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Peru court orders release of opposition leader Keiko Fujimori

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Lima (AFP)

Peru's Constitutional Court on Monday ordered the release of opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, after more than a year of pre-trial detention.

Fujimori, 44, has been held since October last year pending her trial in a corruption case linked to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

"The court has agreed to accept habeas corpus," the president of the court Ernesto Blume said, announcing a ruling that cannot be appealed.

The legal phrase "habeas corpus" refers to the right of a prisoner to be brought before a court or released.

Blume made clear that the Constitutional Court ruling -- by a vote of four judges to three -- had no bearing on the corruption case against her.

She was expected to be released later in the week after complying with legal formalities.

The eldest daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), Keiko Fujimori is accused of accepting $1.2 million in illicit party funding from Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign.

Once Peru's most popular politician, Monday's decision theoretically gives her time to campaign for presidential elections set for July 2021.

However, while she remains a key figure inside her right-wing Popular Force party, her popularity has fallen dramatically since the corruption scandal.

- Supporters gather-

"Justice has been done, a divine justice. God is great!" said her American husband Mark Vito. Vito has been on hunger strike outside his wife's prison on the outskirts of Lima for the past 13 days to press for her release.

"I want my wife out of prison so we can go home with my daughters," he told reporters.

Dozens of supporters flocked to the women's prison in the southern suburb of Chorillos, where they hugged and prayed with Vito.

"Justice was done. Keiko is an innocent woman. Her husband had to go on hunger strike to get her released," said a weeping supporter Mabel Alcala.

Following a previous appeal, the Supreme Court had halved the detention period to 18 months, earmarking her release for next April.

Prosecutors have accused a total of 11 people linked to Fujimori's party of running a criminal organization to raise money for her 2011 campaign.

Odebrecht has admitted paying at least $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2004.

Three former presidents are being investigated over Odebrecht while a fourth, Alan Garcia, committed suicide in April after police arrived at his house to arrest him for money laundering.

- Political scene -

Known simply as Keiko by followers and political rivals alike, Fujimori will emerge from prison to a very different political landscape to the one she left just over a year ago.

President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Peru's single-chamber congress in September and called new legislative elections for January 26 in a bid to end political uncertainty in a country torn by clashes between the executive and congress.

Keiko's Popular Force party risks losing its majority in congress, following repeated clashes with Vizcarra, whose anti-graft drive has proven popular with the public.

Under an electoral reform enacted last year, lawmakers cannot run for re-election. A new Congress would only have a mandate until 2021, to complete the five-year period for which the dissolved legislature was elected.

Until the elections, legislative duties have fallen to a 27-member Permanent Congressional Commission, 18 of whom are opposition lawmakers, led by Congress speaker Pedro Olaechea.

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