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Libya frees 130 political prisoners-activist

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) Libyan authorities released 130 political prisoners today, including 83 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Libyan activist said.

Ashour Shamis, who is based in London, told Reuters the prisoners were freed in the capital Tripoli. Two of them had been sentenced to death and 10 to life imprisonment in a trial in 2001.

Membership of a political party constitutes treason in the north African oil-exporting country, which has been ruled for the past 37 years by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates a Muslim state through peaceful political activity. It is banned in Libya and most other Arab countries.

In Cairo, Egypt Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mahdi Akef welcomed the move and said it marked the opening of a new chapter in reforms and the spreading of liberties.

''We are delighted in this development and we thank the Libyan leadership for releasing the Muslim Brotherhood members and ask God for their continuous success and prosperity,'' he said.

Gaddafi, a pariah for much of his rule because the West accused him of terrorism, has improved his standing after announcing in 2003 he would abandon the pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Small batches of political detainees have been released in recent years on behalf of the Gaddafi Charity Foundation, a group run by the Libyan leader's son Saif al-Islam which aims to improve Libya's human rights record and image abroad.

London-based rights group Amnesty International in April 2005 published a catalogue of what it called Libya's human rights abuses and urged Gaddafi to follow through on promises to establish a ''normal criminal law procedure''.

Amnesty became the first international human rights group to visit Libya in 15 years when its research team met Gaddafi and other officials in March 2005 amid Tripoli's efforts to rejoin the international community after three decades of isolation.

REUTERS OM PM1956

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