Top brass quell fears of a coup

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The Independent Online
AFTER CALLING in his leading officers to discuss the detention of General Augusto Pinochet, Chile's army commander General Ricardo Izurieta said the army would use "all its forces... to bring the captain general (General Pinochet's honorary title) back to our national territory as soon as possible." But he added, significantly, that the military would act "through government channels."

General Izurieta, who succeeded Pinochet when the latter retired from the army earlier this year, said he and the armed forces were "extremely concerned" at the former commander's detention.

The army commander's Wednesday night statement and the meeting with his top brass were the first official responses by Chile's powerful armed forces over the arrest of the man they all still revere.

Analysts saw his remarks as aimed at defusing rumours of a possible coup d'etat and instead showing support for civilian president Eduardo Frei, who has also called for Pinochet's release. Mr Frei himself, arriving home after a week-long visit to Portugal and Spain, immediately called on the nation to show "serenity and tranquillity" after signs that Chile was becoming increasingly polarised between left and right in the wake of General Pinochet's detention.

Love him or hate him - or, more common here, simply tolerate him - his detention has revealed the extent of the shadow he still casts across this nation.

Mr Frei met yesterday with the speaker of the Senate, Andres Zaldivar, to discuss the crisis, and was considering calling a meeting of the National Security Council, including military leaders. Mr Zaldivar said Chile was now "living the most delicate moment of the transition (to democracy)."

He poured cold water on proposals that Chile should boycott British and Spanish products. But it emerged yesterday that senior Chilean businessmen would be visiting both countries later this week to express their point of view to their British and Spanish counterparts namely that the controversy over General Pinochet's detention could endanger Chile's stability.

The Santiago stock exchange slipped by nearly 3 per cent on Wednesday, partly because of General Iruzieta's meeting with his generals and partly because of businessmen's pronouncements against General Pinochet's detention, dealers said.

Many fear that the escalating pro and anti-Pinochet street demonstrations over the past few days, as well as a widening split between left and right wing politicians could induce the armed forces to intervene.