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Chilean court overturns Pinochet indictment

pinochet
Augusto Pinochet  

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- Chile's Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court decision to throw out an indictment against former military ruler Augusto Pinochet on the grounds that the judge in the case had failed to follow proper procedure.

The ruling overturned both the indictment and the arrest warrant issued by Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, who had charged Pinochet in connection with the kidnappings and deaths of more than 70 political prisoners by the notorious "Caravan of Death."

The Caravan of Death was a military operation that executed political prisoners shortly after the September 11, 1973, coup in which Pinochet ousted democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.

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Four out of five Supreme Court magistrates in the criminal division voted to uphold a December 11 lower court ruling tossing the indictment on the grounds that Guzman did not interrogate Pinochet before issuing the indictment.

Guzman is still free to order Pinochet to be questioned on the charges and then to issue another indictment, but the general's attorneys are expected to press for medical exams in an effort to prove Pinochet is not medically fit to be questioned, arrested, or stand trial.

Pinochet, who suffers from a variety of physical ailments, faces possible trial in Chile on more than 180 counts of human-rights abuses. He was arrested in Britain in 1998 on a warrant from a Spanish judge, who wanted the general to stand trial in Spain on similar charges.

After British judges ruled Pinochet was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial in Spain, the general returned to Chile in March.

He had expected to enjoy immunity from prosecution as a "senator for life," but Chilean courts revoked that status in May.



RELATED STORIES:
Chile's top court withholds ruling on Pinochet appeal
December 19, 2000
Chilean Supreme Court could rule on Pinochet case this week
December 18, 2000
Chilean court suspends Pinochet house-arrest order
December 5, 2000
Human rights groups hail Pinochet arrest
December 2, 2000
Pinochet to stand trial in Chile
December 1, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Amnesty International
Pinochet Foundation (in Spanish)
Chile President (in Spanish)
Human Rights Watch
UK Home Office

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