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Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK


World: Americas

Chilean president appeals for calm

Police head off a march by anti-Pinochet demonstrators

Chilean President Eduardo Frei has appealed for calm amid political turmoil over the arrest in London of former military leader Augusto Pinochet.


[ image:  ]
The government has imposed restrictions on demonstrations after rallies in the capital ended in violence.

Right-wing politicians have begun a boycott of parliament to demand the release of the general, who is wanted by Spain on charges of genocide.

Socialist parties, meanwhile, have refused to back the government's official protests over the arrest.

Speaking on his return from an overseas trip, Mr Frei repeated that his government, which insists the general has diplomatic immunity, would continue to fight for his release.


James Robbins: "Chile is deeply divided"
He said he had already made his position on the arrest clear, and called on Chileans to show "calm and tranquillity" over the affair.

British police arrested General Pinochet, 82, in a private London hospital after receiving an extradition request from a Spanish judge.

A Chilean envoy has gone to Britain to discuss the issue.

Violent protests


[ image: Chaos on the streets of Santiago]
Chaos on the streets of Santiago
As the diplomatic and legal discussions continue, the Chilean capital, Santiago, has seen violent street protests, with the supporters and opponents of the general holding rival demonstrations.

Police came under attack from stones and other missiles on Tuesday night and used tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds demonstrating in support of the general's arrest.

Nearly 100 people in Santiago are reported to have been detained.

Outside the British and Spanish embassies in the capital, General Pinochet's supporters have continued to protest against his possible extradition to Spain.

Frei's greatest test

The BBC's South America Correspondent, James Reynolds, says reimposing political and social stability will be the greatest test of Mr Frei's presidency so far.

He says the president is returning to a very different country from the one he left last week.

The arrest of General Pinochet has ended the fragile national consensus built up since the return to democracy in 1990.

Socialist parties of the ruling coalition are refusing to back the government's official protests over his arrest, while right-wing politicians have begun a boycott of parliament which they say will last until he is released.

Meanwhile, members of the European parliament have lent their support to the move by a Spanish judge to have the general extradited.

They called on the Spanish government to seek General Pinochet's transfer from Britain to custody in Spain "as rapidly as possible".

Human rights groups say they are preparing separate moves against General Pinochet, who was detained last Friday.

The general's lawyers are firmly resisting his extradition.





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