The Miami Herald
March 4, 2000
Pinochet greeted by cheers in Chile

 Agence France-Presse

 SANTIAGO, Chile -- A beaming Augusto Pinochet arrived home in Chile on
 Friday, leaving behind more than 16 months of house arrest in Britain but not his
 legal woes over the crimes against humanity blamed on his 17-year military rule.

 Thousands of flag-waving supporters cheered wildly and wept with joy as
 Pinochet, 84, arrived in Santiago, while human rights groups stepped up their
 demands for his immunity to be lifted so he can face justice in Chile.

 Pinochet, who was released on health grounds, showed no particular signs of
 fatigue after the 24-hour flight and appeared stronger than he had during much of
 the time he spent under house arrest near London.

 Smiling broadly and leaning on his cane, the retired general hugged relatives and
 greeted military commanders who welcomed him at Santiago's airport.


 Members of President Eduardo Frei's government stayed away from the
 welcoming ceremony organized by the military and made a point of playing down
 the return of the man whose legacy still divides Chile, where authorities say more
 than 3,000 people were killed under the 1973-90 military rule.

 Even President-elect Ricardo Lagos, a longtime Pinochet foe who assumes office
 March 11, has tried his best to stay away from the controversy.

 Shortly after landing in the capital aboard a Chilean air force Boeing 707, Pinochet
 was flown in a Puma helicopter to Santiago's Military Hospital.

 Thousands of supporters erupted in cheers as Pinochet, seated in a wheelchair,
 waved with both hands from the roof of the building.

 ``It is the return of a hero, the hero of our nation,'' teenager Paula Erazo said, with
 tears in her eyes.

 Friday evening, Chilean television showed Pinochet leaving the hospital, about
 nine hours after he checked in, in a motorcade apparently headed to one of his
 residences in Santiago.


 Outside La Moneda, the presidential palace that was the target of air force
 bombing in the military coup that Pinochet led in September 1973, several
 hundred people clad in black held a vigil amid pictures of friends and relatives
 killed during military rule.

 Human rights groups that supported Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon's attempts to
 put Pinochet on trial for torture are now pressing for his prosecution at home after
 British Home Secretary Jack Straw freed him Thursday.

 Straw cited health grounds for refusing to extradite him to Spain.

 ``The impression people have is that he arrived in very good health,'' said Socialist
 deputy Sergio Aguila, who took part in the vigil.

 ``He has mocked public and international opinion,'' Aguila said, as protesters
 chanted slogans calling for justice.

 On Thursday, a new lawsuit was filed against Pinochet by the relatives of a man
 who disappeared after being seized in 1974 by Pinochet's political police. This
 latest case brings to 60 the number of lawsuits that Pinochet faces in Chile.

 Judge Juan Guzman, who has been appointed to deal with the lawsuits, said
 earlier that he would seek to interview Pinochet and would ask that he undergo
 medical tests to assess whether he is mentally fit for trial. Under Chilean law,
 poor physical health would not prevent a trial from going ahead.

 The armed forces welcomed the return of the former army commander, which
 army spokesman Col. Pedro Bustos said ``put an end to a situation of detention
 that affected national sovereignty and caused so much concern across the

 The Roman Catholic Church appealed for calm, urging Chileans not to let
 emotions over Pinochet derail the process of national reconciliation.

 The Catholic Church had persistently denounced human rights violations during
 Pinochet's rule but has also supported the Chilean government's calls in recent
 months for Pinochet to be freed on humanitarian grounds.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald