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Divided Ukraine awaits Tymoshenko appeal ruling

29 august 2012, 17:22
Yulia Tymoshenko. ©RIA Novosti
Yulia Tymoshenko. ©RIA Novosti
Ukraine's high court rules Wednesday on former premier Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal against her seven-year jailing on charges the West views as President Viktor Yanukovych's political revenge, AFP reports.

The 2004 Orange Revolution leader's lawyers expect the ex-Soviet state's court to uphold the 51-year-old's conviction on abuse of power charges stemming from an expensive gas deal she struck with Russia in 2009.

A lower court rejected the appeal on December 23.

An appeal rejection would mark the end of Tymoshenko's legal recourse in Ukraine and finally clear the way for her to take her full case to the European Court of Human Rights -- a move the defence had been kept from making by months of judicial process delays.

The Strasbourg court opened hearings on Tuesday into whether Tymoshenko's pre-trial detention was political motivated and her prison conditions had violated her basic rights.

Her probe was launched shortly after Yanukovych narrowly beat his rival in a bitter 2010 presidential ballot whose outcome Tymoshenko -- backed by Ukrainian nationalists who seek closer EU ties -- initially refused to accept.

But the European court has no legal authority to rule on the merits of the conviction itself until all legal avenues have been exhausted in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko's defence said it expected victory in Strasbourg but continued resistance to Western pressure inside Ukraine itself.

"I am certain that the European Court will recognise that Yulia Tymoshenko was a victim of political persecution and agree on all the other points as well," her lawyer Sergiy Vlasenko said ahead of the Strasbourg hearing.

"If Viktor Yanukovych has even a shred of decency remaining, he should immediately... issue orders for his courts to release Tymoshenko," said the lawyer.

The fiery and divisive figure's case -- viewed with increasing dispassion by Ukrainians who have grown tired of their leaders' incessant internal squabbles -- has been watched closely by both the European Union and Washington.

EU leaders have made the release of Tymoshenko and her other jailed allies a condition for Ukraine being given preliminary backing to eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.

A more relaxed trade deal that would have offered incentives for such membership was withdrawn from Ukraine after Tymoshenko's October conviction.

Several European leaders and EU officials have also expressed their anger by skipping the football matches Ukraine co-hosted with Poland during this summer's European Championship.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her part has pronounced herself "deeply concerned by the treatment" of Ukraine's main opposition figure.

Yanukovych rejects his Western critics as biased and defends the case as part of a legitimate campaign against the type of corruption that has embroiled governments for most of Ukraine's recent past.

He has also spent recent months cautiously courting Russia -- a worrying shift for EU officials who are hoping to dislodge Kiev from Moscow's embrace.

Ukraine is dependent on Russian gas for its energy and has seen its previous overtures with the West interrupted by the types of delivery crises that Tymoshenko was trying to solve in 2009.

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