EU hails Ukraine pardon for Tymoshenko ally

The European Union on Sunday welcomed Ukraine's pardon of a close ally of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, calling it "an important step".

Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, said on his Twitter account: "At last - welcome very much President Yanukovych decision to pardon Lutsenko... (it's a) first but important step to deal with selective justice."

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called the ex-minister's release an encouraging move.

"Fair and independent justice is needed in Ukraine, and the release of Mr Lutsenko is a step in the right direction.

"I wish to deeply thank presidents Cox and Kwasniewski for their efforts in securing the pardon and release of Yuriy Lutsenko." Their commitment, Schulz said, had "ensured that Yuriy Lutsenko is a free man who can enjoy his first night in years with his family".

Under pressure from the European Union and the West, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych pardoned six people including Lutsenko, his office announced Sunday. They will all go free later Sunday.

Schulz said that efforts to secure the release of former leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whom Yanukovych has refused to pardon, were continuing.