Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has released six opposition leaders from jail. The pardon comes less than two months before presidential polls in which Lukashenko will campaign for a fifth term in office.
The president's press service said late on Saturday that the surprise move have been motivated by humane principles.
Among the six political prisoners was Nikolai Statkevich, who was imprisoned alongside nine other opposition leaders after running against Lukashenko in Belarus' 2010 presidential election.
In May 2011, he was given a six-year jail sentence on a charge of organizing mass street protests against Lukashenko's re-election at the time.
Another of the freed opponents, Mikola Rubsev, had been arrested in the same 2010 protests while wearing a T-shirt calling for Lukashenko to go.
The other four men were accused of belonging to an anarchist group that clashed with the local KGB - the successor of the Soviet secret police.
The release of the six men comes as Lukashenko prepares to run for his fifth consecutive presidential term in October.
The move also appears to be an attempt to improve relations with the West, which have remained hostile for decades - largely due to Lukashenko's intolerance of political opposition. Washington once dubbed the country as Europe's "last dictatorship."
Tough EU and US sanctions have also been in place in Belarus since the violent suppression of peaceful protests during the 2010 presidential election.
"By freeing the political prisoners, Lukashenko is giving a clear signal to the West about his desire to improve relations," said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
"Minsk is in real need of Western credits because of the economic collapse," he added.
Belarus was thrust back into the international limelight earlier this year when critical Ukraine peace talks between pro-Moscow rebels and the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia were held in Minsk.
ksb/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)