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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK

What next?: Extradition timetable

The General's lawyers will argue that he has diplomatic immunity

Following the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet in London, the BBC's Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Fergus Nicoll, examines what is likely to happen next to the former dictator of Chile.

Even if General Pinochet's case follows conventional procedure, it is likely to be a protracted business.

Under Britain's 1989 Extradition Act, the Spanish judges who have requested the former Chilean head of state's arrest now have 40 days to present legal arguments in support of their warrant.

Lawyers for the general will contest the extradition request, arguing that his status as a Chilean Senator gives him the right to invoke diplomatic immunity. If that argument prevails, he will return to Chile, where he is constitutionally immune from prosecution.

The legal arguments will be considered initially by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, but an appeal could go as high as the House of Lords.

'Not a political decision'

A Foreign Office spokeman said at the weekend that the decision to arrest General Pinochet had been in no sense a political one - although it seems unlikely that the Metropolitan Police would have detained such a high-profile visitor without consulting the government first.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw - who has the last word in matters of extradition - has said that if the case reaches his desk, he will act strictly on the facts in front of him. There has been no comment so far from the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

At least one senior cabinet colleague, however, has already commented that the diplomatic immunity argument is unsustainable.

The two Spanish judges are certainly adamant that such political niceties have no merit when the charges centre on allegations of genocide and terrorism.

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