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Ukraine talks deadlocked as EU clock ticks down

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(KIEV) - Ukraine's parliament on Friday failed to end days of deadlock over legislation that would allow jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad for treatment and pave the way for the signing of a key EU accord.

The release of Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, for treatment is a key condition of EU leaders for Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement with the bloc at a summit in Vilnius later this month.

But the ruling Regions Party of President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition were Friday still unable to agree on the text of a bill which would allow convicts like Tymoshenko to go abroad to seek treatment.

This was despite the personal presence in the Verkhovna Rada -- Ukraine's parliament -- of the European Parliament's two special envoys, Poland's former president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament president Pat Cox, to remind Ukraine of the urgency of a deal.

"It's complicated, everything is complicated," Kwasniewski grimly commented after two hours of meetings with parliament faction leaders, saying that talks would nonetheless continue.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the pro-Tymoshenko faction in the Rada, called on parliament to meet in an extraordinary session next week in a final bid to agree the legislation.

"If the Regions Party ignores this suggestion then this means that Yanukovych has ruined Ukraine's European future," he said.

The head of the UDAR (Punch) opposition party, world boxing champion Vitali Klitshcko, said the talks with Kwasniewski and Cox and the parliamentary factions had produced no result.

"There has been no progress in the negotiations," he said.

However Olexander Yefremov, head of the Regions Party parliamentary faction, blamed the opposition for "not producing one single compromise version of the law".

'Killed off any hope'

The influential Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) news site, which is generally hugely critical of Yanukovych, said that the Regions Party was now ready to torpedo any chance of success at the Vilnius summit.

It quoted sources as saying the two EU envoys had a disastrous meeting with party officials the day earlier "which killed off any hope of fulfilling the conditions needed for signing the Association Agreement".

Regions Party MP Volodymyr Makeenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying that he did not believe the law would be ready before the Vilnius summit.

The dispute hinges on the extent to which the final legislation would allow Tymoshenko to return to politics or whether she would be granted just a brief "holiday" from her seven-year jail term.

Kwasniewski and Cox are to deliver a final report to the European Parliament on the issue on November 14. The document will then be discussed by EU foreign ministers meeting on November 18.

The ministers will assess whether Kiev will be ready to sign the agreement at the EU's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 28-29.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak said he was prepared to call an emergency session of the Rada, which is not due to meet next week, on November 13.

Signing the Association Agreement -- a free trade deal which is the first step towards EU membership -- would be a historic move for Ukraine and mark a decisive step away from the Kremlin.

But the deal has long been held up by the 2011 jailing of Tymoshenko on contested abuse of power charges she says were ordered as political revenge by Yanukovych.

Parliament without difficulty passed two other pieces of legislation -- concerning prosecutors and electoral reform -- demanded by Brussels as part of the accord. But the bill that would release Tymoshenko still appears to have a long way to go.

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