A radio show host in Burundi who was detained last month after he refused to identify a guest who said he was involved in the murder of three Italian nuns has been freed on bail, his lawyer said.

Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), was released from prison on Thursday, said lawyer Lambert Nigarura.

His release saw th
ousands marching in celebration on the streets of the capital Bujumbura in one of the largest demonstrations in recent years, an AFP news agency reporter said.

Rugurika's detention drew attention to media freedom in the east African country, with the US government, EU politicians, human rights groups and journalist organisations calling for him to be freed.

He was charged with complicity in murder and concealing a criminal among other charges and will still face trial.

Rugurika was arrested on January 20 after prosecutors accused him of concealing the identity of a guest who, during an interview aired in early January, said he was involved in the killing in September of three nuns in a northern suburb of the capital Bujumbura.

The guest also identified others suspected of involvement in the killings, including former and serving intelligence and police officers, but did not provide any evidence.

'Provisional release'

Two of the nuns, Lucia Pulici, 75, and Olga Raschietti, 82, were found partially decapitated in their dormitory in the suburb while a third, 79 year-old Bernadetta Boggian, was found dead the following day.

Pierre Claver Mbonimba, head of the Association for the Defence of Human Rights and Prisoners, speaking after Rugurika's arrest last month was among those calling for his release, saying he "has done his job as a journalist".

Rugurika was released after paying a $9,600 bail, his lawyer said.

"My client gained a provisional release under the decision of the appeal court," said lawyer Nigarura.

Nigarura said the court had banned the journalist from leaving the country. No trial date has been set.

Last week, the European parliament threatened to suspend a five-year aid programme to Burundi worth 432 million euros if Rugurika was not freed. 

Source: Agencies