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Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 19:16 GMT


Defiant Pinochet blasts 'Spanish lies'

General Pinochet, as seen by his opponents outside the court

Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has made a brief appearance in court, during which he refused to recognise the right to be tried by any court outside Chile.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenburg: "The general's extradition to Spain still seems a long way off"
The 83-year-old general sat in a wheelchair amid tight security at Belmarsh Magistrates Court to answer a warrant for his extradition to Spain.

It was his first public appearance since he was arrested two months ago at the request of Spanish judges who want to try him for genocide, terrorism and torture relating to his 1973 to 1990 rule in Chile.

The pinochet File
The former dictator only spoke twice - on both occasions in Spanish - to confirm his name and to take the highly unusual step of reading a statement to the court.

"With respect to Your Honour, I do not recognise the jurisdiction of any other court, except in my country, to try me against all the lies of Spain," he told Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate Graham Parkinson.

The BBC's Jane Peel from outside the courtroom
His barrister Clive Nicholls QC moved quickly to clarify the general's statement, saying that he recognised the British court's right to hold extradition proceedings, but not to try him.

The magistrate adjourned the extradition proceedings until Monday, 18 January, at Bow Street Magistrates Court, but General Pinochet, who was remanded on bail, will not be required to appear.

Chilean journalist Monica Perez from inside the courtroom
Next week, General Pinochet's lawyers will ask the House of Lords to set aside the Law Lords' ruling that the former dictator does not have sovereign immunity.

They will say that the links between the most junior of the five judges who passed the 3-2 majority decision, Lord Hoffman, to the human rights group Amnesty International, create a conflict of interest.

If that measure is rejected, they will ask the Appeal Court to overturn Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to allow extradition proceedings to go ahead.

[ image: Pro-Pinochet supporters flew in for the hearing]
Pro-Pinochet supporters flew in for the hearing
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of noisy supporters and opponents of the general began gathering outside the court to await his arrival.

Separated by mounted police, they massed behind barriers on opposing sides of the road, chanting slogans and waving banners in peaceful protest.

More than 250 journalists were also crammed in behind metal barricades in anticipation.

The police took no chances with more than 100 officers surrounding the court, carrying out bomb checks and searching protesters with metal detectors.

[ image: The high-security convoy leaves court]
The high-security convoy leaves court
Police also closed off the A30 around General Pinochet's residence at the Wentworth Estate as he went to and from court.

Helicopters buzzed overhead and up to 20 officers in Range Rovers, vans, cars and motorcycles escorted his green Ford Galaxy people carrier, while he hid behind overcoats in the back.

Next week, the home secretary will face questions in Parliament about how much it is costing to maintain the high levels of security around the general.

Tory MP Gerald Howarth said: "Whenever this sorry episode comes to an end, the figure could easily run into millions. It will be astronomical."

In a separate development in Madrid on Thursday Judge Baltasar Garzon formally indicted General Pinochet for genocide, terrorism and torture and asked for his assets to be frozen worldwide.

Chile later announced it is suspending official visits and meetings with UK ministers and recommending a temporary end to flights to the Falkland Islands.

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