General Augusto Pinochet took full responsibility for the first time for the actions of his 1973 to 1990 dictatorship, which carried out thousands of political killings and is blamed for widespread torture and illegal imprisonment.
At a celebration of his 91st birthday on Saturday, Pinochet also defended the bloody military coup that toppled freely elected Marxist president Salvador Allende, in a statement read aloud by his wife as he sat by her side.
"Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbor no rancor against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration," he said. "I assume full political responsibility for what happened."
Pinochet, surrounded by family, bodyguards and retired generals outside his home, raised his hand to acknowledge about 200 supporters gathered outside who sang him "Happy Birthday" and chanted "Long live Chile!"
A mariachi band played one of his favorite songs. After about a half-hour, he slowly stood and walked inside supported by a cane and the arm of a bodyguard.
According to an official report, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons under Pinochet, including more than 1,000 who abducted and disappeared.
Thousands more were illegally imprisoned or tortured.
Pinochet rarely speaks in public and has not made such extensive comments for several years.
Ricardo Israel, a political scientist at the University of Chile, said Pinochet has never taken full responsibility for his regime's actions before, instead blaming abuses on subordinates.