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Chilean court throws out charges against Pinochet

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — An appeals court on Thursday threw out homicide and kidnapping charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet but said the retired general could still be tried for covering up the crimes.

The Santiago Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to throw out the more serious criminal charges against the 85-year-old former dictator.

Pinochet had been indicted and placed under house arrest on Jan. 29 on charges stemming from the "Caravan of Death," one of the most notorious cases of human rights abuses during his 1973-90 dictatorship.

The caravan was a military group that executed 75 political prisoners shortly after the 1973 coup led by Pinochet. The remains of 18 of the victims were never recovered.

Pinochet's lawyers appealed, calling the homicide and kidnapping charges "arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional."

Prosecution lawyers and relatives of victims of repression under Pinochet reacted with disappointment.

"This is shameful and shows the kind of courts we have," said Viviana Diaz, president of an organization of relatives of dissidents who disappeared after being arrested by Pinochet's security services.

Pinochet lawyer Pablo Rodriguez argued that there was no clear evidence Pinochet was responsible for the killings, and the former strongman was not healthy enough to stand trial.

Doctors in January said Pinochet suffers from "moderate dementia" brought on by minor strokes.

He also has diabetes and arthritis, and wears a pacemaker.

Pinochet remains under house arrest at his countryside residence in Bucalemu, 80 miles southwest of Santiago.

Plaintiffs, human rights activists and relatives of the victims claim members of the caravan acted on Pinochet's orders.

Prosecution lawyer Hiram Villagra said the ruling at least "confirms that Pinochet had participation in the criminal acts.

"But it cannot be considered as a mere cover up, because Pinochet gave the orders," Villagra said.

Lawyer Carmen Hertz, a member of the prosecution team and widow of one of the victims of the caravan, said "we are not satisfied, of course, but the ruling still means that Pinochet is considered a criminal."

Another prosecution lawyer, Hugo Gutierres, said he and his colleagues will take a few days to decide on their next steps.