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Chile drops Pinochet's constitution

In an historical session, the Senate voted to replace key elements of the authoritarian charter

Chile's Socialist President Ricardo Lagos leaves his post having modernized country's institutional systemChile's Senate voted late on Wednesday to replace key elements of the country's constitution dictated by the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet, who is being accused by several courts of crimes against humanity, corruption and a long list of other charges. The decision is a major step to turn the authoritarian charter into a modern constitution closer to the current democratic system in this South American nation.

Senators passed a number of reforms, already approved by the lower House of Congress, paving the way to a final vote in a joint session scheduled for 16 August.

"It has been a long way to re-establish democracy in Chile," said the country's current Socialist President, Ricardo Lagos, who said that the reform is a victory of all Chileans, no matter their political orientations. Right wing parties in the Congress that supported Pinochet's bloody regime, voted against reforms.

Prominent among the new measures is a restoration of the president's power to fire senior military commanders, a capacity that Pinochet had as Army Chief. The dictator had imposed this measure to prevent his successors of an important element to grasp control over the powerful Armed Forces.

After deleting this corporative clause, the military will be finally placed under direct control of the constitutional authorities.

A number of appointed Senate seats, usually awarded to military or police figures, are also being abolished. According to current charter, the Army, the Navy, the Aviation and the Military Police, had at their disposition an equal amount of seats in the Senate.

The same clause, allowed former presidents to enjoy a lifetime seat in the Parliament and, of course, the immunity of such a post. Pinochet openly abused of this right to elude courts' requests.

The country's transition from military rule to democracy was now effectively complete, President Lagos said. "It has been a long way to discover that some kind of mutual understanding has to be made possible through government and opposition political parties."

On the photo: Chile's Socialist President Ricardo Lagos, who ends his term this year, leaves his post having modernized country's institutional system