Kharkiv: A Ukrainian judge on Saturday ruled that jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko could not be tried in absentia and delayed her hearings in a new tax evasion case until May 21.
"The court has ruled that it is impossible to hear the case in the absence of Tymoshenko," Judge Kostiantyn Sadovsky told the hearing after reporting that Tymoshenko could not attend the trial due to chronic back pain.
About a thousand chanting supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution leader rallied outside the district court building in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she has been serving a seven-year prison term since last year.
About the same number of her opponents held a counter-protest in a sign of how divisive the fiery 51-year-old remains after a spell in government that began with hopes of pro-Western reform and ended amid complaints of corruption.
The court was about two-thirds full when four state prosecutors prepared to lay out new tax charges against the fierce government critic that could keep her behind bars until 2023.
Tymoshenko declared a hunger strike on April 20 after being allegedly beaten by wardens who took her against her will for treatment at a state hospital.
She had been complaining of chronic back pain since her imprisonment and cited this as the reason when skipping the pre-trial hearings earlier this month.