Ukraine pardons 2 Tymoshenko allies

2013-04-07 20:14

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Kiev - A top ally of imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko walked free from jail on Sunday, after Ukraine's president pardoned him and another ex-minister, moving toward fulfilling a key demand on Kiev's path to integrate closer with the European Union.

President Viktor Yanukovych signed a decree to pardon former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko, 48, who is serving a four-year sentence on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement. Lutsenko's health has deteriorated since his arrest in early 2010, his supporters and doctors said.

The move came after the country's human rights official petitioned for Lutsenko, and the presidential commission on pardons recommended that Yanukovych pardon him. He also pardoned another Tymoshenko ally, the former environment minister, Heorhiy Filipchuk, who was also imprisoned for abuse of office.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2011 of abuse of office.

The West has called the cases politically motivated. The European Union has warned that it will not sign a key co-operation agreement with Kiev until those two cases are resolved. Yanukovych also needs Western support as he tries to secure a $15bn bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Lutsenko stepped out of a prison in the Chernihiv region, about 150km north of Kiev, into the arms of his wife, son and supporters who held bouquets of roses. Wearing a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt under a black jacket, Lutsenko looked upbeat and confident.

"Today's event for me is a victory of Ukrainian democracy, of the world democracy which has achieved in making sure that Ukraine begins making the right steps in stopping political repression in our country," Lutsenko told reporters.

He added that he would continue political activity, including taking part in street protests, though he does not plan to run for president in the 2015 race.

The EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, said on his Twitter feed that the pardons for Lutsenko and Filipchuk were a "first but important step".

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