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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 13:56 GMT


Pinochet's moment of truth

Pinochet opponents gather for verdict

BBC World is broadcasting live coverage of the Law Lords' ruling at 1400 GMT.

 Click here to watch

Former Chilean leader General Augusto Pinochet will soon discover his fate when the UK's highest court decides whether he has immunity from prosecution.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: "General Pinochet could be home by the weekend"
If the Law Lords reject the claim - as they did last year - the 83-year-old general faces the possibility of extradition to Spain on charges of murder, torture and genocide relating to his 17 years in power.

But if they decide in his favour, the former dictator could be back in Chile by the weekend. A Chilean air force plane is on standby at an airbase at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, ready to fly him home.

The pinochet File
The Law Lords could also decide that, while not totally immune from prosecution, the general cannot be tried for any offence committed before September 1988, when torture became an "extraterritorial" crime under English law.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, quoting sources close to General Pinochet, says that only two of the seven judges are believed to be fully behind the general.

There is mounting anticipation outside parliament, as supporters and opponents of the general gather to hear the decision, to be delivered at 1400GMT.

His opponents, who have been holding a 24-hour vigil, are optimistic that the general will face extradition proceedings.

Joshua Rozenberg assesses the various possible outcomes of today's decision
Vicente Allegria, spokesman for the organisation Relatives of the Disappeared, said: "We are very confident. It is the beginning really for the process of justice."

A total of 3,197 people were killed or disappeared in Chile between 1973 and 1990, while the general was in power.

Thousands of crosses bearing the names of General Pinochet's alleged victims have been planted in a lawn opposite Westminster.

Outside the Wentworth estate in Surrey, where the general is under house arrest, more opponents have been gathering, playing drum music and chanting for justice.

House arrest

The general himself is currently under house arrest in a rented mansion in Wentworth, Surrey.

[ image: General Pinochet: Under house arrest]
General Pinochet: Under house arrest
General Pinochet was arrested while in the UK for a back operation last October, following an extradition request by Spanish judges investigating abuses against their citizens in Chile between 1973 and 1990.

Then, last November, a panel of five Law Lords entered uncharted legal territory when they decided by a 3-2 majority that General Pinochet was not, as he claimed, immune to prosecution for acts committed as a head of state.

In a dramatic twist, the decision was subsequently set aside after it was revealed that Lord Hoffmann, who ruled against the general, had indirect connections to the anti-Pinochet human rights organisation, Amnesty International.

Marta Lagos, who works in Santiago for opinion pollsters Mori, assesses the feeling in Chile
The new panel of seven Law Lords has spent nearly twice as much time considering the case as their predecessors. They have produced a supporting document that is reportedly 200 pages long.

In the Chilean capital, Santiago, the authorities have banned demonstrations and increased security around the British and Spanish embassies ahead of the decision.

However, relatives of the "disappeared" are continuing to hold vigils.

Observers have said that there is a general mood of anticipation among Chileans, with most people just wanting a quick resolution to the situation.

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24 Mar 99 | The Pinochet file
Profiles: The seven 'Pinochet judges'

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23 Mar 99 | UK
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