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23 Feb, 2014 00:11

Freed Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko tells Maidan to carry on the fight

Newly freed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has called on protesters not to abandon Kiev’s Independence Square, even though a deal with opposition leaders has already been signed.

"You have no right to leave Maidan...Don't stop yet,” she told rioters in an emotional speech.

Tymoshenko gave a trademark firebrand speech in front of a large crowd in central Kiev. She called for those responsible for the scores of deaths that have taken place over the past three months to be prosecuted.

"When snipers were shooting in hearts of our guys, those bullets will always hurt. If we don't prosecute, we should be ashamed,” said the former prime minister, who earlier in the day indicated that she may run for president in May.

"Until you finish this job and until we travel all the way, nobody has the right to leave," she added.

"Because nobody could do it - not other countries, nobody - could do what you have done. We've eliminated this cancer, this tumour."

Tymoshenko arrived in Kiev after being released in Kharkov on Saturday, traveling straight from the airport to Independence Square.

In 2011, the former Ukrainian PM was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power while signing the January 2009 gas contracts with Russia. A court in Kiev found Tymoshenko guilty under Part 3 of Article 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Newly freed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko speaks at Independence Square on February 22, 2014 (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

Tymoshenko has already declared that she will run in Ukraine's upcoming presidential election, local media cited her as saying when she was released. The Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has scheduled the nationwide vote for May 25.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian Rada ruled that Tymoshenko would be freed promptly, in accordance with “international duties,” ITAR-TASS quoted parliament as saying. The vote was 233 in favor of the decision.

A day earlier, 310 MPs voted to decriminalize the count under which Tymoshenko was serving her term.

Back in 2011, the court ruled that Tymoshenko exceeded her authority as prime minister of Ukraine after talks on January 19, 2009 with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It was during those talks that Tymoshenko agreed to a Ukrainian-Russian gas supply and transit deal.

According to the court, the agreement caused Ukraine's national oil and gas company, Naftogaz, to lose around US$170 million.

The court’s ruling added that Tymoshenko would not have the right to occupy certain positions in the state government for three years after the completion of her sentence. She was also ordered to pay damages.

Right after the sentence was handed down to Tymoshenko, Putin expressed confusion, adding that it was dangerous to doubt the validity of the gas contracts. Later, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he believed the criminal case against Tymoshenko was politically biased.

In May 2012, Tymoshenko began serving her sentence outside the confines of prison, at a hospital in Kharkov.

The former prime minister was one of the leaders of the pro-European Orange Revolution in 2004.

Tymoshenko's reemergence in politics is not good news for other opposition leaders, lecturer Bruno Drweski from the University of Paris told RT.

“I think there are too many leaders in the opposition, Tymoshenko will be one more. I don't see how the opposition can be united when we observe strong differences between the Maidan people and the leaders of the opposition. On that aspect, the fact Tymoshenko will be back is not good information for most opposition leaders,” he said.

Besides that, Tymoshenko's alleged connections with Moscow in the past and accusations of corruption may become an obstacle on her way to reestablishing her leadership.

In 2008, a top Ukrainian oligarch, Dmytro Firtash, spoke to the US ambassador to Ukraine describing her “as an accomplished oligarch who had made deals with Moscow,” according to a US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks.

Firtash referred to Tymoshenko's title of "gas princess" as a misnomer; he explained that Tymoshenko did make lots of money off of a corrupt, perpetual gas debt scheme during the 1990s, but she knew nothing about the gas business,” the cable read.

Video by RT Spanish correspondent Bricio Segovia shows Yulia Tymoshenko as she arrived to Kiev's Independence Square: