LIMA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Peruvians who view the country's former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori as a misunderstood hero marched through the streets of downtown Lima on Friday to demand the incoming president free him from prison.
Fujimori, who will turn 78 next week, as centrist President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski takes office, has been in jail since 2007 and is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption during his 1990-2000 populist right-wing government.
Protesters waved white flags chanting "Fujimori Freedom!" and carried banners bearing recent images of the weary-looking former statesman, whose request for a pardon from outgoing President Ollanta Humala was rejected in 2013.
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"Mr Kuczynski, please, the people are asking you from the bottom of our hearts to grant Alberto Fujimori freedom," said protester Mavela Alcala.
Kuczynski, who narrowly defeated Fujimori's daughter, Keiko Fujimori, in a run-off election last month, reiterated that he would back a law that allows aging prisoners like Fujimori to carry out the remainder of their sentences under house arrest.
But Kuczynski said he opposed a pardon that would clear Fujimori of guilt.
"They can do what they want," he told reporters about the protesters. "If they want to ask for a pardon they have the right to do so."
Despite his autocratic rule, Fujimori's supporters say he ended years of hyperinflation and recession and blame his sinister spymaster for the vast corruption scandal that led him to flee Peru in 2000.
Many Peruvians also credit him with quashing the bloody Shining Path insurgency and bringing sorely needed roads and schools to far-flung Andean provinces.
The party that Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, founded as an anti-establishment outsider nearly three decades ago will control a solid majority of seats in the next Congress.
Keiko Fujimori and her brother, congressman Kenji Fujimori, did not take part in the march, which Reuters witnesses said drew between 1,000 to 2,000 people. Prominent lawmakers who promoted the march on social media did not show up either.
(Reporting By Reuters TV; Writing by Mitra Taj; editing by Robert Birsel)