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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 21:43 GMT
Pinochet report challenged

Pinochet in wheelchair
General Pinochet is under house arrest

Home Secretary Jack Straw is under renewed pressure to extradite General Augusto Pinochet after four countries challenged UK medical evidence declaring the former dictator unfit for trial.

The pinochet File
France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain have lodged last-minute challenges to the medical report.

France is calling for a new medical examination after Mr Straw said the evidence led him to be "minded" not to extradite the general, who is accused of human rights abuses.

Switzerland has called for extradition proceedings to go ahead, whatever state of health the 84-year-old is in.

Belgian judge Damien Vandermeersch has told Mr Straw he considers former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet fit to stand trial.

You cannot refuse an extradition because of health reasons. We believe that the extradition procedure should go on
Folco Galli, Swiss Federal Office of Police
And Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon - whose initial extradition request led to the general's arrest in London in 1998 - has reportedly asked the Britain for permission to carry out a fresh medical examination after Spanish doctors said the report showed the general was fit enough to be tried.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said Mr Straw would now be considering the submissions before making a final decision - which may well not come before next week.

That announcement could in turn give rise to fresh legal challenges.

It is extremely unlikely that the general will agree to undergo any further medical tests at the request of the other states and the home secretary has no power to order him to submit to an examination.

International pressure

The medical report was released last week to the four countries seeking the general's extradition, after a UK High Court Judge overturned Mr Straw's decision to keep its contents secret.

The Swiss Government is claiming in a submission to Mr Straw that, under international treaties, the state of someone's health is no bar to their extradition.

supporters Pinochet supporters say he is too frail to stand trial
Switzerland was the first country to lodge a response after the High Court ordered Mr Straw to give copies of the medical report on the former Chilean leader to the four states seeking his extradition.

Folco Galli, spokesman for Switzerland's Federal Office of Police, said: "In our letter we say that we have read the report with interest, but for us there's nothing really new.

"We already knew the conclusions of the report. In our letter we say that following the European extradition convention, you cannot refuse an extradition because of health reasons.

"We believe that the extradition procedure should go on."

Mr Galli said he could not comment on whether the Swiss Government would take legal action against Mr Straw if he confirmed his decision to drop the extradition case.

An anti-Pinochet demonstrator Anti-Pinochet demonstrators demand his extradition
Spanish doctors, who have reviewed the document, are reported to have disputed parts of the medical team's conclusions.

Copies of the report, leaked to Spanish newspapers within hours of the court order to release it, revealed that the medical experts had found evidence of "extensive brain damage" in the general, linked to a series of strokes.

The general was suffering from memory loss and had difficulties expressing himself and understanding complicated phrases, the report said.

General Pinochet is under house arrest on the Wentworth Estate in Surrey.

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See also:
16 Feb 00 |  Europe
Transcript: Pinochet health report
16 Feb 00 |  Health
Pinochet 'brain damage' analysis
15 Feb 00 |  UK
Protesters hail Pinochet ruling
15 Feb 00 |  Americas
Clashes after Pinochet ruling
13 Feb 00 |  UK
Doubt over Pinochet health fears

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