Belarusian opposition leader Milinkevich freed from jail

Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich was freed from jail Friday after serving a 15-day sentence for taking part in an unsanctioned rally, a move that drew widespread condemnation in the West.

Police delivered Milinkevich, 58, to his home several hours before his scheduled release,  apparently an effort to prevent him from meeting with supporters who gathered outside the jail around the time they expected him to be freed.

Milinkevich returned to the jail later and spoke to about 100 supporters who stood outside, ignoring police warnings that their gathering was not sanctioned by authorities. "Even jail cannot deprive a truly free person of liberty," Milinkevich said.

Milinkevich, who ran unsuccessfully against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in a March election, has been a unifying figure for an opposition that incorporates widely diverse forces ranging from democrats to Communists.

"We are fighting not against Lukashenko but for a new Belarus," Milinkevich said outside the jail.

The election, which the opposition and Western governments condemned as fraudulent, sparked unprecedented mass protests in this tightly controlled nation of 10 million. The protests in turn resulted in a wave of opposition detentions, with hundreds of activists jailed in the ensuing weeks, reports the AP.

I.L.