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Page last updated at 22:41 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Argentina suspends Astiz release

Alfredo Astiz, pictured in court in 2000
The decision to release Alfredo Astiz sparked outrage in Argentina

An Argentine court has suspended its decision to release Alfredo Astiz and a number of other men charged with murder and torture during its "Dirty War".

The criminal court ordered 14 men freed on Thursday, having been held without conviction for over two years.

The decision met with public outcry and prosecutors argued they were likely to flee, prompting a change of heart.

An ex-navy captain known as the "Blond Angel of Death", Mr Astiz is linked to the disappearance of dozens of people.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had called the decision to release him a "shame for Argentines, humanity and our justice system".

All 14 men worked at the Naval Mechanics School, or Esma, in the capital, Buenos Aires, during the period of military government between 1976 and 1983.

It was at Esma that newborn babies were taken from their mothers and given for adoption to childless military couples. The mothers were then killed.

Other prisoners were dropped, bound and drugged, from military aircraft nearby, says the BBC's Daniel Schweimler, in Buenos Aires.

Prosecutors argued that if released on bail, the accused were likely to flee, our correspondent says.

Hearing this argument - and the public outcry - the court suspended its original decision.

Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people were killed during the so-called Dirty War.

Human Rights Minister Eduardo Luis Duhalde told reporters he planned to appeal to the Supreme Court against the earlier court's ruling, and called for the investigation of the judges responsible, Luis Garcia and Guillermo Yacobucci.

Justice campaigners also called the release orders a disgrace.

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