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What's next for Chile's Pinochet

Britain ruled Wednesday that he lacked immunity for war crimes. Next, a wrangle over extradition.

Spain is stepping up its demand that Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, should be extradited from London to Madrid to face charges of genocide and human rights abuses against Spanish citizens.

In a ruling that dismayed General Pinochet and his supporters but delighted opponents, five peers of Britain's House of Lords law committee voted 3 to 2 on Wednesday that he must respond to the extradition demand.

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The Lords' judgment against the ex-dictator was greeted by cheers from anti-Pinochet demonstrators outside the House of Lords.

Pinochet now faces the likelihood of a long stay in Britain as Spain presses ahead with its attempt to bring him to justice for thousands of alleged murders during his 17 years in power.

On Oct. 16 British police, responding to a Spanish request, arrested Pinochet while he was in a London clinic after undergoing back surgery.

Later in the month the high court in London said Pinochet, as a former head of state, was immune from arrest and prosecution.

But Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who is leading Spain's extradition call, appealed to the House of Lords.

His success means that it is now up to Home Secretary Jack Straw, the government's chief law minister, to decide whether to act on the ruling against Pinochet by Britain's final court of appeal.

If Mr. Straw decides to go ahead with the extradition process, the general will appear before London magistrates Dec. 2. But the legal process is likely to stretch into next year.

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Pinochet had been hoping that, upon release, he could fly home aboard a Chilean Air Force jet that had waited for more than a month at an airfield 50 miles from London while his case was heard.

Judge Garzon's formal request for the general's extradition implicated him in 3,178 murders or "disappearances" during his years of power.

There is, however, no certainty that Spain, and three other European countries - France, Switzerland, and Belgium - also seeking Pinochet's extradition, will get their way.

The Santiago government has complained that the arrest of Pinochet has caused political turmoil in Chile, as supporters and opponents of the ex-dictator demonstrated for his release or prosecution.

Home Secretary Straw has some difficult judgments to make as he ponders his next move.

Pinochet's arrest has sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and Chile, a longstanding ally of the United Kingdom.

During the Falklands war with Argentina, Chile gave help to Britain.

London says the detention was merely a response to the Spanish extradition request, and had no political overtones.

BUT Britain's Conservative opposition has expressed reservations about the decision to detain a former leader who stepped down from power nine years ago.

After Pinochet's arrest, Margaret Thatcher, who was British prime minister during the Falklands war, said his detention was an outrage. Days before, Pinochet had met in London with Mrs. Thatcher.

Reuters reported from Santiago that Pinochet supporters "violently rejected" the House of Lords ruling.

Demonstrators at the Pinochet Foundation there pushed, jeered, and shouted insults at journalists inside the offices of the foundation, which funds military scholarships in Chile.

Campaigners for Pinochet had been hoping he would be able to return home and celebrate his release. Instead reports said they were highly critical of the Lords' judgment.

A BBC correspondent in the Chilean capital said more organized demonstrations by the general's supporters appeared certain.

Relatives of victims of Chile's former dictatorship went ahead with plans for a candlelight vigil outside the presidential palace in Santiago, the BBC reported.

In London, Thatcher appealed to Straw to block the extradition proceedings.

"The senator is old and sick, and on compassionate grounds alone should be allowed to return to Chile," she said in a statement. "The interests of Chile and Britain would be best served by releasing him."

Some 200 demonstrators waved Chilean flags and hugged each other after the Lords' ruling.

Nicole Drouilly, whose sister disappeared in Chile in 1974, said: "We were not expecting this decision at all. We are so happy."

Isabel Allende, the daughter of Salvador Allende, the Chilean president who died during the 1973 coup that unseated him, said that the ruling showed the world's dictators they were not above the law and called it a "marvelous" victory for thousands of victims of his dictatorship.

In Madrid, Carlos Slepoy, a prominent human right lawyer for the families of the victims of the so-called "dirty war," called the decision "an irreversible step toward the prosecution of crimes against humanity."

Pro-Pinochet demonstrators bitterly rejected the result.

After the judgment, Lord Nicholls, a lord who voted to overturn the High Court's earlier ruling, said: "International law has made it plain that certain types of conduct, including torture and hostage-taking, are not acceptable on the part of anyone."

The judgment reinforces the view of those who believe that international law should be allowed to evolve to take account of human rights abuses and to transcend the jurisdiction of national courts.

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