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Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 17:26 GMT
Court delays Pinochet questioning
Pinochet supporters
Supporters say Pinochet is too ill to be questioned
By James Reynolds in Santiago

The Chilean Supreme Court has decided to postpone the interrogation of former military leader Augusto Pinochet.

The interrogation, set for Wednesday, was to have been conducted by investigating judge Juan Guzman, the man who ordered General Pinochet's arrest at the start of the month.

Last week, the Supreme Court threw out the arrest order and ordered the judge to question the general before proceeding any further.

Tuesday's surprise ruling was made by a four-to-one vote.

Medical tests first

The judges decided that medical tests designed to work out whether Augusto Pinochet is fit to stand trial should go ahead before the interrogation takes place.

The court has given Judge Juan Guzman 20 days in which to have the tests carried out.

Anti-Pinochet demonstrators
Court rulings have gone against Pinochet's opponents recently
According to Chilean law, if these tests show that August Pinochet is insane or suffering from dementia, all legal action against him will end.

The court's decision has been welcomed by General Pinochet's lawyers - this is exactly what they had wanted at this stage.

They argue that Augusto Pinochet is in no fit state to be interrogated or to stand trial and they believe that medical tests will prove this.

Lawyers seeking the general's prosecution expressed surprise at the court's move.

But they say they hope that an interrogation can take place after medical tests are concluded, and they want Judge Guzman to reissue his order to arrest and indict General Pinochet as soon as the interrogation takes place.

'Caravan of Death'

General Pinochet faces kidnapping and murder charges relating to the notorious "Caravan of Death" that toured Chile shortly after the 1973 military coup in which he took power.

The convoy of military personnel, travelling by helicopter, arranged the executions of suspected left-wing activists throughout the country.

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

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:

20 Dec 00 | Americas
Court reprieve for Pinochet
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Pinochet charged with kidnapping
02 Nov 00 | Americas
Court orders more tests for Pinochet
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