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Sunday, October 18, 1998 Published at 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK

World: Europe

Pinochet 'no guarantee' of immunity

Anti-Pinochet protesters gather outside the London hospital

General Augusto Pinochet's diplomatic passport did not "guarantee" him diplomatic immunity from arrest in London on Saturday, according to UK Government minister.

Alun Michael sets out the legal process
Home Office Minister Alun Michael said there had been no reason to stop the former dictator entering the UK, despite his alleged involvement in the political killings of more than 4,000 people during his 17-year reign in Chile.

General Pinochet was detained by police in London following a request by two Spanish judges for his arrest.

Judges Baltasar Garzon and Manuel Garcia Castellon are in London to question 82-year-old General Pinochet about the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile between 1973 and 1983.

[ image: Judge Baltasar Garzon issued the extradition order]
Judge Baltasar Garzon issued the extradition order
Speaking on BBC1's On the Record, Mr Michael said that the former dictator's diplomatic passport did not confer immunity, but it did allow him unimpeded access to the UK without a visa.

"He came in as I understand it on a passport which does not require a visa.

"He would have provided evidence of coming for medical treatment, and there's no reason for the immigration authorities to stop him at that stage," he said.

The former Chilean leader was arrested in a London clinic where he was having treatment on his back.

The BBC's Legal Affairs Correspondent, Joshua Rozenberg, says extradition is a legal and political process
Mr Michael said the UK had not bowed to political pressure from Spain, saying that the request for extradition would be considered according to the law.

"It's a very clear process and there's been no intervention which has been inappropriate at all," he said.

A spokeswoman said General Pinochet, who is now under armed guard, was expected to appear in court before a magistrate in the next two weeks to answer the warrant.

If the magistrate decides to proceed, the Spanish Government will have 40 days in which to make a full case.

Then the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, will have to rule on the extradition application, which is likely to be fiercely opposed by Chile.

The extradition bid is based on the European Convention on Terrorism.

But the Chilean ambassador, Mario Artaza, says Gen Pinochet has full diplomatic immunity.

President Eduardo Frei, in Portugal for the Ibero-American summit, said: "We have presented formally a protest because we believe it violates the diplomatic immunity parliamentarians have always had in Chile."

Chilean ambassador Mario Artaza: "Midnight arrest"
Judges Garzon and Castellon are investigating the torture and murder of Spanish nationals in Chile between 1973 and 1983.

They also want to question General Pinochet about his alleged involvement in Operation Condor, in which several South American military regimes co-ordinated anti-leftist campaigns.

General Pinochet was commander-in-chief of the army until March 1998.

He arrived in the UK last week with his wife and two bodyguards and had surgery at the London Bridge Hospital on Friday.

James Reynolds reports from Santiago on the angry reaction by some Chileans
The arrest provoked an angry reaction from Gen Pinochet's supporters in Chile. They said it was a betrayal by the UK and pointed to Gen Pinochet's tacit support for Britain during the 1982 Falklands War.

Around 200 demonstrators gathered outside the British ambassador's residence in Santiago to protest. Eggs and stones were thrown at the building.

Surprise arrest delights rights activists; Chile lodges protest with Britain
Elsewhere, however, the arrest was welcomed.

The BBC's South America Correspondent, James Reynolds, says opponents of the general greeted the news first with disbelief and then with joy.

General Pinochet ousted the socialist President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup.

He finally handed over the role of commander-in-chief after accepting a life senator post which was created for him by the constitution drafted by his own regime.

Under the terms of the constitution he became immune from prosecution in Chile.

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