Clashes outside court as Chile's old godfather is wheeled in to face charges

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THE FORMER Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet denounced allegations of human rights crimes against him yesterday as he appeared in the dock for the first time since his arrest.

The 83-year-old general told the hearing at Belmarsh magistrates' court in south-east London that he did not recognise any judicial proceedings against him outside Chile.

Speaking through an interpreter, he told the chief Metropolitan stipendiary magistrate, Graham Parkinson: "With respect to your Honour, I do not recognise the jurisdiction of any other court, except in my country, to try me against all the lies of Spain."

The defiant statement was issued as the general made his first public appearance since having an arrest warrant served on him two months ago when Spain launched an attempt to extradite him for alleged human rights crimes during his time as head of state from 1973 to 1990.

He entered the courtroom in a wheelchair amid a massive police security operation after being escorted under heavy guard from the house where he is staying on the Wentworth Estate in Surrey.

Outside the court there were rowdy scenes as hundreds of opponents and supporters - kept apart by police - shouted slogans of condemnation and encouragement.

During the 27-minute hearing the general spoke only twice. Flanked by one of his Chilean lawyers and the interpreter, he was asked by the clerk of the court to state his name. He spoke in Spanish, with his words translated into English

"I am," he rasped with his chin jutting out, "Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

"I was the commander in chief of the army, captain general of Chile, president of the republic and actually I am at the moment a senator of the republic."

But for all the world, the hunched figure shrunk into a faded brown suit, with his hands clasped over a cane, looked like Marlon Brando playing the ageing Don Corleone in The Godfather.

The courthouse had seen the trials of the notorious Charlie Kray and several IRA terrorists but yesterday's security operation, which deployed more than a hundred police to surround the building, was more extensive than for any who had gone before.

Sitting in front of the dock in the oak-panelled, anti- septic courtroom, and staring balefully at the chief magistrate, General Pinochet made his brief statement, making clear that he did not recognise the justice of any country other than Chile, and concluded: "This is all I have got to say."

After the general's words were translated into English, Mr Parkinson responded to the interpreter: "Will you tell him I hear what he has to say but my duty is to conduct these proceedings in accordance with the Extradition Act passed in England and I am sure he understands that."

He continued that he had read the authority to proceed on the matter from the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and went through the litany of alleged offences - "torture, conspiracy to torture, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder, hostage taking and conspiracy to take hostage".

If the charges made any impact on General Pinochet he did not show it. He looked straight ahead, occasionally lifting a mottled hand to slow the interpreter if he was going too fast.

Behind him, in the dock, about 20 supporters of the general, including senators, deputies and a female journalist from the Chilean version of Hello magazine sat inside the dock. "The best place for them," said a Chilean reporter.

The court was told that General Pinochet's lawyers were appealing to the House of Lords next week to overturn the law lords' earlier ruling that he did not enjoy immunity as a former head of state. The basis of the appeal is believed to be the alleged link of Lord Hoffmann, who voted against the general, with the human rights group Amnesty International .

The microphone system failed in the courtroom and from outside came the insistent beat of a drummer among the 300 demonstrators, some of them former torture victims of the Pinochet regime, demanding that he should face justice. They were separated by a phalanx of police officers from pro-Pinochet supporters demanding for his release and voicing their anger at the betrayal of their country by "agitating communists".

When the pro-Pinochet contingent spotted a black human rights activist, from Uruguay, one shouted: "You are not a Chilean, we don't have blacks in Chile, thank God we don't mix the races there." His companion, a plump middle-aged woman clutching a Harrods shopping bag explained: "We want to show the false picture painted of General Pinochet here. He saved our country, your Mrs Thatcher knows that."

Human rights activists waving banners branding General Pinochet an "assassin" and a "murderer" dismissed his supporters as people who had been paid to come to Britain. Rafael Alvarez, a former political prisoner, said: "I am sure, given the chance, they would like to have us back in the torture centres. These are people from our dark past."

General Pinochet had been brought from his temporary home on the Wentworth Estate, at Virginia Water, to Belmarsh, in the urban flatland of south- east London, in a green Ford Galaxy sandwiched between police cars. He was driven into the courthouse through the back entrance, away from the protesters.

During the hearing, with armed police standing inside the courtroom, Clive Nicholls QC, counsel for General Pinochet, asked for bail conditions to be changed to allow his client to leave the confines of his house and make use of the acre of garden.

Mr Parkinson told the former dictator, who was indicted this week in Spain on 2,700 counts of human rights abuse, that it would be "inhumane" to deprive him of that pleasure, and agreed to the request.

The next hearing on the Spanish extradition request will be held on 18 January at Bow Street magistrates' court in central London. General Pinochet's presence will not be required.