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Pinochet charged with murder

December 14, 2004 18:41 IST
Chile's former strongman Gen Augusto Pinochet was charged with murder and nine counts of kidnapping after a judge ruled he is mentally fit to stand trial, report agencies.

Judge Juan Guzmán requested that the ex-general, who ruled Chile for 17 years, be placed under house arrest when he receives the charges Tuesday.

Pinochet's defense had tried to have the case against him thrown out on mental health grounds.

According to the Santiago Times, Guzmán interrogated Pinochet 10 weeks ago and ordered fresh psychiatric tests to determine whether the 89 year old suffers from dementia. He said the clinching factor in his decision was a lucid TV interview Pinochet gave to a Spanish-language TV station in Miami late last year.

"When I studied all the evidence, all the elements that I had before my eyes and the personal perceptions I have of him, it was perfectly easy," said Guzman, who went through reports from three psychiatric experts who examined Pinochet in September.

The defense had argued that careful editing of the Miami interview had made their client appear compos mentis, but Guzmán, who consulted experts to analyze the tape, said Pinochet's "coherence, comprehension of questions and appropriate answers" demonstrated he was fit to give evidence.

Guzmán considers Pinochet able to determine right from wrong, a crucial element in mental competence decisions.

The debate surrounding the ex-dictator's mental health began when he was arrested in London in 1998 after Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón requested his extradition to face charges of crimes against humanity.

In 2000, then British Home Secretary Jack Straw deemed him unfit to face trial, and former members of Margaret Thatcher's administration put pressure on the Labour government to release their erstwhile ally, the Santiago Times said.

He was finally extradited to Chile in March 2000.

AGENCIES