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Lebanon Frees Christian Militia Leader from Prison

Lebanon's newly-elected parliament has voted overwhelmingly to free a top Christian civil war leader jailed more than 11 years ago on what were widely viewed as trumped up charges.

Samir Geagea
(file photo)
Supporters uncorked bottles of champagne and chanted victory slogans to celebrate the vote by Lebanon's parliament to free jailed, but once powerful Christian leader Samir Geagea.

The decision to release the head of Lebanon's main Christian civil-war militia has long been expected.

One young supporter of the former Lebanese Forces leader expressed his pleasure after hearing news of the decision to release Mr. Geagea.

"I am so happy that they released Dr. Samir Geagea, because I am Christian and it Is very good for Christians in this country," he said.

Mr. Geagea was given a life sentence in 1994 after a Lebanese court cleared him of setting a deadly explosion in a church, but convicted him for other offenses during the war. Supporters say the charges were concocted by Syria, in a bid to silence a main critic of its then-occupation.

Calls for his release were stepped up in the political turmoil that followed the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February and the subsequent pullout of Syrian troops. Under growing pressure from the international community, Damascus removed its troops from Lebanon this past April.

The Lebanese parliament also voted to release several dozen Sunni Islamic fundamentalists from northern Lebanon accused of attacking Lebanese Army troops in 2000.

Supporters of the Sunni fundamentalists fired into the air and lit firecrackers to celebrate the decision to release those prisoners.