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Wednesday, Dec. 06, 2006 at 3:30 PM
Santiago, Chile, Dec 5 - Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was rapidly recovering on Tuesday from a heart attack that his family and doctors said nearly killed him but that some of his critics said may have been exaggerated or even faked.
A woman protests against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet outside Chile's military hospital, where Pinochet is hospitalised, in Santiago December 5, 2006, accusing Pinochet of faking his latest health crisis to be freed from house arrest. Doctors said Pinochet, recovering on Tuesday from a weekend heart attack, is no longer in immediate danger but still at risk of medical complications. The banner reads 'Fake'. REUTERS/Patricio Valenzuela (CHILE
Chile's Pinochet recovering but some doubt illness
By Pav Jordan
SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec 5 - Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was rapidly recovering on Tuesday from a heart attack that his family and doctors said nearly killed him but that some of his critics said may have been exaggerated or even faked. Doctors said the 91-year-old, accused of murder and torture during his 1973 to 1990 rule, would rise from his sickbed and undergo some physical therapy in the Santiago military hospital where he is being treated. "The general is in a good state of health. He's well, conscious, talking and he's eating," Dr. Juan Ignacio Vergara told reporters on Tuesday. Pinochet is expected to stay in the hospital at least a week. Pinochet, the best known of the strongmen who ruled much of South America in the 1970s and '80s, fell ill at home early on Sunday, was rushed to the hospital and underwent an emergency angioplasty to reopen blocked arteries. Marco Antonio Pinochet, the retired general's youngest son, said his father had been on the brink of death in the moments after the heart attack, which struck during the middle of the night when Pinochet was at home in Santiago. "If he had arrived (at the hospital) five minutes later, the doctor tells me, he would have died," he told a local radio station, rounding on skeptics who accuse his father of faking ill health to avoid prosecution for human rights abuses and fraud. Last week, Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the murder of two of leftist President Salvador Allende's bodyguards in the 1973 coup in which he seized power. But on Monday a panel of judges on the Santiago Appeals Court ruled he should be freed on bail. Leftists and some local media cast doubt on Pinochet's claims of ill health, even though doctors have confirmed in the past that he is frail, diabetic, has heart problems, and suffers frequent mini-strokes that have impaired his brain. In the streets, some people wondered if Pinochet was crying wolf. "They always say he's about to die, but he never does," said Nicsia Meneses, a 19-year-old student. "HOW CAN WE NOT THANK HIM?" Pinochet still evokes strong emotions among Chileans even though he is no longer relevant to the political scene, which has been dominated for 16 years by the center-left. Some Chileans say he saved the country from communism by ousting Allende in a 1973 coup. Others view him as a murderer who should be tried. Outside the hospital, supporters and opponents of the ex-dictator have gathered this week to vent their opinions. "Chile was living the law of the jungle, it was chaos," said Pinochet supporter Eugenia Bocas, 43, recalling the early 1970s when she said Allende's government confiscated her family's land as part of its radical agrarian reform. "Pinochet brought us back from the chaos to make us a productive country. How can we not thank him?" she said. In contrast, one Pinochet opponent came to the hospital dressed as the devil, carrying a placard he held up toward the hospital windows. "I come to get you," it read in English. With Pinochet apparently on the mend, prosecutors are likely to renew their bid to bring him to trail for a host of alleged crimes. The ex-dictator has been charged in at least five separate judicial cases. About 3,000 people died in political violence during his 17-year rule and about 28,000 were tortured as the military cracked down on leftist dissidents. Many more fled into exile. Many loyalists lost faith in Pinochet when it came out in 2004 that he hid about million in foreign bank accounts. He has been charged with tax fraud and courts are investigating the origin of the funds. (Additional reporting by Monica Vargas, Antonio de la Jara)
Opponents of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet protest near the Military Hospital in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Dec. 4, 2006. Pinochet, whose health problems have long helped him escape trial for abuses committed during his 1973-90 rule, was conscious and talking Monday after emergency surgery to clear a clogged artery that caused a heart attack, one of his doctors said. Pinochet, 91, was rushed to the hospital early Sunday, a week after he took 'full political responsibility' for the actions of his government, which carried out thousands of political killings, widespread torture and illegal detentions. (AP Photo/ Marcelo Hernandez)
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