Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Chile says Pinochet hospitalized after suffering stroke


Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet suffered a stroke and was hospitalized on Saturday, just two days before an appeals court ruling on whether to uphold his indictment and arrest for crimes committed during his 17-year rule.

Pinochet suffered a stroke "with loss of consciousness," Lionel Gomez Serey, the medical director of the Military Hospital of Santiago, said in a statement.

Pinochet, 89, has a history of health problems that include diabetes and several minor strokes.

Earlier, a source at the Pinochet Foundation said the Pinochet was feeling ill and his doctor "took him to the hospital for an examination as a precautionary measure. That is all," said retired general Guillermo Garin.

Garin, a loyal Pinochet supporter, denied any connection between the hospital visit and Pinochet's legal troubles.

Judge Juan Guzman Tapia has ordered the arrest of Pinochet -- who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 -- for his role in Operation Condor, an alliance of 1970s-era South American dictatorships to eliminate opponents.

The Santiago Court of Appeals said it would decide today on a defense petition to drop the charges, based on a July 2002 Supreme Court finding that Pinochet suffered from mild dementia and was unable to stand trial.

The case could put Pinochet in the dock for the first time for human rights abuses conducted during his 17-year rule, a prospect long awaited by many who claim to have suffered under his strong-arm tactics.

The youngest of Pinochet's five children, Marco Antonio, told reporters that he wants the judge to go to the hospital "to confirm how bad" his father is doing.

Guzman Tapia "believes this is a show," he said, adding that his father's stroke "was stronger than the last ones due to the stress that he has been suffering."

Guzman Tapia argues that new information has emerged since the 2002 Supreme Court finding of Pinochet's "mild dementia" that prevented him from facing trial in an earlier case.

In November last year, Pinochet showed no hint of dementia when interviewed by a Miami television station, even joking and describing himself as feeling like "an angel."

Pinochet delivered clear and coherent answers on economic, political and social issues during the interview, Guzman Tapia said.

And in August Pinochet gave detailed answers to another judge investigating his secret bank accounts holding up to US$15 million at Riggs Bank in Washington.

US Senate investigators uncovered the accounts in June. Chile's tax service and the State Defense Council have opened corruption investigations.

Chilean lawyers said finding Pinochet fit to stand trial opens the door to bringing charges in a multitude of cases, such as the September 1974 car-bomb murder of General Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires.

The former head of Chile's army had abandoned the country rather that participate in a military government.

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