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Iraq Releases Prisoners in Unprecedented Amnesty - 2002-10-20

Iraq has begun releasing political in an unprecedented amnesty granted by President Saddam Hussein.

With the United States threatening military action aimed at toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader has reportedly freed all prisoners in Iraq.

Iraq's information minister, appearing on state television, said Iraq's highest ruling body, the Revolutionary Command Council, issued a complete and comprehensive final amnesty for all prisoners, fugitives and detainees.

The amnesty includes political prisoners and those sentenced to death, inside or outside Iraq.

The announcement indicated the prisoners would be set free immediately, except for murderers who would be released only if the families of their victims agreed.

State television showed a group of Iraqis being released from an undisclosed prison. With Iraq's interior minister looking on, the prisoners were shown chanting that they would sacrifice their lives for Iraq.

In a presidential referendum last week Mr. Hussein was the only candidate. Iraqis were asked to vote yes or no on whether he should serve another seven-year-term. Iraq said its official results showed that every one of the nearly 11-and-one-half-million eligible voters cast "yes" ballots.

Mr. Hussein was quoted as saying, "in light of these results, we wish to show mercy instead of punishment."

The amnesty, which could lead to the release of thousands of prisoners, is the first time in his 23-year rule that the Iraqi president has pardoned all political prisoners.

The U-S accuses the Iraqi leader of developing weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological and chemical. raq denies having such weapons.