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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK

UK Politics

Eyewitness: Joy of anti-Pinochet protesters

Sara De Witt: Waited 25 years for this outcome

By BBC News Online's Sarah Teasdale

To the casual passer-by, the growing group of protesters in London's Parliament Square must have sounded like the home secretary's fan club.

The pinochet File
Chants of "Thank you Jack Straw" were being sung by campaigners who had spent months waiting for the home secretary's decision to allow the extradition proceedings against Augusto Pinochet to go ahead.

Most of those gathered opposite the Houses of Parliament were veterans of the cold winter days and night spent highlighting the case of the victims of the former Chilean dictator's regime in Westminster.

Chilean exile Sara De Witt, 47, came to the UK after spending two years in prison in Chile in the 1970s.

She told BBC News Online: "I've been campaigning here for months and have been waiting 25 years for this outcome.

"This is a victory for human rights all over the world. This is very important for the process of reconciliation in Chile, we need this for truth and justice.

[ image: Jack Straw: Popular with protesters]
Jack Straw: Popular with protesters
"I was in prison for two years, I was arrested because I was a social work student. The day I arrived in prison I saw a man being killed by the secret police. Many of my friends were also arrested and many of them disappeared."

The campaigners were fewer in number than on previous occasions, such as on the day of last month's ruling by the Law Lords. Many had expected the decision to come a lot later in the day than it did.

They occupied the square with a group of campaigners from Bognor Regis who were protesting about the closure of an elderly care home.

The contrast between the two groups was marked, with the care home campaigners almost silent in their protest while the Chilean exiles sang, hugging friends and family.

Fedor Castello, 52, said: "Today has been a victory for justice, this decision is wonderful.

"I left Chile in 1976 after I was in a concentration camp for 18 months. My crime was to write a poem against Pinochet."

Mr Castello wore a placard for his best friend Alex Jacard who disappeared under the Pinochet regime. He has never been able to find out what happened to him.

Claudia Sanchez, 34, left Chile when she was a teenager in 1981.

She told BBC News Online: "Pinochet must pay for his crimes, he was a torturer.

"My mother was in prison when she was six months pregnant but the baby wasn't born because she was tortured. I was 12 at the time.

[ image: Most of the protesters were exiles]
Most of the protesters were exiles
"We left Chile because my mother couldn't stand any more. There was no reason to pick on her, she was non-political.

"I think Jack Straw is wonderful but I knew all the time I could trust in him. When his son was in trouble he stuck by the law so we knew he must stand by the law with Pinochet."

Former Chilean Jose George has been campaigning for Thursday's decision for months.

He said: "Any fascists, any dictators, Milosevic, will have to face justice.

"Any criminals in any state must accept justice. I'm very glad to be in England.

"I was a soldier in Chile but I refused to torture, I refused to take part. I can never go back now but I refused to have blood on my hands."

With a Chilean flag wrapped round her shoulders, 60-year-old Sonia Pizarro said she had been worried about the outcome.

She had also been arrested and sent to prison. Her crime was being a communist.

She said: "I am very happy, this is the moment we all expected.

"This is very good day for human rights."

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