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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 02:06 GMT

World: Americas

Chile backs Pinochet release bid

Santiago police scuffle with anti-Pinochet protesters

Military and civilian leaders in Chile have endorsed efforts by President Eduardo Frei to secure the release of the country's former military leader, Augusto Pinochet.

General Pinochet was arrested last month in London where five senior Law Lords are considering whether his arrest was illegal.

The pinochet File
Members of Chile's National Security Council, which includes the heads of the Supreme Court, the Senate and the four armed forces, met with President Frei for three hours.

Major General Juan Nielson, the council's secretary said: "We were informed of the actions carried out by the government to insist on Pinochet's immunity and to assert the incompetence, because of a lack of jurisdiction, of the courts that want to prosecute him."

Defence Minister Jose Forencio Guzman rejected suggestions that the meeting was called because of a threat to national security posed by splits within the country over what should happen to General Pinochet.

Extradition request

Meanwhile, as the House of Lords appeal hearing continued in Britain, Spain formally delivered an extradition request to Britain.

[ image: General Augusto Pinochet: The UK's High Court upheld his claim to diplomatic immunity]
General Augusto Pinochet: The UK's High Court upheld his claim to diplomatic immunity
The British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has two weeks to decide whether to agree to the request to send General Pinochet to Spain.

The request was drafted by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon and approved by the Spanish Cabinet last Friday.

It forms part of a 300-page document accusing General Pinochet of involvement in 3,178 murders or 'disappearances'.

Spanish law allows its courts to try someone for genocide wherever it was carried out.

Immunity hearing

Law Lords in Britain are hearing an appeal from the Crown Prosecution Service, against a High Court ruling which upheld the general's immunity claim.

[ image: Daily demonstrations continue outside the Lords where the case is under appeal]
Daily demonstrations continue outside the Lords where the case is under appeal
General Pinochet's barrister told the hearing on Wednesday that overturning the High Court's decision could go against international law.

Clare Montgomery QC said: "There is a consistent and impressive line of authority that he retains protection for all his public actions, whether criminal or not.

"Denying immunity would engage a breach of international law and could permit a suit by Chile."

She added: "No crime for which Senator Pinochet may be liable as a matter of international law has been alleged against him."

Since his arrest anti-Pinochet demonstrations are held on a daily basis in London and Madrid, while in the Chilean capital, Santiago, protesters demand the release of their former leader.

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