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Limonov Set Free, Vows to Fight On

Eduard Limonov speaking with reporters in Saratov just hours after his release on Monday. Unknown
Eduard Limonov, a writer and head of the radical National Bolshevik Party, walked free Monday after serving almost 25 months of a four-year sentence on an arms conviction -- and immediately headed for the Volga River for a dip.

Four hours after his 9:20 a.m. release from the Engels correction colony -- and after the swim -- Limonov called a news conference in nearby Saratov to announce he will put writing on the backburner to focus on politics.

"I have not been corrected, and I have not abandoned my political beliefs," said Limonov, 60.

"I will devote myself only to politics, trying to change the system altogether and uproot the traditional Russian servility," he said, promising "to continue fighting by all legal means."

He said he did not plan to run for public office but that his National Bolshevik Party should consider joining forces with a like-minded party to seek seats in the State Duma in December elections, local news agencies reported.

Limonov, a cult figure for thousands of teenagers, was released early on parole for good behavior after serving half of his sentence. A Saratov court in April convicted him of ordering National Bolshevik members to buy weapons, while clearing him of more serious charges of terrorism, forming a private army to invade Kazakhstan and plotting to overthrow the government.

Clad in a gray, double-breasted jacket, a black shirt and black jeans, Limonov said in televised remarks that he had not expected to get out Monday after seeing his release postponed from Saturday. He said he had just had a breakfast of porridge and boiled fish and was preparing to take a bath when the warden called for him and handed him the release papers.

Limonov, who shaved off his goatee and traded a ponytail for a crewcut about a week ago, promised the warden "not to get caught anymore," Gazeta.ru reported.

He told reporters in Saratov that he was going to get serious about trying to make a difference in Russia. "I don't want to waste myself with lightweight ventures," he said.

Limonov slammed rules requiring organizations to register as political parties with the Justice Ministry to participate in Duma elections and criticized the provision barring parties that get less than 5 percent of the vote from parliament.

The National Bolshevik Party submitted its registration papers to the Justice Ministry in May but has not heard back yet, acting party head Anatoly Tishin said.

The Justice Ministry said Monday that Limonov is free to pursue whatever political aspirations he wishes.

"Limonov, as any free citizen, has the right to travel freely and get involved in political activities. He can participate in elections and be elected," Vladimir Logachyov, spokesman for the ministry's prisons directorate, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Logachyov said Limonov can travel freely in Russia and abroad, but cautioned that he will be jailed if he breaks the law while on parole.

Limonov -- who wrote eight books and numerous articles during his 815 days in pretrial detention and then prison -- said writing will be of "secondary" interest for him and mainly a source of income. He also said he wants to draw more attention to the plight of inmates.

"There are new forms of violence in jails. Prisons look fresher now, but that doesn't mean inmates are no longer suffering emotionally, being subjected to torture and being beaten."

The Federal Security Service arrested Limonov in the Altai region in April 2001, and he spent most of his time served awaiting trial in Moscow's Lefortovo prison. He was locked up in the Engels colony for only six weeks.

While he was in jail, a Moscow court last year closed down his party's newspaper, Limonka, a slang word for hand grenade. The court said the newspaper incited ethnic conflict and called for the violent overthrow of the government.

The National Bolshevik Party soon started publishing a new newspaper, Generalnaya Linia, with the same editorial content as Limonka.

Limonka's editor, Sergei Aksyonov, was convicted with Limonov on similar charges in April and is serving a 3 1/2-year sentence at a penal colony in the Leningrad region.

Limonov and Aksyonov maintained their innocence during the trial, saying the charges against them were politically motivated and the evidence was fabricated by the FSB.

"Now, I will sew up my pockets to escape provocation -- just to make sure bullets or explosives don't appear in them," Limonov said Monday on NTV television.

Limonov, in interviews published Monday in Rossiiskaya Gazeta and Gazeta, said that in prison all he dreamed about was "leaving Saratov somewhat quicker, having a drink of cognac and tasting a woman."

One of those dreams came true at 6 p.m. Monday, when he left Saratov on a train for Moscow. He was to arrive in the capital Tuesday morning.

And Boris Berezovsky, who is in self-imposed exile in London, sent Limonov a bottle of cognac Monday, Gazeta.ru reported.

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