March 26, 1999

Britain's ``Iron Lady'' defends Pinochet

                  LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher paid
                  a morale-boosting visit to Augusto Pinochet on Friday at the rented
                  residence where he is under arrest to express her total admiration for the
                  former Chilean dictator.

                  Carrying her trademark hand bag, Baroness Thatcher lavished praise on
                  Pinochet, who faces extradition to Spain where he is sought for trial on charges
                  linked to human rights abuses during his rule from 1973 to 1990.

                  "I know how much we owe to you for your help in the Falklands campaign,"
                  the former British prime minister told Pinochet, 83, referring to the 1982
                  South Atlantic war between Britain and Argentina when she was in power.

                  "We're also very much aware that it's you who brought democracy to Chile,"
                  Thatcher, 73, added.

                  The visit, televised live, was Pinochet's first public appearance since he
                  appeared in court three months ago.

                  The two old friends met in a lounge with a large ornamental fireplace and
                  elegant furniture in the house at the exclusive Wentworth Estate, 20 mile (30
                  kms) southwest of London. Pinochet's wife was seated beside him.

                  His fight to leave Britain suffered a setback two days ago when the country's
                  highest court ruled he was not immune from prosecution simply because he
                  was a former head of state.

                  Pinochet, who was arrested on October 16, is under police guard in the

                  The former strongman, who was in a wheelchair at his court appearance,
                  used a walking stick but appeared in good health and took Thatcher's arm
                  as she walked through the door.

                  "This is a small house but it is full of love and gratitude to you," said the
                  grey-haired and ruddy-faced Pinochet, dressed in a suit and tie.

                  "It's only a small way to thank you for all your kindness, all your love and all,
                  that you have brought Senator Pinochet and his family."

                  Thatcher thanked Pinochet and then immediately sprang to his defense.

                  "The information (on the Falklands) you gave us, the communications and
                  also the refuge you gave to any of our armed forces, who were able, if they
                  were shipwrecked, to make their way to Chile," she said.

                  After the meeting, Thatcher told reporters Pinochet should be freed and
                  allowed to return to Chile.

                  "Without his help...we in Britain would have suffered a lot more casualties
                  than we did," she said.

                  "If there's any resulting jurisdiction, it should be by the people of Chile in the
                  courts of Chile and not here," she said.

                  Under the terms of his bail, Pinochet is required to stay at the Wentworth
                  Estate house until his fate is settled.

                  A spokeswoman for the magistrate's court which issued bail said Pinochet
                  had not violated his bail conditions by appearing on television.

                  "His bail conditions don't specify anything about him not talking to the