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Belarus/Russia: Journalist Thanks Yeltsin For Aiding Release

Minsk, 8 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - A Russian television journalist who was freed last night after more than two months in a Belarus jail has thanked Russian President Boris Yeltsin for helping secure his release. Pavel Sheremet told AFP that his release last night from a prison near the frontier of Grodno was "achieved thanks to the Russian president's intervention."

He said he was freed on the condition he would not leave Minsk until his trial.

Our correspondent says Sheremet, ORT's Minsk bureau chief, was taken last night to his apartment in Minsk where his handcuffs were removed. However, Sheremet, a Belarus citizen, must remain in Minsk and still faces charges of illegally crossing the border with Lithuania.

Sheremet has been held in Grodno since late July when he was arrested for illegally crossing the border with Lithuania. Our correspondent said Sheremet will now have an opportunity to study the government's case being brought against him. No date has been set for his trial.

The case has sparked a row between Yeltsin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Last week, Yeltsin blocked Lukashenka from visiting Russia and said he would not be welcomed until Sheremet was freed.

Lukashenka -- who called the cancellation of his visit "ignorant, stone-age diplomacy" -- said last week that he had asked Belarus' prosecutor-general for Sheremet's conditional release.

Vintsuk Vechora, deputy head of the main opposition Popular Front, said Lukashenka was forced to release Sheremet -- a Belarus national -- after "stumbling into Russian politics."

When asked if the release was politically motivated, Belarus Security Council spokesman Vasily Baranov told Reuters, "the solution of any issue is closely related to politics and economics."

Moscow has not demanded that charges against Sheremet be dropped, only that he be released from custody until his trial.