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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 13:23 GMT
Will Pinochet face justice in Chile?
pinochet
Most Chileans feel he should retire from public life
By James Reynolds in Santiago

Human rights activists in Chile say they will continue their efforts to ensure that General Pinochet is put on trial in his own country.

At present, Chilean judge Juan Guzman is investigating 59 lawsuits filed against the former military leader.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet: Weakened
Mr Guzman wants to order new medical tests so as to determine the general's state of health. Chilean law states that a person is fit for trial unless tests show that he or she is insane, or suffers from dementia.

Legal experts say several obstacles make it highly unlikely that the general will ever face trial in Chile.

The pinochet File
He has parliamentary immunity as a life senator. The Court of Appeal can lift this - but there is no guarantee that the court will choose to do so.

In addition, the 1978 Amnesty Law is still in place. Human rights lawyers say the armed forces would never allow their former commander in chief to be put on trial.

Urged to retire

The government has called on the general to retire from the Senate.

Pinochet timeline
Oct 98: Arrested in London
Nov 98-July 99: Legal wrangle over general's fate
Sept 99: Extradition hearing begins
Oct 99: Extradition approved
Nov 99: Home Office orders medical tests
Jan 00: Straw "minded" to release ill general
Feb 00: Four EU countries challenge medical report
March 00: Straw's final decision
Even his supporters would like to see him retire from public life.

On 25 March, the Chilean Congress is expected to ratify a law that allows life senators to resign in return for the title Ex-President and the retention of parliamentary immunity.

It is widely expected that General Pinochet will accept this option and retire.

Human rights lawyers say a loophole in the law means there is no mechanism for lifting the immunity of Ex-Presidents. Other campaigners dispute this.

Country has moved on

General Pinochet's fate will continue to be of great interest to his most faithful supporters and to his most committed opponents.

But for much of the rest of the country, what now happens to the general is no longer a matter of central concern.

Anti-Pinochet protester
An Anti-Pinochet protester in Santiago
When he left Chile in September 1998, General Augusto Pinochet was an active political player.

He had just retired as Commander in Chief of the Army, and begun work as a life senator.

But the general returns home physically and politically weakened to a country which has changed during his absence.

Life in Chile no longer revolves around the figure of Augusto Pinochet, as it did for a quarter of a century. For most people here, he has become a figure of the past. His name is hardly mentioned in political debate.

For the committed ranks of supporters - Pinochetistas - and opponents - anti-Pinochetistas - his return is an important event.

But most Chileans - whether they be supporters or opponents of General Pinochet - have decided to move on.

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12 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
The Pinochet case: Timeline
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