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U.S. Welcomes Release Of Ukrainian Opposition Leaders

Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko talks to the media as his wife looks on after he was freed from prison in Makoshino on April 7.
The United States has welcomed the release of two Ukrainian opposition leaders and allies of the jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

On April 7, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych pardoned former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was imprisoned for embezzlement and ordering illegal surveillance of suspects while investigating the poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko just before the latter's 2004 presidential election victory over Yanukovych.

Lutsenko's health has deteriorated since his arrest in early 2010.

Also pardoned was the former environment minister, Heorhiy Filipchuk, who was imprisoned for abuse of office.

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In Washington, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the move was an "important step toward addressing concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine."

Acting deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, meanwhile, repeated calls for the release of Tymoshenko.

In Brussels on April 8, Peter Stano, the spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, said the presidential pardons on April 7 for Lutsenko and Filipchuk were a "first important step, but not the final one."

Based on reporting by AFP and Interfax