SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- About 20,000 people, many
wearing yellow ribbons and waving flags, demanded on Saturday that Britain
free Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet, seen by the country's right
wing as a beloved father figure.
Led by politicians and musicians, the gathering stretched for a half mile
a stage in Santiago's upscale Las Condes district.
Las Condes mayor Joaquin Lavin, a presidential candidate for the right-wing
Independent Democracy Union, called the rally the biggest in Chile this
The national police estimated the crowd at 18,000 to 20,000. They said
protesters were detained near the British and Spanish ambassadors'
Britain arrested Pinochet, 82, in a London hospital last Friday, acting
request from a Spanish judge seeking to have him extradited and prosecuted
on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism during his 17-year reign that
ended in 1990.
Chile has demanded his release, charging that Pinochet was unlawfully taken
into custody while in England for medical reasons. They contend that the
former army commander-in-chief, now a senator for life, has diplomatic
immunity and that his arrest amounted to a kidnapping.
'Kidnapped by foreign nation'
Many in the crowd held signs in support of the former dictator reading,
"Free Pinochet" and "Give us back Pinochet."
Lavin, who spearheaded the protest, said the nation is on "the most Chilean
of all missions: rescuing an ex-president kidnapped by a foreign nation."
"We are tired of being humiliated," he said. "We cannot continue to accept
this situation. Chile does not want to be a second-class country."
He then turned to Chile's presidential elections, which will be held in
December 1999. He slammed Socialist candidate Ricardo Lagos by
comparing him to Socialist President Salvador Allende, who died in the coup
that Pinochet led in 1973.
"We already had one Socialist president. We do not want another," said
Lavin, adding that Britain should release Pinochet out of "an act of
Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza on Saturday recognized the possibility
of using Pinochet's health -- he is recovering from back surgery -- to get his
"We have to know in what circumstance and in what moment that
alternative, which the government has never ruled out, can be proposed,"
Insulza told reporters.
Others urge extradition
Britain has said that humanitarian factors will be considered when it makes
decision on whether to extradite Pinochet to Spain.
Earlier Saturday, about 150 Pinochet critics gathered in Santiago's central
square, urged extradition, and scoffed at humanitarian pleas on behalf of the
"What an embarrassment. Humanitarian reasons? They make Mr. Pinochet
look like a victim," Gladys Marin, the head of Chile's Communist Party, told
the anti-Pinochet rally.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.