reuters witness.

"I categorically condemn these events," Boris said in the post, noting that he had "proudly" participated in the march. "Their intolerance and violence should have no place in democracy and those who have participated in these acts must face the rule of law."

Local security authorities said there was also damage to La Moneda, including broken windows, and the government would press charges for public disorder.

In 2019, widespread protests against inequality in Chile left more than 30 people dead. Human rights groups have questioned the police response during those protests, which left hundreds of protesters blinded by rubber bullets and tens of thousands of people detained.

(Reporting by Jackie Botts and Raul Cortes; Editing by Leslie Adler)