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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK


Pinochet supporters protest in Chile

Communists in Santiago back the UK's action

Violence has erupted in the Chilean capital, Santiago, as around 1,000 people demonstrated against the arrest in London of the former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

Protesters broke down barriers outside the British embassy in Santiago and reached the gates before being dispersed by Chilean police using water cannon and tear gas.

[ image: General Pinochet's arrest has led to conflicting emotions]
General Pinochet's arrest has led to conflicting emotions
Heavy security had been placed around the building following demonstrations on Saturday.

British police arrested General Pinochet at a London clinic on Friday at the request of Spanish judges investigating killings allegedly committed during his 17-year reign in Chile.

His supporters said the action was a betrayal by the UK and pointed to General Pinochet's tacit support for Britain during the 1982 Falklands War. They said they would continue their protest until he was released.

BBC South American Correspondent James Reynolds: Arrest has provoked angry response
The BBC's South America Correspondent, James Reynolds, says that following the arrest, the right wing has succeeded in taking the initiative in Chile.

While opponents of the former military leader have greeted his detention with relief and happiness, they have not mobilised their support as the right wing has done.

Isabel Allende, whose father President Salvador Allende was killed in 1973 in the violent coup which brought the military to power, said the arrest was a "unique opportunity for Pinochet to answer for the human rights violations during his regime."

[ image: Campaigners in London support the detention of General Pinochet]
Campaigners in London support the detention of General Pinochet
But the government of President Eduardo Frei - a long-time political opponent of General Pinochet - is formally protesting at Britain's action.

Santiago says the British authorities should have respected the diplomatic immunity which General Pinochet enjoys as a life senator.

The British Government has responded by saying General Pinochet was not an "accredited diplomat".

UK Trade and Industry Secretary, Peter Mandelson, who said most Britons would find it "gut-wrenching" to give General Pinochet - a "brutal dictator" - diplomatic immunity.

More than 3,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the armed forces and the secret police during General Pinochet's time as leader between 1973 and 1990.

[ image: Pinochet supporters say the UK has betrayed the general]
Pinochet supporters say the UK has betrayed the general
A further 1,102 people are still unaccounted for.

General Pinochet passed an amnesty law in 1978 preventing any member of the armed forces - including its commander-in-chief - from being tried for human rights abuses.

Relatives of those who were killed during his rule have filed charges against him despite the amnesty law.

He is currently facing 13 different charges in Chile ranging from state terrorism to genocide.

Legal wrangling

The decision over his extradition to Spain for trial on murder charges may take months.

The BBC's Cary Johnston interviews protesters against Gen Pinochet: "We want justice"
The Spanish Government has 40 days in which to make a full case, before UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, rules on the application.

On Monday, the Chairman of the House of Commons human rights group, Labour MP Ann Clwyd, was due to table a parliamentary motion calling for "close co-operation" with the Spanish authorities.

Joy in London

The 82-year-old general was detained by police while in a private London hospital for a back operation.

[ image: General Pinochet: Allegedly involved in more than 4000 political killings]
General Pinochet: Allegedly involved in more than 4000 political killings
It is thought that he is being held in a clinic where he is recuperating after surgery.

Demonstrators supporting the arrest gathered outside the clinic, chanting their approval.

Spanish judges Baltasar Garzon and Manuel Garcia Castellon want to question the general about the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile between 1973 and 1983.

The arrest was welcomed by politicians and human rights groups.

BBC South American Correspondent James Reynolds reports on conflicting demonstrations in Santiago
Amnesty International spokeswoman Virginia Shoppee said General Pinochet's arrest served as a warning to other dictators that they could not escape their past crimes.

"I certainly think this is a lesson that is very important.

"It is possible for the UK Government to show that they are very serious about human rights."

General Pinochet retired as commander-in-chief of the Chilean armed forces last March, but has an unelected seat for life in the Chilean Senate.

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