German president scraps Ukraine trip over Tymoshenko

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2012 4:14 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - German President Joachim Gauck has cancelled a planned visit to Ukraine next month, a spokesman said, amid growing concerns over the health and treatment of jailed former Ukrainian prime minister Julia Tymoshenko.

Germany has been particularly critical of Ukraine over the Tymoshenko case, which has badly strained relations between the former Soviet republic and the 27-nation European Union that it aspires to join.

Berlin has offered to treat Tymoshenko, who suffers from acute back pain, in a German hospital, an offer it repeated on Wednesday. It also expressed concern over reports that prison guards beat her during her recent forced move to hospital.

Gauck, a former human rights activist from communist East Germany, had been due to attend a gathering of central European heads of state in the Black Sea resort of Yalta in mid-May.

"The president will not now visit Ukraine," a spokesman said.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said Gauck, whose role is largely ceremonial, took the decision after consulting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tymoshenko, 51, has been on hunger strike since last Friday when she said she was assaulted by the guards. Prison authorities have said she may be force-fed.

Tymoshenko, the main political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich, is serving a seven-year prison term in the city of Kharkiv following an abuse-of-office conviction described by many in Europe as politically motivated.

Despite Germany's strongly critical stance on the Tymoshenko case, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle this week ruled out a boycott of the European soccer championship that Ukraine is due to co-host with its EU neighbor Poland this summer.

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Noah Barkin)