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Breaking News

Pinochet Stripped of Immunity

Aired August 8, 2000 - 10:40 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This news coming to us out of Santiago, Chile, where the Supreme Court there has decided to strip the immunity of former military ruler Augusto Pinochet.

With more on that, let's bring in our Harris Whitbeck, who is standing by in Santiago.

Harris, what does this mean? Does this mean that Pinochet eventually will go on trial?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn.

Well, the next step now is for the judge involved in the case, Judge Juan Guzman, to order medical tests that would determine whether General Pinochet is mentally fit, capable of standing trial.

His family has said in a statement released earlier that they would reject medical tests because they want him to have a chance to be in court. Here, outside the Palace of Justice in downtown Santiago, you might hear in the background, the cheers of hundreds of proponents to Pinochet and relatives of those who disappeared during his regime, who are obviously quite happy about the decision, that the supreme court took today, to strip him of his immunity.

On the other side of the street, there is a small group of Pinochet supporters. They are those -- a lot of military families, a lot more politically conservative members of Chilean society, who are out here -- who are obviously much more subdued crowd tonight. Acting a little bit defiant saying that Pinochet -- you know they continue to show their support for him.

So this issue that really polarized Chile for so long has come to a head today with this very, very important decision by the Chilean Supreme Court -- Daryn.

KAGAN: So, Harris, the majority of the people that we see on the streets of Santiago are actually celebrating today's decision, not protesting?

WHITBECK: Well, you do see more people celebrating than people who are opposed to this decision. As I said, the division is quite clear. On one side of the street, you have those who are happy about what's happening today. On the other side of the street, you have those who continue to express their support for General Augusto Pinochet.

KAGAN: But there still would be a number of obstacles to cross before any kind of trial would happen and where people would get a lot of the answers of what they wanted to know about what might have happened to loved ones over the past decades?

WHITBECK: That's correct, Daryn. There are 150 different cases that have been filed again -- Pinochet cases involving the disappearances of hundreds of people of the killings of others who opposed to him during his regime. A lot of legal steps would have to be taken for those cases to actually be heard.

But now, with the striping of Pinochet's immunity, the judge who was handling the majority of these cases, Juan Guzman, now is free to proceed.

Again, the first step that he would have to take, according to Chilean law, would be to order medical tests, a new round of medical test, that the general would undertake.

KAGAN: You mention those medical tests. Augusto Pinochet is 84 years old. He does not appear to be in good health. Do most Chileans believe he ever will go to trial or face justice for the crimes he is alleged to have committed?

WHITBECK: I think a lot of people -- might take a more realistic point of view or what they consider a more realistic point of view. They may not actually see the day when he is sentenced at a trial in a court of law. But to many, the fact this he was -- is already a very important step, and a very historic step. Keep in mind that he ruled this country with an iron fist for many, many years. Now that the supreme court, under the new democratic regime, obviously quite symbolic and quite important.

KAGAN: Harris Whitbeck, in Santiago, Chile. We'll have more on this in the next hour of "MORNING NEWS." Once again, former military ruler of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, has been stripped of his diplomatic immunity, and there is a chance he could stand trial for human rights charges.

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