PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) _ Nelson Mandela's government is giving 9,000 prison inmates a strong incentive to celebrate his 80th birthday Saturday: their freedom.

The government announced the releases on Friday, saying any prisoner with six months or less to serve _ except for the mentally disturbed _ will be eligible for parole as of Saturday.

Correctional Services Minister Sipho Mzimela said the government would begin freeing the prisoners on Monday and that it would take about two weeks for all 9,000 eligible inmates to be released.

``While we are determined to root out crime, we don't want to appear to use draconian measures,'' Mzimela said in explaining the government's action. ``We also want to encourage people to improve their behavior, knowing that at the end of the tunnel there is some light.''