The judge presiding over former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's trial unexpectedly postponed hearings Monday for a two-week period, following renewed pressure from the United States and the European Union.
Tymoshenko, 50, the former Soviet nation's top opposition figure, stands accused of abuse of office when signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. Prosecutors say she violated legal procedures when the deal was signed.
Judge Rodion Kireyev's decision to suspend hearings marks a contrast with how the trial has been rushed over the past two months, drawing complaints from Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko, who was jailed during the trial early last month on charges of contempt of court, maintains her innocence. She says the trial has been orchestrated by President Viktor Yanukovych to keep her out of political life.
Although a deeply divisive figure in Ukraine, Tymoshenko retains a substantial following and was only narrowly defeated by Yanukovych in last year's presidential election.
The United States and the European Union have criticized the trial as politically motivated.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton together with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent Yanukovych a letter regarding the Tymoshenko trial Friday, according to an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. He would not discuss the content of the letter and Yanukovych's office declined to comment.
The judge's handling of the trial has drawn vocal criticism from Tymoshenko supporters. Her lawyers said the hasty conduct of the trial denied them sufficient time to prepare for the case.
The trial was due to enter its final stage Monday with the prosecution and Tymoshenko's team presenting their closing arguments. Tymoshenko had said she expected a verdict to be passed this week.
She said Monday that postponement of the trial suggested the prosecution's case had run into trouble.
"This demonstrates that the case has fallen apart," Tymoshenko said in court.
Some experts have also speculated the trial may have been postponed to avoid embarrassment ahead of Yanukovych's trip to the United Nations General Assembly next week.
Raf Casert contributed to this report from Brussels.