General Pinochet, who also suffered a stroke on May 19, lost consciousness at his Santiago home and was taken to the military hospital in the Chilean capital.

“He was having breakfast when he fainted and lost consciousness for about
30 minutes,” his son Marco Antonio Pinochet Hiriart said.

Since his admission “he has progressed, he is stable and will remain in hospital for observation,” said a statement by doctors at the hospital.

General Pinochet’s opponents have previously questioned the timing of his bouts of ill-health, saying they usually coincide with imminent court appearances.

However Mr Pinochet Hiriart said “my father these days is not conscious of what’s going on with his legal situation. The truth is that he isn’t affected by what’s going on in the courts. What affects him is his illness.”

He denied there was a link between the medical crises and the case against his father.

The Santiago Appeals Court is due to open hearings on whether to strip Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution over charges of involvement in the abduction and killing of political prisoners during the time his intelligence services dubbed “Operation Colombo”.

General Pinochet has so far avoided standing trial, in part by claiming that he
suffers from dementia, the only medical condition that under Chilean law allows
him to avoid trial. General Pinochet also suffers from heart problems and diabetes.

He also enjoys immunity from prosecution as a former head of state. In Chile, that immunity may be lifted on a case-by-case basis.

Pinochet seized power in a 1973 coup, which toppled elected socialist
president Salvador Allende. He ruled until 1990.

The retired general, a symbol of Cold War repression, has never been tried in connection with the estimated 3,000 people who were killed or disappeared under his regime.

On June 7 a Chilean court lifted Pinochet’s immunity from prosecution for fraud, but said he should not stand trial on human rights charges for his role
in a conspiracy of South American dictatorships.