Ukraine PM Slams Opposition Over Jailed Council Official

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine 's prime minister criticized opposition leaders Monday for trying to rally protests in support of a jailed regional official from eastern Ukraine , saying they were trying to politicize a criminal case. Yulia Tymoshenko also pledged the government wouldn't interfere in criminal proceedings against Boris Kolesnikov, whose arrest prompted protesters to erect a small tent city in downtown Kiev in hopes of starting anti-government demonstrations.

PM Yulia Tymoshenko Talking to Reporters

The detention of Kolesnikov, who heads the Donetsk regional council, has touched a nerve in eastern Ukraine , where the threat of an east-west division of the country came to the fore during last year's tumultuous presidential election. Prosecutors ordered Kolesnikov arrested last week on suspicion of plotting assassinations, extortion and fraud.

Kolesnikov is a staunch backer of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the presidential election battle to Viktor Yushchenko after hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters flooded Kiev and built a tent city to protest a fraudulent first round of balloting. Since losing, Yanukovych has vowed stiff opposition to Yushchenko's government.

On Sunday, Yanukovych tried to rally his backers for more protests, warning of transportation blockades and strikes if the authorities continued "repression against our allies." Tymoshenko shrugged off Yanukovych's demands Monday. "If they want to be collectively responsible for someone's crimes, that's up to them," she told a news conference in Kiev. "The days when the (former) government was ordering who to arrest and who to release are now gone ... only the courts can decide about Kolesnikov."