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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 15:54 GMT

UK Politics

'This is a great day'

Hundreds of campaigners waited for the ruling

By News Online's Sarah Teasdale

They had come from hundreds of miles to hear the judgement.

The pinochet File
Hundreds of exiles, their families, friends and supporters lined the pavement outside the Palace of Westminster.

Their vigil had lasted weeks but on the final day, the tens had swollen to hundreds. When the decision was heard, police barriers, which had already moved to accommodate the growing numbers, could not hold them in.

Torture victim Luis Nunez, whose wife disappeared: "I couldn't believe it"
Shouting "assasino" and chanting for justice, campaigners waved flags, placards or simply clutched at photographs of loved ones who had disappeared decades ago.

When the ruling finally came, the announcement was confused.

[ image: Flags were waved on hearing the ruling]
Flags were waved on hearing the ruling
It was misinterpreted and the atmosphere dampened as many believed Pinochet was free.

"That's justice for you, he's free," said Pedro Fuentes, 50, who spent nearly three years in prison in Chile without charges ever being brought against him.

But then the true meaning of the decision - that the House of Lords had ruled the dictator General Augusto Pinochet did not have immunity - was gleaned from someone via their mobile phone.

The street, which a day earlier had seen the pomp and ceremony of the state opening of parliament, roared with cheers as people hugged each other.

Pedro, who had travelled to Westminster from Sheffield, said: "This is a great day."

He went on: "I spent years in jail, no charges were brought against me. When I was released, I couldn't leave and I was detained again.

"I believe he was an evil man, he was a mass-murderer."

Jorge Valeria had also travelled to London from Sheffield with his family.

He said: "This is great news for everyone in the whole world.

"No-one like this will be safe where ever they go now, whether they have diplomatic immunity or not.

"This is a very happy day for me, I was arrested and came to Britain 21 years ago. I have been waiting for this for a very long time."

Next to him Luis Nunez, aged 48, who came to London in 1974, said: "This means a lot. You didn't have to be tortured or put in prison to suffer, the whole country suffered under Pinochet.

"Friends and acquaintances were tortured. I knew about so many people, women who had electric shocks to their private parts and breasts. All sorts of horrors you can't imagine.

[ image: Pedro Fuentes: He was an evil man]
Pedro Fuentes: He was an evil man
"I can only hope the criminal will suffer himself."

Among the crowd was former captain in the Chilean air force Jorge Silver, 55, who said: "I think this is a great day for democracy.

"In the future, anyone who is wanted for such crimes will not be able to hide."

The good news was still being celebrated as friends found each other in the crowds, laughing and wiping away tears. If anything, the chanting grew stronger as the good news sunk in.

Whole families had gathered to hear what the five senior Law Lords had ruled.

Alexandria Valenzuela, 24, had been born in exile in France.

She said this was a great day for her, her family and justice, as she struggled to find her mother, who had campaigned on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament everyday since the Lords had began deliberate the appeal.

Jamie Araya, aged 40, fled Chile in 1978, said: "Today has brought justice and relief for everybody.

"It's been a long time. We did feel we were losing the battle but today has been a victory.

"This is not just a victory for the Chileans but everyone in the world. A lot of dictators now know they will pay sooner or later.

"I knew people who were tortured and arrested. It is hard to explain but the pain was not just being tortured, Pinochet changed our lives.

"I've been back to Chile but I could never stay there. It has changed too much."

The crowd intensified as media from around the world surged on the campaigners to hear their verdict on the announcement.

They heard tales of political prisoners who had been forced to flee their homeland, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, and accounts of friends and family members being tortured.

[ image: Campaigners had waited for days]
Campaigners had waited for days
But the overall verdict was that this was a wonderful day for justice.

Gloria Cifuentes' husband Wilfredo disappeared in 1973. He was a trade union official with an electricity company.

Gloria had waited outside the House of Lords with her grandson to hear the ruling.

She said: "They took him at 1.30 in the morning. That was the last time I ever saw him.

"I had three children, the youngest one was one-and-a-half.

"Of course I am sad, but I also feel happiness. As long as he pays a little bit, I will be happy."

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