BY PATRICK MOSER
SANTIAGO, Chile -- A beaming Augusto Pinochet arrived home in
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
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
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
greeted military commanders who welcomed him at Santiago's airport.
Members of President Eduardo Frei's government stayed away from
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
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
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
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,''
deputy Sergio Aguila, who took part in the vigil.
``He has mocked public and international opinion,'' Aguila said,
chanted slogans calling for justice.
NEW LAWSUIT FILED
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,
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,
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
emotions over Pinochet derail the process of national reconciliation.
The Catholic Church had persistently denounced human rights violations
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