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11 Oct, 2011 06:31

Ukrainian ex-PM Tymoshenko jailed for seven years

A court in Kiev has sentenced Ukraine's ex-prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to seven years in prison for an abuse of her office. Her supporters and opponents have taken to the streets, raising fears that violence could break out.

Immediately after the verdict was pronounced, Yulia Tymoshenko condemned the decision.  “I do not agree with the verdict,” said Tymoshenko.  “No authoritarian regime or its verdict will stop me. The trial showed that the Constitution and justice have been trampled underfoot. I urge you to begin the struggle. It's a very difficult and important moment. We have to protect Ukraine against the authoritarian regime. Don't give up!”Yulia Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Yury Sukhov, said the verdict would be appealed. “It is absurd, and the court’s decision should be reversed.”The court ruled that Tymoshenko had overstepped her authority in 2009 by signing a gas contract with Russia which the current government says was unfavorable to Ukraine. It wants the terms reviewed.Judge Rodion Kireev, the court's chairman, said Yulia Tymoshenko had caused nearly US $200 million of damage to national energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy by signing the 2009 gas agreements. Now the former head of the Ukrainian government will have to repay the losses, the court ruled.“The court has found no circumstances pending to aggravation or mitigation of the punishment and has taken into account the serious harm to the public interests Tymoshenko caused, her personality and lack of any repentance, which led the court to see no reason to issue a milder punishment,” the judge said.Tymoshenko insists, however, that she is the victim of a political revenge by Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich. Now the opposition leader is likely to have to skip the upcoming parliamentary election in 2012 and the presidential election in 2015.Yulia Tymoshenko was ushered out of the courtroom after the sentence was pronounced. She was not wearing handcuffs, and waved to everyone present in the court room as she left.Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed bewilderment at the verdict.“I do not really understand what Tymoshenko has been jailed for seven years for,” Putin told Russian journalists. He stressed that all gas deals signed between Russia and Ukraine strictly adhere to Russian and Ukrainian laws and international standards. “Tymoshenko herself did not sign anything. All the contracts were signed between Gazprom and Naftogaz,” Putin added.

Tension rising in Kiev

The judge began pronouncing the verdict on Tuesday morning. Two Ukrainian TV channels are broadcasting live from the courtroom. Only journalists and people directly involved in the trial were being allowed access to the court.Meanwhile pro- and anti-Tymoshenko crowds gathered in front of the court building. Some 1,000 police officers are guarding the area to prevent possible clashes.The 2,000-strong crowd is made up of roughly equal numbers of supporters and opponents of Tymoshenko. Police have cordoned off the two groups from each other.

Police have stopped activists from blocking traffic in the city. Some reports say several people have been detained after clashing with police.Several MPs from Tymoshenko’s party tried to storm the courtroom, but bailiffs stopped them.The reaction of the crowd outside the court to the verdict was “rather calm,” RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky reported.  People there said they would continue their non-violent struggle for freedom and would picket the streets of Kiev and other cities in order to get their voices heard.

Defendant: verdict politically-motivated and irrelevant

Ukraine's ex-prime minister said the verdict would not damage her.“Nobody in the world or in Ukraine believes in the alleged crimes stated here. That is why neither Yanukovich nor Kireev can mar my good name,” she said during a short break in the proceedings.She added: “I have worked for Ukraine’s good, I still work for it and I will continue to work for it.”

The former PM also lashed out at her presidential rival.“Today’s politically-motivated trial orchestrated by Yanukovich shows his weakness as the president, the weakness of this authority. They are afraid, and is it that fear which results in such verdicts,” she said.Yulia Tymoshenko’s political allies say they will do everything to overrule the verdict.“The trial was obviously loaded to find her guilty, so we have several options for action now,” said parliamentary vice-speaker, Nikolay Tomenko. “In parliament, we will submit amendments from the opposition, which will render void the incriminating articles of the law. We will also challenge the verdict in Ukrainian and European courts of law.”However, political analyst Igor Khokhlov has told RT he believes the sentence is unlikely to be changed.“I guess there is no hope the sentence is going to be changed given the situation in Ukrainian politics, because Viktor Yanukovich has for a long time seen Yulia Tymoshenko as his major opponent and actually Yulia Tymoshenko was the person who did not let him win the presidential elections 2004, when Viktor Yushchenko became president there,” Khokhlov said. He agrees the case has nothing to do with economics or crime, and says there are political motives behind the verdict.

Tymoshenko has been in custody since a judge ordered her to be arrested for contempt of court more than two months ago.The move sparked mass protests in Ukraine's capital, Kiev. Police clashed with her supporters, who set up camp outside the court where the hearings are taking place.