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U.S. Welcomes Release Of Belarus Opposition Figures

Mikalay Statkevich after being released from prison on August 22

The U.S. State Department has welcomed the release from prison of Belarus opposition politician and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich and five others.

State Department spokesman John Kirby on August 23 called the releases a "positive event for the people of Belarus and an important step toward normalizing relations with the United States."

Kirby said the State Department believes the "observance of the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in upcoming elections [in Belarus] will improve [U.S.-Belarus] bilateral relations."

Belarus is due to conduct a presidential election on October 11.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn also issued a statement on August 23 that said the release marked "important progress towards the improvement of relations between the EU and Belarus."

Statkevich Released From Belarusian Prison
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WATCH: Mikalay Statkevich Released From Prison

The EU officials' statement also said, "We now expect the authorities of Belarus to remove all restrictions on the enjoyment of full civil and political rights of the released."

Statkevich was suddenly released on August 22 after spending nearly five years in prison after being detained and jailed after the 2010 presidential election, in which he ran, then being convicted in 2011 of "organizing mass disturbances" that followed the election and sentenced to six years.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued an order on August 22 that said "based on the principle of humanism" he had decided to pardon and release from prison Statkevich, Mikalay Dedkov, Ihar Olinevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsyom Prokopenko, and Yury Rubtsov.

Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS
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