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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 16:08 GMT
Pinochet supporters rejoice

Supporters of Pinochet Supporters of Pinochet in Chile sang with joy

Supporters of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile have been celebrating a British judge's ruling that there is no legal justification for appealing against the decision by the UK Home Secretary to send the general home.

The pinochet File
About 20 of General Pinochet's allies, who had gathered at the Pinochet Foundation in Santiago, sang the national anthem and waved flags and giant photographs of the former Chilean ruler, on hearing the news from London.

But in London, angry protesters - many wearing white masks with red handprints on them - gathered outside the High Court, waving banners decrying atrocities committed during General Pinochet's rule.

London protests Angry crowds gathered outside the High Court in London
In Spain, where lawyers want to put the general on trial, 14 anti-Pinochet demonstrators gathered in downtown Madrid to protest against the court decision that effectively means details of Britian's medical examination of General Pinochet will remain a secret.

"We've been waiting for many years for justice but they tell us no and no for political reasons," said Marcella Pradenas, who has held a hunger strike for the last 14 days to call for Pinochet's extradition to Spain.

'Not over yet'

On Monday, a High Court judge rejected a legal appeal by Belgium and six human rights groups against Britain's handling of General Pinochet's extradition to Spain to stand trial for alleged torture during his rule.

Belgium has appealed against the ruling.

At the Chilean headquarters of one of the groups campaigning for General Pinochet to be put on trial, there was a subdued mood.

"It's not over yet," said the president of the Santiago-based organisation, the Families of the Detained/Disappeared, Viviana Diaz.

But she added that even if the general was released, he would return to Chile condemned by world opinion for crimes against humanity.

'Reports conclusive'

"We do not feel defeated. Pinochet - the invincible, the untouchable - has been under arrest for 472 days as of today," she said.

It is possible that the human rights groups, which include Amnesty International, will appeal the latest ruling.

Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdes said he did not believe Belgium's appeal would make the extradition battle drag out too long.

"It could delay it a few days, but not a long time. I have the impression that the medical reports are sufficiently conclusive enough," said Valdes.

'Botched ending'

Human rights lawyers in Spain said they would not give up the fight for the extradition of General Pinochet.

"We will exhaust all possibilities," said a lawyer for the victims of Pinochet's regime, Joan Garces. He said if the general returned to Chile, he would have difficulty leaving the country without being dogged by efforts to try him.

Mr Valdes said freeing the general would not only be a "great disgrace" for the British and Spanish Governments but "would set a precedent of politics interfering in the justice system to allow impunity".

Also in Spain, the opposition Socialist party called on Britain not to make a "botched ending" of the Pinochet case.

The party's foreign affairs spokesman, Rafael Estrella, said even if General Pinochet were released, he believed he would arrive in Chile "completely humiliated" and deserved to be excluded from Chilean political life.

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See also:
30 Jan 00 |  UK
Chilean plane waits for Pinochet
29 Jan 00 |  Americas
Ex-prisoners accuse Pinochet of torture
27 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Belgium justifies Pinochet challenge
26 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Pinochet medical test challenge
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Why Belgium cares about Pinochet

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