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Chile's Pinochet in serious, stable condition

Written by: Staff

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec 4 (Reuters) Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, accused of torture, killings and kidnappings during his 1973-1990 rule, was stable but still seriously ill today following a heart attack over the weekend, doctors said.

His daughter said it was ''almost a miracle'' her 91-year-old father had survived and thanked supporters who have held a vigil outside the military hospital in Santiago where he is being treated.

Pinochet, the best known of the strongmen who dominated South American politics in the 1970s and 1980s, was rushed to hospital yesterday for an angioplasty to reopen his arteries.

Doctors said on Monday it was too risky to operate further.

''The patient's life is still in danger. We can't change that,'' Dr. Juan Ignacio Vergara told reporters. ''(But) everything is under control.'' A handful of Pinochet supporters waited outside the hospital clutching portraits of their hero while, a short distance away police kept an eye on around 50 leftists who chanted anti-Pinochet slogans.

''They will always be detractors, but I'm not interested in them,'' Lucia Pinochet, the eldest of Pinochet's three daughters, told reporters.

''I'm grateful for the gestures of support, especially from those who have held a vigil here, praying. I think that's played a role in my father's improvement.'' Nearly 17 years after he relinquished power, Pinochet still provokes strong reactions in Chile.

Some regard him as the man who saved them from Communism by ousting leftist President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup, while others view him as a murderer who should be put on trial for human rights abuses.

Around 3,000 people died in political violence during Pinochet's 17-year rule and around 28,000 were tortured. Many more fled into exile.

FUNERAL ISSUE Pinochet's latest illness has revived speculation over how the Chilean government would handle a funeral for the former dictator. Some Chileans say he should be given full state honors while others would regard that as a disgrace.

The government has declined to discuss the issue, saying it would be in bad taste while Pinochet is still alive.

President Michelle Bachelet, who was tortured during Pinochet's regime, has said in the past that Chileans -- herself included -- would be offended if Pinochet was given full state honors while still under the shadow of human rights and fraud charges.

Pinochet has been charged with crimes in at least five separate cases, but, despite concerted efforts, he has never been convicted or sentenced. His defense lawyers have successfully argued he is too ill to stand trial.

Some of his critics view that as an excuse and complain that whenever a prosecution appears even remotely possible, the retired general falls ill.

Last week, Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the murder of two of Allende's bodyguards in 1973.

In the latest twist in the case, a court ruled on Monday Pinochet should be freed on bail.

In recent years, Pinochet has lived in an exclusive suburb of Santiago.

He marked his birthday last month by issuing a statement accepting ''political responsibility'' for acts committed during his rule but said he acted with Chile's interests at heart.

''Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancor toward anybody, that I love my country above all else,'' he said.

Reuters MSJ VP0012

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