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Kozulin Thanks US for Helping Him Gain Temporary Release From Belarus Prison

Belarus opposition leader Alexander Kozulin has thanked the American people and President Bush for helping him win temporary release from prison to attend the funeral of his wife.

Kozulin told VOA Russian Service he is particularly grateful to the president, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and to the State Department for taking what he called unprecedented diplomatic steps for "saving the life of one man." He called this proof of the value the United States places on human life. Kozulin made the remarks Thursday in a telephone interview as he was in an automobile traveling back to prison.

Belarusian authorities temporarily released the opposition figure from prison earlier this week to allow him to attend Wednesday's funeral. His wife Irina died last week of cancer. The release followed strong pressure from the United States and other western countries.

Belarusian authorities sentenced Kozulin to five-and-a-half years in prison in 2006 after he led protests against the disputed election victory of President Alexander Lukashenko. Kozulin ran against the incumbent.

The activist also told reporters Thursday that Belarusian authorities had offered him release from prison if he and his family would immediately leave for Germany. But he said he refused the offer without proper guarantees that they will some time permit him to return home.

The Lukashenko government has come under strong criticism from the West for its human rights record and suppression of free speech. President Bush has repeatedly referred to Mr. Lukashenko as Europe's last dictator.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.