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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Ex-Philippine leader Estrada free
Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada acknowledges the crowd as he delivers a speech after his release, Oct. 26, 2007
Estrada was convicted of corruption just six weeks ago
Ex-Philippine President Joseph Estrada is a free man for the first time in six and a half years, after being pardoned by his successor Gloria Arroyo.

Estrada was convicted of corruption last month, and given a life sentence.

But on Thursday he was officially pardoned by President Arroyo, leading a court to order his release.

Mrs Arroyo said she had issued the pardon to end political divisions, but correspondents say her move was at least partly self-motivated.

She needs to gain public support amid mounting calls for her resignation, and in pardoning her predecessor, she managed to extract a guarantee that he would not seek office again himself.

'We must move on'

Last month, Estrada was jailed for life for embezzling about $80m (42m) while in power.

The trial took more than six years, yet just six weeks after being found guilty he is now free.

"There is no substitute for freedom," the 70-year-old told reporters as he left the luxury villa where he has spent most of his detention.

Hundreds of supporters waited outside the villa to cheer him on, as he left the villa by car to travel to his home district of San Juan.

Supporters of former President Joseph Estrada display placards as they wait for his arrival Friday, Oct. 26, 2007 in San Juan east of Manila, Philippines.

The former leader said his first act as a free man would be to visit his ailing 102-year-old mother, who is in hospital there.

In a speech on Friday, Mrs Arroyo explained her decision to pardon Estrada by saying she had taken many factors into account, including his age, the period in detention he had already served, his mother's health and his assurance he would not seek elected office.

She admitted that the pardon of her greatest rival was controversial, but said: "We must move on as a nation."

Estrada thanked Mrs Arroyo for the pardon, and said he wanted to live the life of a "plain citizen".

"I am aware of the agonising times and tough choices that Mrs Arroyo has had to wade through before arriving at this executive decision," he said in a statement through his lawyer.

Others, though, were less convinced of the benefits of this sudden pardon.

Mrs Arroyo "is sending the message that once again, political expediency trumps political maturity and the pursuit of justice", the Philippine Daily Inquirer said in an editorial.

State prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio told the Associated Press that the pardon "simply means that one can commit such a grave offence and yet evade punishment".

In pictures: Estrada freed
26 Oct 07 |  In Pictures
Convicted Estrada's tranquil jail
12 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Estrada gets life for corruption
12 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
25 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

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