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Thatcher Comes to Defense of Ally Pinochet

From Associated Press

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in an impassioned plea for the release of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, declared Wednesday that the former Chilean dictator is on trial “for defeating communism.”

“Make no mistake, revenge by the left, not justice for the victim, is what the Pinochet case is all about,” she told a packed rally held in conjunction with the Conservative Party’s annual conference.

The speech was Thatcher’s first at a Conservative conference since she was dumped as party leader in 1990, and marked the culmination of an electrifying return.

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Outside the heavily guarded movie theater in this north England town, a few dozen anti-Pinochet protesters waved banners and chanted: “Now is the time to pay for your crime.”

Pinochet, a British ally when Thatcher went to war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, has been held in Britain for nearly a year.

He is fighting a Spanish attempt to extradite him to stand trial for human rights abuses in Chile during his 17-year rule after seizing power in a 1973 coup. An official report says 3,197 people died or disappeared after the coup that toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.

“Senator Pinochet is, in truth, on trial not for anything complained in Judge Baltazar Garzon’s indictment but for defeating communism,” Thatcher said. “What the left cannot forgive is that Pinochet undoubtedly saved Chile and helped save South America.”

Earlier Wednesday, Pinochet, 83, was excused from appearing on Friday in a London court to hear judgment on the extradition request after his physician testified that Pinochet suffered two small strokes last month.

Thatcher said that during the Falklands war, Chilean radar warned the British fleet of impending Argentine air attacks, saving thousands of lives. When Chilean radar was out of action, she said, two warships were attacked, causing hundreds of casualties.

“Perhaps he will die here as this country’s only political prisoner . . . but at least he knows, and the world will know, that his friends did not abandon his cause,” she said.

Human rights organizations and some Chilean exiles expressed outrage.

“Where is her compassion for the thousands who were tortured and murdered?” said Carlos Reyes, of a London-based group, Chile Democratico.

Earlier, the 73-year-old Thatcher received a rapturous reception from delegates as she took her place near the podium in the Winter Gardens conference center, flanked by the party’s current leaders.

She also warned against closer integration of the European Union, and, in a speech on Tuesday, she stirred controversy by lauding English-speaking people--Americans and Britons--as international saviors.

“In my lifetime, all of the problems have come from mainland Europe and all of the solutions have come from the English-speaking world,” she told a reception given by Scottish Tories Tuesday evening, referring to World War II.

John Major, her successor as prime minister, recently described her in his memoirs as ill-mannered and increasingly autocratic toward the end of her 11-year premiership.

Major, who stepped down after the Labor Party defeated the Tories in May 1997, stayed away from this year’s conference.

Party liberals said the Tories risked espousing British withdrawal from the EU, and warned against a slide to the right.

“There’s been some pretty loose and, I think, foolish talk here,” said ex-Defense Minister Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.


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