Belarus releases detainees as EU readies sanctions

The seven detainees were arrested in December during mass street protests.

Minsk: Belarus on Saturday released seven detainees, including a former candidate for the presidency, who were arrested in December during mass street protests over the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The move came on the eve of an expected announcement by the European Union that it will reinstate a visa ban on Lukashenko and other Belarussian officials in response to his crackdown on protests following his disputed re-election in December.

Belarus`s KGB state security police said in a statement that Vladimir Neklyayev, 64, and six other people, including the wife of another jailed presidential candidate, were being provisionally released because of good behaviour.

Neklyayev, a poet who heads the "Tell the Truth" movement, and Irina Khalip, who is married to Andrei Sannikov of the "For a European Belarus" movement, would be kept under house arrest, the KGB statement said.

Neklyayev himself was beaten by state security police on December 19 while he was on his way to join a protest march in the city centre and was spirited away from his hospital bed to jail by KGB state security officials while recovering.

Analysts said the Lukashenko leadership had clearly timed the move to complicate the EU`s approach to punitive measures against the ex-Soviet republic whose conduct during the December 19 election it has harshly condemned.

The United States has also said it is weighing renewed sanctions and has equally called for the release of detainees.

Bureau Report