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The BBC's Jon Leyne
"A warm welcome"
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The BBC's James Reynolds reports
"The crowd cheered as they saw the general for the first time"
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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 13:49 GMT
Pinochet arrives in Chile
General Pinochet
General Pinochet is brought from the aircraft
The former Chilean military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, has arrived in Santiago, a day after he was freed from 17-month house arrest in the UK.

His air force plane landed at Santiago airport at 1327 GMT where he was met by senior commanders of the Chilean armed forces.

After a short ceremony at the airport he boarded a helicopter with his wife and children for a brief flight to a military hospital. Family members said he was to undergo medical tests.

Members of the government were conspicuously absent from the airport, but big crowds of his supporters greeted his return by singing jubilantly in the streets.

The pinochet File
The 84-year-old emerged from the plane in a wheelchair and was lowered in a truck with an improvised elevator to the tarmac.

The head of the Chilean armed forces General Ricardo Izurieta was the first to greet him, embracing the former president warmly.

He then stood up, aided by a walking stick, to greet army chiefs and relatives.

An army band played some of the general's favourite tunes as he lifted his arms to the cheering crowds in acknowledgement.

Military officials organising the return briefly ordered journalists waiting at the airport to leave but they were allowed back in shortly before the general's plane was due to land.

The Chilean Government said on Friday that the Operation Return was entirely in the hands of the army.

In an address to the nation, Chilean President Eduardo Frei reminded his compatriots that he had promised to bring about the general's return.

He said Augusto Pinochet's continued detention would have damaged the process of reconciliation in Chile.

"It will be the Chilean courts that will decide whether Senator Pinochet is responsible for the crimes imputed to him," Mr Frei added.

Singing and dancing

The UK Government's decision not to extradite General Pinochet to Spain on health grounds sparked celebrations among his supporters - a powerful minority in Chile.

Pinichet supporters
Supporters are planning a big welcome
Singing and dancing, allies of the retired general who had gathered in Santiago at the headquarters of the Pinochet Foundation waved balloons, flags and posters of a man they see as a national hero.

"We are full of happiness, the nightmare is over," said Luis Cortes Villa, the head of the Pinochet Foundation.

General Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 at the request of a Spanish judge who sought to put him on trial for human rights abuses alleged to have happened during his 17-year rule in Chile.

Anti-Pinochet vigil

Relatives of those who disappeared during General Pinochet's military government held an all night vigil in the run-up to his return home.

The criminals are here among us, he's going to return on grounds of compassion but he returns as he is - a criminal

Viviana Diaz, Families of the Detained-Disappeared
"We are going to demand justice. We do not want impunity," said Viviana Diaz president of the protest group Families of the Detained-Disappeared.

"He is going to be put on trial in Chile. The criminals are here among us, he's going to return on grounds of compassion but he returns as he is - a criminal."


A Chilean judge considering 59 civil lawsuits alleging human rights abuses by General Pinochet said that he intended to pursue a prosecution against the former Chilean leader.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet is said to have brain damage
"I believe the conditions are in place for the development of a good trial in our country and from next Monday I will dedicate myself exclusively to this end," said Judge Juan Guzman.

A BBC correspondent in Santiago, James Reynolds, says that most Chileans doubt that any such trial will take place.

UK finally decides

General Pinochet was allowed to leave the UK after being told by Home Secretary Jack Straw that he would not be extradited on torture charges - ending a saga that began with his arrest in Britain.

Only a last-minute legal challenge could have delayed the general's departure.

But Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and France, the countries seeking his extradition, said they would not, or could not, appeal.

The UK home secretary made his decision after re-examining a medical report filed on General Pinochet in January. He said he believed the general was medically unfit to stand trial.

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