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World - Europe

Report: Pinochet wept when told of extradition ruling

Spain asks Swiss to freeze assets of former Chilean strongman

In this story:

November 26, 1998
Web posted at: 7:41 p.m. EST (0041 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- Former Chilean military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet broke into tears upon hearing that Britain's highest court refused to block his extradition to Spain to face genocide charges, Spanish newspapers reported Thursday.

Pinochet got the news Wednesday -- his 83rd birthday -- at the London hospital where he is recovering from spinal surgery, under police guard.

Pinochet ruling may pose problem for more than just tyrants

The man allegedly responsible for the murder and torture of thousands of suspected political opponents in the 1970s and '80s put his head in his hands and sobbed, the newspaper El Pais reported.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Swiss government confirmed that Spain has asked Switzerland to find and freeze any assets belonging to Pinochet. The Swiss are waiting for additional information from Spanish authorities before acting on the request.

Chile's foreign minister sent to Europe

Meanwhile, Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza left Santiago on a mission to Britain and Spain in an attempt to convince those governments to free Pinochet.

On Wednesday, a legal panel of the House of Lords ruled, by a margin of 3-to-2, that British law doesn't give Pinochet immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for his possible extradition to Spain.

A Spanish magistrate has brought genocide, torture and terrorism charges against Pinochet for alleged human rights violations stemming from the deaths of Spanish citizens living in Chile under the Pinochet regime.

It will now be up to British Home Secretary Jack Straw to decide whether to allow the extradition proceedings to continue. His office announced Thursday that he was extending the deadline for making a decision from December 2 to December 9.

Pinochet is scheduled to appear next Wednesday in a London court for an extradition-related hearing.

Chilean President Eduardo Frei has said Pinochet's detention violates Chile's sovereignty and endangers the country's fragile transition to democracy.

Unrest leads to 112 arrests

Pinochet's arrest in Britain and possible extradition to Spain has sharply divided people in Chile, where he remains a highly polarizing figure. Overnight Wednesday, unrest in Santiago and four other cities resulted in 112 arrests.

Pro-Pinochet demonstrators blocked traffic and scuffled with police near the Spanish ambassador's residence in Santiago. Anti-Pinochet activists celebrated in the streets, waving British and Spanish flags.

In Britain, a Labor Party lawmaker asked Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to lodge a formal complaint about an attack on a British Broadcasting Corp. news crew in Santiago.

Three men in the crew say they were attacked by about 100 supporters of Pinochet, who dragged them into the Pinochet Foundation building and kicked and punched them. The BBC staffers were not seriously hurt.

Member of Parliament Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC reporter who asked Cook to file the complaint with the Chilean government, said authorities did not intervene to help the men.

"This is quite unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy," he said. "I imagine there is plenty of evidence on film so that the perpetrators of this violence can be brought to justice."

The Foreign Office had no immediate comment on Bradshaw's request.

Soccer's Maradona 'likes' English after ruling

In an odd twist to the Pinochet saga, Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, a pariah among the English for his infamous "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup, told a television interviewer that he has a new view of Britons in the wake of the Pinochet ruling.

"I like the English a little bit," Maradona said.

"Oh, no, you must be kidding," the interviewer replied.

"Yes, it's true, because of Pinochet," Maradona said.

Maradona's goal in a World Cup game 12 years ago, which sunk the English team, was later shown on television replays to have been the result of an illegal hand ball. But Maradona has been unrepentant.

Human rights lawsuits target other rulers

The case against Pinochet in Spain has continued to trigger similar efforts from opponents of former and current rulers in other countries accused of human rights abuses.

A Guatemalan human rights group plans to file a lawsuit in Belgium against Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, the country's former military ruler, hoping that he might eventually be detained and extradited there should he ever travel to Europe.

The suit was brought in Belgium because it involves the deaths of two Belgian priests slain in the early 1980s in Guatemala, wracked with political violence at the time.

Also, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) has lodged a lawsuit in France against Laurent Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for alleged torture and "inhuman and degrading treatment" of opponents.

Kabila is currently on a visit to France. A French government official said that as a head of state and an official guest, Kabila enjoyed total immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. Even FIDH officials conceded he was likely safe from prosecution.

"Honestly, I do not believe Kabila will be arrested and handcuffed at a Paris airport," said FIDH spokeswoman Emmanuelle Robineau-Duverger.

At least three similar lawsuits were filed against Kabila in Belgium, which the Congolese leader visited earlier this week. The Justice Ministry there rejected them.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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