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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 08:44 GMT
Q & A: What now for Pinochet?

With General Augusto Pinochet facing trial in Chile on charges of murder, our Santiago correspondent, James Reynolds, looks at what lies ahead for the former dictator.

Will General Pinochet ever actually appear in court?

Because of the way the Chilean legal system works, General Pinochet will not have to show up in court at any stage.

If the legal action against him reaches a trial stage, the evidence could be written - not oral.

Most people expect legal action against the general to last for months, if not years.

Given that General Pinochet is 85 years old, many Chileans believe that he will not survive to see the end of legal action against him.

Why is the legal process taking so long?

There are a number of hurdles and arguments which have slowed the case down.

First, the courts had to rule on stripping General Pinochet's immunity from prosecution as a life senator - this took more than five months to resolve.

Then, another five months were spent arguing over the correct procedure for medical tests and a formal interrogation.

At each stage there were a number of appeals both by the general's lawyers and by lawyers seeking his prosecution.

Chile's legal system moves at such a slow pace that the government is now introducing widespread reforms designed to speed the process up.

Have the legal proceedings changed public opinion?

The proceedings themselves do not appear to have changed public opinion much.

For the last two years there has been a solid majority in Chile in favour of seeing General Pinochet face trial.

Furthermore, a recent report into the fate of many of those who disappeared during the Pinochet years caused great emotion in this country.

The report strengthened many people's desire to see General Pinochet held accountable for the crimes committed during his years in power.

Does General Pinochet still have strong support?

General Pinochet still has vociferous support from a hard-core of supporters.

They include his family, retired members of the armed forces, and a number of opposition politicians.

Beyond this, his support has faded.

He still has public backing from the armed forces. But members of his family have complained that military commanders have not done as much as they should or could for their former commander-in-chief.

How much power does the judge leading the investigation, Juan Guzman, wield?

A fair amount. As the investigating magistrate, he has the power to arrest the general and also the power to find him innocent or guilty.

His powers are checked by the Court of Appeal in Santiago and by Chile's Supreme Court. These courts have the power to over-rule his decisions.

Does it matter any more whether he actually stands trial?

Opinions vary. Some Chileans think that the main point has already been made - that General Pinochet has been made to answer for crimes committed during his years of military rule.

These people think that little will be served by prolonging things with a full trial.

But many human rights campaigners disagree. They say they will not be satisfied until the general is tried and convicted.

Having come this far, they argue, the legal process should be allowed to continue.

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See also:

24 Jan 01 | Americas
Lawyers seek Pinochet indictment
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Judge questions Pinochet
10 Jan 01 | Americas
Finding Chile's disappeared
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