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Former Argentine dictator jailed

Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla has been sentenced to life in prison for the torture and murder of 31 prisoners in 1976.

It is the first conviction for the military junta leader in 25 years of democracy in the country.

Videla, 85, who led the military coup that installed Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship, was considered the architect of a dirty war that eliminated 13,000 people in a crackdown on armed left-wing guerrillas and their supporters, according to an official count.

The 31 prisoners were pulled from civilian jails and "shot while trying to escape" as the military consolidated its power in the months after the coup.

Videla claimed Argentine society demanded the crackdown to prevent a Marxist revolution, and complained that "terrorists" now ran the country.

Videla must serve his sentence in a civilian prison, the judges decided, ruling out the privileges he enjoyed after he was first convicted of crimes against humanity in 1985, as Argentina was struggling to return to democracy.

This was the first of dozens of trials coming up for Videla. He was among two dozen defendants - most of them former military and police officials - charged with torture, murder and cover-ups in the deaths of the 31 political prisoners in provincial Cordoba.

Also sentenced to life was former General Luciano Benjamin Menendez, who directed the early war against leftist subversives across much of northern Argentina.

Videla and Menendez accepted responsibility for the crackdown but claimed they had to act as they did to prevent what they considered would be a greater tragedy - the transformation of Argentina from a conservative Christian society to a Marxist state.

About 13,000 people were killed or disappeared during the dirty war, according to a government count. Human rights groups estimate the figure is actually 30,000.

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