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Originally published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 1:40 AM

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Ukraine president pardons 2 Tymoshenko allies

Ukraine's president on Sunday pardoned two former government ministers who are allies of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, moving toward fulfilling a key demand on Kiev's path to integrate closer with the European Union.

Associated Press

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KIEV, Ukraine —

Ukraine's president on Sunday pardoned two former government ministers who are allies of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, 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 presidential commission on pardons recommended it to Yanukovych. 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 office.

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

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."

The state prison service said that Lutsenko had been released. Lutsenko's brother Sergei said he was on the way to pick him up from jail.

Lutsenko's lawyer, Valentyna Telychenko, hailed the decision.

"It's a very important signal that Ukraine still wants to fulfill Europe's demands aimed at correcting problems in the sphere of justice and elections," Telychenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Telychenko said that Tymoshenko should also be freed since she has been convicted of a non-violent crime and is also suffering from health problems.

However, Yanukovych says he cannot unilaterally pardon Tymoshenko until her legal options are exhausted. She is appealing her conviction before the European Court for Human Rights. He also says he does not want to interfere with other cases pending against Tymoshenko. She is under investigation for murder in the 1996 killing of a businessman and faces probes in other corruption cases.

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