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Chinese woman jailed over balloon-popping guns set free

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Thursday set free a woman who had been jailed for three-and-a-half years for illegal ownership of guns used in a balloon-shooting game, a case that sparked anger over what many people see as the uncompromising application of the law.

China strictly controls gun ownership and gun crime is rare.

Zhao Chunhua was sentenced last month after police determined six of the guns used in her street-side balloon game were air guns capable of firing small metal bullets, rather plastic ones that should be used.

The case was widely debated in media and on social media, with many people saying Zhao was obviously no criminal and the law should not have come down so hard on her for buying guns she thought were legal.

Her daughter, Wang Yanling, told the People's Daily this month her mother would never have touched the guns if she had known they were considered real under the law.

Following an appeal, a court in the city of Tianjin, where Zhao lived and ran her small balloon-shooting operation on the back of a tricycle, determined that while the guns she had were technically illegal, she had no real criminal intent.

The court said in a statement that Zhao had a "good attitude" towards admitting her guilt and had deeply reflected on the harm her action had caused society, so changed her sentence to a suspended three-and-a-half year term.

The court said it also ordered her release, meaning she will be able to go home for the Lunar New Year holiday which starts on Friday.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)