SANTIAGO, CHILE, SEPT. 4 -- The streets resounded with echoes of a disputed past today as the remains of Salvador Allende, the leftist president who died in a bloody 1973 military coup, were taken from an unmarked seaside grave and reburied with honors in the heart of the Chilean capital.

Tens of thousands lined the avenues of Santiago to welcome Allende's flag-draped coffin as it completed the journey from the coastal city of Vina del Mar, where Allende's remains had rested for 17 years. Some of the demonstrators skirmished with police. Earlier, someone had exploded four small bombs in locations around the city, apparently causing no injuries.

"Allende is here!" shouted the crowds, made up largely of young people who were not yet in school when Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power on Sept. 11, 1973, jets rocketed the presidential palace, and troops rounded up thousands of Allende's supporters to be killed, tortured or sent into exile.

Since March when Pinochet surrendered the presidency, Chile has been struggling to confront its past. Human rights activists have pushed to hold the military accountable for its excesses. Scores of bodies have been found in remote mass graves, victims of massacres in the days following the coup. The fate of political prisoners is being pondered. History rewritten by the Pinochet regime is being rewritten yet again.

Today's burial was another step in this painful process.

"Salvador Allende was a man who lived and died for all of you," Allende's widow, Hortensia Bussi, told onlookers as the coffin was placed in a towering, newly built $200,000 marble tomb in Santiago's central cemetery. "Thank you for keeping him alive in your hearts."

Foreign guests at the burial, which took place after a funeral mass at Santiago's cathedral, included French Prime Minister Michel Rocard; Danielle Mitterrand, wife of French President Francois Mitterrand; and Lisbeth Palme, widow of slain Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme.

The new civilian government of President Patricio Aylwin helped organize the ceremony. It was a significant irony: During the days before the 1973 coup, Christian Democratic Party leader Aylwin was one of Allende's most intransigent critics, joining many conservative political leaders in open or tacit support of some kind of intervention in the government by the armed forces.

"As everyone knows, I was a political adversary of Salvador Allende," Aylwin said. When the crowd responded with catcalls, Aylwin added, "The only language in which we can understand each other is the truth, and I am here to testify to the truth . . . . I must tell you, frankly, that if the same circumstances came up again, I would again be in the opposition. But we have all learned from the errors we committed."

Still, Chile remains a deeply divided society. Andres Allemand, head of the rightist National Renovation Party, said recently that the funeral would be "completely out of proportion and in conflict with history." And Gen. Alejandro Medina, who led a contingent of troops during the coup in a pivotal attack on the presidential palace, told the magazine Que Pasa: "When I learned {about Allende's death}, I said, 'It's about time.' "

The funeral raises an issue that is at the heart of Chile's recent history. Was the constitutionally elected Allende a democratic socialist, as his supporters contend, whose Popular Unity government wanted only to open the doors so the working class and the poor could share in Chilean society? Or was he a hard-line Marxist, as Pinochet and the right have long claimed, who was leading Chile into chaos and totalitarian ruin?

And was the funeral planned merely as a gesture of respect, or as a grab for vindication?

"In Chile, we have an old tradition that when any president from any party dies, we all go to the funeral," Congressman Andres Aylwin, the president's brother, said in a televised debate Sunday night. "In the cemeteries, there are no enemies."

But Sen. Eugenio Cantuarias of the rightist Independent Democratic Union responded, "The Popular Unity government was illegitimate. You of the left say that all you want is a dignified funeral, as is due a human being. What you really want is a revindication of a 'democratic figure' who was nothing of the sort."

Leading conservative politicians stayed away from the funeral. Pinochet -- who still heads the army -- and the rest of the armed forces also played no role. A spokesman for the Salvador Allende Foundation, which is headed by his daughter Isabel and which raised the funds to build the tomb, said the family did not ask for any involvement by the military.

Genaro Arriagada, a Christian Democratic leader who played a major role in assembling an opposition coalition to defeat Pinochet in a presidential plebiscite two years ago, said, "A mature country has to deal with its history. What has happened in Chile is not all the fault of Mr. Salvador Allende. A lot of people made mistakes. The right needs Allende to be seen as a pariah on whom everything can be blamed. They need to believe in the idea that his government was so bad that it justifies all that happened later."

The truth of what happened during the long years of military rule is steadily emerging. Three months ago, about 20 bodies were unearthed in the northern desert near the town of Pisagua -- victims of a post-coup execution squad.

Since then, evidence of other hastily assembled firing squads has been found. The press is full of long-suppressed stories of husbands or sons snatched away, never to return.

Aylwin's government is trying to walk a fine line. Popular pressures are mounting to discover the whole truth and hold the armed forces responsible. But Aylwin is hamstrung by an amnesty law passed by the military junta -- and by the continued presence of Pinochet as head of the army. Only Monday was it announced that Aylwin would speak at the funeral.

Today, some older people in the crowd were in tears as Allende's coffin was brought past La Moneda, the presidential palace where he died. His most vocal supporters have long contended that he was killed by the attacking forces, but the Pinochet regime said he committed suicide with a weapon given him by Fidel Castro -- a version supported by Allende's personal physician. The family no longer addresses the issue.

The Pinochet regime never allowed a plaque or headstone to be erected at the grave in Vina del Mar. Now, Allende's remains rest in the same cemetery with a dozen other presidents, a presence that the society will no longer be able to ignore.

"Only a totalitarian mentality sees the history of a nation as a collection of lives of saints and devils," Arriagada wrote this morning in the daily La Epoca. "Humanism and democracy ask substantially less. Our history is one of men -- which means people capable of both greatness and error."