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Chile protests French asylum approval for killer of Pinochet ally

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile has formally protested to France over its decision to grant political asylum to a longtime fugitive leftist guerrilla who escaped prison after being convicted for the killing of a politician, the government said on Monday.

France’s Office for the Protection of Refugees (Ofpra) granted Ricardo Palma Salamanca asylum on Friday, more than two decades after Chilean authorities imprisoned him for the 1991 murder of Senator Jaime Guzman, a key confidant to ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera wrote to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, asking him to revoke the asylum office’s decision, the Presidency said in a statement on Monday.

“Our democratic system is based on the separation of powers of the state and a respect for human rights, and has been recognised as such globally,” the statement said.

Palma Salamanca, who faces two life sentences in Chile, famously escaped from a Santiago maximum security prison in a metal basket dangling from a helicopter in 1996, humiliating Chile’s nascent democratic government and stunning the world.

After that, the Chilean national changed his name and hid among foreign residents in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico before his capture by Interpol in Paris in February.

The Chilean government said in the statement that Palma Salamanca had been convicted following a fair trial in Chile under the democratically elected government that followed Pinochet’s nearly two decades in power.

France’s refugee office said it normally does not comment on individual decisions to grant asylum.

“Generally speaking, Ofpra rules according to the criteria of asylum rights and does so with complete independence,” its director told Reuters through a spokeswoman.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Aislinn Laing; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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