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Calls for for Pinochet Trial Grow

January 26, 2000

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ With the possibility that Gen. Augusto Pinochet will be released from detention in Britain, escaping efforts to try him in Spain for human rights abuses, demands are growing that the former Chilean dictator be tried at home.

Pinochet was arrested 15 months ago in London on a warrant by a Spanish judge who wants to extradite him on charges of human rights abuses during his 1973-90 rule.

On Jan. 11, Britain said a team of doctors determined that Pinochet was too ill to stand trial. British Home Secretary Jack Straw was expected to announce his final decision on Pinochet’s fate after a formal hearing, expected next week.

On Tuesday, however, human rights groups joined Belgium in launching a court challenge to prevent Straw from releasing Pinochet.

Their challenges contend Straw must allow an independent examination of the medical evidence he says leaves him inclined to block the 84-year-old general’s extradition to Spain.

Relatives of victims under Pinochet’s dictatorship last Saturday started daily peaceful demonstrations in front of the presidential palace in Santiago, opposing the general’s release and demanding that he be tried if he returns.

Both foes and followers agree Pinochet should no longer retain a political role here, although he is a senator-for-life.

He created that post for himself in the constitution issued by his regime, and he cannot legally resign. But legislators from all sectors are pushing a bill that would allow him to step down _ keeping his congressional salary and immunity, as well as a security detail for life.

In Chile, Pinochet faces 57 lawsuits filed by victims of repression or their relatives, or by political, labor or social groups.

An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or disappeared in Chile after Pinochet toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende in a bloody coup.

The judge handling the suits, Juan Guzman, has been working for months, and said he plans to question Pinochet if he returns.

Guzman said he will also have Pinochet examined by doctors. However, the health problems that could gain the former dictator his release in Britain do not apply in Chile, except in the cases of mental illness.

Pinochet, under house arrest in a rented mansion southwest of London, has diabetes, wears a pacemaker and suffered two small strokes last fall.

No opposition has been voiced here to a trial of Pinochet _ not even from his staunchest supporters.

``In Chile, nobody is above the law,″ said Joaquin Lavin, the right-wing presidential candidate defeated on Jan. 16 by socialist Ricardo Lagos.

President-elect Lagos has repeatedly said that while it is not for him to have Pinochet tried, he will make sure Guzman can act without pressure or interference.

Hugo Gutierrez, a human rights lawyer representing several people suing Pinochet, said he plans to seek the lifting of Pinochet’s congressional immunity ``the day he sets foot in Chile.″

While most people in Chile are betting on Pinochet’s early return, his reception is being prepared amid secrecy. The army and the Pinochet Foundation, a private group of Pinochet supporters, are believed to be in charge.

The government has sent a plane to London to bring Pinochet home if he is released.

Followers of the 84-year-old retired general say they are preparing a reception for him. ``It won’t be anything official, but many of us will go to express our appreciation and affection,″ said congresswoman Maria Angelica Cristi.

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