BUENOS AIRES (AFP) — A court in Argentina sentenced two former generals from the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to life in prison, but allowed them to serve out their time under house arrest.
Former Tucuman governor and army general Antonio Bussi, 82, and former army general Luciano Menendez, 81, were convicted of kidnapping, torturing and murdering a senator on the day of the 1976 coup.
Already under house arrest for prior crimes, the court in the northern city of Tucuman -- capital of the state of the same name -- ruled that Bussi and Menendez can remain under house arrest as they are both above the age of 70.
Upon hearing the sentence some of the hundreds of activists gathered outside the courthouse charged at police surrounding the building, hurling rocks and clubs. Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
An unrepentant Bussi justified the actions of the military junta leaders before the sentence was read out.
"I am being politically persecuted by those defeated yesterday in a just and necessary war," said Bussi, sitting on a wheelchair with plastic oxygen tubes attached to his nose..
"It was a war against Marxist insurgents," the former governor said, choking back the tears. "I'm still the same Bussi as always."
Bussi was the long-time governor of Tucuman, first appointed to the office under the dictatorship, then elected when democracy was restored.
Menendez railed against "international communism" and said about the people the dictatorship went up against: "the ones we defeated abandoned their armed struggle and morphed into peaceful civilians."
Prosecutor Alfredo Terraf, on requesting the maximum sentence for both, warned that "nobody can free their homeland by killing their fellow countrymen."
He was alluding to the repression of the military dictatorship that human rights groups estimate left 30,000 people dead or missing.
Family and friends of slain senator Guillermo Vargas Aignasse as well as Human Rights in the courthouse welcomed the guilty verdict.
Vargas Aignasse was kidnapped from his house on March 24, 1976 -- the day of the military coup -- in full view of his wife and two young children. He was 33 at the time.
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