Peru's recently-pardoned former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori left a hospital as a free man for the first time in 12 years on Thursday, waving to his supporters from a wheelchair before entering a car with his lawmaker son Kenji.
Fujimori, whose Christmas Eve pardon from President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has polarized Peru, was trailed by police cars and news cameras as he arrived at a house in the upscale district of La Molina. In a snapshot shared on social media, Fujimori was seen with his four adult children in a garden.
Smiling in a jacket and blue shirt, Fujimori, 79, appeared aware of his surroundings as he greeted crowds of journalists and supporters outside the Japanese-Peruvian Centenario Clinic where he was interned on Dec 23 for emergency blood-pressure and heart treatment.
A corrupt dictator to some and a misunderstood hero to others, Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for graft and human rights crimes during his 1990-2000 rightwing populist government.
Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori because of his ill health.
"To the joy of many Peruvians, today Alberto Fujimori is free," Fujimori`s doctor Alejandro Aguinaga said on local TV channel Canal N, adding that his patient was still recovering from a serious heart problem.
Kuczynski`s decision to pardon Fujimori triggered unrest and a series of political investigations that have shaken his already-weak center-right government. While Kuczynski hopes the pardon will break the main opposition party`s grip on Congress, it has also cost him the support from the left and center and he has yet to reveal the new Cabinet he promised a week ago.
Fujimori signaled from his hospital bed last week that he would not use his freedom to return to politics, but his loyalists have called for him to be an advisor to the rightwing political party, Popular Force, that has a majority of seats in Congress.
"There`s nothing wrong with receiving advice from him, or counting on his support or counsel for a future presidential candidate," Popular Force lawmaker Maritza Garcia told Reuters last week. "Because of his health he can`t lead the party, but he can direct it from his bed or wheelchair."
Garcia is one of 10 lawmakers led by Kenji who broke ranks with Popular Force to defeat a motion to oust Kuczynski late last month in the wake of a corruption scandal after Fujimori called on them to put the stability of the country first by supporting Kuczynski.
Representatives for Kuczynski and Fujimori have denied that the pardon was political payback in an under-the-table deal, and have defended the pardon on medical and humanitarian grounds.
Fujimori`s daughter Keiko, the official leader of Popular Force, has had a hostile relationship with Kuczynski since narrowly losing the 2016 election to him and has criticized her brother Kenji for supporting Kuczynski`s government.
Keiko`s supporters in Popular Force had led calls to oust Kuczynski in the wake of a graft scandal. Some political analysts in Peru have predicted that Fujimori might end the political rivalry between Keiko and Kenji.