Pinochet stripped of immunity from prosecution

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The Independent US

A Chilean court stripped General Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution today, paving the way for the trial of the former dictator on human rights charges.

A Chilean court stripped General Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution today, paving the way for the trial of the former dictator on human rights charges.

The court voted 14-9 to lift the immunity the 88-year-old Pinochet enjoys as former president, a court clerk said.

The decision may still be appealed before the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly ruled that Pinochet is physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

The court did not explain the basis for its ruling. A justice is expected to issue a written ruling in detail in two or three weeks.

A 2002 report by court-appointed doctors stated that Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973-90, suffers a mild case of dementia. He also uses a pacemaker, suffers from diabetes and arthritis, and has survived at least three mild strokes since 1998.

Human rights lawyers have sued Pinochet in connection with the deaths of several Chileans in the so-called "Operation Condor," a repression plan implemented by the military dictatorships that ruled South America's southern cone nations in the 1970s and 1980s.

Prosecution lawyer Francisco Bravo said the court vote came as a surprise because of the previous rulings by the Supreme Court exempting Pinochet form trial on health grounds.

"We receive this with deep surprise but also with deep pride," Bravo said. "We stress that what was at stake today was not Pinochet's health, but the principle of equality before the law."

"This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole Chilean society to again trust Chile's justice," he added.

Pinochet's lawyers did not immediately comment. Pinochet was not required to appear before the court.

Lorena Pizarro, head of an association of relatives of victims of repression during Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship, called the ruling "very good news.""We are happy now, but we remain alert because the next step must be for the dictator to go to jail and pay for all the crimes of which he is responsible," she added.

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