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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK


Pinochet attacks 'political' ruling

Relatives and friends of torture victims celebrate

Supporters of former Chilean leader General Augusto Pinochet have criticised the decision to clear the way for his extradition to Spain, blaming it on heavy international pressure.

The pinochet File
Magistrates at Bow Street Court in London decided the extradition could proceed and committed General Pinochet to face 34 charges of torture and one of conspiracy.

But human rights groups and relatives and friends of the victims of the general praised the ruling.

The general, 83, had been excused from attending court on health grounds. He attacked the ruling, saying it was politically motivated.

[ image:  ]
Jorge Prado, a former Chilean cabinet minister under Gen Pinochet, argued that the general was too ill to be sent to Spain, having suffered two small strokes last month.

He criticized Deputy Chief Stipendiary Magistrate Ronald Bartle, saying his ruling was the result of "heavy political pressure from Europe and the world on a judge who is at the end of his career".

The BBC's Jane Peel: "Final decision rests with home secretary"
Chilean supporters of the general called on their government to push for his swift release on medical grounds and burned British and Spanish flags in protest.

"This is the worst scenario we could have expected," said Luis Cortes, a retired general. He said he telephoned Gen Pinochet after the ruling.

"He saw the whole thing on television, with much strength and calm," he said. "But now he is with his doctor and nurse."

Jubilation from demonstrators

Human rights groups were delighted.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: "Anti-Pinochet campaigners are delighted"
Geoffrey Bindman, a lawyer for Amnesty International, said: "The wider effect of the torture convention and the knowledge which should now be spread among all torturers and all is that there is no hiding place."

Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the decision "a signal of hope to those fighting for justice for victims of human rights violations".

"Let him show what a brave soldier he is by going to Spain and proving his innocence," said Vicente Alegria, head of the Association of Pinochet Victims.

[ image: The general's supporters burn the Union Jack in Chile]
The general's supporters burn the Union Jack in Chile
The former dictator's lawyers have 15 days to appeal against the ruling.

"It has long been clear that my extradition is politically motivated and being pursued clearly for political reasons," said a statement by Gen Pinochet read to the court by his barrister, Clive Nicholls QC.

"Spain has not produced a single piece of evidence which shows that I am guilty. Not only that, I believe that Spain have not properly investigated any of these crimes and Spain does not even have jurisdiction to try me," said the statement.

The general will remain under house arrest near London while his lawyers consider an appeal to the High Court.

Lord Lamont: "It would be a tragedy if Pinochet were to die in the UK"
However, he may abandon his case and ask Home Secretary Jack Straw to free him on the grounds of ill health.

It will still be down to Mr Straw, who earlier ruled that the case could go forward in the courts, to make the final decision on Gen Pinochet's fate.

Lord Lamont, who spoke at a rally in defence of Gen Pinochet at this week's Conservative Party conference, warned that the case would continue to go on for a "long time yet".

He said he was not surprised by the court's decision but detaining the general in the UK could seriously damage the country's relationship with Chile and South America.

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