Pinochet's extradition is put in doubt by his health

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The Independent Online
GENERAL AUGUSTO Pinochet will have medical tests early next year to assess whether he is well enough to be extradited, the Home Office said yesterday.

The former Chilean dictator will be examined on 5 January by an independent doctor. Supporters of the 84-year-old general say his health is failing under the strain of the legal proceedings against him and he is too ill to be sent to Spain to face charges of torture.

The medical tests were ordered by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, after the Chilean government lodged a request for the general to be released on humanitarian grounds. General Pinochet is said to have suffered a series of strokes while under house arrest in Surrey.

Juan Garces, a Spanish-based human rights lawyer who represents the families of General Pinochet's victims, said he was concerned about the new medical examinations. He said: "At a trial, the important issue is the mental condition. He understands the charges, yes or no, that is the important issue.

"We are seeing that his mental condition is good enough ... for sending messages to his supporters in Chile. We expect that the physician's statement will recognise that he is in good condition for standing trial," the lawyer told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Mr Garces added: "This is an important issue, because if the British authorities say that this man cannot stand trial in Spain, that would mean that the British authorities establish an outcome with an effect worldwide. It would mean that Pinochet would never stand trial, not only in Spain, but in any other country, including Chile. They would use this statement from the British authorities for preventing his trial in Chile."