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Life for 'Angel of Death' Astiz

A court has sentenced a former navy spy known as "the Angel of Death" and 11 other former Argentine military and police officers to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Alfredo Astiz, a 59-year-old ex-navy captain, became notorious for his infiltration and betrayal of activists and was viewed by many Argentines as the symbol of the junta's crimes.

He was accused of participating in the kidnapping, torture and murder of two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group.

The charges against all the defendants included 86 cases of kidnapping, torture and murder of left-wing dissidents committed at the Navy Mechanics School, one of the military junta's principal torture centres used to crush the threat of armed revolution. About 5,000 detainees passed through the school - fewer than half survived.

Closing a trial that began in December 2009, four other defendants were sentenced to between 18 and 25 years in prison, while two others were cleared.

Former Admiral Emilio Masserta, who commanded the torture centre, was not included among the defendants because of poor health and died last November.

The verdicts were applauded by human rights activists and families of the victims who watched the verdict on a big screen television. "Ole, ole, they will meet the fate of the Nazis. Wherever they go, we will find them," family members chanted.

The Navy Mechanics School, a leafy former military campus, is now home to a museum dedicated to preserving evidence of crimes against humanity.

The grounds also used to house a maternity ward where pregnant detainees were held until they gave birth and then were made to "disappear". A separate trial alleging that systematic baby thefts were part of the junta's anti-subversion strategy is under way in another courtroom.

Survivors and relatives of victims from the nation's "dirty war" against leftist guerrillas and political opponents called it a "historic day".

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