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Reaction To Pinochet Decision Mixed

January 12, 2000

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ A British medical decision Tuesday declaring Gen. Augusto Pinochet too sick to stand trial drew praise from his supporters and criticism from opponents, who promised to continue efforts to try him for alleged human rights abuses.

The 84-year-old former Chilean dictator has been in Britain since he was arrested on a Spanish warrant for alleged human rights violations committed during his 17-year rule in Chile.

The governments of Chile and Spain both appeared unlikely to get involved in ruling, which could bring an end to the former Chilean dictator’s 15-month battle to keep from being extradited to Spain.

But human rights lawyers said they will continue efforts to try Pinochet. Attorney Enrique Santiago said he will request that the Spanish National Court ask British prosecutors for a new medical examination if Pinochet is released on health grounds.

Pinochet’s younger daughter, Jacqueline, said the family was ``extremely happy.″ She said her father has been in bed in recent days, and upon returning to Chile ``he will go straight to the Military Hospital.″

But Mireya Garcia, vice president of the Organization of Relatives of Missing Detainees, a group dedicated to dissidents who disappeared after being arrested under the Pinochet dictatorship, called the ruling ``a terrible blow.″

``We believe that although Pinochet is indeed very old and has problems, he was in shape to stand trial,″ she said.

The British government said a medical team who examined Pinochet unanimously agreed that he was too ill to face trial, and that Home Secretary Jack Straw felt he should not allow Pinochet to be extradited. But it said he would not make a decision until hearing arguments from parties to the case.

Supporters at the private Pinochet Foundation were joyful _ but cautious. Director Hernan Guiloff warned: ``There is nothing to celebrate yet.″

Retired army Gen. Rafael Villarroel, a former close aide to Pinochet, said: ``This is going to be good for Chile, for our fatherland, because a process starts to restore its sovereignty and dignity.″

Socialist Sen. Ricardo Nunez said that once here, Pinochet should resign the post of senator-for-life granted to him under the constitution written by his regime and withdraw from politics.

``If he doesn’t, he would make Chile the laughingstock of the world,″ Nunez said.

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