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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK


Cheers and jeers greet Pinochet ruling

Anti-Pinochet protesters: Jubilant about ruling

Celebrations and condemnations have greeted UK Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to allow Spain to go ahead with extradition proceedings against General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
There were jubilant scenes among anti-Pinochet groups in Chile and London as the home secretary's decision was announced.

Many people had held all-night vigils in anticipation of the ruling.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: The legal battle goes on
Human rights groups welcomed the decision and expressed relief that the former Chilean ruler was a step closer to paying for "his terrible crimes".

But supporters of the general held protests outside UK and Spanish embassies in Santiago, while the Chilean Government denounced the proceedings as an "outrage".

The BBC's Nigel Doran: "Straw's decision is not the end of the matter"
Mr Straw announced the issuing of an Authority to Proceed in the case against General Pinochet on Thursday morning.

He now faces many months of legal proceedings to extradite him to Spain on charges of torture relating to his last two years in power.

General Pinochet was arrested in London last October at the request of three judges investigating human rights abuses against Spanish citizens during his 1973 to 1990 rule.

[ image: Celebrations in London]
Celebrations in London
After months of legal wrangling, the UK's highest court, the Law Lords, ruled that the general did not enjoy sovereign immunity for acts committed as head of state.

But they also found that he could only be tried for a significantly reduced number of charges, dating after the UK's adoption of an international treaty on torture in 1988.

Judge Baltasar Garzon, the chief Spanish prosecutor, was reportedly "moderately satisfied" with Mr Straw's ruling, though he added that "there still remains a long process to go through".

[ image: Judge Baltasar Garzon:
Judge Baltasar Garzon: "Moderately satisfied"
Amnesty International's Brendan Paddy, who has been active in the legal extradition battle, said he was "extremely pleased" about the decision.

"Jack Straw has recognised that even one case of torture is one too many and constitutes a crime for which General Pinochet must be put on trial," he said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said: "After 25 years of impunity, this definitive decision means that Pinochet will finally have to answer for his terrible crimes."

[ image: Tears of joy: She blames Pinochet for her son's disappearance]
Tears of joy: She blames Pinochet for her son's disappearance
Speaking for the relatives of those who allegedly "disappeared" during the General Pinochet's rule, Viviana Diaz said: "We hugged each other and we sang...the terrible crimes of which Pinochet is accused should not go unpunished."

Supporters of General Pinochet, including former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, were incensed that the 83-year-old would be forced to sit through extradition proceedings.

Mrs Thatcher said it was not the decision of a "fair-minded man".

The President of the Pinochet Foundation, Hernan Briones, said: "We can only demand once again that the Chilean Government clearly and firmly denounces the outrage to which this country is being subjected and that it lodge protests at the international bodies."

Deputy Speaker of the Chilean Senate, Mario Rios, accused the UK of using General Pinochet to distract international attention away from Nato air strikes against Yugoslavia. General Pinochet is a life senator.

Adjournment requested

Comments from the former dictator's nephew, Gonzalo Townsend, suggest that divisions are beginning to develop among General Pinochet's supporters.

He accused the Pinochet Foundation of organising a poor defence

Questions were also asked in the UK Parliament by pro-Pinochet Tory MP John Wilkinson MP.

He called for a debate and drew the House of Common's attention to Chile's decision to recognise Argentina's claim to the Falklands and to cut air links with the islands.

General Pinochet's lawyers have asked for a two-week adjournment to consider Mr Straw's decision.

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