By Richard Balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko used a pre-trial hearing on Friday to allege President Viktor Yanukovich was behind a crooked court action that was certain to convict her of abuse of power.
The case involving Tymoshenko, twice prime minister and now in opposition, has raised concerns among Western governments over Yanukovich's commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
Hemmed in by TV cameraman and journalists in the tiny Kiev courtroom, the 50-year-old Tymoshenko called on all her oratorical skills as she denounced the hearing as an arranged "farce" and told the judge he was a Yanukovich "puppet."
"At such an important moment for Ukraine, I do not want in that chair a judge like you. I am throwing down this objection to you because I consider you a puppet of the presidential administration," she told judge Rodion Kyreyev.
Kyreyev at times appeared harassed by the barrage from Tymoshenko who has been charged over a 2009 gas supply agreement with Russia when she was prime minister. He twice over-ruled Tymoshenko's calls for him to be replaced by another judge.
However, it was Yanukovich, who defeated her in a bitter fight for the presidency in February 2010, who was her main target.
Outside the court she told reporters: "This mock trial was organised and served up by Viktor Yanukovich. Nobody has any doubts that the courts and the state prosecution are in private hands and there will be no justice."
The hearing was adjourned until Saturday.
Yushchenko was president with Tymoshenko as prime minister but the two fell out over style and policy. Tymoshenko complained of political persecution to the European Court of Human Rights ahead of the trial.
Though Western governments have not come down publicly on her side, diplomats say visiting EU politicians have told the Yanukovich leadership that they are concerned over the possible use of "selective justice" in Ukraine.
With her trademark peasant-style hair braid and combative manner, she is still popular across Ukraine and she brought several hundreds of supporters out in central Kiev on Friday.
The hearing was called to decide whether to send Tymoshenko for trial for abuse of power over the 2009 gas supply agreement. The prosecution alleges that she, without consulting her government, forced the the-head of Naftogaz to sign the gas deal with Russia's Gazprom. She denies this.
Her main lawyer, Sergiy Vlasenko, argued there was no real proof of wrong-doing and he called for the case against Tymoshenko to be dropped.
The gas supply agreement ended a stand-off between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbor over the pricing of Russian gas which had led to supplies being cut off to Western Europe. It has since been denounced by the Yanukovich leadership as a sell-out, though Kiev is continuing to observe it.
Tymoshenko became known as the "gas princess" in the late 1990s as owner of a company which bought and sold Russian gas.
Since losing to Yanukovich, she has failed to unify the opposition around her.
Supporters who massed in central Kiev carried slogans that read: "We will defend Ukraine! Down with puppet courts! We are for Yulia, for Ukraine!.
Tymoshenko served as prime minister for two terms, following street disturbances called the Orange Revolution in 2004 which doomed Yanukovich's first attempt to secure the presidency.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Jon Boyle)