KIEV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian court delayed hearings on Tuesday into former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s appeal against last year’s abuse-of-office conviction, a verdict seen by many Western nations as politically motivated.
The European Union has condemned the former Soviet republic’s ruling and Tymoshenko’s seven-year prison sentence, urging her release and shelving landmark association and free trade deals with Ukraine over the issue.
European leaders are also mulling a political boycott of the European football championship which Ukraine will host in June and July together with Poland.
The delay means the hearings will resume during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament and less than a week before the July 1 final in Kiev.
Ukraine’s Specialised Supreme Court on civil and criminal cases was due to begin hearings into Tymoshenko’s appeal on Tuesday.
But state prosecutors asked the court to give them more time so they can study additional information on the case and because of the absence of Tymoshenko, who was this week moved from prison into a hospital to be treated for chronic back pain.
“The prosecution’s motion is granted,” judge Stanislav Mishchenko said, adjourning the trial until June 26.
Originally seen as a way of promoting Ukraine’s ambition of joining the European mainstream, the tournament risks becoming an embarrassment to the Kiev government due to Western outrage over the Tymoshenko case.
Some European politicians have said they will stay away from Euro 2012 matches in protest, but EU foreign ministers on Monday held back from formulating a common policy on whether to boycott the event.
EU officials were expected to spell out the bloc’s view of possible future cooperation with Ukraine when they met Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Brussels on Tuesday.
Rising tension was illustrated by a heated exchange last week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Ukraine was a “dictatorship”, likening it to Belarus in a comment that Azarov then described as “inappropriate”.
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry once again condemned calls for a boycott as counterproductive.
“We are deeply convinced that Cold War methods do not work in the modern world,” ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin told reporters. “Any kind of isolation of Ukraine by the West hinders the development of democracy.”
Tymoshenko, 51, was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution which derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for presidency. She has since served twice as prime minister before losing the February 2010 election to Yanukovich.
Last October, Tymoshenko was found guilty of abusing her powers as prime minister in forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia which, according to Yanukovich’s government, has saddled Ukraine with exorbitant prices for vital energy supplies.
She denied the charges and said she was the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich who has refused to intervene in her case before all appeal venues are exhausted.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk