Merkel links Ukraine soccer trip to Tymoshenko: aide

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 30, 2012 9:48 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Any visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ukraine during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament in June is linked to the fate of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a government spokesman said on Monday.

The jailing of Tymoshenko, arch rival of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich, on an abuse-of-office conviction has badly strained relations between the former Soviet republic and the European Union, which sees the move as politically motivated.

Asked if Merkel planned to visit Ukraine during the June 8-July 1 championship it is co-hosting with Poland, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said: "There are no concrete travel plans yet."

"Any travel plan is conditional on the fate of Ms Tymoshenko and is conditional on the rule of law in Ukraine."

In its latest edition, German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel weekly said Merkel would not visit Ukraine if Tymoshenko was still in jail at the start of the soccer tournament.

Merkel usually travels to attend important matches involving the German national team.

Germany, the EU's most populous member state and its biggest economy, has been particularly critical of Kiev over the Tymoshenko case and has offered to treat her for a chronic back problem in a Berlin hospital.

Last week German President Joachim Gauck, a former East German human rights activist, cancelled plans to attend a gathering of central European heads of state in the Ukrainian Black Sea resort of Yalta over the Tymoshenko case.

German and other European politicians stepped up their pressure on Ukraine after Tymoshenko claimed she was beaten by prison guards this month, an accusation denied by the authorities who have ordered an investigation.

(Reporting by Thorsten Severin; Writing by Gareth Jones)