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The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"A decision which may eventually mean he avoids trial"
 real 56k

Chilean human rights campaigner, Luis Macchiavello
"Pinochet won this battle, but we will win the war"
 real 56k

Families of the Disappeared, Cristina Navarrete
"I hope justice will be done"
 real 56k

Monday, 11 December, 2000, 19:34 GMT
Court blocks Pinochet arrest
Relatives of Chile's 'disappeared' outside the Appeals Court
Bitter disappointment for these relatives of Chile's 'disappeared' at the Appeals Court decision
A court in Chile has blocked kidnapping and murder charges against former military ruler General Augusto Pinochet, and overturned an order for him to be placed under house arrest.

The Appeals Court in the capital, Santiago, said that Judge Juan Guzman, did not follow correct legal procedures when charging General Pinochet and ordering his detention.


Justice was done

Pinochet lawyer Sergio Castro
The order stemmed from the general's alleged involvement in more than 70 murders and abductions carried out in 1973 by a military squad known as the Caravan of Death.

Lawyers for the prosecution are now appealing to the Chilean Supreme Court which is expected to rule on the issue in two week's time.

Significant victory

"We won, we won," one of the general's lawyers, Sergio Castro, said as he emerged from court.

"Justice was done."

General Pinochet's legal team argued successfully that Judge Guzman's arrest order was illegal because he had not questioned the general.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet: Court ruled he should have been questioned before arrest
They also argued that Judge Guzman should have waited for medical tests to be carried out on the general beforehand.

The BBC's Santiago correspondent, James Reynolds, says the appeal court ruling is a significant victory General Pinochet.

Lawyers for the prosecution put a brave face on the result.

"The court has only ruled that the indictment of Pinochet was improper because he was not questioned by a judge before it was issued," prosecution lawyer Carmen Hertz said.

"But the ruling does not involve the essence of the case against him, " said Ms Hertz - whose husband was killed during the Pinochet dictatorship.

"We will now go to the Supreme Court."

Latest legal manoeuvres
1/12: A judge charges General Pinochet and orders his arrest
2/12: Lawyers for the general lodge an appeal
5/12: Appeals court suspends detention order
7/12: Appeal is heard
11/12: Appeals court drops arrest order

Pressures

Once the Supreme Court has reached a final decision, President Ricardo Lagos has said he will convene the country's top security committee, which gives the military commanders a political say during moments of national crisis.

The armed forces requested the meeting and made it clear they believed that the indictment of the former leader threatened the country's stability.

Chile's President Lagos addressing the nation
President Lagos will hold security meeting after a final ruling
Human rights lawyers have accused the military of exerting considerable pressure on the courts.

They also blame the government for not doing enough to protect the judiciary's independence.

A long series of legal proceedings against General Pinochet began in October 1998, when police arrested the general in the UK at the request of a Spanish judge who wanted to try him on charges of torture.

The general spent 503 days in custody before being allowed to return home, after Britain ruled he was too ill to undergo trial in Spain.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Media reports
Chile split on army's role in politics
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Pinochet charged with kidnapping
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