Anger as Catholic church petitions for government pardons

The Roman Catholic Church has angered rights activists and some conservatives by petitioning Chile's government for prisoner pardons that would include people responsible for crimes against humanity.

The Church is asking for the pardons as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Chile's independence on September 18. It proposes pardons for those over 70, any with a terminal decease and women who are mothers.

The controversy centres on the inclusion of some convicted of committing crimes during the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. According to official statistics, 3,065 opponents of Pinochet's regime were killed and 1,200 more disappeared.

"There shouldn't be any pardons under any circumstances for those guilty of crimes against humanity," Mireya Garcia, vice president of the Group of Families of Detainees and Missing People, said.

Last week the group asked President Sebastian Pinera not to pardon anyone accused of committing such crimes during Pinochet's dictatorship.

The national newspaper La Tercera says the army has sent a letter to Mr Pinera asking him to show mercy for members of the military and for sick and older prisoners.

Some 600 military personnel have been accused of crimes against humanity but no more than 150 are now in prison.

Liberal politicians announced on Sunday that they would support the church's pardon petition only if it excluded people condemned for crimes against humanity.

Leaders of the conservative parties that support Mr Pinera's government have said military personnel should be included in any pardons, but some lower-level members of the parties are opposing that idea.

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