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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Prosecutors urge Pinochet trial
Pinochet opponents in Santiago
Pinochet opponents demonstrate outside the court
Prosecution lawyers in Chile have insisted that the country's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, is fit to stand trial on charges of human rights abuses.

Prosecutor Eduardo Contreras said that the 85-year-old general had health problems, but was not "crazy or demented" - and should not be exempted from prosecution.

Health is not a reason to suspend this legal process

Prosecutor Eduardo Contreras
His comments came a day after General Pinochet's main defence lawyer requested a suspension of procedings at the Santiago court on the grounds that his client was too ill to stand trial.

The latest round of appeal court hearings are expected to end on Wednesday, but the three-judge panel is expected to take several days to reach a ruling.

The daughter of the former president, Isabel Allende, said it would be scandalous to curtail the case, because General Pinochet was completely lucid.

General Pinochet faces charges of covering up the murder and kidnapping of dozens of political prisoners by military death-squads shortly after he came to power in 1973.

He has repeatedly denied any responsibility.

"I am not a criminal... I never ordered anybody killed," he told the indicting Judge Juan Guzman earlier this year.

Under Chilean law, a suspect can only avoid trial if diagnosed as mentally unfit.

'Unpredictable dementia'

On Monday, his defence lawyers told the court that charges against General Pinochet should be scrapped on account of what they described as his "unpredictable dementia".

Augusto Pinochet
More than 3,000 people "disappeared" during Pinochet's rule
The defence says the former strongman is also suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes and should be left alone.

Lawyers argue that the case would effectively come to an end if it were suspended, because it would then become entangled in lengthy legal procedures.

Thirty anti-Pinochet protesters unfurled banners and chanted "Trial for Pinochet" outside the courthouse as proceedings opened.

General Pinochet has already escaped prosecution in Spain as a result of his alleged mental deficiency.

He avoided extradition to Spain from Britain last year on charges of torture and human rights abuses after he was judged mentally unfit to stand trial.

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See also:

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US bars Kissinger in Pinochet probe
28 May 01 | Americas
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15 May 01 | Americas
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14 May 01 | Americas
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12 Mar 01 | Americas
Pinochet 'eligible for bail'
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