Court blocks medical tests to Pinochet, delays decision on trial

SANTIAGO, Chile - In a setback to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's efforts to escape trial on human rights charges, Chile's Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to allow medical tests that could have exempted the former dictator from a proceeding.

The court also delayed a decision on whether to strip the former dictator of his congressional immunity to allow a trial in one of the most notorious cases during his 1973-90 dictatorship - the so-called ''caravan of death'' that executed jailed dissidents.

Chief Justice Hernan Alvarez said that after a ''heated debate'' the 20 justices voted 11-9 to reject a request by Pinochet's defense to let doctors examine him in an effort to support the defense's claim that he is unfit to stand trial.

Pinochet, 84, suffers from diabetes, wears a pacemaker and suffered three mild strokes in London, where he spent 16 months under house arrest on a warrant by a Spanish judge seeking to try him for human rights abuses.

British authorities released him in March after doctors said he was mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.

As the justices gathered behind closed doors, supporters and foes of Pinochet demonstrated outside the court building. No incidents were reported as police kept the groups one block apart and behind metal crowd-control barriers.

''We were here today and will be here every time that it is necessary to express our support to my general,'' said Leonor Gajardo. ''This is shameful, a trial to the entire armed forces of the nation.''

One block away, anti-Pinochet demonstrators, most of them relatives of victims of the Pinochet years, cheered and applauded on hearing that Pinochet's health problems would not save him from a trial.

''Those medical tests were a ghost moving through the courts, but that no longer exists,'' said an exultant Hugo Gutierrez, one of the lawyers against Pinochet.

''The caravan of death,'' refers to a military squad that traveled to several cities shortly after the 1973 coup, executing 72 jailed dissidents. Nineteen victims have never been found.

Pinochet's lawyers claim he had no responsibility for the killings, but attorneys for the plaintiffs insist the chief of the caravan acted for Pinochet.

The ''caravan of death'' case is one of 148 criminal complaints filed against Pinochet.

The judge handling the complaints, Juan Guzman, picked the caravan to seek Pinochet's trial. Guzman already has indicted and detained six officers in the case.


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