IMAGE: Luis Echeverria
Jose Luis Magana  /  AP
Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, 84, was placed under house arrest last week as prosecutors sought to try him for his alleged role in a 1968 massacre. A judge ruled Saturday that the statute of limitations has expired.
updated 7/9/2006 12:24:30 AM ET 2006-07-09T04:24:30

A federal judge threw out genocide charges on Saturday against former President Luis Echeverria, ruling that a 30-year statute of limitations had run out, his lawyer said.

Echeverria, 84, had been under house arrest for more than a week on charges that he organized a student massacre as interior secretary in 1968. He went on to become president from 1970-1976.

The charges were the first to have been filed against a former Mexican president.

Prosecutors still can appeal the decision, but Echeverria’s lawyer, Juan Velazquez, was confident that the ruling would be upheld.

“The case is not finished but it’s dead,” he said.

Saturday’s decision was the latest blow to prosecutors’ attempts to bring Echeverria to justice for alleged crimes committed during Mexico’s “dirty war,” a violent crack down on leftist dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s.

Failed attempts to prosecute
Ignacio Carrillo, a special prosecutor appointed by President Vicente Fox, also has attempted to bring charges against Echeverria for a 1971 student massacre and for the disappearance of leftist activists during his presidency.

All of the charges have been thrown out or blocked by courts.

A phone call to Carrillo’s office on Saturday went unanswered.

The 1968 massacre took place in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza on Oct. 2, just before the capital hosted the Olympics. Officially, 25 people were killed, though human rights activists say as many as 350 may have died.

Special prosecutors say they have reviewed military documents indicating 360 sharpshooters fired from buildings surrounding Tlatelolco Plaza. The attack is considered one of the darkest moments of 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

After President Vicente Fox ended seven decades of PRI rule with his historic 2000 election victory, he promised to prosecute crimes committed by the old regime.

The order for Echeverria’s house arrest came two days before the July 2 presidential election, which Felipe Calderon, the candidate from Fox’s conservative National Action Party, appears to have narrowly won.

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