| KIEV, June 9
KIEV, June 9 Denmark and the Netherlands
increased pressure on Ukraine to improve its human rights record
at the Euro 2012 soccer finals on Saturday by meeting victims of
alleged police torture in the city where opposition leader Yulia
Tymoshenko is jailed.
The two European Union states' sports ministers held three
hours of talks on police brutality, homophobia and the need for
an independent judiciary in the eastern city of Kharkiv before
their nations met in a Group B match.
"Our role in the European Union is to push for change by the
politicians in the country. The people I have spoken to today
show that you can be randomly arrested and tortured," Dutch
Health and Sports Minister Edith Schippers told Reuters.
"That is not a sign of a civil law state that wants to be
part of the EU," she said by telephone after the talks.
Participants said the ministers did not discuss Tymoshenko's
case, which has prompted politicians from several EU states to
boycott matches being held in Ukraine during the month-long
tournament which it is co-hosting with Poland.
But the talks put the spotlight on issues that could further
damage Ukraine's image and dent President Viktor Yanukovich's
hopes that hosting the finals will boost its chances of joining
the 27-state EU, Europe's elite democratic club.
Government officials were not immediately available for
comment but are already reeling from bad publicity over
Tymoshenko's case and allegations of racism in the build-up to
the tournament gathering the pick of Europe's national teams.
Germany, France and Britain have led the boycott over the
treatment of Tymoshenko, a former prime minister sentenced to
seven years in prison last October for abuse of office.
She is now being treated in a Kharkiv clinic for chronic
back problems and says she was physically manhandled by prison
guards in April, a charge which prison authorities deny.
Despite the unofficial boycott, Danish Sports and Culture
Minister Uffe Elbaek said he could best help human rights
activists in the former Communist state by visiting them.
"I feel I can help active human rights organisations in
Ukraine by meeting them," Ukrainian media quoted Elbaek as
saying before his visit.
"The second reason (for the visit) is that sport should not
be mixed with political conflicts and politics should not be
mixed with sport."
Tanya Mazur, Amnesty International's Ukraine director, said
the talks covered police brutality, corruption and impunity,
and that she had asked for help to ensure an independent body is
set up as planned to investigate alleged police crimes.
She was accompanied at the talks by two victims of alleged
police torture, and said the ministers had also discussed draft
legislation in Ukraine that would make it illegal to be openly
gay or lesbian in public.
"It was a really good opportunity for us because the
Ukrainian government is very sensitive to any statements from
the EU. We hope there will be follow-up," Mazur said by
telephone after the talks.
"There's no understanding here of LBGT (lesbian, bisexual,
gay, transgender) in society, government and parliament. It's
really not good," she said.
Ukrainian officials have said the pressure over Tymoshenko
will have no impact on how the authorities treat her case.
Supporters of the former prime minister who have been
outside the Kharkiv clinic since she was taken there say they
will stay as long as she is there.
"We are with her, heart and soul, and she is with us," said
60-year-old nurse Olga Darvits.
Teacher Lyudmila Rostovskaya, also 60, said: "We support her
and love her, and hope she will be our president."
(Additional reporting by Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam; Editing
by Jon Hemming)