Former Sri Lankan army commander Sarath Fonseka was released from prison a short while ago following a Presidential pardon.
Large crowds gathered outside the prison to greet Fonseka who was imprisoned in 2010 just days after he lost to incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a Presidential election.
Prison guards and opposition politicians had to urge the crowd to move away for Fonseka to leave the prison premises.
Fonseka later briefly spoke to the crowd saying he was free and sacrificed his life to the people who supported him.
“I am now a free man. I sacrifice my life to all those who stood by me. I will continue my fight against corruption and I call on you to help me rebuild this country,” Fonseka told his supporters who lit fire crackers when he walked out of the prison.
Fonseka was receiving treatment at a private hospital over the past several days over an illness related to his lungs and on Monday he was taken to the Supreme Court by prison officials where his lawyers had filed motions on his pending cases.
He faced charges of harboring army deserters, illegal arms dealings and allegedly telling a local newspaper that soldiers shot dead unarmed Tamil Tiger rebels who had surrendered during the final stages of the war.
A court had last week granted bail to Fonseka in the case involving the harboring of army deserters while the President also signed documents last week pardoning Fonseka over the other charges and authorizing his release.
The President had obtained his cabinet’s approval to free Fonseka from prison, the same week Sri Lanka celebrated three years since the end of the 30-year war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Presidential spokesman Bandula Jayasekera earlier insisted that the decision to free Fonseka was not as a result of international pressure or demands from local political parties.
Opposition legislator Tiran Alles brokered the deal to secure Fonseka’s release from prison after several rounds of talks with the President.
Alles told reporters that Fonseka was freed without any pre-conditions but there was no immediate indication if he will return to politics.
Fonseka led the army during the final battle against the rebels which eventually led to the defeat of the rebels in May 2009.
Following the end of the war he resigned from the military and decided to contest the 2010 Presidential elections which he eventually lost.
After being arrested and being found guilty over some of the charges against him a military court stripped Fonseka of his title and military accolades.