Ukraine President Faces EU Protests Over Jailing Of Opposition Leader

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has protested against the jailing of the Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, by calling off high-level talks with the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Herman Van Rompuy and Lady Ashton cancel talks with Viktor Yanukovych after supporters say Yulia Tymoshenko imprisonment was politically motivated.

Yanukovych was due to meet the European commission's president, José Manuel Barroso, and the European council president, Herman Van Rompuy, in Brussels on Thursday for final stage negotiations on a free trade treaty and an association agreement that would bind the ex-Soviet country to Europe.

EU officials cancelled the talks on Tuesday, saying the timing wasn't right.

The move came one week after Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison in a trial she and her supporters say was motivated by revenge.

"The meeting is postponed to a later occasion when the conditions will be more conducive to making progress in bilateral relations," a spokeswoman for Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said.

A spokesman for Van Rompuy said Ukraine had to make improvements on key issues.

The EU had repeatedly warned Yanukovych that it viewed the trial as politically motivated, and that it would closely watch its results for signs that Ukraine had adopted "European values" such as an independent judiciary.

It condemned the verdict last week.

Tymoshenko was found guilty of abusing her power while signing a gas deal with Russia as prime minister in 2009.

Yanukovych has denied accusations that he organised the trial against Tymoshenko to rid himself of a political rival.

He told journalists in Kiev on Monday that he would not meddle in the case.

"The point isn't if someone likes [the verdict] or doesn't – in Ukraine or in Europe.

The point is that there is a supremacy of law," he said. "Whatever decision the court makes, we must respect it."

Tymoshenko's supporters are losing hope that European pressure will lead to her release.

On Tuesday, pro-Yanukovych MPs again refused to consider a bill that would decriminalise the article under which she was tried.

"We don't change the legislation for one person," Oleksandr Yefremov, head of the pro-Yanukovych faction in parliament, said in a statement on his party's website.

Last week, prosecutors opened a second criminal case against the former prime minister, accusing her of embezzling £250m in shady gas deals in 1997.

Yanukovych said he still hoped to move ahead with cementing ties with the EU.

"The criminal case against Tymoshenko should be separated from Ukraine's integration to the [EU]," he said.

Kiev and Brussels had hoped to finalise the free trade deal by year's end.

Yet he has given renewed focus to restoring ties with Russia, strained as a result of the 2009 deal, which left Ukraine paying a high price for gas.

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, met Yanukovych in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Tuesday, just three weeks after their last meeting.

Medvedev declined to comment on the Tymoshenko verdict, which has also been criticised by the Russian foreign ministry.

"I was taught in university to try not to comment on court decisions until they enter into force," the former lawyer said.

"Moreover, I proceed from the state sovereignty of Ukraine in regards to all official decisions."

Source: The Guardian UK