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US, EU condemn ex-Ukraine defence minister's jailing

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(KIEV) - The United States and European Union condemned on Friday the jailing of Ukraine's former defence minister Valeriy Ivashchenko, with the US embassy calling for his release due to health concerns.

Ivashchenko was handed a five-year prison sentence on abuse of office charges on Thursday.

"We are deeply disappointed in this latest example of selective justice in Ukraine and call for his release, particularly given the state of his health after 18 months in pre-trial detention," the US embassy in Kiev said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also voiced disappointment, saying the case was marked by "significant shortcomings" despite repeated calls for Ukraine to uphold international standards for fair trials.

Ashton "underlines that respect for the rule of law will be of crucial importance for the speed of Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU," her office said in a statement.

Ivashchenko became the third minister in the pro-Western government of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to have been put in prison in the two years since her presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych took office.

Ex-interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko was in February sentenced to four years in jail while former environment and natural resources minister Georgiy Filipchuk was sentenced to three years in April.

The Kiev district court on April 12 sentenced Ivashchenko for overseeing a November 2009 land privatisation deal that allegedly cost the state budget nearly $10 million dollars.

Former Orange Revolution leader Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail in October over a 2009 natural gas agreement she agreed with Russia in a verdict that has for the moment wrecked Kiev's ambitions of joining the EU.

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