Belarusian opposition leader freed, daughter says

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus: A Belarusian opposition leader who was jailed following the widely denounced presidential election in 2006 has been released, his daughter said Saturday.

Alexander Kozulin was arrested during a protest challenging the re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and later sentenced to 5 1/2 years in a high-security prison. The U.S. and other Western countries have referred to him and other jailed opposition leaders as political prisoners.

Kozulin's daughter Olga said he called Saturday to say he had been released. Kozulin himself could not be reached, and Belarusian authorities declined to comment.

Kozulin said in a letter from prison earlier this year that authorities had offered to free him if he agreed to emigrate from the former Soviet republic, but that he refused. Lukashenko had said Kozulin was offered a chance to leave the country.

Kozulin was arrested during a protest after challenging Lukashenko in the 2006 presidential election, which the U.S. and other Western countries dismissed as illegitimate.

Authorities released Kozulin for three days in February so he could attend his wife's funeral after their initial refusal triggered a wave of international protest.

The U.S. and other Western countries have introduced travel and economic sanctions against Lukashenko, in power since 1994, and other top officials, and have demanded that Lukashenko's government free all political prisoners and end its crackdown on dissent.



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