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Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner Annuls Law Blocking Extraditions - 2003-07-26

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner has signed an order Friday that is expected to clear the way for the extradition of many former military officers accused of human rights abuses during Argentina's last dictatorship.

The order wipes out a law that had prohibited the extradition of military officers to face charges abroad for events that took place during Argentina's bloody dictatorship.

As many as 30,000 people "disappeared" during the 1976 to 1983 military reign. A law put into place when democracy returned in 1983 had granted amnesty to many of the officers who served during the dictatorship.

The president's move comes a day after an Argentine judge ordered the arrest of 45 former military men whose extradition to Spain has been requested by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon. Mr. Garzon hopes to charge the ex-military leaders with crimes committed against Spanish citizens in Argentina during the seven-year of so-called "Dirty War."

Friday's decision is another victory for Mr. Garzon, who last month successfully persuaded officials in Mexico to extradite a former Argentine naval officer to Spain to face charges there.

Argentine courts must still rule on each case individually and decide whether to grant the extradition. Many of the former officers are elderly and in poor health. Three former leaders have already turned themselves in to authorities, while another attempted to kill himself upon learning about the warrant issued for his arrest. The man is in critical condition in a Buenos Aires hospital.

President Kirchner's decision to annul the law is the latest in a series of moves that have shaken up the ranks in the country's courts and armed forces and comes after Mr. Kirchner's first trip to United States where he met with President George W. Bush on Wednesday in Washington.