Ukraine president pardons Tymoshenko ally

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has pardoned a close ally of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, his office said on Sunday.

"Yanukovych signed a decree on pardoning six convicted people, including Ukraine's former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko and Ukraine's former environment minister Georgy Filipchuk," his office said in a statement.

The statement said the decree was in line with ongoing reforms of the country's criminal legislation "aimed at humanising legal norms and reducing the number of people held in custody."

The presidential decree comes after Ukraine's high court earlier this week rejected an appeal by Lutsenko against his four-year jail term for abuse of office and embezzlement.

He was arrested in December 2010 and was set to remain in prison until the end of 2014.

Yanukovych made the decision to pardon Lutsenko after repeated requests from Western officials, most notably special envoys of the European Parliament monitoring mission to Ukraine, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox.

The imprisonment of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko has led to a crisis in ties between Kiev and the European Union, which has complained that Ukrainian authorities are selectively prosecuting opponents of the president.

The statement made no mention of Yanukovych's top nemesis, jailed former prime minister Tymoshenko who analysts say is unlikely to walk out of prison any time soon.

Tymoshenko, who lost a heated presidential election to Yanukovych in 2010, was jailed for seven years in 2011 for overstepping her authority while prime minister by agreeing a gas deal with Russia.