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Belarus: Opposition Figure Leaves Prison

Minsk, 25 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Belarusian opposition figure was freed today after spending more than four years in prison for crimes he says he did not commit. Andrey Klimau, owner of a construction firm and a former member of parliament, was arrested in February 1998 on charges of tax fraud and harming state interests.

Court officials said Klimau was released early for good behavior.

After leaving Minsk prison, Klimau told reporters he had been "changed but not broken" by his prison term, afp reported. He insisted the action against him was "purely political" and vowed to resume his political activities in the United Civic Party.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and other international organizations have long called on the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to release Klimau.

Some 50 activists of the United Civic Party on 11 February picketed Minsk prison to express solidarity with Klimau, who that day completed the fourth year of his six-year sentence, Belapan reported.

Opposition and human rights organizations in Belarus and abroad linked his imprisonment to his loyalty to the Supreme Soviet, the parliament outlawed by President Lukashenka in 1996, and his active role in the Supreme Soviet's attempts to impeach the Belarusian president.