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Former Chilean Dictator Pinochet Stripped of Immunity

Augusto Pinochet (2003 file photo)
A Chilean court Wednesday stripped former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for alleged human rights violations during his 17-year reign.

The ruling by the Santiago appeals court allows a judge to question Mr. Pinochet about his association with Operation Colombo, a rash of killings by Chile's secret police during his reign. It could also clear the way for charges of murder and human rights abuses to be filed against the 89-year-old former strongman.

The former general ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. During that time more than three-thousand people were killed and 30-thousand tortured or imprisoned.

His lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, says his client is unfit to stand trial and defend himself in court.

Mr. Rodriguez says, General Pinochet can't answer questions. He can't build his defense, can't participate by providing information that naturally is necessary to be able to defend him from the accusations.''

Two previous efforts to bring Mr. Pinochet to trial on rights abuses failed when judges backed claims by his lawyers that his failing physical and mental health made it impossible for him to stand trial.

But last month, a court stripped Mr. Pinochet of his immunity in a tax evasion case alleging that the former dictator stashed more than 15 million dollars in foreign banks, including those in the United States.