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The BBC's James Reynolds in Santiago
"They will say that General Pinochet is innoncent"
 real 28k

Friday, 28 April, 2000, 03:38 GMT 04:38 UK
Pinochet hearings continue
court scene
The closed three-day hearing is set to end on Friday
Chile's court of appeal has held a second day of hearings to decide whether to strip General Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution.

The hearings in the capital Santiago are the first step towards a possible trial.

General Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 until 1990, returned to Chile on grounds of ill health last month after almost 18 months under arrest in Britain.

The pinochet File

The day's hearings were taken up with submissions made by five lawyers seeking the former dictator's prosecution.

Heavy security

There was heavy security outside the court as police made sure that hundreds of supporters and opponents of Augusto Pinochet who had come to demonstrate were kept apart.

The atmosphere was calmer than on Wednesday, when fist fights broke out and police made several arrests.

Pinochet supporters
Pinochet supporters rallied outside the court
Human rights lawyers will make their final submissions on Friday, then a lawyer representing Augusto Pinochet will speak. The court will then retire to consider its verdict.

A decision is expected some time next month.

'Caravan of Death'

A lawyer whose husband was among scores of dissidents killed shortly after Chile's 1973 military coup urged the court to strip Augusto Pinochet of his immunity.

Carmen Hertz is the widow of Carlos Berger, one of the dissidents killed by the so-called "Caravan of Death" - a squad of military officers who travelled across Chile shortly after the coup, killing more than 70 political prisoners.

She and the other lawyers alleged that the officers' commander, General Sergio Arellano, had been assigned by General Pinochet to speed up the trials of political prisoners.

"Arellano acted as a delegate of Pinochet," she said.

General Pinochet
Lawyers argued that General Pinochet should not enjoy immunity
Pinochet legal team

Members of Augusto Pinochet's legal team were in court to hear the arguments.

Several shook their heads in disagreement as the human rights lawyers spoke of the general's alleged involvement in torture, murder and even genocide.

Augusto Pinochet currently cannot face trial because he changed the Constitution in 1980 to give all presidents who had served six years the right to become a senator for life, with immunity from prosecution.

"The arguments speak for themselves," said Viviana Diaz, president of the Association of Families of the Detained/Disappeared.

"They show that Pinochet should not only be stripped of his immunity but also put on trial."

The efforts to strip Augusto Pinochet, 84, of his immunity started in March, when investigating magistrate Juan Guzman filed a report containing criminal complaints against the general.

More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during Augusto Pinochet's rule.

Amnesty law

Even if the general were stripped of his immunity, he still might not face a trial, thanks to a law that grants amnesty to those responsible for human rights abuses caused by political violence between 1973 and 1978.

Since his return, the former dictator has been staying in his mansion outside Santiago.

Augusto Pinochet returned to Chile after the UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided that the general was not fit to be extradited to stand trial in Spain.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | Americas
Clashes at Pinochet hearing
20 Jan 00 | The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
04 Mar 00 | Americas
Thousands march against Pinochet
08 Mar 00 | Americas
Pressure grows on Pinochet
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