Thatcher 'saddened' by death of Pinochet

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Baroness Thatcher was tonight said to be "greatly saddened" by the death of General Augusto Pinochet, the one-time ruthless right-wing dictator of Chile.

The former British Prime Minister remained a firm and loyal supporter of Pinochet, especially in the last stormy years of his life when a series of legal attempts were made in Chile to charge him with alleged crimes relating to the disappearance of thousands of dissidents during his years of power.

Lady Thatcher always maintained that Pinochet had offered the British invaluable help during the Falklands conflict of 1982.

And when he came to Britain on a private visit in 1998, she had tea with him and expressed her opposition to attempts by the Spanish government to extradite him to Madrid to face charges concerning the disappearance of Spanish citizens in Chile during his presidency.

That procedure was foiled, when the then Home Secretary Jack Straw said he should not be extradited because of his state of health, creating a huge political storm among Labour MPs.

A spokesman for Lady Thatcher said she would not be issuing a formal statement on his death, but said she would be sending her "deepest condolences" to his widow and family.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "We note the passing of General Pinochet and want to pay tribute to the remarkable progress that Chile has made over the last 15 years as an open, stable and prosperous democracy."

And Amnesty International said the death should spur the Chilean government to ensure delays did not help others escape prosecution.

A spokeswoman said: "General Pinochet's death should be a wake-up call for the authorities in Chile and governments everywhere, reminding them of the importance of speedy justice for human rights crimes, something Pinochet himself has now escaped.

"His death must not be the end of the story. Amnesty International urges the Chilean authorities to declare the amnesty law void and proceed with investigations and prosecutions of all those others involved in the thousands of cases of 'disappearances', torture and execution during Pinochet's period of rule.

"Families and survivors need to know what happened, need justice and need their day in court."