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Saturday, May 22, 1999 Published at 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK


Fists fly over Pinochet

A fight erupts on the floor of Congress

Fighting broke out as admirers and opponents of detained former dictator General Augusto Pinochet clashed in Chile's Congress.

The pinochet File
Two Congress members exchanged punches and supporters unfurled a banner demanding Pinochet's return from London.

"Brits and Spaniards: We are not a colony. Return Pinochet," read the banner.

Gen Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, is awaiting possible extradition to Spain to face charges of human rights abuses.

[ image: A banner calls for the return of Gen Pinochet]
A banner calls for the return of Gen Pinochet
President Eduardo Frei was greeted by cheers as he arrived to make an annual speech in the Congress.

But when he began to speak he had to shout to make himself heard above the shouts of "Pinochet" from the gallery.

The session was preceded by violent street demonstrations outside Congress by university students demanding more loans and port workers demanding more economic benefits if they lose their jobs when the ports are privatised.

Protesters stoned police, burned a wooden bench and kicked over a police motorcycle. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators.

[ image: Protesters took to the streets in the port city of Valparaiso]
Protesters took to the streets in the port city of Valparaiso
Gen Pinochet was arrested in London last October and his case has caused legal controversy ever since, with aspects of the case being considered three times by the House of Lords.

In their most recent judgment on 24 March, the Law Lords ruled that Gen Pinochet could face extradition proceedings, but drastically reduced the number and range of charges facing him.

Home Secretary Jack Straw subsequently ruled that Gen Pinochet should face extradition proceedings.

There were no compassionate grounds to halt the proceedings, despite the general's age, Mr Straw decided.

However, he said the question could be re-examined "in the light of any developments".

Gen Pinochet's lawyers then confirmed they would seek judicial review of Mr Straw's decision, and are due back in the High Court on 27 May.

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