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Thousands Demand Release of Jailed Leader in Beirut

Thousands of protesters marched in downtown Beirut to call on the government to release the former leader of the Lebanese Forces militia who has been in jail for more than a decade.

Standing in the rain in downtown Beirut thousands of protesters waved flags and sang songs calling for the government to release the former Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea from jail.

Geagea has been imprisoned for more than a decade and the demonstrators want him released before the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place at the end of the month.

Protester Nada Khoury says if Geagea is not released then many will not accept the outcome of the elections.

"We believe in the freedom of Dr. Geagea and the freedom of all Lebanese people because all the Lebanese free and democratic and independent people think that without freedom of Dr. Geagea, it will not be a real election in Lebanon," she said.

At the end of the civil war, all of the leaders of the factions were granted amnesty for all war crimes, on the condition that no new crimes are committed.

But pro-Syrian officials accused Mr. Geagea of involvement in the bombing of a church after the war ended. Although the Christian leader, was later acquitted of the crime, he still faced consecutive life sentences for war crimes.

Protesters stood in the windows of hollow buildings being reconstructed from the damage of the civil war to listen to the speakers addressing the crowd. Demonstrator Youssef Ghabour says they will continue to demand the release of Samir Geagea.

"If the people want something, sooner or later they are going to get it. They can never stop the people," said Mr. Ghabour. "They can never defeat the will and once you have the will you can do whatever you want. And, we have the will. We're going to free him. We are going to take him out. We are all going to share Lebanon."

Mr. Ghabour says the people are now free to speak out since Syria has withdrawn from the country. He says that the Lebanese Army used to ensure the will of Syria and people were afraid to speak out. Now a free and fair parliamentary election is the only way to prove that Lebanon is independent.

Another Christian leader, Michel Aoun, has announced he will return this Saturday after more than 14 years of exile in France. The Christians at the demonstration say it is time for Lebanon to equally represent the wills of both the Christian and Muslim populations, which will only be possible if everyone is free to run in the election.