March 3, 2000
Hero's welcome greets Pinochet in Chile
Opponents say his walking with a cane proves he is not as unfit as believed

                   From staff and wire reports

                   SANTIAGO, Chile -- Augusto Pinochet was welcomed home to Chile by
                   cheering supporters on Friday, 16 months after he was detained in Britain on
                   an extradition warrant charging the former dictator with torture and murder.
                   But the public display of affection did not end the debate about whether
                   Pinochet should face trial.

                   The 84-year-old Pinochet left Britain on Thursday after British Home
                   Secretary Jack Straw ruled he was mentally and physically unfit to be
                   extradited to Spain for trial on charges of human rights abuses.

                   After the Chilean Air Force Boeing 707 that flew him home landed at
                   Santiago's international airport Friday morning, Pinochet was lifted out
                   in a wheelchair.

                   Dozens of waiting supporters cheered and military music played. Pinochet,
                   smiling, and occasionally using a cane, walked through the crowd. He
                   hugged and kissed several people, including his grandchildren and army
                   commander Gen. Ricardo Izurieta.

                   An army band played some of Pinochet's favorite military marches. The
                   retired general then boarded a helicopter with his wife and children for a
                   brief flight to a military hospital where family members said he would
                   undergo medical tests.

                   Supporters swarm streets of Santiago

                   In the streets outside the hospital, people chanted "Pinochet, Pinochet!
                   We are with you!" Many sang the national anthem, waved flags and held
                   up large photographs of the general.

                   Pinochet is popular among many right-wing Chileans who credit him with
                   saving the country from Marxism under Salvador Allende, the socialist
                   president that Pinochet toppled in a bloody U.S.-backed coup in 1973.
                   Allende died in the coup. Pinochet's opponents say that thousands of people
                   then disappeared and were tortured and murdered during his 17-year rule.

                   But Pinochet was well-protected from opponents. He was surrounded by
                   army commanders who helped him from the helicopter as it arrived at the
                   medical center. Reuters reporters saw snipers on the roofs of tall buildings
                   around the hospital.

                  "We would like to take him home right away, but that is for the doctors
                  to decide," said Pinochet's daughter, Lucia.

                   When Pinochet appeared briefly at a hospital window and waved, the
                   crowds outside shrieked with delight.

                   "I feel an enormous happiness that has no limits. It is like the savior of our
                   homeland has arrived home," said Carmen Aranda, 43, who was in the
                   crowd at the hospital.

                   Elsewhere, hundreds of flags began to appear on homes, buildings and
                   lightposts in what Santiago Mayor Cristian Labbe called "a spontaneous
                   reaction by people who are happy with the return of the general."

                   Some Pinochet supporters stopped traffic on the streets of Santiago for
                   hours on Friday to celebrate his return with confetti and cheers.

                   Opponents frustrated

                   The enthusiasm of Pinochet's supporters stood in stark contrast to
                   the frustration of his opponents -- especially relatives of alleged victims
                   of Pinochet's regime.

                   Human rights leaders said Pinochet looked in good health, adding it made
                   a mockery of Britain's decision to free him on grounds he was too ill to be
                   extradited to Spain.

                   "The world has been deceived because he is obviously not as ill as we were
                   made to believe," said Viviana Diaz, head of the protest group Families of
                   the Detained-Disappeared.

                   The fact that Pinochet could walk with the aid of a cane forced the
                   government, which had pleaded with Britain that he was too sick for trial,
                   onto the defensive.

                   "The fact that a person gets off a plane walking doesn't mean he is well
                   enough to go on trial," Interior Minister Raul Troncoso told a news

                   Diaz, whose father is among more than 1,000 missing detainees, promised to
                   continue fighting to have Pinochet brought to trial in Chile.

                   "It is disappointing, but we should not be sad," said Diaz. "We should now
                   continue to work for justice."

                   Pinochet's critics asked a Santiago appeals court on Thursday to lift the
                   senator-for-life's congressional immunity so that he can be prosecuted at
                   home. He faces 60 lawsuits.

                   "No Chilean citizen is above the law," President Eduardo Frei said in a
                   nationally broadcast address. "The Chilean courts must say their word now.
                   That is what a large majority of Chileans want."

                   "Chile has an obligation before the world to achieve justice," said Sen.
                   Sergio Bitar, a socialist.

                   No official welcome home

                   Chile's government, a center-left alliance that took over the country
                   when Pinochet handed the country back to democracy in 1990, took no
                   part in the welcome reception.

                   Frei, who steps down when socialist Ricardo Lagos takes office in eight
                   days, slipped out of Santiago shortly before Pinochet's arrival. His office
                   said he went to inaugurate a dam.

                   Lagos will be Chile's first socialist president since Allende.

                   London legal trouble started after back surgery

                   Pinochet was arrested on October 16, 1998 while he recovered from back
                   surgery in a London hospital. A Spanish judge accused him of orchestrating
                   a systematic campaign of torture against political opponents throughout his
                   dictatorship. Many of the victims were said to be Spaniards.

                   An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or
                   disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police.

                   Pinochet spent most of his time in London under 24-hour guard in a rented
                   mansion while Spain and several other European nations and human rights
                   groups worked to have him extradited for trial. But Straw freed Pinochet
                   after an independent medical examination found the former dictator's
                   diminished mental capacity would make it impossible for him to participate in
                   his own trial.

                   In Europe on Friday, some newspapers wrote that the failed attempts to put
                   Pinochet on trial were not a waste.

                   "Today the world is a little more just than when Pinochet was arrested,"
                   leading Spanish daily El Pais said in an editorial. "A jurisprudence has been
                   created that brings an end to impunity for criminals of his ilk."

                        Correspondent Lucia Newman, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.