KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine, threatened with a political boycott of the European soccer championship it co-hosts next month over the jailing of opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, on Tuesday put off a ruling on her appeal until the tournament is under way.
The European Union has condemned Tymoshenko’s abuse-of-office conviction last October and her seven-year prison sentence as politically motivated. It has called for her release and shelved landmark association and free trade deals with Ukraine over the issue.
European leaders are also considering a boycott of Ukraine’s part of the European football championship, which it will stage in June and July together with Poland. [ID:nL5E8GD1D7] The delay means Tymoshenko’s hearings will resume during the Euro 2012 tournament and less than a week before the July 1 final in Kiev.
Her defense lawyer criticized the ruling as an maneuver to keep Tymoshenko behind bars for as long as possible, and a doctor sent by the German government to treat her said a lack of privacy was undermining his work.
Ukraine’s Specialised Supreme Court on civil and criminal cases was to begin hearings into Tymoshenko’s appeal on Tuesday.
But state prosecutors asked the court to give them more time so they could study further information on the case and because of the absence of Tymoshenko, who this week was moved from prison into a hospital to be treated for chronic back pain.
“The prosecution’s motion is granted,” Judge Stanislav Mishchenko said, adjourning the trial until June 26.
Tymoshenko’s lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko said the aim of the move was to delay an ultimate appeal in the European Court for Human Rights.
“The authorities have decided to put off the process,” Tymoshenko’s party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) quoted him as saying on its website.
Originally seen as a way of promoting Ukraine’s ambition of joining the European mainstream, the tournament risks becoming an embarrassment to the Kiev government due to Western outrage over the Tymoshenko case.
Some European politicians have said they will stay away from Euro 2012 matches in protest, but EU foreign ministers on Monday held back from formulating a common policy on whether to boycott the event.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Tuesday condemned calls for a boycott as counterproductive. “We are deeply convinced that Cold War methods do not work in the modern world,” ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin told reporters. “Any kind of isolation of Ukraine by the West hinders the development of democracy.”
EU officials were expected to spell out the bloc’s view of possible future cooperation with Ukraine when they met Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Brussels on Tuesday.
Rising tension was illustrated by a heated exchange last week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Ukraine was a “dictatorship”, likening it to Belarus [ID:nL5E8GA9OS] in a comment that Azarov then described as “inappropriate”.
Under a deal between the German and Ukrainian governments, a doctor from Berlin-based clinic Charite is treating Tymoshenko in a state-run hospital in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
On Tuesday, the doctor, Lutz Harms, complained that constant surveillance and the decision by the state prison service to publish the schedule of Tymoshenko’s medical procedures this week undermined her treatment.
“It is hard to build relations between the doctor and the patient if you are not allowed to stay alone (with Tymoshenko),” he told reporters through an interpreter outside the hospital.
“The situation has become rather problematic because confidential treatment plans have been published by the media, a situation unimaginable in most countries... We need to see if further treatment makes any sense.”
Tymoshenko, 51, was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution that derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for presidency. She has since served twice as prime minister before losing the February 2010 election to Yanukovich.
Last October, Tymoshenko was found guilty of abusing her powers as prime minister in forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia which, according to Yanukovich’s government, has saddled Ukraine with exorbitant prices for vital energy supplies.
She denied the charges and said she was the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich, who has refused to intervene in her case before all appeal venues are exhausted.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich