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Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Analysis: Legal hurdles to Pinochet trial
Pinochet returns
Pinochet's relatives have refused to allow medical tests
By Jon Leyne

The ruling by Chile's Supreme Court lifting General Pinochet's immunity means the former military ruler could now face trial in connection with thousands of Chileans killed and tortured during his 17-year rule.

But many legal complications remain before the general reaches the stand.

This ruling is final and without appeal, but it still does not mean that prosecution of General Pinochet is inevitable.

The courts must now decide whether the general is medically fit to stand trial.

It was on medical grounds that legal proceedings against him in Britain were eventually dropped, to the dismay of human rights activists.

Mental health

But the medical criteria by which he will be judged in Chile are potentially much stricter than in Britain.

The Chilean courts would need to be convinced, by independent doctors, that General Pinochet was either insane or suffering from dementia.

Such tests are automatic for defendants over the age of 70 in Chile.

But there is a further complication, as the general's family has until now insisted he would not be willing to undergo the indignity of such a psychological examination.

Political opposition

Whatever the legal complications, it is clear that the political tide has begun to turn against Chile's former leader.

The new government which took office in March is full of dedicated opponents of General Pinochet.

Even the military are no longer totally dedicated towards protecting their former leader.

They have found that the issue is preventing them from getting much needed new money and new equipment.

Nevertheless General Pinochet's fate remains one of the most divisive issues in Chilean politics.

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08 Aug 00 | Americas
Way open for Pinochet trial
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