SANTIAGO, Chile -- The Cabinet of 1973 coup leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet resigned today after Chileans voted in a plebiscite to reject the president's request for a new eight-year term in office.
Labor Minister Alfonso Marquez made the brief anouncement, saying Pinochet's Cabinet had resigned and a new one was expected to be named some time today.
The mass resignation of secretaries and sub-secretaries followed by hours the government's concession that Pinochet, who swept to power in the coup that ousted a Socialist government, had been defeated at the polls.
Chileans celebrated in several parts of the capital shortly before noon.
Hundreds of people filled a downtown shopping area two blocks from the palace Pinochet was seen entering earlier in the day. The protesters chanted, 'Out with Pinochet,' sang the national anthem and held up copies of a leftist newspaper with the headline: 'Goodbye General.'
Police stood back and watched. Prior to Wednesday's plebiscite police broke up such unauthorized public gatherings with tear gas and water cannons.
With 99.6 percent of the polling places reporting, the government figures showed 54.8 percent of the voters opposed giving Pinochet eight more years as president while 43 percent favored it.
Out of 7.2 million votes, 3.1 million voted for Pinochet and 3.9 million voted against him.
Pinochet has made no public statement since the interior minister conceded defeat at about 2:30 a.m. today and said the government would respect the Constitution, which calls for open presidential elections next year.
The opposition sought today to assure Chileans that economic chaos would not follow the defeat of Pinochet.
'No one should fear anything in the next few weeks,' said Alejandro Foxley, the leading opposition economist. 'We want the transition to democracy to be normal and the smoothest possible,' he said.
Opposition leaders hailed the result as a victory for democracy and pledged to seek a dialogue with the military to achieve a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
Under the Constitution drafted by the military junta in 1980, Pinochet, by losing the plebiscite, must call open presidential elections 90 days before his current term expires on March 11, 1990.
If he had won, Pinochet would have had eight more years in power.
Recognizing the government's defeat, Interior Minister Sergio Fernandez said, 'We accept the results that the country already knows and which will be determined in a definitive way by the correct mechanism.'
A 16-party opposition coalition, counting the publicly listed returns on their own, gave a much higher estimate of the 'no' vote, putting it at 57.8 percent compared to 42.8 percent for 'yes.' Those results were issued at 1 a.m. (midnight EDT).
Voters danced in the street and waved Chilean and opposition flags in at least one southern neighborhood of Santiago, a 15-square-block area of the Departamental district, despite warnings from leaders of the opposition coalition for them to stay at home.
Shortly before 4 a.m., a convertible with four persons inside slowly passed by Pinochet's palace and the national police headquarters, honking the horn, yelling, 'He will fall,' and waving the white flag with a rainbow of the opposition coalition.
The move set off a chain reaction, prompting other motorists to honk their horns.
A half hour later, a noisy, 12-car caravan of opposition supporters slowly circled a square in the same area, driving up a causeway in front of the 'flame of liberty' that Pinochet had built near the headquarters of the Carabineros, or national police.
A dozen Carabineros emerged from the shadows, stopped the cars, and then waved them on. The caravan immediately resumed honking horns.
Air Force Commander Gen. Fernando Matthei issued the first government concession at 1 a.m. (midnight EDT) as he entered the presidential palace for a meeting with Pinochet and fellow members of the military junta.
'To me the 'no's' have won,' Matthei said. 'This is very clear.'
Pinochet did not issue a statement after the one-hour meeting of the four-man junta, whose members eluded reporters by leaving through an underground exit.
Patricio Aylwin, president of the Command of the No and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, said at midnight that 'the vast majority in the country has understood that General Pinochet is an obstacle to the advancement of democracy and have rejected him.'
He said the opposition would in the future attempt to establish a dialogue with armed forces commanders to reform the constitution and achieve a peaceful transition from military to civilian rule.
Fears that the plebiscite would be disrupted by instigators, posing as policemen, did not materialize, although Pinochet said Wednesday night he was concerned about reports of people spotted with 'ski masks and arms.'
Pinochet came to power in a coup d'etat in 1973, ousting Marxist president Salvador Allende, who died in the rebellion.