Nine former agents of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime asked forgiveness for their crimes -- a first for Chile -- but victims' families rejected the gesture as a ploy.
The apology came in the form of a private religious ceremony at the Punta Peuco prison, where some 100 former regime agents are serving sentences for the kidnappings, killings and torture perpetrated during Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990.
The nine convicts included Raul Iturriaga, a high-ranking official in Pinochet's political police.
"God is doing something extraordinary in this country. This would not have been possible until recently," Anglican priest Pablo Alvarez told journalists after the ceremony, which was closed to the press.
But dozens of victims' family members protested outside the prison, rejecting the ceremony as a hollow bid to obtain a pardon or early release.
"We have the right and the moral duty to be here to prevent this media show," said Alicia Lira, head of a rights group for victims' families.
Family members emphasized that none of the convicts have provided information on the fate of nearly 1,000 people missing and presumed killed by the regime.
They also demand the closure of Punta Peuco, which they condemn as a luxury prison with tennis courts, terraces and barbecues.
More than 3,000 regime opponents and alleged collaborators were killed or disappeared during Pinochet's rule. Some 38,000 were tortured.
Pinochet, who came to power in a military coup, died in 2006 without being brought to justice.