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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 10:33 GMT


Chilean president applauds Pinochet ruling

Pinochet supporters cheer the ruling in Santiago

Chilean President Eduardo Frei has welcomed Wednesday's decision by the British Law Lords that denied General Augusto Pinochet immunity from arrest but freed him from most charges he faces.

The pinochet File
General Pinochet can now be extradited to Spain, where he is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity. But the Law Lords ruled that only a few charges against him should apply.

President Frei said he was pleased because "the ruling recognises Chile's judicial sovereignty."

[ image: Pinochet supporters were happy only a few charges would apply]
Pinochet supporters were happy only a few charges would apply
But he added that the general would face a growing number of lawsuits in Chile, if and when he returned from Britain.

"Any former head of state could be tried in our country," Mr Frei said in a televised speech.

"There are a growing number of lawsuits being processed by a Chilean judge against Pinochet, who on his return could be tried."

President Frei listened to the ruling togther with his inner political cabinet members, according to sources at the La Moneda presidential palace.

He took seven hours to analyse the ruling before making his televised address.

Pinochet 'happy'

General Pinochet himself was reportedly pleased with the Lords' decision.

[ image: 'Disappeared' relatives relieved complete immunity not given]
'Disappeared' relatives relieved complete immunity not given
"He is happy, because this ruling did justice," said retired General Luis Cortes, a close Pinochet associate who spoke with the general by phone.

"He now has no doubts whatsoever that he will return home."

The army, which General Pinochet commanded until last year, said it would not immediately comment on the ruling.

Cheers from both sides

The BBC Correspondent in Chile, James Reynolds said the decision, which amounted to "a partial victory for everyone", was eventually met with jubilation from all quarters.

James Reynolds in Santiago says both sides are claiming victory in the ruling
The General's supporters, who had gathered at the headquarters of the Pinochet Foundation to watch the judgement on a large screen, greeted the decision with cheers and fireworks.

They are happy with the stipulation that the former dictator should only have to answer charges stemming from crimes allegedly committed after 1988, towards the end of his 1973-1990 rule.

"The ruling is justice done. It was what we Chileans were expecting," one supporter said.

Dissidents' hugs and kisses

Anti-General Pinochet protester celebrates: "Human rights have succeeded."
At the headquarters of an association of relatives of dissidents who disappeared during Pinochet's regime, a mostly female audience exchanged hugs and kisses, many weeping, as it became clear Pinochet would not immediately return.

Anti-Pinochet activists gathered outside the House of Lords in London were also jubilant.

"For years we've waited for this man to face the music and at last this has happened," said Ana-Maria Suarez.

The Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman shouted, in both Spanish and English: "Victory for humanity, victory for humanity" in response to the verdicts.

Spain quiet

The Spanish Government, which is wary of damaging ties with Chile, said only that it respected the decision by the Lords.

The Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of General Pinochet, Baltasar Garzon, said he was studying the ruling and offered no immediate comment.

Court sources quoted Mr Garzon as saying he was "reasonably satisfied" with the ruling.

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