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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Spain hails Pinochet decision
Anti-Pinochet demo
Relatives of the missing celebrate after the court's decision
Human rights lawyers in Spain have welcomed the decision by a Chilean court to strip General Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution.

The pinochet File
The ruling by an appeals court in the Chilean capital Santiago is the first step towards a possible trial of Chile's former military ruler who is accused of human rights abuses.

Joan Garces, a lawyer for Spanish nationals allegedly tortured during General Pinochet's rule said that although it would be difficult to bring the general to trial in Chile, the court's decision showed the effectiveness of the victims' battle for justice.

General Pinochet returned to Chile in March after more than 16 months under housed arrest in London.

Pinochet supporters
Pinochet supporters blame government pressure

The British Government ruled that he was too ill to be extradited to Spain where a judge wanted him tried on charges of human rights abuses.

The Spanish Government, which during the long judicial battle always opposed attempts top put Gen Pinochet on trial in Madrid, saluted the Chilean court decision.

Too ill

Lawyers for the 84-year-old former ruler say they will appeal against the decision to the Chilean Supreme Court.

His original immunity stemmed from his role as a senator-for-life - a position he created for himself when he relinquished power in 1990.

General Pinochet is also accused of ordering the kidnap and illegal execution of 19 people in the case known as the Caravan of Death.

There are another 105 complaints filed against him in what some observers have described as the Pandora's Box of the Chilean transition to democracy.

But the BBC correspondent in Santiago says that according to opinion polls, many Chileans still think the general will not face trial. They think he will be let off on grounds of poor health.

History of case
Oct 1998: Arrested in Britain
Oct 1998: Released over immunity
Nov 1998: Immunity rejected
Dec 1998: British government rejects release
Dec 1998: Immunity decision set aside over possible bias
March 1999: Immunity again rejected
Sept 1999: Extradition hearing begins
Oct 1999: Adjourned over health
March 2000: Government decides against extradition
March 2000: Return to Chile
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos earlier urged the country to remain calm when the decision to strip him of immunity was made public.

Asked by a German newspaper if putting General Pinochet on trial would endanger Chile's political stability, Mr Lagos said it would not.

"We are already a democracy," he said.

Protesters in Chile - relatives of the disappeared, left-wing politicians and human rights activists - have continued to question the British Government's assessment that the general was not well enough to stand trial.

They argued that from his behaviour back in Chile, he was certainly fit to stand trial in his own country.

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See also:

05 Jun 00 | Americas
Pinochet stripped of immunity
27 Apr 00 | Americas
Clashes at Pinochet hearing
08 Mar 00 | Americas
Pressure grows on Pinochet
04 Mar 00 | Americas
Thousands march against Pinochet
20 Jan 00 | The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
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