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Judge orders ex-Colombian president freed from house arrest

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2018 file photo, Colombia's former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe arrives to the inauguration ceremony for Colombia's new p...

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2018 file photo, Colombia's former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe arrives to the inauguration ceremony for Colombia's new p...

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Powerful ex-Colombia President Álvaro Uribe was ordered freed from house arrest Saturday while he is investigated for possible witness tampering.

A judge ordered Uribe’s release in a case that has divided this South American nation and exposed lingering tensions over Colombia’s peace accord for ending a half-century conflict with leftist guerrillas.

The country’s Supreme Court ordered Uribe detained in August during the investigation, shocking Colombians and unleashing protests in favor and against the decision. He was the first president in Colombia’s recent history to be ordered placed on house arrest.

But municipal Judge Clara Salcedo ruled Saturday during a virtual hearing that the prior ruling could not be upheld under a new legal framework under which Uribe is being investigated since resigning his Senate seat after his detention.

“Thank God,” Uribe wrote on Twitter as the decision was read.

The Supreme Court had argued in its 1,554-page decision in August that there was ample evidence to show Uribe had engaged in trying to pressure former paramilitaries into retracting damaging statements against the ex-president. But the high court relinquished control of the case when Uribe resigned his Senate seat, handing it to the chief prosecutor’s office.

Magistrates have since ruled that Uribe should be tried under a different legal framework designed for ordinary citizens, paving the way for his release.

The former president’s lawyer argued that because Uribe is only under investigation and has not been charged he should be feed. Prosecutor Gabriel Ramon Jaimes agreed, telling the judge he believed that Uribe’s due process rights had been violated, but also stressing that the investigation continues.

“My request today is not a prelude of procedural steps still to come,” he said. “There will be no impunity. There will be justice.”

Uribe has vehemently denied the allegations.

His supporters contended the house arrest decision was unfair because ex-guerrillas have been allowed to remain free while they testify about war crimes. His critics argue that the courts have effectively turned a blind eye until now toward numerous accusations that Uribe had ties to paramilitary groups during the conflict.

Such groups were organized by wealthy landlords, sometimes with the complicity of the state, to fight guerrillas who espoused a leftist ideology while often resorting to kidnapping and extortion.

Jaimes said prosecutors will advance their investigation fairly.

“The victims demand truth, justice and reparations,” he said. “And the justice system should provide effective answers but always within the confines of the law.”