Belarusian authorities have freed two opposition activists arrested in January for taking part in a protest by owners of small businesses in the capital, Minsk.
Siarhey Parsyukevich and Andrei Kim - considered in the West as political prisoners - were released Wednesday. In April, a Minsk court sentenced them to 30 months and 18 months in jail respectively.
Their release came less than a week after Belarusian authorities freed the country's most prominent activist, Alexander Kozulin*. He had been sentenced to 5.5 years in prison for organizing protests against President Alexander Lukashenko's 2006 re-election.
The United States welcomed the release of the Belarusian activists and said it looks forward to other positive steps by the Minsk government that could improve bilateral relations.
The United States and the European Union accuse Mr. Lukashenko of jailing opponents, restricting press freedom and rigging elections. Western countries have imposed sanctions on him and other officials in his administration.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
* Photo incorrectly identified as Alexander Kozulin deleted 21 Aug 08