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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK


Menem heading for eye of Pinochet storm

President Menem greets the Duke of York during his visit to Argentina in 1994

Argentinian President Carlos Menem arrives in the UK on Tuesday and steps into the middle of the row surrounding the detention of former Chilean military leader General Augusto Pinochet.

Gen Pinochet is under police guard in a London clinic after an extradition warrant was submitted by two Spanish judges who want to question him about the alleged murder of Spanish citizens in Chile between 1973 and 1983.

[ image: General Pinochet...his name is bound to crop up]
General Pinochet...his name is bound to crop up
President Menem has already backed the Chilean Government which is calling for the release of the 82-year-old. The subject is very likely to arise during his visit next week - the first by an Argentinian head of state since the Falklands War.

On Friday, the Argentinain Ambassador to the UK, Rogelio Pfirter, said: "Chile is not only our neighbour, it is our friend, and our two countries see their destiny united and depending on each other.

The pinochet File
"It is only natural that we should express our support for the Chilean Government."

The future of the Falklands will certainly crop up during the president's visit. Argentina and the UK went to war in 1982 when the ruling military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, invaded the Falklands - the islands the Argentinians refer to as the Malvinas.

A UK taskforce was sent to the South Atlantic and managed to recapture the islands with the loss of 258 British lives and thousands of Argentinian fatalities.

Defeat led to democracy

The junta collapsed in the aftermath of the defeat and military rule gave way to democracy.

Mr Menem, whose parents went to Argentina from Syria, told The Sun newspaper the Falklands war should "never have happened".

But he has denied apologising for Argentina's role in the conflict.

Mr Pfirter said Argentina still claimed sovereignty over the Falklands and said it was an "unavoidable" issue.

[ image: Friday's story in The Sun will not have made Mr Menem's visit any easier]
Friday's story in The Sun will not have made Mr Menem's visit any easier
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is the hope of the Argentine people in general - that at some stage these problems will be settled in a fashion which is satisfactory to Argentina's position.

'No negotiations planned'

"Certainly Argentina is not coming here through President Menem seeking to negotiate anything about this issue next week in London."

A Downing Street spokesman admitted that the Falklands would be discussed during Mr Menem's four-day visit but said trade and environmental protection were equally hot topics.

He said: "The fact that President Menem can come to London and talk about these issues, rather than focusing on the single issue of the Falklands, is a reflection of the maturity of the Argentine new democracy."

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23 Oct 98 | Americas
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