EU leaders shun Ukraine over Tymoshenko case
(KIEV) - Ukraine faced growing isolation Monday as five presidents and an EU chief voiced plans to miss a summit and the Euro 2012 football tournament over its treatment of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko.
Ukraine immediately denounced the Euro threat as "artificial manipulation" while calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel's reported plans to boycott the games a Cold War-era tactic that could only backfire.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry said the presidents of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovenia had already informed Kiev of their plans to miss a May 11-12 Yalta meeting of Central and Eastern European presidents.
He added that Estonia's president was also unlikely to attend.
"We are informing everyone of this ahead of time so that no one makes a sensation out of it," spokesman Oleg Voloshyn told Interfax-Ukraine.
Ukraine has bristled at suggestions it was either mistreating the former 2004 Orange Revolution leader -- controversially jailed for seven years in October on disputed charges -- or facing any serious pressure over her case.
Yet Kiev faced the threat of receiving a much bigger diplomatic snub as an increasing number of leaders questioned their attendance at any of the football matches Ukraine will be co-hosting with Poland starting on June 8.
The event is the biggest in its post-Soviet history and Ukraine had hoped to use the Euro 2012 to showcase a nation of around 46 million people that dreams of closer European ties.
But Tymoshenko's trial and subsequent jailing have cast a long shadow over the matches.
The fiery 51-year-old has launched a hunger strike to protest an alleged beating she received on April 20 and has helped her supporters release pictures showing two large bruises on her abdomen.
And a new trial for alleged tax evasion that was recently adjourned until May 21 may also extend her stay in jail until 2023.
Tymoshenko's prosecution has been closely followed by EU leaders from the start and last year resulted in the delay of a trade agreement that would have opened the door to Ukraine's eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.
Several German media reports suggested that Merkel was now on the verge of skipping the two games her team plays in Ukraine in the opening stages of Euro 2012 and could soon advise her ministers to do the same.
And a spokesman for the European Commission president said Jose Manuel Barroso had "no intention" of travelling to Ukraine or taking part in events there when the Euro is being played.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann have both also refused to attend games in Ukraine because of Tymoshenko's treatment.
Foreign ministry spokesman Voloshyn called the threats and decisions "nothing but artificial manipulation."
Voloshyn stressed that Ukraine had not yet formally extended invitations to any EU leaders and argued that "the boycott would touch not the Ukrainian authorities but the football championship".
He said Ukraine hoped that Merkel in particular was not "capable of reviving the methods of the Cold War and making sport a hostage of politics."
Tit-for-tat Eastern and Western boycotts by both athletes and delegations marred such high-profile Cold War events as the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
"If Chancellor Merkel and other German politicians fail to come to Kharkiv where their team is playing, she will be boycotting not (President Viktor) Yanukovych but her own national team," Voloshyn told AFP.
The controversy around Tymoshenko escalated last week when her supporters released photographs showing two large stomach bruises they said confirmed the prison beating claims.
Ukrainian authorities have since issued contradictory explanations for the clearly visible marks.
A top prosecutor's office representative said doctors now believe the bruises developed after Tymoshenko herself "bumped into a blunt hard object".
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