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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
Lebanese ex-warlord is released
Supporter kisses TV screen showing Geagea's first press conference aftere release
Supporters celebrated their hero's first appearance after 11 years
Lebanese Christian militia leader Samir Geagea has been freed from prison after serving 11 years for crimes committed during the country's civil war.

Mr Geagea, who led the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia which formed an alliance with Israel, was granted an amnesty by parliament last week.

He was the only Lebanese warlord to be punished for crimes during the 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.

Mr Geagea, 52, is expected to leave Lebanon for medical tests.

They were long, dark, black years
Samir Geagea

The release of the staunch anti-Syrian militia leader is seen by some analysts as another step towards national reconciliation after Damascus ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

"You have come out of the big prison which you had been put in and you have taken me out with the same act from the small prison," Mr Geagea said in his first televised address at Beirut's airport.

"They were long, dark, black years," Mr Geagea told cheering supporters and local politicians who gathered at the airport.

The already slim Mr Geagea emerged from prison thinner, but spoke with a strong, clear voice.

He was expected to fly to an unspecified destination in Europe later on Tuesday.

'Scapegoat'

GEAGEA FACTS
Samir Geagea. File photo
Born in 1952
Came to prominence after 1978 raid on a rival Maronite Christian warlord
Seized control of Lebanese Forces in 1986
Given five life terms for murder, including 1987 killing of PM Rashid Karami
Supported the Syria-backed peace deal in 1989
Spent 11 years in solitary confinement. Only Lebanese warlord to be jailed for crimes during the civil war
A general amnesty was declared after Lebanon's civil war ended in 1990, but Mr Geagea was arrested in 1994 charged with a bomb attack against a church and his war file was reopened.

He had been serving several life sentences for political murders and other killings during the war, spending 11 years in solitary confinement in a cell at Lebanon's defence ministry.

Mr Geagea has always said he was a political prisoner victimised for opposing Syria's military role in Lebanon.

Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon in April, ending Damascus' 29-year military presence in the country.

Although Mr Geagea's party - the LF - remains banned, several of its members won seats in parliament during last month's general elections, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut says.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See Samir Geagea speaking after his release



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