SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chile's congress passed a constitutional
amendment Saturday that could protect former dictator Augusto Pinochet
from prosecution -- even if he is stripped of the immunity he now enjoys
as a senator-for-life.
Pinochet faces 77 criminal complaints in Chile stemming from human rights
abuses during his reign, and a judge probing the complaints, Juan Guzman,
has requested that the Santiago Court of Appeals lift that immunity so
Pinochet can stand trial.
However, if he loses his congressional legal shield, the 84-year-old former
ruler can now step down from the senate and take advantage of the new
legislation and the immunity it offers.
In a joint session Saturday, the Senate and the House voted 113-27 for
amendment. The "Dignity of the former President of the Republic"
amendment will also give former heads of state a salary equal to that of
senators, about $6,000 a month.
Law experts were unclear if there was any way to lift the immunity written
into the new amendment.
Pinochet returned to Chile earlier this month from London after successfully
fighting extradition to Spain, where a judge wanted to try him for human
rights abuses during his 1973-90 dictatorship. Britain released Pinochet after
an independent team of four doctors determined he was physically and
mentally unfit to stand trial.
According to an official report, 3,197 people were killed or vanished after
Pinochet seized power in a bloody coup.
Legislators from the Socialist Party of President Ricardo Lagos opposed
new legislation while their Christian Democrat allies in the center-left
pro-government coalition approved it, as did the right-wing opposition.
The legislation immediately benefits Patricio Aylwin, the centrist civilian
leader who succeeded Pinochet. The Christian Democrats sought to benefit
Aylwin while the right voted to aid Pinochet.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.