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web posted March 12, 2001

Chile court says Pinochet can be tried

A Chilean appeals court ruled 2-1 on March 8 that former dictator Augusto Pinochet can be tried for human rights abuses that occurred shortly after his 1973 coup.

Supporters of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet cry after the March 8 ruling by a Santiago appeals court declaring that Pinochet can be tried for alleged human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule.
Supporters of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet cry after the March 8 ruling by a Santiago appeals court declaring that Pinochet can be tried for alleged human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule.

However, the three-judge panel reduced the severity of the charges against Pinochet from allegedly planning some homicides and kidnappings during his regime to charges that he covered them up afterward, a lesser criminal offense.

Despite the watered-down charges, prosecutors hailed the ruling -- which is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court -- as bringing Pinochet one step closer to facing trial for some of the alleged atrocities committed during his 1973-1990 rule.

"Pinochet is a criminal. And the final court decision will confirm the criminal participation of Pinochet, be it as author, accomplice or someone who covered it all up," said prosecuting lawyer Carmen Hertz.

Pinochet's defense lawyers had previously said they would contest such a decision to the nation's highest court. In turn, prosecutors also said they would seek to have the original charges against him reinstated.

Judge Juan Guzman, the first Chilean judge to investigate the 85-year-old former strongman for human rights abuses, in January ordered Pinochet to be tried on charges of organizing the deaths or "disappearances" of 75 people.

They were victims of the so-called Death Caravan, a military squad that flew by helicopter to cities around Chile in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup, leaving behind a trail of mutilated corpses.

Human rights groups expressed immediate outrage at the easing of the charges.

"This resolution is a joke, because the evidence shows that Pinochet is the author of the 57 homicides and 18 kidnappings and today they are looking for some way to protect him, to reduce the charges," said Viviana Diaz, president of the protest group Families of the Detained/Disappeared.

Final word on a possible trial for Pinochet is expected to rest with the Supreme Court, which ruled last August to strip him of the immunity from prosecution he had previously enjoyed as an unelected lifetime senator.

The chief of the Supreme Court argued the week before that Chile's courts had been powerless to stop human rights abuses during Pinochet's regime, assuring a roomful of other senior judges that "the truth was hidden from us."

A decade after its conclusion, Chile is still coming to terms with the horrors of Pinochet's rule. Just this January the armed forces acknowledged for the first time the existence of the "disappeared" and gave some clues as to the locations of previously unknown mass graves.

Pinochet is still revered by much of Chile's right as a leader who saved the country from the chaotic guerrilla uprisings that gripped much of Latin America during the 1970s.

Agitators train for Quebec brawl

A group organizing a massive protest to derail the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City next month is recruiting protesters in the United States and holding training sessions across Quebec on how to resist police arrest.

The Liberal government is so alarmed by the activities of the group, called SalAMI, that Pierre Pettigrew, the International Trade Minister, is seeking a meeting with its representatives this week in Montreal.

Jean-François Gascon, an advisor to Pettigrew, said the Minister wants to hear SalAMI's concerns. The Montreal-based organization was created in 1998 to fight what it calls "globalized capital, free-trade agreements and environmentally destructive productivist policies."

Several of the group's 800 members participated in the human blockade in Seattle in November, 1999, that forced the cancellation of an entire day of meetings of the World Trade Organization.

"We have approached the SalAMI group because it's part of our desire to enter into a dialogue with representatives of the public," Gascon said March 7.

Police say more than 10,000 people are expected to converge on Quebec City to protest against the poverty and social inequities they say result from globalization.

In a recent speech to the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, signalled his intention to appease the protesters by pushing for human rights and social justice at the April 20-22 summit.

SalAMI -- sal ami means dirty friend in French, while AMI alone is the French acronym for a multilateral investment accord -- has also threatened to block access to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on Sussex Drive in Ottawa in early April unless Pettigrew releases the legal text being used to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Philippe Duhamel, the main spokesman for SalAMI, told the National Post yesterday the group will hold training sessions in Ottawa on April 1 before organizing a large demonstration the next day.

He said two members of the group have spent the past several days in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other cities in New England trying to recruit protesters to disrupt the Quebec meeting, at which talks toward the creation of a free trade zone among the three Americas are to dominate the agenda.

"We are trying to defeat the free trade agreement. Adding a few paragraphs to deal with the environment or the rights of workers won't make it better," Duhamel said.

"We are hoping a great number of people from the United States will come to Quebec City."

Pettigrew has also been under pressure from the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons to publish the text and debate the merits of any deal before Canada signs on to it.

Pettigrew has refused, saying he needs the approval of the leaders of the 33 other countries to release any details.

"It is totally unacceptable that a Minister is more accountable to some dictators from Latin America than to his own citizens," Duhamel said.

SalAMI has been giving training sessions on civil disobedience across the province for two years. A typical session lasts a weekend and costs $30. It includes theory and hands-on protest simulations to prepare protesters to deal with tear gas, pepper spray, dogs and horses and ways to peacefully resist police arrest.

"We are not a group that advocates violence," Duhamel said. SalAMI has been open about its plans and has probably been infiltrated by the police already, he said.

Svend Robinson, the NDP MP from British Columbia who has been involved in protests before, helped SalAMI book a room on Parliament Hill to hold a "Parliament of peoples" on April 1 on the issue of free trade.

Ottawa police and the RCMP have been gathering information on SalAMI for several weeks.

"At this point, we're just not sure what to expect from them," said Sergeant Dan Delaney of the Ottawa police.

A massive security operation has been put in place in Quebec City that includes a two-metre chain-link fence, anchored in concrete, to mark the perimeter of the summit's "security zone."

Access to the zone, which includes much of old Quebec City, will be controlled with special passes issued to the 6,000 summit participants and to people who live and work in the area.

IRS: Federal employees owe $2.5 billion in delinquent taxes

Federal employees, including members of Congress and their staffs, owe the government more than $2.5 billion in taxes, a situation the head of the IRS says could undermine public confidence.

The tax delinquency rate for federal employees and retirees as of October 2000 was 2.9 percent, compared with 5.7 percent for the U.S. population as a whole, the Internal Revenue Service reported on March 8.

The number includes those who owe taxes but have not entered into an installment agreement with the IRS to pay the bill. It doesn't necessarily mean a person is cheating or evading taxes.

"Tax delinquency among federal employees can damage the credibility of the tax administration system," IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said in a letter to federal agency heads pointing out their noncompliance rate.

"If the public perceives that federal employees do not maintain the highest level of tax compliance, public confidence in government will suffer," he added.

The new numbers actually represent an improvement from last year, when government employees' delinquency rate was 5.2 percent and the rate for the population as a whole was 8.1 percent.

Also improving from last year were members of the House and Senate, their staffs and other legislative branch employees. The House's rate was just over 5 percent, compared with 8.4 percent last year, and 4.4 percent for the Senate, down from 7.5 percent last year.

The IRS, which has released the data since 1993, is not permitted to disclose names of individual taxpayers.

In all, 166,397 federal employees were paying off $651.5 million in taxes through installment agreements as of October, nearly 40 percent of those with a balance due. About 2.5 million people in the general population were paying off $11.7 billion that way, just under 20 percent of those who owe the IRS.

Agencies with relatively high delinquency rates include the Inter-American Foundation, concerned with development in Latin America and the Caribbean, at 9.8 percent; and the Appalachian Regional Commission, at just over 9 percent.

The National Capital Planning Commission and the Federal Election Commission both had tax delinquency rates higher than 7 percent. The Peace Corps, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Agency for International Development and Corporation for National and Community Service were all above 6 percent.

All Cabinet agencies had delinquency rates below 5 percent. The State Department was highest, at just under 5 percent, followed by the Commerce Department at 4.7 percent and the Education Department at 4.6 percent.

The Treasury Department's rate was 1.9 percent, and that of the IRS itself was 1.7 percent, for a combined total of $28.8 million in taxes owed.

Active military personnel owed about $62.8 million, for a delinquency rate of almost 2 percent. The FBI's noncompliance rate was 1.7 percent.

The CIA and National Security Agency delinquency rates were not published, because their total number of employees is classified. But the CIA had 319 tax-delinquent employees, owing $1.9 million, and the NSA had 504 who owed more than $8 million.

Gallup poll: Clinton popularity at all-time low

The popularity of former President Clinton has plunged in the wake of the pardons controversy to the lowest level ever, results of the latest Gallup Poll showed March 9, while his successor's approval ratings have soared just as dramatically.

In a poll conducted March 5 through March 7 of this week, only 39 percent of respondents said they have a favorable opinion of the former president, while 59 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of him. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Clinton's previous low favorable rating was 42 percent, reached in early August 2000 and matched in a poll taken February 19-21, the Gallup Organization said. His previous high unfavorable rating was 55 percent in the February poll.

His favorable rating has fallen 18 percent since early December, while his unfavorable rating has risen by the same amount.

By contrast, the public's opinion of President Bush has climbed since Election Day. In this week's poll, 69 percent of respondents expressed a favorable opinion of Bush while only 28 percent were unfavorable. That compares with 53 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable in a poll taken November 13-15, Gallup said.

Clinton's image has been tarnished in the public's eye by several controversies since election day, the most prominent being several controversial pardons issued during his last hours in office.

Congressional committees and a federal prosecutor are focusing on his pardon of financier Marc Rich. Listed as an international fugitive by the Justice Department, Rich had been indicted in 1983 on tax and fraud charges but left the country before he could stand trial. Investigators have questioned whether contributions made by Rich's ex-wife or fund-raising by a friend of hers may have influence the granting of the pardon.

Questions also have been raised about whether Clinton relatives improperly influenced other pardon decisions.

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