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Friday, March 26, 1999 Published at 19:49 GMT


Thatcher stands by Pinochet

Baroness Thatcher thanked Pinochet for his help in the Falklands

Baroness Thatcher has visited General Pinochet at the home where he is staying under house arrest near London - and talked of the "debt" she believes the UK owes him.

The pinochet File
The former UK prime minister met with the one-time Chilean dictator in a rare public appearance televised live from the house in Wentworth, Surrey.

General Pinochet is staying in the rented mansion during his legal battle to avoid extradition to Spain.

Joshua Rozenberg reports: "The photo opportunity we'd waited five months to see"
Lady Thatcher thanked her old friend for being an ally during the 1982 Falklands War - and for "bringing democracy to Chile".

"I know how much we owed to you for your help," she said.

"The information you gave us, communications, and also the refuge you gave to any of our armed forces who were able, if they were shipwrecked, to make their way to Chile."

[ image: Pinochet's wife was present]
Pinochet's wife was present
She added: "I'm also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile, you set up a constitution suitable for democracy, you put it into effect, elections were held, and then, in accordance with the result, you stepped down."

General Pinochet said it was an honour to have Lady Thatcher there at the "simple house" on the estate, and thanked her for her "kindness".

Seated in a chair and clutching a cane, he told her in Spanish, "This is a small house, but it is full of gratitude to you. It is only a small way to thank you for all your kindness."

She said she was glad he was "comfortable".

No absolute immunity

The televised interview marks the first time the 83-year-old has been seen in public since his arrest on 16 October.

Margaret Thatcher thanks Pinochet for bringing a new era of democracy to Chile
Spain is seeking to try him on charges alleging human rights violations during his 1973-1990 regime.

On Wednesday, the House of Lords ruled that Pinochet had no absolute immunity from arrest as a former head of state.

[ image: Campaigners say Lady Thatcher is
Campaigners say Lady Thatcher is "wrong"
But the Lords also threw out almost all the charges levelled against him, since they pre-dated Britain's adoption of an international law allowing any nation to try anyone accused of torture.

That left the Spanish case against him consisting of only one count each of torture, conspiracy to torture and murder conspiracy.

However, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon on Friday added 30 more cases of torture and murder to the extradition charge sheet against Mr Pinochet.

Immediately after Wednesday's ruling, Pinochet's lawyers filed an appeal of Home Secretary Jack Straw's December decision to allow Spain's extradition request to go forward.

Diplomatic Editor Brian Hanrahan: "Meeting aimed at stepping up pressure on Jack Straw"
The High Court will consider that appeal on Monday.

Lady Thatcher has campaigned for his release ever since his arrest in London.

Pinochet was an annual visitor to her home in London after he stepped down from power in 1990, always sending flowers and chocolates on his arrival in England.

Days before his arrest he was invited for tea at the former premier's home.

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