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EU temporarily lifts sanctions against Belarus

The EU has formally suspended most sanctions against Belarus citing "improving" relations with the former Soviet state. The easing comes after Minsk released several political prisoners over the summer.

The sanctions imposed by Brussels had affected 170 individuals and three Belarusian entities, which were subject to travel bans and asset freezes respectively. They included the country's authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

The lifting of sanctions will take effect from Saturday and, initially, last for four months.

The temporary easing will allow those Belarus companies targeted by the restrictions to be eligible for financing from the European Investment Bank, meaning that Moscow is no longer the only source of financing for the former Soviet state.

"The decision was taken in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on August 22 and in the context of improving EU-Belarus relations," said a statement from the 28-nation bloc.

They follow a decision by Lukashenko, who Washington has dubbed "Europe's Last Dictator," to

pardon six jailed political prisoners

over the summer.

Nikolai Statkevich

Statkevich received a six year sentence for arranging the 2010 anti-Lukashenko protests

Among them was Nikolai Statkevich, who was imprisoned after running against the long-serving leader in the 2010 presidential elections.

He spoke to DW after his release.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a crackdown on the opposition after thousands took to the streets to protest his disputed re-election in December 2010.

Earlier this month,

he won a fifth term in office by a huge margin.

EU member states led by Germany said the polls passed off without major incident, but Washington complained that they fell "significantly short" of the country's commitment to free and fair elections.

Opposition leaders had appealed to Brussels not to lift the sanctions.

Analysts say the four-month temporary lifting will give Brussels the chance to review the country's democratic progress.

But restrictions will remain in place for four people involved in "unresolved disappearances in Belarus," along with the EU arms embargo.

mm/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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