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James Reynolds in Santiago
Move welcomed by human rights activists
 real 28k

The BBC's Helen Sawyer
"Already human rights lawyers are bringing 72 civil actions against General Pinochet"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 01:13 GMT
Pressure grows on Pinochet
Chilean police at Pinochet house
Pinochet is under police protection in Santiago
The Chilean public prosecutor's office has for the first time said it will take part in the lawsuits against former dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
Human rights lawyers are bringing 72 civil suits against the general, including six new cases announced on Tuesday.

General Pinochet was last week permitted to return to Chile following 17 months under house arrest in the United Kingdom, as Spain sought to extradite him to face torture charges.

The State Defence Council, as the prosecutor's office is called, said it believes "it is in the interests of the public and the state" to pursue charges against General Pinochet.

General Pinochet
The general faces 72 civil suits for human rights abuses
Prosecutors will take up the so-called "caravan of death" case, the killing spree in which military officers disposed of at least 70 political opponents shortly after General Pinochet seized power in 1973.

The council's decision will allow government lawyers to take part in the investigation against General Pinochet.

It will also allow them to intervene in a trial if the case gets that far.

MPs' request

The State Defence Council decided to intervene in response to a request by left-wing members of parliament last Friday, the day the general arrived back in Chile.

The organisation representing relatives of those who disappeared during the military government applauded the decision.

The Pinochet Foundation, which speaks for the general's supporters, says the council's decision is unexpected.



On Monday, investigating Judge Juan Guzman begun legal moves to strip General Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for the killings.

At present, the general - who remained head of state until 1990 - enjoys immunity by virtue of his status as a life-long senator.

President-elect Ricardo Lagos - a leading dissident during the Pinochet era - said recently he wanted to ensure that Chilean courts were free to investigate charges against the general.

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