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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 18:34 GMT

UK Politics

Pinochet reaction splits on party lines

Lady Thatcher built close links with General Pinochet when in power

Politicians have split along party lines in their reactions to Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to allow extradition proceedings against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to proceed.

The pinochet File
Baroness Thatcher called the decision to allow the extradition to continue as "a grave mistake".

Lady Thatcher attacked Mr Straw's handling of the issue. "He had ample power to put an end to this shameful and damaging episode. He has chosen, instead, to prolong it.

"Neither he nor the government can hide behind legal posturing. This was a political decision and it represents a failure of political leadership."

As during the commotion following the Law Lords' decision to reverse the High Court's ruling that General Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity, Lady Thatcher led those opposed to attempting to prosecute the former dictator for alleged crimes including genocide.

'Cowardly decision'

[ image: William Hague accused Jack Straw of making a
William Hague accused Jack Straw of making a "great mistake"
Conservative leader William Hague echoed her protest, saying what he described as Mr Straw's "cowardly decision" was "a great mistake".

"I think this has gone on for long enough now. I think it has been damaging our relations with Chile, it's damaging the future of democracy in Chile," he said.

"It is actually time to say that General Pinochet should go home and the Chileans should be able to sort out their own problems. This is the wrong way to approach it."

Mr Hague rejected the notion that Mr Straw had little choice in the matter given the Law Lords' decision, saying: "He had every choice, he had every opportunity to make his own decision, to make his own judgement."

The home secretary had "given in to activists within the Labour Party and to his own prejudices from the past, instead of doing the right thing for the country".

Shadow Home Secretary Sir Norman Fowler said Mr Straw had "missed a golden opportunity to bring this sorry affair to an end".

He accused the home secretary of having "caved in" to pressure from Labour backbenchers and Cabinet colleagues.

"No-one defends what happened in Chile in the 1970s but we must recognise that Chile is now a democracy and the strength of feeling there that this is a matter for them," Sir Norman said.

'Wonderful day for justice'

[ image: Jeremy Corbyn praised the home secretary's
Jeremy Corbyn praised the home secretary's "courage"
Those on the other side of the argument expressed their admiration for Mr Straw's decision.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said it was a "wonderful day for justice".

"Jack Straw has made a correct, courageous and brilliant decision that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The cause of justice has been greatly served today and there is now some real hope for the people of Chile that the cases of the missing, the murdered and tortured will be properly examined."

Ann Clwyd MP, chair of the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said Mr Straw's decision showed "Britain has proved its commitment to international law. The general must answer legally for his crimes."

[ image: Ann Clwyd:
Ann Clwyd: "The general must answer for his crimes"
The Labour MP added: "The families of the disappeared and his victims may finally receive justice. This is a strong signal to all those accused of crimes against humanity. They will face international legal scrutiny for their deeds."

Clive Soley, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said: "The right decision has been made.

"I think the message is clear to all dictators and potential dictators that you can assume the rule of law will now be applied."

He added: "I'm sure the members of the party are very pleased."

David Winnick, a member of the Home Affairs committee and a campaigner for Pinochet's extradition, said Mr Straw had made "an excellent decision which I believe will be widely welcomed at both home and abroad".

There was also Liberal Democrat support for the decision.

Alan Beith, deputy Lib Dem leader, said: "This decision will send a clear message that Britain cannot be a hiding place from justice for anyone facing charges of tyranny and repression."

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