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Cambodia Opposition Leader Returns from Exile

Cambodia's newly pardoned opposition leader has returned home from exile to guide his party's election campaign against Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Tens of thousands of cheering supporters gathered outside Phnom Penh's airport and lined the road into the city center Friday to welcome Sam Rainsy home. Rainsy kissed the ground at the airport and told the crowd he was happy to be home.

"I'm happy and happy to be back in Cambodia, to see the people of Cambodia and my supporters who I missed. I'm very grateful to all of you that came here to see me. I came to Cambodia to save the country with you all. Thank you again and come with me to work."

Later at a rally downtown, Rainsy said he received the justice he deserved and said he will use his freedom to protect all Cambodians. Supporters chanted "change, change."

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned Rainsy last week. However, the opposition leader is not be allowed to run in the country's July 28 election.

Rainsy had been living in France after fleeing Cambodia in 2009, to avoid trial. A Cambodian court sentenced him in absentia to 11 years in prison.

Rainsy's pardon is a boost to supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the coalition of key opposition parties that combined to contest the election.

The courts sentenced Rainsy to two years in prison for uprooting a temporary border marker with Vietnam, and a further nine years for misinformation after he showed off a map the government said provided the wrong borders.

The sentence was widely seen as a clumsy attempt to use the courts to hobble Mr. Hun Sen's most trenchant and effective political opponent.

Mr. Hun Sen has been in power for nearly three decades.