Ukraine adjourns Tymoshenko trial amid protests
KHARKIV, Ukraine - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoUkraine readjourned the trial of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday as pressure mounted on the Euro 2012 co-host to drop the controversial case.
The presiding judge set the next hearing for July 10 -- more than a week after the final this weekend of European football's premier international event, when Ukraine will be under less international scrutiny. Several thousand of Tymoshenko's supporters and foes held rival rallies outside the courtroom in the eastern city of Kharkiv where the fiery opposition leader is standing trial on fresh tax evasion charges while serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power.
"Freedom for Yulia", Tymoshenko's supporters chanted while those on the other side of a line of riot police held up signs saying "The country suffered and she just kept talking" in reference to her 2007-2010 term as premier.
Tymoshenko herself was absent from the hearing -- this one focused on her tax dealings dating back to the 1990s -- after being allowed to continue recuperating in a Kharkiv hospital from her persistent back problems.
The court on Monday agreed with a prosecution request to order Tymoshenko to undergo a health examination by authorised doctors who could determine her actual fitness to stand trial.
Tymoshenko has refused medical care from Ukrainian doctors and her treatment is being overseen by doctors from Germany. The ruling threatens to create another confrontation following her earlier claim of being beaten by guards who tried taking her to a state-mandated clinic.
EU states for their part were formally represented in court by former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski and Ireland's one-time European Parliament leader Pat Cox.
They had both visited Tymoshenko in hospital on Sunday, the latest in a host of European dignitaries to go through the gates of a small clinic run by the Ukrainian railways. The case of the 51-year-old 2004 Orange Revolution leader has set Ukraine on a collision course with the European Union that has delayed the signature of an agreement that could pave the way for Kiev's future membership in the bloc.
EU leaders support Tymoshenko's claims that her prosecution is a part of the current authorities' vendetta and some have boycotted football matches that Ukraine is hosting in four cities -- including Kharkiv -- alongside Poland.
The two Euro 2012 semi-finals will be played Wednesday and Thursday while the final will be held in Kiev on Sunday.
The latest hearings began in April and have already been adjourned twice on account of Tymoshenko's health.
A two-metre (seven-foot) glass wall was set up inside the courtroom that enclosed a special space for Tymoshenko with a chair and table and even some potted plants in case of her future attendance.
Officials had initially ordered her presence before changing their mind on Sunday facing the prospect of protests from both her Ukrainian supporters and the West.
But Tymoshenko will also be in the news on Tuesday when a judge hears her appeal against last year's abuse-of-power conviction.