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The BBC's Orla Guerin reports
"There seems little or no chance that the General will ever see the inside of a Spanish court"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 23:35 GMT
Spanish legal team stunned

Baltasar Garzon Judge Baltasar Garzon arrives at Madrid's National Court on Wednesday


The Spanish legal team which has been battling for several years to bring General Augusto Pinochet to trial on human rights charges is stunned by the news from Britain.

The pinochet File
One of the lawyers on the team, Carlos Slepoy, said he believed Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to release the general would do untold damage to the fight against human rights abuses, both internationally and in Britain.

He added that he thought the reports that General Pinochet's health was suffering were spurious. Others in Spain have called for further medical tests.



We don't think a final decision has been made
Lawyer Carlos Slepoy

"Until now we have supported Mr Straw in respecting the independence of the judicial system and at the same time respecting international agreements and human rights," Mr Slepoy said.

"We have faith that he will continue to act in this way and will take into consideration any appeal made by the judge, Baltasar Garzon, and eventually Amnesty International."

It was Mr Garzon who issued the warrant to arrest General Pinochet in London in October, 1998, and he has been praised for breaking new ground in international law.

Relief

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Madrid says the judge's supporters will be hoping he has another surprise up his sleeve, although this has always been a battle fought from a distance, and his options will be limited.

Though Mr Garzon has made no public comment on the British Government's announcement, a lawyer for families of Pinochet victims met the judge on Wednesday and said neither of them felt defeated.



It is really frustrating and a step backwards
Chilean family victim member

But according to Spanish legal experts, it is unlikely Judge Garzon could prevent the general being sent back to Chile if the Spanish Government does not press its extradition bid.

And it has maintained the line it has held all along - that it will respect any decision made by the British Government.

Our correspondent says it is widely accepted in Spain that government ministers will, behind closed doors, be breathing a huge sigh of relief. They will now hope to begin repairing the damage the case has done to Spain's previously good relations with Chile.

Disappointment

But any relief they might feel is not shared by the thousands of people who fled Chile's military government in the 1970s and '80s and settled in Spain.

Many of them have been behind the campaign to bring the general to trial, and they are the ones most bitterly disappointed by the British home secretary's decision.

On Wednesday, family members of alleged Pinochet victims joined other demonstrators in Madrid to protest against the latest twist in the saga.

"We hoped that universal justice would work against the crimes committed by Pinochet," one said. "It is really frustrating and a step backwards in this process. We hope that it will be reversed."

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See also:
11 Jan 00 |  Americas
Spain and Chile accept Pinochet decision
12 Jan 00 |  UK
Uproar over Pinochet statement
12 Jan 00 |  UK
Home Office statement in full
11 Jan 00 |  Medical notes
Health and ageing
11 Jan 00 |  UK
Anger over Pinochet decision
05 Jan 00 |  UK
Too ill to face the law?

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