Ukraine says ready for Euros despite ex-PM furore
(KIEV) - Ukraine on Wednesday insisted it was on track to host Euro 2012 football despite a growing number of EU politicians pledging to boycott the event in protest at Kiev's treatment of a former prime minister.
Austria announced that no member of its government will be attending games in Ukraine in a gesture of solidarity with the jailed Yulia Tymoshenko, a day after European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said he has "no intention" of travelling to the country.
Media reports said Germany was considering a similar move, while the country's Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would decide at the last minute.
"UEFA (Europe's football body) has made no serious criticism about Ukraine," Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov told AFP in a telephone interview.
"The tournament is ready and on May 11 we will be transferring the control of the four stadia to UEFA," he added, declining to comment specifically on the boycott threats.
Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October on charges of abuse of power while in office, after a trial that was bitterly criticised by the West as appearing politically motivated.
The controversy has intensified in recent weeks as the countdown begins to the championships, with Tymoshenko now in the 13th day of a hunger strike and claiming to have been beaten by guards at her prison in Kharkiv.
Poland, the co-host of the tournament, came out in strong support of Ukraine late Wednesday.
"In my opinion, calls for a boycott are completely inappropriate in terms of the current situation in Ukraine," President Bronislaw Komorowski told Poland's public broadcaster TVP1.
"The Olympic games were boycotted only twice in history -- in Moscow and Beijing," Komorowski added, referring to the decision by some Western nations to shun the 1980 games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and similar concerns at the 2008 games sparked by China's crackdown on Tibetan rights protestors.
"This was done in the context of the war Russia declared on Afghanistan and the bloody suppression of Tibetan freedom seekers -- blood was spilt, there were mass arrests, jailings," noted Komorowski, himself a Polish communist-era dissident.
"This isn't the situation in Ukraine," he said, adding, "We're all well aware of it, so there must be some other kinds of calculations at play."
Some EU member state MPs have even suggested that Ukraine should be stripped of the right to hold the championships and media reports in Spain said it could be held there.
Ukraine's parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn angrily dismissed the idea.
"The Euro 2012 is to be held in Ukraine and Poland. Full stop. Or an exclamation mark if you like," he said, quoted by the parliament press service.
President Viktor Yanukovych insists he has nothing to do with the prosecution of Tymoshenko but the former leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution accuses him of pursuing a political vendetta against her.
As well as the risk of a political boycott of the Euro football, Yanukovych is to endure the absence of at least seven EU leaders at a Central European summit he is hosting in the southern resort of Yalta this month.
Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic became the latest EU leader Wednesday to announce he was not attending.
Meanwhile Merkel said she will decide whether to boycott Euro 2012 at the last minute.
"I always decide on such things at short notice," Merkel told the regional newspaper Koelner Stadt Anzeiger in its Thursday edition, adding that state of law in Ukraine was a "cause for concern".
Nevertheless, Germany, which has led EU concern over the Tymoshenko case, warned that Ukraine's treatment of its ex-premier could block a partnership deal and urged Kiev to respect human rights.
"The Ukrainian government must know: The path to Europe crosses a bridge which stands on two pillars: democracy and rule of law," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the mass-circulation newspaper Bild.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule warned on Wednesday that Ukraine would be under the microscope during the championships.
"The Euro Cup will be a window for Europe to see not only Ukraine playing football but also how Kiev plays by European rules and standards," he wrote on Twitter.
Top Republican US Senator John McCain also urged the international community to keep up a wave of pressure on Kiev.
"The current government seeks to move the country closer to Europe, at the same time as it pressures and destroys political opposition within Ukraine," McCain said during a visit to Lithuania.
"Ultimately, however, it must choose between these two contradictory paths," he said in a speech at Vilnius University.
Ukraine had hoped the Euro championship would be a unique chance to promote the country, with games to be played in the capital Kiev, the attractive western city of Lviv, Yanukovych's home city of Donetsk and Kharkiv.
But Ukrainian liberal commentators have accused Yanukovych of doing everything to bungle the opportunity.
"Ukraine has irredeemably lost its chance to make Euro 2012 its mega-presentation in Europe," wrote Mustafa Nayem, a leading commentator with the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper, blaming the government's "stupidity and clumsiness".
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.