Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ailing Tymoshenko Absent As Ukraine Hears Appeal

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court on Thursday started hearing an appeal against the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for seven years but with the prisoner absent amid growing alarm over her state of health.
The Kiev court of appeal opened an initial hearing into the appeal lodged by her lawyers against the jailing of the 51-year-old opposition leader which has endangered Ukraine's chances of joining the European Union.

"The condemned was not brought to the tribunal. Yulia Volodymyrovna gave notice that she could not take part in the process for health reasons," said judge Olena Sitailo as she opened the hearing.

The defence immediately called for the judge to be replaced, saying she had been appointed to handle the case in an opaque manner and her objectivity could not be trusted.

However the motion was swiftly thrown out by the judge.

Tensions were high before the hearing got under way with pro-Tymoshenko MPs scuffling in the yard of the court with members of the elite Berkut anti-riot police who initially refused them entry.

They were eventually allowed in.

Media were kept out of the courtroom itself but were able to follow events in a live transfer laid on in a neighbouring hall.

The judge ruled that the appeal could carry on in Tymoshenko's absence and the defence also put in a new motion asking for her to be freed on health grounds.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail on October 11 for abuse of authority for agreeing gas contracts with Russia in 2009, a verdict the EU said was politically motivated.

She has insisted that her prosecution was ordered by her arch-foe President Viktor Yanukovych, who defeated her and other leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution in the 2010 presidential election.

Tymoshenko's lawyers have said she is suffering from severe back pain and is unable to walk.

They have also said there is reason to believe she has heart trouble.

After an intervention from Yanukovych, she was allowed a medical check at a clinic outside prison and the prison authorities have also transferred her to the medical wing of the prison for treatment.

Her former deputy prime minister and right-hand-man Olexander Turchinov told reporters that the medical results had been shown to doctors who believed they showed "she should be urgently hospitalised as her life is in danger."

"I am not a doctor," he added.

"But Yulia Tymoshenko has not got out of bed for four weeks and she cannot walk unassisted."

Tymoshenko's supporters initially hoped she could be free by the New Year amid EU calls for her release but these expectations have been drastically scaled back in the last weeks.

Ukraine has now charged Tymoshenko in a separate case with embezzlement and tax evasion while she headed energy firm United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU) in the chaotic 1990s.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin has repeatedly said there is evidence implicating Tymoshenko in the notorious contract killing of Ukrainian deputy Yevgen Shcherban in 1996.

The furore coincides with the build-up to Ukraine's joint hosting with Poland of the Euro 2012 football championships, the biggest event it has held since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine will be in the spotlight at the draw for the event which is due to take place on Friday.

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