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Ex-Argentina leader testifies at trial

Thursday, August 31st 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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The first civilian president after Argentina's dictatorship ended in 1983 defended his administration's amnesty laws while testifying at a human rights trial, but said he felt relieved when the laws were overturned.

Former president Raul Alfonsin, who was on the stand Wednesday at a trial for a former police officer accused of human rights abuses, said he promoted the amnesty laws to smooth the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy during a turbulent era.

"The first obligation of a president entrusted with the transition of that moment in history was to consolidate democracy," the local news agency Diarios y Noticias quoted Alfonsin as saying.

"I felt pained in enacting the laws," he told the three-judge panel, and acknowledged "the situation has changed" two decades later with the repeal of those laws in 2005.

Alfonsin, who launched trials of former dictatorship leaders after taking power but later was criticized for pushing through laws that protected them, said the laws were needed to calm military insurrections and mutinies that dogged the nascent democracy in the 1980s.

But he testified that he now felt "relieved" the laws had been annulled, according to the new agency's dispatch from the courtroom.

Alfonsin, 79, who governed from 1983 to 1989, was called by the defense in the two-month-old trial of former police investigator, Miguel Etchecolatz, charged in the disappearance of six people during the military junta's so-called "Dirty War" against political dissent.

Under the junta, authorities say, some 13,000 dissidents, labor leaders, intellectuals and other opponents were detained and made to "disappear." Human rights groups put the toll at more than twice that number.

At the trial in La Plata, 35 miles southeast of Buenos Aires, victims' relatives turned their backs on the ex-president in protest over the amnesty laws. After testifying, Alfonsin told local reporters outside the courthouse that he understood the pain of the victims' relatives.

The laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in June 2005 at the urging of center-left President Nestor Kirchner.

Before the laws were enacted, nine junta leaders were convicted and imprisoned in 1985 on charges of abduction, torture and execution, but they were pardoned in 1990 by then-President Carlos Menem. Lower-ranking officers also received pardons.

Etchecolatz is the first of dozens of former police and state-security agents facing prosecution. He has been accused by authorities of being the former top collaborator of a Buenos Aires province police chief allied with the military when the dictatorship began with a 1976 coup.

So far, lawyers say they have called more than 50 witnesses, but it remained unclear when the proceedings would conclude.

Categories: Mercosur.

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