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The BBC's James Reynolds
"General Pinochet faces a difficult reception in Chile"
 real 56k

Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 14:53 GMT
Pinochet not the priority in Chile
pinochet
Most Chileans feel he should retire from public life
By James Reynolds in Santiago.

General Pinochet is no longer a central figure in Chilean politics. His allies among the Chilean right wing have toned down their support for him as they look to disassociate themselves from the past.

The pinochet File
Chile has just elected a new president. The country is undergoing its first economic recession in more than a decade. It is mid-summer. The majority of Chileans have other things to think about than the fate of General Augusto Pinochet.

If and when he returns, he will find that much of the country has now moved on.

Incoming President

President-elect Ricardo Lagos has made it clear that the Pinochet case will not be one of his main concerns.

He is a long-time Pinochet opponent but he said his role is not to put General Pinochet on trial himself:

"Everybody in Chile knows what my views are vis-a-vis the Pinochet regime."

"But this is not the question. The question is not what are the views of the president - the question is that the president has to make sure that the tribunals are able to carry out their decisions - and that these decisions are going to be obeyed by institutions in Chile."

Investigation in Chile

For the last two years, Chilean judge Juan Guzman has been investigating an increasing number of lawsuits filed here against General Pinochet.

His role is to decide whether there is enough evidence against the former military leader to warrant a trial.

He has said that if General Pinochet returns he will order new medical tests to evaluate whether the former military leader is mentally fit to stand trial here.
Ricardo Lagos
President-elect Ricardo Lagos: the courts will decide

And he also wants to question the former military leader personally. "Naturally I would have to ask Mr Pinochet personally," said Mr Guzman.

"And, if he comes to the country now, that would be something I should be doing within the coming months."

Life Senator

If General Pinochet returns to Chile he will be allowed to retake his senate seat - which he holds for life as a former president.

His advisers say they don't foresee him taking a day-to-day role in the senate. But they say he will not resign the seat, which provides him with immunity from prosecution.

A recent opinion poll showed most Chileans agree that General Pinochet should be returned to Chile on compassionate grounds.

A majority also feel he should resign his senate seat and retire from public life.

"I don't think many things will happen if he returns," said one man.

"I think there will be a whole outcry from some people for about three days or maybe a week and then most people will forget him."

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See also:

12 Jan 00 | Americas
Chile treads carefully around ruling
11 Jan 00 | UK
Too ill to face the law?
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