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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 08:41 GMT
The Pinochet case: 18 months in three minutes

Initially, it was a visit like any other for the former dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet, when he touched down on UK soil in September 1998 for minor back surgery.

Recovering in hospital, he is arrested in mid-October by police acting on a warrant from Spain, where he was being investigated over the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile during his 17-year rule.

In Chile, the news is met with disbelief and public reaction is split between anger and delight. Back in Britain, the arrest appears to break new legal ground. Sceptics question its validity under international law.

The pinochet File
By the end of the month, the 82-year-old general is out on bail after Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that as a former head of state he is entitled to immunity from prosecution.

But almost a month later the Law Lords narrowly overrule that decision, finding the former dictator can face extradition proceedings. In the Chilean capital, Santiago, his supporters turn violent on journalists.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, is pulled into the wrangle in December when he rejects appeals by lawyers asking for General Pinochet's release.

In for the 'long haul'

As both sides realise they are in for the "long haul" relations worsen between Chile and the UK. Santiago suspends official visits with British ministers and backs a temporary end to flights to the Falkland Islands.

In the run up to Christmas, the general's lawyers see fresh hope after the Law Lords' ruling is set aside. His legal team had accused Lord Hoffman, one of the original panel, of allowing a "real danger of bias" because of his long-standing ties with Amnesty International.

In January, General Pinochet's lawyers make an unprecedented second appearance before the UK's highest court to argue their client is immune from prosecution.

In March the Law Lords reject the appeal, but reduce the number of charges levelled against General Pinochet. He must remain under house arrest in the UK.

'England's only political prisoner'

A month later the general's fate seems certain after Mr Straw rules the remaining charges are serious enough to warrant extradition.

In July, General Pinochet says he is "England's only political prisoner". He also denies any direct role in human rights abuses. On the first day of the formal extradition hearing in September, 34 charges of torture are detailed against the ex-ruler.

As the hearing continues into October, the general is excused appearing on grounds of poor health. He had recently suffered two minor strokes. Two days later Bow Street Magistrates Court rules he can be extradited. But a final decision from Mr Straw is still needed.

In November, the Home Office asks General Pinochet to undergo a medical examination. Tests are carried out in London in early January 2000 and a week later, having considered the results, Mr Straw says he is "minded" to release the general because of his poor health.

Mr Pinochet remains under house arrest in Wentworth, Surrey, while several countries attempt to challenge Mr Straw's decision. On the morning of 2 March, the Home Secretary says Mr Pinochet should not be extradited to Spain and decides not to issue authority to proceed in respect of extradition requests from Switzerland, Belgium and France.
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12 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
The Pinochet case: Timeline
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