(QHA) - President Vladimir Putin is to pardon one of his best known opponents, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, after a decade in jail in what may be a gesture to critics of his human rights record before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics, Reuters reports. Putin made the surprise announcement that he would soon free Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, after a marathon news conference in which he exuded confidence that he has reasserted his authority in the face of street protests. "He has been in jail already more than 10 years. This is a serious punishment."- Putin said. He said two members of the Pussy Riot protest group would also be freed, but it was the about-turn on Khodorkovsky, who was due for release next August, that grabbed most attention, lifting Moscow share prices on hopes it may mean investors have less cause to fear falling foul of Kremlin politics. As reported, Khodorkovsky, 50, fell out spectacularly with Putin a decade ago. His company, Yukos, was broken up and sold off, mainly into state hands, following his arrest at gunpoint on an airport runway in Siberia on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2003.

QHA