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The BBC's James Reynolds
"The demonstrations soon turned into confrontations"
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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 04:24 GMT 05:24 UK
Clashes at Pinochet hearing
protester in Santiago
A man mourns a relative killed during the general's rule
Supporters and opponents of General Augusto Pinochet have clashed outside a hearing to decide whether to lift the parliamentary immunity of the former military leader.

The pinochet File
At least three protesters were arrested in the Chilean capital, Santiago, as the two groups threw stones and insults across police barricades erected outside the court of appeal.

General Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 until 1990, currently has immunity from prosecution in his capacity as a life senator.

Lifting this immunity is the first step towards a possible trial for alleged human rights violations.

Pinochet court
A Pinochet supporter outside the court
The closed three-day hearing started on Wednesday evening, with the ruling expected to be announced in early May.

The judges are examining a report by an investigating magistrate, Juan Guzman, who is handling the 92 criminal complaints against the general.

On the opening day of the hearing, an appeal court official presented a summary of the case, which centres on the actions of a military squad, known as the "Caravan of Death".

Members of the squad travelled across the country shortly after the 1973 military coup and killed more than 70 political prisoners.

He feels he is not welcomed anywhere, that nobody loves him anymore

Retired General Luis Cortes
Human rights lawyers say that there is evidence which proves General Pinochet ordered the squad to carry out the killings.

The human rights lawyers will present their arguments on Thursday, while General Pinochet's lawyers will take their turn on Friday.

They argue that the general had nothing to do with the squad's activities, but their main argument will be that the former military leader is too ill to face trial.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago says this is the first real test of the Chilean Government's assertion that General Pinochet can be tried in his own country.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the hearing "marks a positive first step to crack the impenetrable legal barrier which has sheltered Augusto Pinochet for over a quarter of a century".

Warm welcome

General Pinochet returned to Chile last month after nearly a year-and-a-half under house arrest in the UK.

General Pinochet returned home last month
The UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided that the general was not fit to be extradited to stand trial in Spain.

Since his return, the former dictator has been staying in his mansion outside Santiago.

One of the general's closest aides, the retired General Luis Cortes, said: "In London, he felt offended, insulted, but here he feels very sad.

"He feels he is not welcomed anywhere, that nobody loves him anymore."

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20 Jan 00 | The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
04 Mar 00 | Americas
Thousands march against Pinochet
08 Mar 00 | Americas
Pressure grows on Pinochet
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