Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa freed

Birtukan Mideksa greeting supporters at her home Birtukan Mideksa is one of Ethiopia's most prominent and popular opposition leaders

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Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa has been freed from jail.

Her release comes four months after the government's landslide win in elections.

She was one of several opposition leaders imprisoned for life after the 2005 poll. They were later pardoned, but Ms Birtukan was rearrested for violating the terms of her release.

"I am very relieved," she told the BBC at her family home where crowds had gathered to welcome her.

Start Quote

I am very elated”

End Quote Birtukan Mideksa

The 36-year-old said she had been freed because she had applied for a pardon.

"Prison by itself is a very horrible place, especially for me the time I spent alone," she said.

"Now I am free, I am back to my family and my daughter, I am very elated."

The BBC's Uduak Amimo in Addis Ababa says hundreds of her supporters began cheering and singing when she arrived, accompanied by her elderly mother and young daughter.

At The Scene

Hundreds of men and women lined the route to Birtukan Mideksa's family home, which they had decorated with ceremonial grass and Ethiopian flags. Some carried flowers, others burned incense.

Young men sang and danced as the prison car arrived and there were emotional scenes as she entered the house, although in the crush, her young daughter was left outside and became upset.

Ms Birtukan, who has been nominated by the European parliament for the 2010 Sakharov Prize given to individuals who make significant contributions to the struggle for human rights, told journalists she was relieved to be free but would not comment on her future plans.

But the publication of her pardon request, in which she reportedly apologises for wrongs she had done, suggests the authorities have taken every precaution to ensure she will not pose any significant political threat.

Ms Birtukan is a former judge and was one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition that did well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections.

She was among opposition politicians accused of instigating the post-poll protests in 2005 in which almost 200 demonstrators were shot by police.

Human rights campaigners have long called for her release.

"Birtukan Mideksa was considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International," Michelle Kagari, of the London-based human rights group, said in a statement.

"She was imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression and association. We are delighted that she has been able to go home to her family."

Meles Zenawi was sworn in for his fourth five-year term as prime minister on Monday, following his party's overwhelming victory in May.

But European Union and US observers said the polls fell short of international standards.

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