Thousands Rally For Ukraine Ex-PM’s Release

KIEV, Ukraine -- More than 3,000 Ukrainians, including world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, took part in a protest yesterday calling for the release of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

Supporters of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition parties attend a rally marking Unity Day in Kiev January 22, 2012. Ukraine on Sunday celebrates the 93rd anniversary since the western and eastern parts of the country were unified to create a single state.

Braving snow and freezing temperatures, the protesters gathered in the heart of the capital Kiev for the rally, called by several opposition parties.

World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion Klitscho, who is also a Kiev municipal councillor, called on the government to free Tymoshenko and allow the charismatic politician to contest legislative elections in October.

"Tymoshenko and (jailed former interior minister Yury) Lutsenko must participate in the elections," he said.

Tymoshenko, 51, was served a controversial seven-year jail sentence in October for abuse of power and a Kiev court has rejected her appeal against the conviction.

She has claimed the sentence was ordered by President Viktor Yanukovych and her jailing has led to a drastic deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Ukraine hopes one day to join.

In November, Lutsenko was charged with abuse of power and taking personal possession of state property and ordered not to leave Kiev.

Tymoshenko's right-hand man Oleksandr Turchynov read a message from her which said:

"The mafia has seized power in Ukraine", and urged opposition groups to unite before the elections.

Meanwhile, some 400 of Tymoshenko's supporters demonstrated outside the Kachavinska penal colony in the eastern Kharkiv region, where she is incarcerated, an AFP photographer said.

Source: AFP