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Europe

Belarus releases second opposition presidential candidate

Belarus has announced the release of a second opposition candidates held in prison since protests against disputed election results. The news comes as the EU considers fresh visa restrictions against the country.

Vladimir Neklyayev

Neklyayev was released, but is still under house arrest

The second of five imprisoned opposition candidates in Belarus was released on Saturday, to be placed under house arrest, the country's KGB security service said in a statement.

Protests in Minsk in December

The arrests were connected with protests over election results

Vladimir Neklyayev was one of five presidential candidates charged with having organized mass protests in December after President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of an election.

The first candidate to be released, at the beginning of January, was Vitaly Rymashevsky.

In addition to the release of 64-year-old Neklyayev, the KGB also announced that journalist Irina Khalip, the wife of another imprisoned candidate, was being transferred from jail.

"Neklyayev and Khalip were placed under house arrest," the televised statement said. It added that four other opposition figures who had participated in rallies had also been freed, with the releases being granted on grounds of good behavior.

Decision on travel ban

The announcement comes ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday. It is expected that visa bans against Belarus, which were suspended in 2008, will be re-imposed at the talks.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko has been labeled Europe's last dictator

Neklyayev was severely beaten as he led a protest march in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on December 19, and was transferred to jail while he recovered in hospital.

Some 1,000 people were arrested in a crackdown on the opposition after the elections were declared undemocratic by international observers.

The European Union has demanded that Lukashenko, sometimes described as Europe's last dictator, release all anti-government activists being held in custody.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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