Ukrainian ex-PM arrest slammed at home and abroad

Several EU member countries have expressed concern over the arrest of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko, while her supporters have started a sit-in in the center of the capital, Kiev, which they say they will keep up until she is released.

­Warsaw, as an EU chairing member, is going to seek an EU-Ukraine discussion over Yulia Tymoshenko’s arrest. Poland has called the move a “hasty and radical measure.”

German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer expressed "great concern" at Tymoshenko's arrest and said there were "doubts as to whether the investigative custody is proportionate."

"The fact that numerous members of the previous government are being investigated for abuse of office awakens a suspicion of politically motivated justice," Hoyer said in a statement as cited by the Associated Press news agency. "If this impression is strengthened further, that would be a significant hurdle to Ukraine moving closer to the European Union."

France also has doubts about the motivations for the arrest, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the events were "a cause for concern about the state of the rule of law in Ukraine."

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt went further, saying that the trial was an "embarrassing spectacle [which] does great damage to a great country," AFP news agency reports.

International human rights watchdog, Freedom House, has expressed its outrage over Yulia Tymoshenko's arrest and called for the immediate release of the opposition leader.

“We have always been of the opinion that the legal campaign against Tymoshenko represents a misuse of legal proceedings to put pressure on opposition politicians,”
David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, said. “This latest development has moved this situation from the absurd to the outrageous and reinforces the perception that the current administration is selectively prosecuting Tymoshenko as a means to silence her. For the United States and the European Union to view Ukraine as a viable partner, Ukraine must do more to show its commitment to the rule of law and put an end to such spurious proceedings.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian authorities have said they do not believe Tymoshenko’s arrest will affect the country’s EU prospects.

According to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov, Kiev expects to sign an agreement on the creation of a free trade zone with Brussels by the end of this year.   

­Russia defends gas deals

­Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring that the 2009 gas deals between Moscow and Kiev, which are at the center of Tymoshenko’s court case, were backed by all the necessary instructions from the presidents of Russia and Ukraine and signed in strict accordance with the laws of both countries, as well as international law.

The statement also stressed that the criminal proceedings against Tymoshenko "should be fair and impartial, meet all the requirements of Ukrainian legislation in providing opportunities for protection and respect for basic humanitarian rules and regulations.”

­Tymoshenko's arrest has triggered strong reaction within Ukraine itself.

Her supporters among the opposition announced their intention on Saturday to initiate an extraordinary parliamentary session to debate the former Ukrainian PM’s arrest.

”Parliament remains the only place where the opposition may, at least, present an alternative point of view on what is going on in the country and on the unprecedented illegal, undemocratic actions of the authorities,” said Nikolay Tomenko, one of the leaders of the “Batkivshchina” (“Fatherland”) party, headed by Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko’s supporters continued their sit-in in the center of Kiev which started on Friday evening. Protesters, who are being supervised by the police, are carrying banners saying “New order – the entire country has become a prison” and “Mafia reached for the wrong ones.”

They have also been rallying outside the district court where Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested during her trial on Friday during hearings into the so-called “gas case” in which she is alleged to have abused her power in connection with gas contracts during her term as prime minister in 2009.

According to the prosecution, the 50-year-old politician’s actions cost the Ukrainian state about US$200 million.