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S. Africa court clears Pistorius to travel abroad

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A South African court on Thursday cleared Oscar Pistorius for international travel, easing stringent bail terms set for the Paralympian sprint star after he was charged with murdering his girlfriend.

Pistorius, 26, whose athletics career has been on hold since the Valentine's Day killing of Reeva Steenkamp, had appealed against a raft of bail conditions he said were unfair and unwarranted.

Pretoria High Court Judge Bert Bam said the initial magistrate's decision last month to order Pistorius to hand over his passport was "wrong".

"I find no reason why the appellant should be forbidden to leave the Republic of South Africa if invited to compete in athletic events in other countries," Bam ruled.

Pistorius will however have to submit his itinerary to the prosecution at least one week before travel and hand back his passport within 24 hours of return.

The double amputee known as "Blade Runner" -- who faces trial later this year on a charge of premeditated murder -- was not in court for the appeal, which was opposed by the state.

The judge also ruled that Pistorius could return to his upmarket Pretoria home where Steenkamp was shot dead in the early hours of February 14 and lifted a requirement for him to undergo random mandatory alcohol and drug tests.

He claims he mistook her for an intruder when she shot her several times through a locked bathroom door with a gun he kept under his bed, but the state argues it was pre-meditated murder.

The defence team argued that the bail terms were tantamount to "house arrest" despite the runner having been cleared as a flight risk by the magistrate's court last month.

"Why would this athlete go to a country without extradition and go and hide?" defence lawyer Barry Roux told the court on Thursday.

After being freed on bail of one million rand ($108,000, 84,000 euros) last month, the sprint star was ordered to surrender his passport and told to inform a corrections officer if he wanted to travel outside Pretoria.

"The law should be applied equally," Bam said, adding that bail conditions should be "fair and reasonable" and not be "some sort of anticipated punishment of the accused".

Pistorius, who in London last year became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics, has cancelled his participation in upcoming competitions, according to his agent Peet Van Zyl.

Pistorius will decide "if he wants to run again", Van Zyl told AFP, adding that he has not resumed training.

Roux said Pistorius wanted to be able to go abroad under controlled circumstances to be able to earn money.

"It is not as if the appellant is travelling for holiday in Mauritius; it's only to gain an income, there's no other reason," Roux said.

The killing of the 29-year-old Steenkamp saw several big name sponsors, including sportswear giant Nike and sunglasses maker Oakley, cut ties with the athlete. The Italian town of Gemona where he used to train also froze a five-year sponsorship deal.

"Of course he was emotional, but does that mean because he is emotional you put him on probational supervision? There's no causal link," Roux told the Pretoria court regarding the drug and alcohol requirements that were lifted Thursday.

Pistorius's next court appearance is scheduled for June 4, but the prosecution said they were not sure trial would start on that date.

National Prosecution Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku told reporters he believed Pistorius will attend his trial.

"I believe Oscar will abide by the bail conditions as spelt out, and he will make sure he doesn't disturb any witness or interfere with any witness," Simasiku added.

Thursday's hearing came a day after Pistorius's older brother Carl pleaded not guilty to culpable homicide and reckless driving over a 2008 road accident in which a woman motorcyclist was killed.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130328/s-africa-court-clears-pistorius-travel-abroad-0