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Friday, 9 June, 2000, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Pinochet appeal begins
Anti-Pinochet demonstration
Pinochet's opponents: A landmark case
Lawyers for the former Chilean military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, have asked Chile's Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that strips him of his parliamentary immunity.

The appeal comes after judges at a lower court, the Santiago Court of Appeal, decided on Monday that the general should lose his immunity.

Pinochet's return: The military still exerts power behind the scenes
Their decision, if upheld, would pave the way for General Pinochet to face trial on charges of human rights abuses.

General Pinochet, 84, has enjoyed immunity as a senator-for-life - a post he created for himself when he stood down in 1990.

A Supreme Court plenary session is to be held next Wednesday, when all 20 of the court's magistrates will consider the appeal from General Pinochet's lawyers.

"There is no information, no sign, no suspicion that Senator Pinochet participated in the acts that they accuse him of," General Pinochet's lawyer Gustavo Collado told the court.

The pinochet File

General Pinochet returned to Chile in March after more than 16 months under house arrest in the United Kingdom.

The UK Government had ruled that he was too ill to be extradited to Spain, where a judge wanted him tried on charges of human rights abuses.

Musicians serenaded Pinochet on Infantry Day on Wednesday

More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during General Pinochet's 17 years in power from 1973 to 1990.

Legal hurdles

General Pinochet is also accused of ordering the kidnap and illegal execution of 19 people in the case known as the Caravan of Death.

There are another 105 complaints filed against him.

History of case
Oct 1998: Arrested in Britain
Oct 1998: Released over immunity
Nov 1998: Immunity rejected
Dec 1998: British government rejects release
Dec 1998: Immunity decision set aside over possible bias
March 1999: Immunity again rejected
Sept 1999: Extradition hearing begins
Oct 1999: Adjourned over health
March 2000: Government decides against extradition
March 2000: Return to Chile

Even if he wins the appeal, the general may yet avoid trial because of a law that grants amnesty to those responsible for human rights abuses caused by political violence from 1973 to 1978, when most of the atrocities allegedly occurred.

According to opinion polls, many Chileans think he will not face trial. They think he will be let off on grounds of poor health.

Protesters in Chile - relatives of the disappeared, left-wing politicians and human rights activists - have continued to question the British Government's assessment that the general was not well enough to stand trial.

They argue that his behaviour since his return indicates he was fit to stand trial in his own country.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Americas
Spain hails Pinochet decision
05 Jun 00 | Americas
Pinochet stripped of immunity
04 Mar 00 | Americas
Thousands march against Pinochet
20 Jan 00 | The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
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