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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 09:08 GMT
Pinochet illness 'not overplayed'
Gen Augusto Pinochet. File photo
Gen Pinochet has been in poor health in recent years
Doctors treating Chile's former military ruler, Augusto Pinochet, have rejected claims that he has exaggerated his illness to avoid prosecution.

Dr Rodrigo Aguila Garay said he was recovering well from Sunday's heart attack because it was treated in time.

The general's son has also rejected opponents' doubts over his illness, saying he had been close to death.

Gen Pinochet faces charges over human rights abuses and tax evasion allegedly committed during his time in office.

Some 3,000 people disappeared or were killed during his 17 years in power.

The 91-year-old has always argued that he prevented Chile from descending into political and social turmoil.

Quick treatment

Doctors announced on Tuesday that Gen Pinochet was over the worst of his illness after treatment following a heart attack.

Marco Antonio Pinochet
If he'd got there five minutes later he would have died
Marco Antonio Pinochet

"He is well, conscious and talking," Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara said outside a military hospital in the capital, Santiago.

The news prompted renewed speculation by his critics that he had exaggerated the nature of his current illness.

But the general's son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, said the explanation was that because of his father's poor health he had a full-time nurse and an ambulance standing by.

This meant he was able to get to hospital in minutes, he said, where a cardiologist was on duty and able to treat him quickly.

"If he'd got there five minutes later he would have died," he told a local radio station.

Doctors say Gen Pinochet, who was under house arrest at the time of the heart attack, is likely to remain in the hospital for the time being.

Legal immunity

On Sunday, Gen Pinochet underwent an emergency angioplasty - a procedure to clear blocked arteries.

He was reportedly on the brink of death, and a priest read him the last rites.

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.

Gen Pinochet overthrew the elected government of the left-wing President Salvador 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.

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