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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 15:21 GMT
Pinochet still serious but stable
Pinochet supporters
Supporters are awaiting news outside the hospital
Chile's former military leader Augusto Pinochet remains in a serious but stable condition in hospital, after surgery following a heart attack.

Doctors say the 91-year-old will remain under observation in Santiago for about 10 days following Sunday's operation.

Correspondents say his ill-health has reignited the debate over his legacy.

Some 3,000 people disappeared or were killed during his 17 years in power. He is under indictment in two human rights cases and for tax evasion.

A top Chilean court, meanwhile, has ordered his release on bail after his arrest last week over the abduction of two people in 1973.

A spokesperson for the Chilean government has called for calm and says the government is prepared for any outcome.

Last rites

A group of Gen Pinochet's supporters remain outside the military hospital where he had surgery to widen a blood vessel after suffering a severe heart attack early on Sunday.

Doctors say they think they can avoid performing risky open-heart surgery, after follow-up procedures to see if such a move is needed.

A doctor told reporters Gen Pinochet would stay in hospital and under observation for "at least 10 days."

"The patient's life is still in danger. We can't change that," Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara said, according to Reuters news agency.

"The family is very tense, worried, but hoping that he can recover," a friend of Gen Pinochet, Luis Cortes Villa, said.

On Sunday, the former leader received the last rites from a Catholic priest.

'Best interests'

Correspondents say Gen Pinochet's latest health problems have reignited speculation about the nature of his funeral following his eventual death.

Gen Augusto Pinochet
Gen Pinochet been in poor health in recent years

His supporters say he should be granted full state honours, but critics say such a move would be a national disgrace.

Gen Pinochet overthrew the elected government of the left-wing President Allende in 1973 in a bloody coup.

As a former president he enjoys legal immunity, but the courts can strip him of this privilege on a case-by-case basis.

On his 91st birthday last month, Gen Pinochet issued a statement in which he took "political responsibility" for acts that took place under his rule, saying he had believed they were in Chile's best interests.

The former ruler has been in poor health in recent years. He suffers from diabetes and arthritis, and has also had a number of suspected strokes.


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