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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Mass weddings mark Saddam's new term
Some of the newlywed couples in Baghdad
More than 500 couples tied the knot

Mass weddings have been held in Iraq to mark Saddam Hussein's new term in office.

More than 500 couples took part in what officials are describing as the biggest event of its kind ever held in the country.

It comes a day after Saddam Hussein ordered the release of all political prisoners and most other prisoners in the wake of last week's referendum.

Brides in Baghdad
The couples were given dresses and money
In Baghdad, 155 couple tied the knot at the state's expense.

Everything was paid for, from the bridal gowns to the party to a two-night stay in a hotel.

For many Iraqis, impoverished by sanctions, it is their chance of a decent wedding.

Officials say 524 couples got married across the country.

Amnesty celebrations

But they were not the only Iraqis beginning a new life after Saddam Hussein's unprecedented prisoner amnesty on Sunday.

Released prisoner Hassan Abdelkarim
Thousands of prisoners are tasting freedom
No official figure has been given of how many were freed, but some estimates put the number in the tens of thousands.

Relatives of countless political prisoners are celebrating, though few believe their release will lead to a loosening of Saddam Hussein's total control here.

Kamel Fathallah, who is among those released, a Kurd jailed for 15 years for a security offence, is now delighted to be back home with his family.

He was sent to prison after he unwittingly carried a letter from an army deserter to the man's family.

His own family still can't believe he is back.

He says his children won't even let him leave the house.


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