Chile on the Boil

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Forget the Asian crisis -- the greatest threat to Chile's stability is the arrest of its former dictator. Britain's detention of General Augusto Pinochet pending a Spanish extradition request has turned Santiago's prosperous streets into a battleground, and there was more bad news for the general on Wednesday: British legislators backed attempts to charge Pinochet in London should Spain's extradition request fail. That's a big headache for Chile's president, Eduardo Frei. "Roughly half the population is pro-Pinochet, with the other half fiercely opposed," says TIME Latin America bureau chief Tim Padgett. While few deny the brutality of his junta, supporters believe the prosperity and stability Pinochet brought to Chile justified his means. "Divisions over his legacy had softened in recent years as society reconciled itself to a post-Pinochet era in which he was immune from prosecution," says Padgett. "But his arrest has reopened the sharp ideological divisions, making the country more difficult to govern."

Frei knows Chile's leverage with Britain and Spain is limited, but he'll keep fighting for Pinochet's release in order to placate his own military -- a good idea, since the general's immunity was the military's precondition for ending its dictatorship.