Sunday, 10 March 2013

Tymoshenko Defender Stripped Of MP Status

KIEV, Ukraine -- A key member of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's defense team was stripped of his parliamentary seat on Wednesday after a court ruled he had illegally combined his lawmaker and attorney duties. Serhiy Vlasenko becomes the fourth Ukrainian lawmaker stripped of his parliamentary mandate over the past several weeks and four months after parliamentary elections. The development is seen as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to weaken opposition in Parliament as he apparently prepares to stage his reelection in March 2015. The ruling against Vlasenko also weakens legal defense of Tymoshenko as she is facing life in prison at a trial for her alleged role in the murder of a politician in 1996. Tymoshenko, who was jailed to seven years in prison in October 2011 for pushing through a controversial natural gas agreement with Russia, denied any involvement in the murder. She said both cases are politically motivated. Although legislation in Ukraine bans combining the work in Parliament with lawyer practice, Vlasenko said he had recently asked to end his lawyer license. He said he helped Tymoshenko’s team as civil defender, not as a lawyer, and he was not paid for his help. Five judges of the court that opposition lawmakers claim are controlled by the presidential administration, rejected Vlasenko’s explanations and ruled to strip him of the mandate. The ruling is likely to be criticized by the European Union and by the United States that see the case as the latest example of selective justice in Ukraine. The development may undermine Ukraine’s chances of signing a political association and free trade agreement with the EU at a planned summit in November in Vilnius. EU leaders last week gave Yanukovych time until the end of May to show progress in eliminating cases of selective justice in order to open the possibility for signing the agreement. “The EU leaders asked Yanukovych to give them a clear signal by the end of May,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a political correspondent of Ukrayinska Pravda, said. “Yanukovych did everything faster – he gave them a signal by the end of March.” Opposition groups on Wednesday pledged to fight the ruling and announced plans of blocking a podium in Parliament on Thursday that will effectively suspend the work of Parliament. “The Parliament will be blocked,” Volodymyr Bondarenko, a member of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said. “We will continue to block Parliament, which today is losing any importance.” Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna group, accused Yanukovych of ordering the trial and the ruling that had ousted Vlasenko of his lawmaker status. “The goal of this ruling is systemic destruction of the Ukrainian opposition,” Yatseniuk said. “Yanukovych is the one who has ordered this ruling.” He said the government may use the court against to strike against any lawmaker in Parliament. “Tomorrow, these five men [judges of the Supreme Administrative Court] will approve any decision and will oust any lawmaker,” Yatseniuk said. But Yatseniuk also warned Yanukovych that the continued pressure will trigger a massive response from the opposition and even popular revolution that could end Yanukovych’s rule in a violent way, just like in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Libya. “This will not continue forever,” Yatseniuk said. “I will tell Yanukovych facts from the newest history in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Libya and a number of other countries.”

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