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19 July 2001 Edition

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Turkish death toll now 29

Turkish hunger striker Sevgi Erdogan, 45, whose photograph featured on the front page of last week's An Phoblacht, died at her home in Istanbul on Saturday, 14 July, after refusing solid food for 267 days, the prisoner's support group Ozgur Tayad said in a statement. A member of the banned Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, Sevgi Erdogan was born in 1956 in Erzurum, North-East Turkey, and graduated from Istanbul University's Economics Department. In 1974 she was married to Ibrahim Erdogan. Their daughter Sirvan was born in 1979. She was arrested in 1981 together with her husband and sent to Istanbul Metris prison. Her husband was killed with 11 comrades in a massacre on July 12, 1991. Sevgi Erdogan was arrested again in 1994 and was sentenced to 12 and a half years imprisonment

Erdogan's death brings the total number of strikers who have starved to death in the protest to 29. The strikers oppose new maximum-security prisons with cells that isolate inmates and leave them vulnerable to beatings by guards. They previously lived in dormitory-style wards.

About 200 prisoners from left-wing groups and their relatives have been fasting since October last year, taking sugared or salted water with vitamins to keep themselves alive and prolong the fast.

Erdogan, who had been in western Usak prison, was released from hospital after she refused medical treatment and her condition deteriorated but continued her fast with other prisoners and relatives.

Campaigners in Dublin picketed the Turkish embassy on Monday evening in protest.

Court declares Pinochet unfit for trial

On Monday 9 July 2001, Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was declared mentally unfit to stand trial on charges of covering up assassinations by the ``Caravan of Death'', an army unit that toured northern Chile by helicopter eliminating suspected trade union and social and political activists shortly after the 1973 coup that ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende. Pinochet faced charges of covering up 18 kidnappings and 57 homicides. The general claimed he was innocent and defended his rule as a bulwark against communism.

The Appeals Court ruled that Pinochet, 85, suffers from such severe dementia that he cannot be prosecuted, likely ending efforts to prosecute him. The court decision, taken by a 2-1 vote of a panel of judges, is technically a suspension of the charges against Pinochet and can be appealed. But few in Chile now believe Pinochet will ever appear in court because of the time-consuming appeals process, the ex-general's age and an unwillingness to reopen old wounds from his 1973-1990 rule.

Legal experts say some 250 other human rights cases against Pinochet in Chile are now likely to crumble. ``The ruling means that there is no hope now for scores of families that still expected that justice would be made,'' said Mireya GarcĂ­a, vice president of an organisation of relatives of those who disappeared after being arrested under Pinochet's rule. Human rights campaigners said Chile had failed to live up to promises made abroad to try Pinochet for the killings or `disappearances' of more than 3,000 people. Another 30,000 were tortured.

Pinochet, who earlier this year was diagnosed with ``moderate dementia'', now suffers from diabetes and arthritis, has a pacemaker and has had at least three mild strokes since 1998, according to his doctors. The former dictator spent six days in the hospital last week and underwent dental surgery and treatment for high blood pressure. He remains at home under a treatment doctors describe as similar to the one at the hospital.

But prosecutors have expressed doubts about his real condition, as Pinochet's visits to hospital always coincided with those dates when he was supposed to present himself to the tribunals. ``I honestly hope that our courts of justice will not soon be subject to international shame by a sudden recovery of Pinochet,'' lawyer Hiram Villagra said. Prosecutors announced they would seek a reversal of the ruling, but that could happen only if they prove the judges made a legal or technical mistake.

The Chilean government would not comment on the Appeals Court ruling. ``Court rulings are to be respected, not to be commented on,'' President Ricardo Lagos said. ``The government is not satisfied or unsatisfied.''

``This is disappointing indeed but Pinochet will remain in history as having been spared from trial only because he is crazy,'' said Carmen Hertz, a prosecutor lawyer whose husband, journalist Carlos Berger, was one of the victims of the 1973 military operation.

But Pinochet can also have the charges dropped entirely by another panel in the same court that will open hearings in the coming days.

Dr. William F Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said he was ``greatly disappointed'' that the charges against Pinochet are unlikely to be heard, but added that ``numerous other officials who committed human rights violations during his rule can and should be held accountable''.

More than 60 military officers of various ranks have so far been tried for human rights violations that took place under Pinochet, and about ten have been sentenced to prison.

Police fired water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of people in central Santiago protesting against the court's decision. Four protesters were arrested at the march in and around the Paseo Ahumada pedestrian thoroughfare on Monday evening. Around 500 people chanting anti-Pinochet slogans marched through the streets in anger at the decision.


On Tuesday 10 July in Argentina, former junta leader Jorge Videla was indicted on charges that he conspired with other South American military dictatorships in the 1970s to eliminate political opponents.

Videla, 75, who is already under house arrest for alleged crimes under his regime, was charged with being part of an ``illegal organisation'' - the so-called Plan Condor pact between military regimes in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Plan Condor involved joint operations and exchange of information among the regimes, aimed at kidnapping, arresting, torturing and assassinating leftists and dissidents in the six countries.

Those arrested were often returned to their country of origin without having recourse to a legal extradition process. Many then disappeared.

Videla, the first former South American leader to be charged in the Plan Condor case, was ordered sent back to house arrest under the new charges. The judge also froze $1 million of Videla's assets. Videla was already under house arrest on charges of kidnapping children of mothers who later ``disappeared.''

Wearing a dark blue suit, Videla was in the courthouse for less than an hour for the reading of the indictment. He refused to answer the judge's questions and was given until 17 August to answer in writing. Videla's lawyers argued that the alleged offences were committed so long ago that the case was no longer valid.

Among the victims thought to have disappeared under Plan Condor are former Bolivian President Gen. Juan Jose Torres, Uruguayan Congressmen Zelmar Michellini and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz and possibly the head of the Chilean armed forces, Gen. Carlos Prats, who went into exile after Pinochet's CIA-sponsored coup in Chile.

Officials say more than 9,000 people disappeared during Argentina's ``dirty war.'' Human rights groups claim the figure is nearer 30,000. Thousands of others were reported missing and feared dead in Chile.

Canicoba Corral's investigations have also led him to order an international warrant for Paraguay's former military dictator, Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, now exiled in Brazil.

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