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US wants Chileans to have a free choice in fall plebiscite

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The United States is firing salvos in support of Chile's transition to democracy: Last week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging the Chilean government to ensure a fair and free climate for this fall's presidential plebiscite. Chileans will vote for or against the military's candidate to lead the move toward democracy. The Reagan administration strongly supports the resolution and the specific steps it recommends.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana head a newly formed ``US Committee to Support Free Elections in Chile.'' The committee will support two observer missions to Chile by the International Human Rights Law Group, one before and one during the plebiscite.

Secretary of State George Shultz met with Chile's foreign minister last week. Mr. Shultz repeated US desires that certain steps should be taken to ensure a free choice by the Chilean people in the fall vote.

Once a very divisive issue in Washington, a wide bipartisan consensus now exists that after 15 years of military rule in Chile the time is ripe for a return to democracy.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the plebiscite, though flawed, is the best available way for the Chilean people to begin that process. The key, informed officials and congressional activists say, is to make sure the field is level for the contest.

Washington is focusing now because Chile's military junta will name its candidate for the vote on Aug. 30. The junta is also circulating a draft plan for campaign rules. It is thought that the junta will set the date for the plebiscite this month, too. Oct. 5 is the expected choice.

President Augusto Pinochet, who has ruled since the military came to power in a bloody coup in 1973, wants to run, US specialists say. And he probably will, they say, despite doubts by his junta colleagues as to the wisdom of it.

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