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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK

Chile: A divided nation

Pinochet supporters take to the streets

Santiago Correspondent James Reynolds reports on how General Pinochet's arrest has polarised society.

The fragile unity built up in Chile over the past few years ended with the arrest of General Pinochet.

Brian Hanrahan: Pinochet is accused of genocide, torture and terrorism
Until then there had been a consensus in Chile that the only way to move forward was to forget the divisions of the recent past. That approach is no longer possible.

"Increasingly, this is becoming a problem for everyone," says political analyst Ricardo Israel, "Chile is going back to the polarisation of the past."

The right wing in Chile, in relative disarray for some years, has united around the cause of releasing General Pinochet.
[ image: Scuffles in the aftermath of the arrest]
Scuffles in the aftermath of the arrest
Activists have organised repeated protests outside the Spanish Embassy and outside the British Ambassador's Residence in Santiago. They say they will campaign until he is released.

The government has found itself in a difficult position. Ministers from the centre-left coalition are having to defend a man they have spent a generation opposing. Socialist members of the coalition are refusing to support the government's position and the coalition which has lasted a decade is under threat of collapse.

The administration of President Eduardo Frei is also coming under pressure from General Pinochet's most powerful supporter, the armed forces.

"The military are very aggressive in making it known to the government that they are not prepared to see General Pinochet humiliated." says defence analyst Raul Sohr.

Among ordinary people in Chile the reaction to the arrest of the former dictator has been divided.

Happiness among opponents

[ image: Feelings against Pinochet are equally strong]
Feelings against Pinochet are equally strong
It took some time for opponents of General Pinochet to comprehend that the news was really true. But the extraordinary was true Many of those who have opposed Augusto Pinochet say they never thought they would see him arrested.

Many see his arrest as long overdue. They say that it's something the Chilean government itself should have done many years ago.

"After all these years we may get some justice for those who were killed by Pinochet," says Viviana Diaz, the head of the Association of the Families of those who went missing during the Pinochet regime.

Shock and anger

On the day the news broke, Pinochet's most fervent supporters gathered outside the Pinochet foundation. "I can't believe it," repeated one woman again and again.

His supporters look upon the arrest of General Pinochet as a betrayal by Britain - a country long considered an ally.

[ image: General Pinochet: Diplomatic passport, but not accredited]
General Pinochet: Diplomatic passport, but not accredited
General Pinochet still commands significant support across Chile. He has a power base built around the armed forces, business leaders and right wing politicians. He also has widespread support among affluent sections of society, who see him as a hero for saving the country from the Communist government of President Salvador Allende. These supporters are in a minority in Chile, but they have a strong influence.


James Robbins: "The arrest has re-ignited dangerous passions in Chile"
In Chile this century there have been a handful of events of such significance that people refer to life "before" and "after" these events happened. Such is the case with the coup which brought General Pinochet to power in 1973, and with the transition to democracy in 1990. The arrest of General Pinochet can now be added to this list

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