Ukraine to debate Tymoshenko bill to save EU deal
Kiev (Ukraine): Ukraine`s parliament was set to debate a bill on Tuesday to let jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko go abroad for treatment in a last-ditch attempt to save a crucial deal with the European Union.
Parliament was expected to discuss Tymoshenko`s fate during today`s session after the EU warned that time was running out to agree the legislation ahead of a summit in Vilnius on November 28-29.
EU leaders have said allowing Tymoshenko to go abroad to receive medical treatment was a key condition for Kiev signing the Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.
In 2011, Tymoshenko, the fiery opposition leader who rose to fame during the 2004 Orange Revolution and is an arch-rival to current President Viktor Yanukovych, was sentenced to seven years in prison on abuse of power charges, prompting international criticism of the case as politically motivated.
She is being treated for long-standing back problems in a hospital outside her jail and Germany has offered her medical care.
Ukraine`s parliament last week failed to agree a text enabling detainees like Tymoshenko to leave the country for medical treatment and there are fears the deal with the EU could flop amid pressure on Kiev from Russia, which wants it to join its own Customs Union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on Monday,"I have to say today that it is not yet certain whether Ukraine is willing to fulfil the criteria for a possible association agreement."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also warned yesterday that "time is running out" after talks with his 27 EU counterparts. He said Ukraine should "act now."
Yanukovych this month held a mysterious meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The parliament dominated by Yanukovych`s Regions Party then last week held an extraordinary session that failed to hold a vote on the legislation allowing convicts to go abroad for treatment.
A ruling party lawmaker was quoted as saying that the Regions Party may not support the proposed legislation today.
Ukrainska Pravda, a respected opposition news website, cited a lawmaker from the Regions Party, Grigory Smityuk, as saying on Monday,"I think our faction will not vote for these bills because they are imperfect and they have a lot of contradictions."
"They contradict both the Constitution and current legislation," he said, referring to the bill on Tymoshenko as well as several others aimed at allowing Ukraine to sign the agreement.
Ukraine and the EU have been expected to sign a broad political and trade deal in Vilnius marking a first step towards entry into the bloc, but only on condition Kiev meets EU requirements including a fair judicial system.
The signing of the Association Agreement with the EU would be a painful blow to Putin`s hopes of reviving links between ex-Soviet states, in particular through a Customs Union which already involves Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia but not Ukraine.
Russia has bluntly warned of economic retaliation if Ukraine signs the deal with the EU. It has already given a hint of things to come by banning imports of Roshen chocolate, a popular Ukrainian brand owned by a powerful businessman and ex-cabinet minister.
Yanukovych is keen to see the charismatic Tymoshenko kept out of politics ahead of presidential polls in 2015 and has insisted that even if she goes abroad for treatment, her seven-year sentence for abuse of power should remain in place.
Cash-strapped Ukraine, a major transit route of Russian gas to Europe, also risks new conflicts with Russian gas giant Gazprom.
Gazprom has twice interrupted shipments to Ukraine, once in January 2006 and then again in January 2009, in moves that also threatened energy supply to some central and western European countries at the height of winter heating seasons.
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