The Pinochet Affair: `Monsters' back in Chile's stadium

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The Independent Online
A QUARTER of a century after its most infamous days - under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet - Santiago's national sports stadium was back under the watchful eye of grim-faced Chilean police last night.

But it was a far cry from the era of the torture, executions and disappearances which began when Pinochet opponents were herded into the stadium in 1973.

This time, the place was packed with Chileans from both sides of the political and Pinochet spectrum, united in their love of heavy metal at the long-awaited "Monsters of Rock" concert of leading international bands.

Still, the former dictator's shadow hung over the stadium. The main attraction, the British group Iron Maiden, did not show up following Foreign Office advice against trips to Chile during the Pinochet crisis.

Earlier in the day, relatives of some of those who were killed or disappeared after being taken to the stadium, waved the British flag and praised the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, at an anti-Pinochet demonstration in front of the Moneda palace. This is the building Pinochet attacked in 1973 to oust Salvador Allende, Chile's Marxist president.

Carrying photographs of their dead or missing loved ones, the 100 or so relatives - mostly middle-aged and elderly women - read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and said it was appropriate that Mr Straw had made his extradition decision almost exactly 50 years to the day after the Declaration was made.

"Frei is a worm!" some shouted, referring to President Eduardo Frei's efforts to secure Pinochet's return to Chile. A small delegation was allowed to hand into the palace a letter to Mr Frei calling for a new constitution to replace the one drawn up by Pinochet in 1980 during his 1973-1990 dictatorship. That one guaranteed him a lifetime seat in the Senate.

They then distributed cartoon leaflets with the caption, "50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights," and showing a tiny Pinochet on the top of a birthday cake, trapped by a ring of prison bar-like candles.

The night before, British flags were not waved but set alight during a rowdy demonstration by Pinochet supporters close to the Santiago residence of the British ambassador, Glynne Evans. One policeman was injured as officers moved in with water cannons to disperse 200 or so demonstrators. At least 50 were arrested.

While the former dictator makes a first appearance at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court today, Chile's National Security Council - largely a relic of his military regime - will hold a crisis meeting to discuss the government's next course. The council comprises the President, the army, air force and navy chiefs, the chief of police and the chairmen of the Senate and the Supreme Court.

The army - still commanded by Pinochet until earlier this year and still strongly behind him - issued a tough statement calling Mr Straw's decision "abusive and humiliating". Such remarks always resurrect the spectre of a coup, but senior army officers, although critical of Mr Frei for not taking a more aggressive stance against Britain, insisted they would adhere to the constitution.

Friends of Pinochet said he planned to release a "political testament" which, rather than defending "the biological Pinochet," would "zero in on his legacy; his work in saving the nation". The friends suggested that his family and supporters were now realising that he would not be coming home soon. His entire family was now assembling to be with him in England, they said. A Chilean military aircraft - which had been on standby for some weeks at RAF Brize Norton, ready to take him home - had returned to Chile without him.

All of which left Chile in a state of limbo yesterday, but not the tension many had expected after Mr Straw's decision. The realisation that his case, which is likely to involve a string of appeals, could drag on for months, if not years, has dampened passions somewhat for the time being.

But the British embassy continued to be on a state of alert, and said the Foreign Office notice advising Britons against visiting Chile remained in place.

The only thing anywhere near an anti-British attack this week was the pickpocketing of a senior British diplomat. Police believe that the thief did not know the nationality of the man whose wallet he snatched from a jacket.

While passions were largely under control, the rhetoric continued.

Hernan Brines, president of the Pinochet Foundation, condemned Britain for "continuing its colonial spirit against a small Latin American nation." On the lighter side, a reader wrote to the daily newspaper El Mercurio: "This Pinochet-England thing is as ridiculous as an English bobby showing up in Chile and giving me a ticket for driving on the right-hand side of the road."