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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK
Chileans seek life after Pinochet
Anti-Pinochet demo in Santiago
Monday's protests were much smaller than in the past
By Claire Marshall in Santiago

The news is starting to hit home that the decision of the Santiago Court of Appeal is likely to mean the end of all legal action against Augusto Pinochet.

Hundreds of people marched through the streets of the Chilean capital in protest at the court judgment suspending the test case against the former military ruler.

For an increasing number of people in Chile, it does seem that it's time for the country to move on

Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators chanting that the decision was a "national shame", and that the Chilean courts had been "compromised by a criminal".

However, illustrating the division which still exists in Chile over General Pinochet, groups of his jubilant supporters also gathered to shout slogans, which included, "the king lives on".

Augusto Pinochet
Pinochet's condition is said to be stable
Calling the general "our liberator", one woman said legal action should never have been started in the first place.

The Court of Appeal's decision makes it very difficult for any future case to be brought against the general.

He has been pronounced mentally incapable of conducting his own defence.

While technically the case is merely postponed until his condition improves, his worsening state of health means this is unlikely ever to happen.

Fragile health

The former leader's supporters maintain that justice has been done.

The director of the Pinochet Foundation, General Luis Cortez, says that General Pinochet can now live his last days in "peace and dignity" as he believes a former president should be able to.

Supporter with Pinochet figurine
Pinochet is a shrinking presence in Chile
But for the relatives of the 3,000 people who were killed or disappeared under the military regime during the 1970s and 80s, this comes as a devastating blow.

Fabiola Letelier's brother was assassinated by the authorities. She describes the court ruling as "a national shame".

Pinochet opponents deny his health is fragile.

However the 85-year-old suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, and has spent the last year in and out of hospital.

Last week he was admitted for a mouth operation, and ended up staying in for six days.

Rumours that he had actually died had been circulating Santiago. He is still undergoing treatment at home.

Time to let go

But for an increasing number of people in Chile, it does seem that it's time for the country to move on.

Jaime Garcia, a teacher in Santiago, said that most people are thinking about other things.

He said they're more concerned about Chile's economic difficulties than this case.

Those seeking Augusto Pinochet's prosecution will appeal to the Supreme Court.

However their chance of success is very small.

While is he is classified as an indicted criminal, it now seems very unlikely that the general will ever face trial.

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03 Jul 01 | Americas
Opponents attack Pinochet 'ploy'
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