KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine, co-hosts of the Euro 2012 football championship, shrugged off a match boycott by a number of European politicians on Tuesday and said it expected even more foreign fans than before.
The European Union sharply criticised the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich, on abuse-of-office charges last October and has shelved an association agreement with Kiev over the issue.
An allegation by Tymoshenko that prison guards had beaten her in April - denied by the authorities - prompted further outrage in the West and many European leaders have said they would not attend the championship games in Ukraine.
But Borys Kolesnikov, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the tournament, said the absence of senior politicians was not deterring foreign fans from visiting.
“I have attended many world cups and European championships and I’ve never seen high-ranking politicians at group games,” he said.
“Attending a national team game is an opportunity but not an obligation for any politician.”
Kolesnikov said the government now expected up to 1.2 million foreign fans to visit Ukraine, up from the earlier estimates of 800,000 to 1 million.
“The situation (with fans arriving) will only improve,” he said. “All the hotels in Ukraine are 99.9 percent full.”
Germany, France and Britain have led the boycott over the treatment of Tymoshenko, who is now being treated for chronic back problems in a clinic in the city of Kharkiv, one of the Euro venues.
A court looking into her appeal against the verdict and the seven-year sentence will restart hearings on June 26.
Ukrainian officials have said the pressure over Tymoshenko will have no impact on how the authorities treat her case.
Tymoshenko herself on Tuesday congratulated the national team on beating Sweden in their first Group A match a day earlier.
“...Such victories are what we have been missing for a long time,” she said. “I am proud of our footballers.”
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Ken Ferris