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The Financial Times, 15.1.00

PINOCHET: Spanish judge seeks new medical exam. By David White in Madrid, Andrew Parker in London and Mark Mulligan in Santiago

The Spanish magistrate seeking the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet demanded a second medical examination of the former Chilean dictator on Friday.

The Spanish government will study any new arguments from Baltasar Garzon, and has until next Tuesday to decide whether to forward them to Jack Straw, home secretary, who said this week he was minded to stop the general's extradition on health grounds.

He indicated that Gen Pinochet was mentally unfit to stand trial in Spain for alleged human rights abuses, after receiving a medical report from four clinicians who examined the former Chilean dictator.

Gen Pinochet's lawyers have asked for the report to remain secret, and Mr Straw agreed the former dictator was entitled to patient confidentiality.

Mr Garzon said yesterday it would be "repugnant" for Gen Pinochet to return home on humanitarian grounds.

Abel Matutes, Spanish foreign minister, said his government would not take issue with Mr Straw if he decided next week to halt the extradition.

He said the Spanish government saw no reason to challenge a "discretional and personal political decision" by Mr Straw. But he added his government would study Mr Garzon's arguments closely in order to decide whether they should be passed on to Mr Straw.

A Spanish government spokesman said Mr Garzon's demand for a second medical examination did not fit into the category of new arguments. "It is not a new element to demand something that the British government has already said is, in its view, unnecessary."

Mr Garzon, in a document meant for the Spanish foreign ministry to hand on to Mr Straw, said the prosecution side should be represented in a new examination by doctors and questioned the way in which Gen Pinochet's medical tests were undertaken. He argued that the medical report secured by Mr Straw was part of the judicial proceedings and should not be secret.

He is also seeking Mr Straw's permission to question Gen Pinochet, a necessary step before his investigation can be completed.

Ricardo Lagos, the government-backed candidate in tomorrow's Chilean presidential elections, and Joaquín Lavín, the opposition candidate, have said the judiciary will decide whether the general is tried for alleged human rights abuses in Chile. Juan Guzman, special investigating magistrate, is studying 56 separate cases against Gen Pinochet.

However, officials close to both presidential candidates privately doubt whether he will be tried. "He is being investigated, and he may even be charged, but Pinochet will never, ever be incarcerated," said one lawyer linked to the Christian Democrat party, the dominant partner in the ruling centre-left government.

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