Ukraine's president pardons jailed former interior minister, ally of former PM Tymoshenko

Ukraine's president on Sunday pardoned a former interior minister and a close ally 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 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.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2011 of abuse office.

The West has called both 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 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.