Pinochet affair: Union Flag burnt in Chile

Ex-dictator's British victim prepared to testify against him
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The Independent Online
FEELINGS AGAINST Britain and Spain are running high here after the weekend detention in London of the former Chilean dictator and now "senator-for-life" Augusto Pinochet. His detenton in a London clinic followed a request from Spanish judges investigating the disappearance of Spaniards in Chile during Pinochet's 1973-90 rule.

There have been street demonstrations here since, both by Pinochet supporters and by human rights activists who applaud Britain's decision. But the pro-Pinochet demos have been the most fiery and his supporters vowed to keep taking to the streets until he is freed.

British dplomats here, including the ambassador, Glynne Evans, are keeping a low profile. They say the embassy is functioning as usual but Chilean sources say they have heard of contingency plans to cut embassy personnel if protests get more violent.

Chanting that the British government were "pirates", around 4,000 pro- Pinochet protesters battled with tough riot squad carabineros outside Ms Evans's residence in the Las Conds district until shortly before midnight on Sunday. It was not clear whether the ambassador was inside.

The protesters produced a Union Jack, stomped on it then set it alight. After they tore down metal police barrers, the carabineros launched several teargas cannisters and hosed the crowd down with a powerful water cannon from an armoured car. Several police and demonstrators were injured, including a member of parliament and the local Las Condes mayor, Joaquin Lavin.

In theory, Mr Lavin was in charge of the police. In fact, he was clearly part of the demo and was trying to deliver a protest letter to Ms Evans, a 58-year-old best known for her expertise in United Nations peacekeeping issues. The demonstrators later joined in what is known here as "a big casserole" - banging pots and pans from their windows as a sign of protest. Human rights activists and left-wing politicians later criticised the police for using "kid gloves" on the pro-Pinochet demonstrators, mostly middle-class professionals including many women. "If this had happened in a working-class neighbourhood, the cops would have been busting heads and throwing people in jail," said the Socialist Party leader Ricard Nunez. Outside the British embassy itself, anti-Pinochet demonstrators were peaceful.

Pinochet's detention ripped open old wounds here, where it remains difficult to gauge accurately how many Chileans are on which side. A general rule of thumb has been that roughly one-third of the country continued to see him as a brutal dictator even after he handed over to democracy, another third sees him as the man who saved Chile from comunism and the rest, those less directly affected, are somewhat ambiguous, giving him the benefit of the doubt for raising their standard of living.

In a front-page comment yesterday with the banner headline "Pinochet's Error", the daily Las Ultimas Noticias said General Pinochet totally miscalculated the mood in Europe. Referring to his earlier trips, it wrote: "These were other times, the good old days of the Conservative governent, when Pinochet never stopped sending flowers and fine chocolates to Margaret Thatcher."

While the Archbishop of Santiago criticised Britain's "lack of courtesy" in arresting an ailing octagenarian, Pinochet's spkesman, the retired general Luis Cortes Villa said his health had deteriorated since his arrest. A Scotland Yard officer remained in his room at all times, with three more outside, he said. The police had not allowed hi doctor to enter to give him medication for at least two hours after the swoop on Friday midnight, General Cortes Villa said.

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