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Saturday, December 12, 1998 Published at 17:09 GMT


Chile cuts contacts with UK

Pinochet supporters and opposition clash in Santiago

The Chilean Government has announced a series of measures taken following the UK's decision not to send General Augusto Pinochet back to Chile.

The pinochet File
It is suspending official visits and meetings with UK ministers and is recommending a temporary end to flights to the Falkland Islands.

The announcement came hours after the former dictator's first London court appearance at the start of extradition proceedings brought by Spain on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism.

[ image: President Eduardo Frei: Cutting contact with UK]
President Eduardo Frei: Cutting contact with UK
The Chilean Government's new measures followed a five-hour meeting of the country's National Security Council, made up of the country's president, the head of its congress and armed forces.

The most significant step is the suspension of official visits and meetings with the UK Government.

Correspondent James Reynolds: Measures don't go as far as expected
BBC Santiago Correspondent James Reynolds says the government there is acting with some restraint, since the British ambassador to Chile is not being asked to leave.

Court challenge

There are a number of measures of a lesser nature, including a request to airline Man Chile to suspend its weekly flight to the Falklands.

Correspondent Daniel Schweimler reports on mood in Spain
The National Security Council also announced that it would fight General Pinochet's extradition from the UK to Spain in the courts, according to a Chilean TV report.

The government would "take part in the legal proceedings to challenge the ruling of the Lords", the TV said.

'Sincere pain'

As General Pinochet was appearing in court, a letter written by him was read out during the National Security Council meeting in Chile in which, for the first time, he expressed regret for his rule.

General Pinochet's letter said he felt pain for people who died during his reign, although it also protested his innocence and condemned what he called a "cunning and cowardly political-judicial plot" against him.

[ image: In Pinochet's shadow: The letter was read out beneath a huge portrait]
In Pinochet's shadow: The letter was read out beneath a huge portrait
It was read by former Chilean interior minister Carlos Caceres in front of a huge portrait of the former leader.

"I am absolutely innocent of all the crimes and deeds of which they irrationally accuse me," it said.

It added that the general saw himself as a saviour who rescued Chile from the "anti-religion" of communism, and a martyr who was now willing to offer himself as a sacrifice "so that peace triumphs".

"I hope my sacrifice is the last. I hope my pain and the aggression of which I am a victim can satisfy the insatiable sentiments of revenge," the letter said.

"I accept this new cross with the humbleness of a Christian and the spirit of a soldier."

The letter also expressed regret: "I have never desired death to anybody and I feel a sincere pain for all Chileans who have lost their lives during these years."

But it added that this included soldiers, police and civilians killed at the time.

Arrests and clashes

While the letter was read out at Chile's presidential palace, supporters and opponents of Pinochet clashed in the area.

Police arrested several people as scenes outside the London court were screened live on Chilean television.

Supporters followed the transmissions in an atmosphere of frustration and rage.

"Traitors, communists, rats," they shouted when Chilean exiles appeared on screen, while Pinochet supporters were greeted with a round of applause and cheers.

Meanwhile at an association of families of the disappeared, one member pointed out that the general was being given a chance to answer charges in court - something denied to their relatives.

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