U.S. lifts sanctions against two Belarus firms - 2

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(Adds Belarus reaction in paras 5, 6)

MINSK, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - The United States has lifted sanctions against two firms within Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical concern Belneftekhim, a U.S. Embassy official in Minsk said Friday.

The Department of Commerce has allowed U.S. companies to deal with fiberglass company Steklovolokno and lacquer and paint producer Lakokraska, the official said.

Washington imposed sanctions against Belneftekhim and froze assets of its U.S. subsidiary last November, setting the release of all political prisoners in Belarus as a condition for lifting the sanctions.

The two firms were added to Washington's blacklist in May. The measures resulted in significant reductions of embassy staff in both countries.

A spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Popov, said the U.S. move was in the interests of the business communities in both Belarus and the United States.

"Belarus has always stressed that the sanctions were absolutely unacceptable in the civilized relations between the states," Popov said. "The decision by the U.S. side is a move in the right direction."

Dialogue between Washington and Minsk reinvigorated after Belarus's main opposition figure, Alexander Kozulin, who was sentenced to a 5 1/2 year term for organizing protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, was released from prison in August.

The United States and the European Union have accused Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections. Lukashenko, who was re-elected to a third term in 2006, and other senior Belarusian officials have been barred from entering the U.S. and the EU.

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