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Sunday, October 18, 1998 Published at 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK

World: Europe

UK finally turns on Pinochet

Gen Pinochet's London visits were once quiet affairs

General Augusto Pinochet will regard it as ironic that his arrest in London was in a country where he had come to feel secure.

The former Chilean dictator fell in love with British life while building up a close relationship with successive Conservative governments in the 1980s and 1990s.

Dismissing Americans as "rude", he likened himself to an English aristocrat, sending flowers and chocolates to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and complaining that too few people in London recognised him.

[ image: Margaret Thatcher: Regularly received chocolates and flowers]
Margaret Thatcher: Regularly received chocolates and flowers
His frequent trips to the capital often took in quintessential English landmarks such as Fortnum & Mason and Burberry's, and he liked to dine in the River Cafe.

But behind his debonair pursuits lay a relationship with the UK that became politically and economically advantageous.

His introduction in the 1970s of the kind of market reforms later admired by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher earned him friends among British right-wingers, some of whom were alleged to have supported the 1973 coup that began his 17 years in power.

Subsequently, Chile became a significant importer of British defence products and his closeness with the UK was rewarded with invitations to tea at the British embassy.

On regular trips to London he would view the latest British Aerospace arms and make use of their private airports.

Preferential treatment

His 1994 visit to the UK threw into sharp focus the preferential treatment he enjoyed under the Conservative government.

Arriving by way of the Netherlands, where the authorities refused to guarantee his safety, and the Czech Republic, where his arms dealing was frowned upon, Gen Pinochet was greeted with police protection and social invitations.

The UK Government refused calls by Amnesty International to arrest him, instead allowing the man who ruled his country with an iron fist to buy new defence equipment.

It was no surprise when this week the 82-year-old General Pinochet chose a private hospital in London to carry out back surgery, especially at a time when pressure to bring him to justice for alleged human rights abuses was intensifying.

But he has found to his cost that a UK pledging a new, more ethical approach to foreign policy is no longer willing to offer him the security he once enjoyed.

British newspapers report - despite official denials - that the decision to arrest him came from a very high level of the UK Government, a government that Gen Pinochet for 20 years regarded as a friend.

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