EU hails release of Belarus dissidents, calls for more

AFP , Sunday 15 Apr 2012

EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton hails Belarus move to free opposition members Andrei Sannikov and aide Dmitry Bondarenko

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed Sunday the release of two opposition figures in Belarus and urged the regime of Alexander Lukashenko to free all remaining political prisoners.

"I welcome the news that former Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov as well as his main campaign aide Dmitry Bondarenko are now free and will be able to rejoin their families and friends," Ashton said in a statement.

"I call on the authorities of Belarus to release unconditionally now also all other remaining political prisoners and to remove all restrictions on the enjoyment of their civil and political rights," she said.

"This would certainly contribute to possibilities for moving towards improved relations between the EU and Belarus."

The two men returned home in triumph to Minsk on Sunday after winning early release from jail in what supporters hailed as the result of EU pressure on Lukashenko's regime.

"Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bondarenko stand out as prominent symbols for the tireless work and commitment of many for a democratic and European Belarus," Ashton said.

The releases come three weeks after EU foreign ministers agreed to freeze the assets of 29 Belarussian companies as well as block accounts and ban EU travel for 12 individuals in the toughest Western sanctions yet against Minsk.

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