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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt reports
"The end of an extraordinary legal battle"
 real 28k

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg reports
"The Home Secretary admits he was driven to the conclusion"
 real 28k

The BBC's James Robbins in Santiago
"The general's supporters are triumphant"
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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 22:48 GMT
Pinochet flies out of Britain
General Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is heading home after being told by UK Home Secretary Jack Straw that he will not be extradited on torture charges.

The pinochet File
A Chilean Air Force jet took off from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire at 1315 GMT with the 84-year-old general on board, ending a 16-month saga since his arrest in Britain.

He is expected to arrive in Chile to a hero's welcome from supporters.

But campaigners for alleged victims of his regime were bitter about the decision.

"We have tried to make the world listen, we wanted justice, we are not getting it," said London-based student Henrika Harkko, 24.

"I feel sick. This decision has killed justice," added protester Fedor Castello.

Only a last-minute legal challenge could have delayed the general's departure.

But Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and France, the countries seeking his extradition, said they would not, or could not, appeal.

The attempted trial of an accused in the condition diagnosed in Senator Pinochet...could not be a fair trial in any country

Home Office
Mr Straw made his decision after re-examining a medical report filed on General Pinochet in January.

He said he believed the general was medically unfit to stand trial.

"I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible," Mr Straw told Parliament.

Pinochet supporters say he is too frail to stand trial
Mr Straw gave the House of Commons a full account of what he called the "landmark" case minutes after the general left the UK.

He said he aware the general was now unlikely to stand trial, adding: "I have been keenly aware of the gravity of the crimes allegedly committed by Senator Pinochet and of the desire for justice by those who suffered at the hands of the former Chilean regime."

We have tried to make the world listen, we wanted justice, we are not getting it

Henrika Harkko, protester
In January, Mr Straw had said he was "minded" to free the general from house arrest after medics said he was unfit to stand trial.

Opposition Conservatives welcomed Thursday's decision, but leader William Hague accused Labour of incompetence.

He said 4m of public money had been wasted on "moral posturing" which had achieved nothing.

Pinochet timeline
Oct 98: Arrested in London
Nov 98-July 99: Legal wrangle over general's fate
Sept 99: Extradition hearing begins
Oct 99: Extradition approved
Nov 99: Home Office orders medical tests
Jan 00: Straw "minded" to release ill general
Feb 00: Four EU countries challenge medical report
March 00: Straw's final decision
The Swiss Government said it would examine whether Britain acted correctly in releasing Pinochet but admitted there was little it could now do.

Amnesty International, which has made legal challenges before, said its aim was to achieve justice for the victims, not to prevent Pinochet leaving the UK at all costs.

General Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 at the request of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who is seeking to put him on trial for human rights abuses during his 17-year rule in Chile.

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