Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday survived an attempt by prosecutors to have her jailed during her trial, but the request signaled growing pressure on the defiant opposition leader.
Judge Rodion Kireyev rejected the prosecutors' motion, although he warned Tymoshenko that she risks punishment if she continues to disrupt the court as it hears the abuse-of-office charges against her.
Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, has criticized the trial as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from elections. She has refused, as required, to stand up while addressing the judge, and her supporters have repeatedly disrupted hearings.
Even though the judge sided with her, Tymoshenko continued to insult him and question his objectivity. "Clearly, Kireyev is not the director (of the trial) and somewhere deep down in his soul he may be innocent," she tweeted from the courtroom. "Bedbugs, for instance, are also innocent. They need food and a career."
Prosecutor Liliya Frolova had argued that Tymoshenko's behavior in the courtroom "prevents the establishment of the truth" and asked for her to be put in custody.
A nervous-looking Kireyev read out his decision in a barely audible voice. While agreeing that Tymoshenko's actions were disrespectful and disruptive, he said the court has not yet exhausted other legal methods to maintain order in the courtroom.
But the chaos continued there Wednesday. One of Tymoshenko's supporters, a national lawmaker, shouted complaints and Kireyev ordered him out.
Tymoshenko was the central figure in the 2004 mass protests dubbed the Orange Revolution that brought a pro-Western government to power in Ukraine. She became prime minister, but Ukrainians grew frustrated by economic hardships, slow reforms and endless bickering in the Orange camp, and she lost to Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.
The 50-year-old opposition leader is charged with abusing her powers by signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim was disadvantageous for Ukraine. Tymoshenko says the contract ended weeks of natural gas disruptions to Ukrainian and European consumers and that she was authorized to sign the deal as prime minister.
Many Tymoshenko allies also have faced charges recently, which she describes as part of the government's efforts to weaken the opposition.
Her former economics minister, who faced corruption allegations over the reconstruction of Kiev's airport, was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic in January.
A former interior minister has been in jail for six months on charges that he defrauded the government when he paid his driver illegal bonuses.
The United States and the European Union have criticized as political persecution the Tymoshenko trial and other corruption probes involving her and her top allies.