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Thursday, December 10, 1998 Published at 14:08 GMT


UK press split on Pinochet ruling

Predictably, newspapers are divided along political lines

The UK press is divided along political lines over the home secretary's decision to allow extradition proceedings to go ahead against Chile's General Augusto Pinochet.

Right-wing newspapers condemned the ruling to allow an extradition request by Spain to proceed while left and centre-left papers welcomed a "win for human rights".

The UK's best-selling tabloid, the Sun, was the most critical, saying that Jack Straw had "bungled the toughest test of his career". It described the general as "frail" and said the 83-year-old broke down in tears as he was told the news.

The Sun warned that "the sick old man may be dead" before extradition goes ahead, and added: "Straw made the wrong decision yesterday - giving in to the prejudices of 1970s student rabble rousers."

In its editorial, the Daily Telegraph warned "the agonising will go on for Straw", caught between a desire to preserve relations with Chile and obligations under international law and to left-wingers in the Labour Party.

It said: "Jack Straw has pitched this country into a long, messy and costly disaster. Britain will be the loser by it and so, very likely, will Chile. No-one doubts that many horrible things happened during and after General Pinochet's seizure of power in 1973. But it must be for Chile, now restored to democracy, to determine how to deal with them."

It added that London had shown no concern for an "old and valued ally" and had displayed the "latter-day imperialism of the politically correct".

The Times was more moderate, warning of the problems of extending the controversy, particularly in next year's presidential elections in Chile.

"[Mr Straw] may come to regret this uncertainty," it said.

The Daily Mail said the home secretary had let his heart get the better of his mind to make a "profoundly unwise decision".

"While his ruling may be understandable, it is as disappointing as it is to be deplored."

'You can hide, general but you can't run'

The left and centre-left press described as "brave" Mr Straw's decision to send General Pinochet to court to answer for his alleged crimes during his rule between 1973 and 1990.

"General Pinochet spent 20 years evading justice for genocide and torture," wrote The Mirror. "Yesterday, a brave British Home Secretary finally brought this evil man to book."

It praised Straw's "moral and political courage", telling the country to "take pride in Straw's courage".

The Guardian was equally forthright. "You can hide, general, but you can't run," read its front-page headline.

Calling Mr Straw's decision "historic", it spoke of "justice for Pinochet and a win for human rights".

It described the "only decision on the Pinochet case which combines justice with moral vision" and said the ruling, far from endangering Chilean democracy, would strengthen the democratic hand.

The Independent spoke of the "diplomatic uproar" created, but commended "a brave move".

"Human rights are now part of everyone's agenda. And the legal foundations are being laid, yesterday as much as tomorrow."

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