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Thousands march against Pinochet

BBC News
4 March 2000

Thousands of chanting demonstrators have marched through the streets of Santiago to protest against General Augusto Pinochet's return to Chile. Some protesters threw stones at the army headquarters and painted graffiti on walls calling for the general to be jailed.

The march culminated at La Moneda, Chile's presidential palace, which was a target during the military coup which originally took General Pinochet to power in 1973.

Outside the building, relatives of those who disappeared during the general's regime held a candlelit vigil.

They said they wanted to make sure that Chile never forgets the human rights abuses committed under his rule.

Protesters, the relatives of the disappeared, left-wing politicians and human rights activists questioned the assessment of General Pinochet's health which led to his release from Britain.

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw decided that he would not be extradited to Spain to face torture charges because he was not fit to stand trial - ending a saga that began with his arrest in London in October 1998.

But opponents say that from what they have seen since the former dictator arrived in Santiago, he is well enough to stand trial in his own country.

Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdes called the welcome, with military band and guard of honour, at Santiago airport "a disgrace". And President-elect Ricardo Lagos said the retired general's televised arrival had damaged the image of Chile.

Lawmaker Isabel Allende, daughter of ex-president Salvador Allende, who died during the 1973 assault on La Moneda added: "It appears that Pinochet is in a perfectly good condition physically and mentally to be prosecuted."


General Pinochet was in his wheelchair only few moments after he was helped from the plane that transported him from Britain.

He then waved his walking stick above his head, saluting and acknowledging the welcome, as crowds of supporters cheered and an army band played his favourite marching tunes.

Although the general will not now be extradited to Spain, where judge Baltazar Garzon had sought to put the general on trial for alleged human rights abuses during his 17-year rule, a Chilean judge considering 59 civil lawsuits says he intends to pursue a prosecution.

"I believe the conditions are in place for the development of a good trial in our country and from next Monday I will dedicate myself exclusively to this end," said Judge Juan Guzman.

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