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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 22:25 GMT
Pinochet murder case goes ahead
Relatives of those who went missing or were detained under Gen Pinochet's regime embrace in Santiago, Chile
Victims' relatives were overjoyed at the court's decision
A Chilean appeals court has upheld the indictment and house arrest of former President Augusto Pinochet.

The former military leader, 89, was charged last week with murder and kidnapping, but his lawyers contested the lower court's decision.

Gen Pinochet is in hospital after reportedly suffering a stroke on Saturday. Doctors say he is conscious and no longer in a critical condition.

Prosecution lawyers said the reported illness was a political "manoeuvre".

"The injunction was rejected by three votes to zero, that means unanimously," said judge Juan Escobar.

Following the ruling, Mr Pinochet's lawyers filed an immediate appeal with the country's Supreme Court - a move which is likely to delay the arrest order.

Precedent

The judges' decision was greeted by cheers from the crowd outside the courtroom in Santiago.

Many who had gathered there had been tortured or had lost relatives during Gen Pinochet's rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Today's ruling has set an important example for those countries once involved in Operation Condor," said William Schulz, head of Amnesty International USA.

Gen Pinochet's daughter, Lucia Pinochet Hiriart, has rejected allegations that her father's illness was designed to help him avoid prosecution.

"[The accusations] are foolish," she said after visiting her father on Monday. "They make no sense".

Tax fraud allegations

Gen Pinochet faces charges relating to the murder of one Chilean and the disappearance of nine others as part of Operation Condor - an agreement by six South American governments in the 1970s to hunt down and kill left-wing opponents.

PINOCHET TRIAL TIMELINE
October 1998: Police in UK arrest Pinochet on Spanish warrant; long legal battle over fitness for trial
March 2000: Deemed unfit for trial, returns home. Days later effort begins to try him in Chile
August 2000: Supreme Court strips his immunity. Later declared fit to stand trial
July 2001: Charges suspended and later dropped on grounds of health
May 2004: Court strips Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over fresh charges
Dec 2004: Chilean judge indicts Pinochet

Earlier this month, a court ruled that Gen Pinochet could face charges over the murder of his predecessor as army chief, Gen Carlos Prats, who died in a car bomb in Buenos Aires in 1974.

Gen Pinochet is also being investigated over tax fraud and money laundering.

The Supreme Court stripped the former leader of immunity from prosecution in August, but so far the state of his mental health has prevented him from standing trial.

A previous investigation, accusing him of responsibility for the deaths of more than 70 political prisoners, fell through in 2001 when an appeal court found that he was too unwell to be tried.

He has previously been diagnosed with "moderate dementia", while doctors have disagreed over whether or not he is fit for trial. He also has diabetes and arthritis.

A Chilean inquiry concluded that more than 3,000 people were killed for political reasons during Gen Pinochet's military rule, while more than 30,000 Chileans have testified that they were tortured or detained.




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