Backers of Ukraine ex-PM to rally at court

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2011 12:54 PM
Backers of Ukraine ex-PM to rally at court

KIEV (Reuters) - The party of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said it expected to see thousands of her supporters rally on Tuesday in front of the court where she is likely to be sentenced after standing trial on abuse-of-office charges.

The trial of Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yanukovich's fiercest rival, has polarized Ukrainian society and cast doubts over Ukraine's plans to sign a political association agreement with the European Union.

Oleksander Turchinov, deputy head of Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, called on its faithful to gather near the court in central Kiev on Tuesday morning.

"I hope to see many thousands of patriots tomorrow," he told reporters. "They have no legal grounds for announcing anything other than a not-guilty verdict for Tymoshenko. When they cross that border, we will react accordingly."

Judge Rodion Kireyev, who adjourned the trial last month until October 11, is widely expected to deliver a verdict once it resumes, although he could announce a further delay.

Tymoshenko is accused of exceeding her powers by ordering state energy firm Naftogaz to sign a 2009 gas deal with Russia's Gazprom, which the Yanukovich government says went against Ukraine's interests.

She has denied any wrongdoing and said the case was part of political vendetta by Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in the 2010 presidential election.

EU CONCERNS

EU diplomats have warned Ukraine that planned bilateral agreements on political association and free trade may never be ratified if Tymoshenko ends up in jail or is barred from running for office before the 2012 parliamentary election.

The bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated European concerns over the trial on Monday and warned about the prospects for forging closer ties between the EU and Ukraine.

"Ministers expressed great concern about the upcoming verdict," she told reporters after meeting foreign ministers of EU member states in Luxembourg for a regular policy discussion.

"We are not optimistic about this trial. Our impression remains (that it amounts to) selective application of justice. We also touched on the fact that we are in the final stage of negotiations on the association agreement with Ukraine and we need to assess of course the impact of the verdict on that."

EU diplomats have proposed "decriminalizing" Tymoshenko's alleged offence -- reclassifying it as administrative rather than criminal.

The Ukrainian parliament is considering a draft law that would decriminalize offences similar to those that Tymoshenko is accused of. But it has so far refused to add a clause that would be relevant to her case.

Tymoshenko, 50, a powerful orator, was a leader of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" that doomed Yanukovich's first bid for presidency. She has since held the post of prime minister twice and remains one of the leading Ukrainian politicians.

(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Luxembourg; Reporting by Yuri Kulikov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)