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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK

Calls for Pinochet's release

Pinochet supporters in Santiago have been protesting against his arrest

The arrest in London last week of the former Chilean military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, has prompted demands for his release both from Chile and around the world.

The General is suffering from depression and worsening health, and the Chilean President, Eduardo Frei, has said he may ask the UK Government to release General Pinochet on humanitarian grounds.

In a national broadcast, President Frei said he was making the request to the UK despite "the deep differences" between his government and General Pinochet.

"We can understand the situation faced by Mr Pinochet and his family, and therefore we will request the necessary considerations, given his serious health condition," the president said.

Argentine support

The Argentine President, Carlos Menem - who is to visit Britain next week - has also voiced support for Chile's protests at General Pinochet's detention.

[ image: The general has still many loyal supporters]
The general has still many loyal supporters
Menem aide Jorge Castro said the president made it clear that prosecutions over human rights abuses by past dictatorships should take place only at home.

Argentina's ambassador to the UK, Rogelio Pfirter, told BBC Two's Newsnight that the president had spoken because "Chile is not only our neighbour, it is our friend, and our two countries see their destiny united and depending on each other.

"So it is only natural that we should express our support for the Chilean Government," Mr Pfirter said.

"I don't think really when President Menem expressed Argentina's opinion he was talking about General Pinochet. He was simply talking about the ability of Chile to deal with these issues," he said.

Thatcher fuels debate

The former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, has joined the protest over General Pinochet's arrest.

In a letter to the Times Newspaper, she described General Pinochet as a "good friend" to Britain during the Falklands War in1982 and said he should be allowed to return home.

Baroness Thatcher said British lives were saved because of Chile's support and compared the general's treatment to the visit next week of the Argentine president.

"It would be disgraceful to preach reconciliation with one, while maintaining under arrest someone who, during the same conflict, did so much to save so many British lives," she said.

She also stated that General Pinochet's arrest may threaten Chile's transition to democracy.

The daughter of the late Chilean President Salvador Allende has described Lady Thatcher's statement as "shameful".

Isabel Allende, whose father died in the 1973 coup in which General Pinochet seized power, said she thought the former prime minister's intervention was "incredible, incredible indeed".

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