Autopsy reveals deposed Chile president 'blew his own head off'

A SCIENTIFIC autopsy has confirmed that Chilean president Salvador Allende committed suicide during the 1973 coup that toppled his socialist government.

British ballistics expert David Prayer yesterday said Mr 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.

Mr Prayer said there were two bullets fired, two casings recovered and that there is no evidence a second person was involved in Mr Allende's death. That ruled out theories that he was killed by the military as troops stormed the presidential palace during the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

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Mr Allende had said he wouldn't be taken alive. The palace was bombed by fighter jets and the air was thick with tear gas and smoke as the building went up in flames. He 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 the president 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 Mr Allende's death, Chile's military has held that he committed suicide, while others said he died fighting. Some claimed he tried to kill himself but was only gravely wounded and was then killed by a bodyguard, who then died as well.

This autopsy supports the version of Dr Patricio Guijon, who had been part of Mr Allende's medical team and said he alone happened to witness the death.

Mr Allende's daughter Isabel, now a senator, said the result is a relief because now there is scientific proof to support what the family has always believed.

"President Allende, on September 11, 1973, faced with extreme circumstances, took the decision to end his life, rather than be humiliated," she said.