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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 15:36 GMT
E German communist leader freed
Egon Krenz
Krenz says he is a victim of a political persecution
East Germany's last communist leader, Egon Krenz, is being released early from a prison sentence imposed for manslaughter.

Krenz, 66, was convicted of being responsible for a shoot-to-kill policy employed by border guards against people trying to flee East Germany.

Nearly 1,000 people were killed trying to escape to the West after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.

Krenz has been serving a six-and-a-half-year jail term since January 2000.

Krenz won an appeal at Berlin's supreme court of justice, after a lower court ruled against his release.

The rest of his term has been commuted to a suspended sentence.

"It is not an amnesty and not a pardon, we didn't want that," his lawyer Robert Unger said.

The former leader will be released from a Berlin jail on Thursday evening.

Failed appeal

On the day of his conviction, Krenz told reporters: "I am starting my sentence, not as a criminal, but as a victim of political persecution."

In March 2001 he took his appeal against his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights.

He argued that he had not broken any East German laws.

The Strasbourg-based court rejected the appeal, ruling that he had violated international human rights law.

Short reign

Berlin wall
The former leader claims credit for the "bloodless" transition
Krenz held a number of senior post under the East German communist regime from 1973.

He finally succeeded his mentor Erich Honecker as head of state and Communist Party leader in October 1989.

In an attempt to bolster the regime in the face of mass protests, he decided to open the wall on 9 November that same year.

He was ousted by the party a few weeks later. East Germany and West Germany were reunited the following year.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"Egon Krenz said he was looking forward to writing his memoirs"



SEE ALSO:
East German leader jailed
14 Jan 00  |  Europe
Krenz loses Berlin Wall appeal
22 Mar 01  |  Europe
Hanks 'meets communist leader'
24 Jan 03  |  Entertainment



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