Belarus allows ex-candidate's wife leave country

Belarus has allowed a former opposition presidential candidate's wife, who was convicted of organising mass riots, to leave the ex-Soviet country, she said Thursday, vowing to come back.

Irina Khalip, who received a suspended sentence after being arrested during a violent crackdown on protests over a December 2010 vote, said she was allowed to visit her husband Andrei Sannikov in Britain, where he was granted political asylum last year.

"I am still a convict," she told AFP.

Khalip said she was allowed to travel to Britain for Sannikov's 59th birthday, as well as to Russia, where the headquarters of her employer, opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, are located.

She has to come back before April 3.

"I understand... that this is a new stage of haggling" by President Alexander Lukashenko, whose cash-starved government is in need of foreign assistance and is trying to make a good impression on the West, she said.

"We have all been put up for sale, in exchange for loans... I hope European politicians will ignore this bait."

Sannikov, a former diplomat who served as deputy foreign minister in the 1990s, was in 2010 the most prominent candidate to run against Lukashenko in the elections, which the strongman swept with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The jailing of opposition members who stood in the polls provoked outrage in the West, with the EU steadily increasing sanctions against Lukashenko's regime over the past two years.