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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 10:14 GMT


Chile nervous wait

Pinochet supporters have gathered in downtown Santiago

By James Reynolds in Chile

It has been a long wait in Chile. Almost two months after the UK House of Lords finished their hearings, no one here is willing to predict which way they will rule.

The pinochet File
The speculation of the last few weeks has given way to confusion.

The Chilean Government is keen to maintain public order. It's asked for Chileans to react to the Law Lords' verdict with moderation.

Security has been reinforced outside public buildings. Police have been sent to guard the Spanish and British Embassies.

Rows of white crowd protection barriers stand outside the embassies. Police vans and water cannon have been parked nearby.

Eyes on government and army

During the last few days, President Eduardo Frei has held extensive meetings with his advisors to discuss his administration's response to the verdict.

[ image: A night in the open for those who want prosecution for Pinochet in Spain]
A night in the open for those who want prosecution for Pinochet in Spain
The president is not expected to address the nation after the ruling is announced, but it's thought that he will call a meeting of the National Security Council - a deliberative body comprising civilian and military leaders - to discuss how to proceed.

One newspaper cartoon shows the President and the Head of the Army sitting together sweating and biting their nails as they wait for the verdict to be announced.

For their part, the Armed Forces have been keen to demonstrate their unity in the run-up to the ruling.

The Air Force, the Army, and the Navy have held joint exercises in recent days.

The Head of the Air Force, General Fernando Rojas Vender, has been criticised by the government for likening the country's present situation to that which led to the military coup in 1973.

For and against

Across the capital, supporters and opponents of Augusto Pinochet have held separate vigils.

In uptown Santiago near the British Ambassador's Residence, several hundred people have attended a demonstration in support of the former military leader.

Waving flags, they chant Augusto Pinochet's name. Some hold up his photo bearing the single word "Immortal".

In the centre of the city, relatives of those who were killed during the country's years of military rule have gathered to await the verdict.

A banner proclaims the words "A night spent awake so that humanity can sleep well."

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