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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Chile strips Pinochet of immunity
General Augusto Pinochet in 1973
Gen Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup
Chile's Supreme Court has ruled that the country's former military ruler, Augusto Pinochet, should be stripped of immunity from prosecution.

A court spokesman said the ruling was passed by nine judges to eight.

The decision paves the way for the former president, now 88, to be tried for an alleged campaign of repression in the 1970s and 1980s.

Relatives of alleged victims cheered the decision, which confirmed a lower court's ruling in May.

"We're happy and we're going to keep pushing," said Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, quoted by the Reuters news agency.

Previous attempts to prosecute Gen Pinochet in Chile have been dismissed on medical grounds, with judges persuaded that he is suffering from dementia.

Similar arguments presented by defence lawyers this time were rejected by a majority of just one judge on the panel.

Commentators suggest the appearance of an apparently lucid Gen Pinochet on a Miami TV show last year may have undermined his lawyers' claims of dementia.

Public opinion has also shifted further against Gen Pinochet since the publication in July of a US Senate report, which gave details of secret bank accounts he holds containing millions of dollars.

Thousands killed

The Supreme Court ruling means Gen Pinochet could now face trial for charges of human rights abuses committed during his 1973-1990 military rule.

During this time, more than 3,000 supporters of the previous government were killed, thousands more tortured, and many thousands more again forced into exile.

LIFE OF PINOCHET
Born 1915; mother later pushes him into a military career
1950s: Leads clampdown on Chilean Communist party
1973: As army chief, leads coup against left-wing President Salvador Allende
1988: Loses public plebiscite on rule
1990: Steps down as president
1998: Steps down as commander-in-chief of the army. Arrested in UK.

Unlike previous cases, the charges this time centre on the Operation Condor campaign - a co-ordinated effort by South American military regimes in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate their opponents.

Under Operation Condor, secret police serving military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil in the 1970s exchanged prisoners and information.

The BBC's Clinton Porteous in Santiago says the next step will be for Judge Juan Guzman to restart his investigation into the general, subject to appeal.

The judge could formally question him or order new medical examinations.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Clinton Porteous
"The court decided that he was mentally capable of standing trial"



SEE ALSO:
Chile's Pinochet victims testify
13 May 04  |  Americas
Analysis: Shock at Pinochet ruling
28 May 04  |  Americas
Pinochet to testify in Jara case
25 Aug 04  |  Americas
Pinochet quizzed on bank accounts
21 Aug 04  |  Americas
Court halts Pinochet assets probe
02 Aug 04  |  Americas
Timeline: Chile
26 Aug 04  |  Country profiles



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