BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — The European Union has welcomed Azerbaijan's decision to give amnesty to a number of political activists and journalists.

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the amnesty for over 400 people included representatives of political parties, non-government organizations, bloggers and journalists, calling it "a welcome step."

Kocijancic said "the European Union expects that further similar steps will follow in future in line with Azerbaijan's international commitments." She added the EU will "continue its engagement with Azerbaijan to step up the cooperation, including on human rights, which constitutes an essential element of our relationship."

Azerbaijan has maintained close ties with the West, helping protect its energy and security interests in the Caspian Sea. At the same time it has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and the suppression of dissent.