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Belarus Starts Releasing Election Protesters From Jail

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have started to release people detained during a postelection demonstration on December 19, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Some 20 people were released on December 29 after completing their 10-day jail sentences.

More releases are expected over the next few days.

Some 600 people, including five election candidates, were detained after police violently broke up the December 19 rally against the election victory of incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The West has strongly condemned the election and its ensuing police crackdown.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported that those released were greeted outside the prison by relatives and friends bearing gifts.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for one of the detained opposition presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, says she fears for his health.

WATCH: Volha Nyaklyaeva, the wife of detained Belarusian presidential candidate Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, has been searching for information on her husband's whereabouts since he was detained during mass protests on December 19.

Wife Of Belarus Detainee Seeks Answers
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In other news, Poland says it will grant free visas to citizens of neighboring Belarus, but reserve the right to block anyone tied to the postelection crackdown on the opposition.

The Foreign Ministry today said it would waive its $26 visa fee from January 1 in a gesture of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition.

Poland has also decided to double to $13 million its annual subsidy for independent Belarusian media, including the Polish-based satellite channel Belsat.

'Flawed' Election

An official preliminary count of the December 19 vote handed the authoritarian leader a fourth term in office with almost 80 percent of the vote.

Independent polls ahead of the election, however, suggested Lukashenka's real support was much lower.

International observers and Western governments have described the election as "flawed" and condemned the ensuing crackdown on Lukashenka's opponents.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay joined the chorus of criticism, voicing concern over "violence against, and abduction of, opposition candidates and their supporters."

with agency reports