A Thai court on February 22 released on bail seven top leaders of the "Red Shirt" opposition movement after they spent nine months in detention over their roles in mass rallies in Bangkok.
The men were held on terrorism charges since their two-month long demonstration ended in May 2010 with a deadly military crackdown that left about 90 people dead in clashes between protesters and armed troops.
A judge at the capital's Criminal Court said the decision to release the seven - who include key movement members Natthawut Saikua, Weng Tojirakarn and Kokaew Pikulthong - was based on new evidence from the defence.
Their bail conditions include a ban on foreign travel and on making comments likely to incite unrest.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, when asked whether the ruling would help reconciliation efforts, told reporters the decision to free the seven was the court's.
Most Red Shirts leaders surrendered to police soon after the army moved in to break up the demonstration in the heart of Bangkok's retail district. Some others are still on the run.
Hundreds of people, some playing loud music and carrying red roses, gathered outside the prison in a suburb of the capital and cheered loudly as the defendants walked free, dressed in white T-shirts and holding hands.
"Friends, we are back. We are back with our spirits, our intentions and our lives, which we dedicate to democracy," Natthawut told the jubilant crowds, thanking them for their support.
Jatuporn Prompan, a key Red Shirt leader who is free because of immunity granted to serving members of Parliament, said the ruling was "very meaningful" for the movement.
He vowed to press ahead with the next scheduled protest on March 12, marking a year since the start of the 2010 rally.