Pinochet arrest defended

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT rejected claims yesterday that it had breached the rules governing diplomatic immunity when it arrested General Augusto Pinochet.

While the former Chilean dictator remained under arrest at a private London hospital, Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said it was gut-wrenching to consider that a "brutal dictator" should receive such immunity.

But Michael Howard, the shadow Foreign Secretary, voiced concerns that the general had been arrested to appease pressure groups and Labour MPs.

General Pinochet, 82, was arrested late on Friday by Scotland Yard officers as he was recuperating from back treatment. They were executing a provisional extradition warrant on behalf of Spain, which claims the general was responsible for the deaths of Spanish citizens during his period as dictator.

Police wearing body armour patrolled the streets yesterday outside the London Clinic, the private hospital, as demonstrators waved flags.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost, Mr Mandelson said: "The idea that such a brutal dictator as Pinochet should claim diplomatic immunity I think for most people in this country would be pretty gut-wrenching stuff."

The Foreign Office confirmed later that a diplomatic passport did not necessarily confer immunity. Such immunity was only afforded to heads of state and registered diplomats based in Britain, and General Pinochet was neither.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that the Spanish authorities had 40 days to issue a formal extradition request. If that was made, then Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, would have to decide whether to agree to the extradition.

General Pinochet's age and current health would be factors in Mr Straw's decision, she said.

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