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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 01:35 GMT
Uproar over Pinochet statement

Baroness Thatcher visits General Pinochet and his wife Baroness Thatcher visits General Pinochet


The home secretary's announcement that he is "minded" to release General Pinochet on grounds of ill health has met with outrage and muted praise.

Supporters of of the general said the news was long overdue, while those campaigning for extradition called for an immediate judicial review of any decision to free the Chilean senator.


This has been an extraordinary fiasco from start to finish
Gerald Howarth MP
Baroness Thatcher, who has campaigned for General Pinochet's release since his arrest 14 months ago, said: "I would trust the home secretary's judgement. He is a very fair man."

Former Tory Chancellor Lord Lamont welcomed the decision.

"It has never been in the interests of justice that General Pinochet should be tried in Europe - this has always been a matter for Chile," he said.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "An awful lot of time, money and anxiety on both sides has been expended, and now it appears the home secretary isn't going through with it at all."

She complained that the statement had been issued to journalists rather than MPs.

"This is the sort of decision the home secretary should have reported to the House of Commons."

'Despicable act'

Michael Howard, the former Conservative Home Secretary, said: "It is a pity Jack Straw did not ask for these reports months ago and reach the same conclusion months ago."

Gerald Howarth MP, who has campaigned for General Pinochet's release, said: "This has been an extraordinary fiasco from start to finish.

"It has been a despicable act for a friendly country to have incarcerated their former head of state over this period of time."

But human rights campaigners said they would not give up the fight to have General Pinochet extradited to face torture charges in Spain.

Helen Banber, director of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said: "Any decision by Jack Straw to release General Pinochet on health grounds should be subject to immediate judicial review.

"Until such a process takes place and the medical evidence examined in court, he should be extradited to face trial in Spain.

"There is no release for the mental and physical pain which many of the foundation's Chilean clients suffer from following their torture by the Pinochet regime."

'Blood-soaked tyrant'

There was anger and disappointment among Labour MPs.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said further legal action was likely.

He said: "My belief is if that Jack Straw is quite uncertain, and I think we're going to go through another legal process on this.

"I don't think age should be important. Nazi war criminals have been tried no matter how old they are - why not General Pinochet?"

Diane Abbott, Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP, said: "This is monstrous. There will be a lot of concern among the public about this."

But George Galloway, MP for Glasgow Kelvin, said: "I am not surprised to hear this, and much as I regard Pinochet as a blood-soaked tyrant, if the doctors say he is unfit to stand trial then he is unfit to stand trial.

"It would be reducing ourselves to Pinochet's level if we pursued the matter vindictively in the teeth of medical evidence."

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