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President Signs Amnesty Law for Dictatorship Officials

December 23, 1986

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) _ President Julio Sanguinetti bowed to the defiant armed forces Monday and signed into law an amnesty for most military and police officials accused of human rights violations during the 1973-1985 military dictatorship.

The House of Deputies gave final legislative approval to the measure early Monday after an all-night debate highlighted by a brawl and a fistfight on the House floor and by violent street demonstrations.

Sanguinetti, whose civilian government was elected 21 months ago, immediately signed the bill into law, a spokesman said.

The new law bars judicial prosecution of common violations of rights that occurred before the right-wing military surrendered rule in March 1985 after nearly 12 years in power.

Human rights groups estimate about 160 military and police officials faced charges in connection with the repression.

House passage, in a 60-37 vote, came less than an hour before a feared showdown between the government and the military at a scheduled 8 a.m. federal court hearing for an army colonel accused of kidnapping a journalist in 1976.

The hearing for Col. Jose Nino Gavazzo was canceled because of the approval of the amnesty, averting the showdown.

The army’s commander, Hugo Medina, had resolved to order subordinates to ignore all civilian court summonses.

Lawmakers said that if the amnesty was not approved, the government would have suffered a crippling loss of prestige when summonses were defied.

″It saves our democratic institutions,″ said Deputy Leon Morelli of the center-left opposition National Party, which was split over the measure.

Leftist groups opposing the amnesty staged angry street demonstrations late Sunday night during the House debate. A young crowd estimated at 2,500 gathered outside the congressional palace, smashing legislators’ cars with rocks and crowbars and stoning police vans.

Lawmakers who ventured outside were attacked, including a National deputy, Edgar Bonilla, who was hospitalized for an apparent heart attack.

Interior Vice Minister Raul Lago said riot police scattered the crowd, but several officers were hurt by rocks and other missiles.

Violence broke out after House Chairman Luis Ituno of the National Party ordered the public gallery cleared. The gallery was packed with amnesty foes, who whistled and booed deputies speaking in favor and cheered those opposed.

A brawl erupted among about 20 National and Broad Front legislators as tempers wore thin. It was quickly broken up, as was a fistfight between one Colorado deputy and a Broad Front colleague later in the 14-hour debate.

Exempted from the amnesty were military and police officials who acted for personal financial gain or who exceeded orders. The exemptions were expected to apply to few officials.

Also under the act, Sanguinetti’s office was empowered to investigate the estimated 30 political disappearances that occurred under the regime.

The armed forces launched a brutal campaign against leftist groups after seizing power, jailing tens of thousands of people and torturing many.

In the House all but one of the 41 deputies of Sanguinetti’s Colorado Party voted in favor, along with 20 Nationals. Voting against the bill were one Colorado, 13 Nationals, two members of the small, conservative Civic Union and all 21 members of the Broad Front, a coalition of leftist groups.

The anmesty received Senate approval Sunday, 21-9.

Broad Front legislators said they would challenge the law’s constitutionality and perhaps press for a national plebescite on the issue.

″It gives the executive power the ability to determine what acts are or are not punishable, a faculty that always belongs to the judiciary,″ said Broad Front Deputy Carlos Cassina.

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