US lifts some Belarus sanctions

The US has lifted some of its sanctions on the authoritarian regime in Belarus, officials in Minsk have announced.

The move came after Belarussian authorities freed a number of detainees the US regarded as political prisoners.

The bulk of US sanctions against Minsk remain though, and the two sides do not have full diplomatic ties after ambassadors were withdrawn in March.

The sanctions were meant to highlight the poor rights record of President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

'Right direction'

The US is one of his fiercest critics, and Washington banned US firms from dealing with state-controlled oil and chemical company, Belneftekhim, in November 2007.

Travel restrictions were also imposed on the president and his inner-circle by the US and the EU.

Earlier this year, US sanctions were widened to take in subsidiaries of Belneftekhim - including Lakokraska and Polotsk Steklovolokno.

But officials at the US embassy in Minsk say measures against these two firms will be suspended for six months.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov hailed the decision as a "step in the right direction".

"This move by the US administration is also in the interests of the US business community," he said in a statement.

The US announcement followed the release of all prisoners regarded as political by the West.

They included Alexander Kozulin, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison in 2006 for organising protests after President Lukashenko was re-elected for a third term.

Analysts believe the president - often branded Europe's last dictator by his critics - may be courting the West in response to his souring relations with Moscow.



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