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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Opponents attack Pinochet 'ploy'
Pinochet opponents in Santiago
Pinochet opponents say he must stand trial
Opponents of Augusto Pinochet have accused Chile's former military leader of feigning illness ahead of a key decision on his fitness to stand trial.

General Pinochet was admitted to a military hospital in Santiago on Sunday for treatment for a mouth infection, hours before an appeals court verdict on whether he should face charges of human rights abuses.

It's all fixed as part of a farce

Gladys Marin, Chilean Communist Party
His opponents say the 85-year-old general is trying to influence the court. His supporters say his admission to hospital is merely a response to a medical need.

Doctors say Mr Pinochet is being given intravenous antibiotics, and that his blood pressure has been affected, but that he will be fit enough to leave hospital on Tuesday.

Court officials suggested that a decision on the general's fitness to stand trial might be reached on Tuesday, but the session has now been postponed until next week.

'Part of a farce'

Gladys Marin, the head of Chile's Communist Party, reacted with anger to the move.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet has a string of health problems
"Every time there is going to be an announcement by a court, he's got a sore tooth or he's got some kind of infection and has to be hospitalised ... It's all fixed as part of a farce," she said.

But a friend of the general denied he was feigning illness.

"The truth is that when they take him into hospital it is because he is ill, so it is nothing more than a response to a medical situation," said Christian Labbe, a conservative mayor of a Santiago district.

However, prosecution lawyer Eduardo Contreras said Mr Pinochet's latest trip to the hospital was part of a strategy.

"This is nothing more than a repetition of the manoeuvre used by General Pinochet's defence on certain occasions to make sure the criminal avoids being booked by police," Mr Contreras told La Nacion newspaper.

'Caravan of death'

Augusto Pinochet is accused of covering up about 70 killings and abductions by an army squad known as the Caravan of Death after he came to power in a coup in 1973.

Anti-Pinochet campaigner
More than 3,000 people "disappeared" during Pinochet's rule

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.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in jail.

But BBC correspondent Claire Marshall says few in Chile think the former ruler will spend any time in prison, given his health, the long legal process and political sensitivities surrounding the case.

Many believe that a court decision that he is too ill to go on trial will mark the definitive end to the legal action being taken against him.

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