May 21- Sri Lanka's former army chief Sarath Fonseka walks free from jail with a pardon from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who appeared to bow to international demands that he release his highest-profile rival. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
(ROUGH CUT ONLY - NO REPORTER NARRATION) Sri Lanka's former army chief walked free from jail on Monday with a pardon from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who appears to have bowed to growing international demands that he release his highest-profile rival. Ex-General Sarath Fonseka kissed his hands and raised them to a group of 2,000 supporters who cheered "Victory to our war hero! Victory to our leader!" and lit firecrackers outside the maximum security prison. Some waved the national flag, emblazoned with a lion and a sword, as he released a white dove symbolising peace. Regarded by many as a hero for helping end Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, Fonseka fell out with the government and was imprisoned after a failed presidential bid against former ally Rajapaksa two years ago. Arrested by soldiers who had been under his own command, Fonseka was stripped of his rank as a four-star general. He trailed Rajapaksa by 17 points in the last presidential election and with the next one not due until 2016, he is not seen as an immediate political threat. His health has deteriorated in prison, increasing pressure on Rajapaksa to free him.