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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
Court lifts Pinochet's immunity
General Pinochet in 2000
Human rights groups say Pinochet's regime killed thousands
A Chilean court has stripped former military leader Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution.

The surprise move paves the way for his trial on charges of human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule.

Unlike previous cases, the latest lawsuit against Gen Pinochet refers to what was known as Operation Condor.

This was a co-ordinated campaign by the Latin American military governments of the 1970s and 1980s to crack down on their suspected opponents.

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

The next step must be for the dictator to go to jail
Lorena Pizarro
Victims' spokesperson

His lawyers are expected to make a similar argument when they appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court within the month.

The court voted 14-9 to lift the immunity the 88-year-old enjoys as former president.


The BBC's Clinton Porteous in the Chilean capital Santiago says the decision came as a big surprise, provoking gasps - and cheers - in the courtroom.

He adds that a lengthy interview given by Gen Pinochet to a US television station might have persuaded judges that he was not mentally unfit to stand trial.

Prosecution lawyer Francisco Bravo said: "This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole Chilean society again trust Chile's justice."

Lorena Pizarro, head of an association of the relatives of people who disappeared during Gen Pinochet's rule, said: "We are happy now, but we remain alert because the next step must be for the dictator to go to jail and pay for all the crimes of which he is responsible."

In 1998, Gen Pinochet was arrested in Britain after Spain requested his extradition on torture charges.

He was eventually allowed home in 2000 after he was adjudged too ill to stand trial.

The BBC's Clinton Porteous
"Many said it was a breakthrough and a victory for justice"

Pinochet immunity challenge fails
22 Oct 03 |  Americas
Chile's Pinochet victims testify
13 May 04 |  Americas
US revisits Pinochet 'secrets'
04 May 04 |  Americas
Pinochet's police chief jailed
18 May 04 |  Americas
Timeline: Chile
25 May 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Chile
06 May 04 |  Country profiles

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