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Posts tagged ‘Yulia Tymoshenko’

US, France Warn Russia of ‘New Measures’ Over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande warned Saturday of “new measures” against Russia if it fails to work toward defusing the crisis in Ukraine, the French presidency said.

In a phone call on Saturday, Obama and Hollande insisted on the “need for Russia to withdraw forces sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers,” it said.
Obama’s conversation with Hollande was one of a half dozen telephone conversations he had with world leaders Saturday about Ukraine, the White House says.

He  also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The new warnings come in the wake of Russia’s insistence that any U.S. sanctions will have a boomerang effect on the United States and that Crimea has the right to self-determination as armed men tried to seize another Ukrainian military base on the peninsula.

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In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Russian-American relations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Sanctions…would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

It was the second tense, high-level exchange between the former Cold War foes in 24 hours over the pro-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after an hour-long call with U.S. President Barack Obama that their positions on the former Soviet republic were still far apart. Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

Putin, who later opened the Paralympic Games in Sochi which have been boycotted by a string of Western dignitaries, said Ukraine’s new, pro-Western authorities had acted illegitimately over the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” he said.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the Ukrainian border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared to the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.

On Friday evening armed men drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defence post in Sevastopol, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene. But no shots were fired and Crimea’s pro-Russian premier said later the standoff was over.

Putin denies the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

The most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia.

The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.


Turkey scrambled jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast and a U.S. warship passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus straits on its way to the Black Sea, although the U.S. military said it was a routine deployment.

European Union leaders and Obama said the referendum plan was illegitimate and would violate Ukraine’s constitution.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations”.

Obama ordered visa bans and asset freezes on Thursday against so far unidentified people deemed responsible for threatening European Union leaders Ukraine’s sovereignty. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide said Moscow might refuse to pay off any loans to U.S. banks, the top four of which have around $24 billion in exposure to Russia.

Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute “a threat to international peace and security”, after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the Crimean referendum.

The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel and on a broad new pact governing Russia-EU ties “extremely unconstructive”. It pledged to retaliate.


Senior Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison after Yanukovich’s overthrow, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin and appealed for immediate EU sanctions against Russia, warning that Crimea might otherwise slide into a guerrilla war.

Brussels and Washington rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. The regional director of the International Monetary Fund said talks with Kiev on a loan agreement were going well and praised the new government’s openness to economic reform and transparency.

The European Commission has said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the IMF, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.

Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.

In the past two days it has traded above 9.0 to the dollar for the first time since the Crimea crisis began last week. Local dealers said emergency currency restrictions imposed last week were also supporting the hryvnia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said Ukraine had not paid its $440 million gas bill for February, bringing its arrears to $1.89 billion and hinted it could turn off the taps as it did in 2009, when a halt in Russian deliveries to Ukraine reduced supplies to Europe during a cold snap.

In Moscow, a huge crowd gathered near the Kremlin at a government-sanctioned rally and concert billed as being “in support of the Crimean people”. Pop stars took to the stage and demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Crimea is Russian land”, and “We believe in Putin”.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said no one in the civilised world would recognise the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea.

He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia if Moscow pulls its additional troops out of Crimea and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov ridiculed calls for Russia to join an international “contact group” with Ukraine proposed by the West, saying they “make us smile”.

Demonstrators encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.

Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.

“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”

Unarmed military observers from the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were blocked from entering Crimea for a second day in a row on Friday, the OSCE said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it had sent its assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, to Kiev to conduct a preliminary humans rights assessment.

Ukrainian television has been replaced with Russian state channels in Crimea and the streets largely belong to people who support Moscow’s rule, some of whom have harassed journalists and occasional pro-Kiev protesters.

Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.

“With all these soldiers here, it is like we are living in a zoo,” Tatyana, 41, an ethnic Russian. “Everyone fully understands this is an occupation.”

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By Newsmax Wires

Protesters Clash in Dueling Rallies Over Ukraine President.

KIEV, Ukraine  — Supporters and opponents of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich scuffled as both sides held large rallies in the capital Kiev on Saturday, police and local media said.

A dozen young men hurled stones and plastic water bottles at opposition supporters and were then pushed away by police in riot gear, television footage showed.

Anti-Yanukovich protesters also fought back and at one point some of them tried to drag the crew from a military vehicle that carried messages mocking opposition leaders, pictures showed.

“Several people have been injured,” police said in a statement, adding that they had intervened to end the fight which happened a block away from the main opposition rally.

Pro-Western Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), liberal UDAR (Punch) and far-right Svoboda have been holding rallies across Ukraine, accusing Yanukovich of failing to pursue his declared goal of European integration, and demanding the release of jailed Batkivshchyna leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 on charges of abuse of office in a case the West has called politically motivated.

The European Union has indicated that Tymoshenko’s continued imprisonment would make it impossible to sign landmark association and free trade deals with Ukraine tentatively planned for November.

Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, in turn, held its own rally nearby to condemn what it called the rise of “neo-fascism” in Ukraine, a stab at the far-right Svoboda party and its opposition allies.

Allied in Europe with France’s National Front, the British National Party and Hungary’s Jobbik among others, Svoboda was previously known as the Social-National Party, an echo of the National Socialist, or Nazi Party.

Nowadays, however, the party denies being anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Nazism.

At the opposition rally on Saturday, Svoboda, Batkivshchyna and UDAR said they would work together to defeat Yanukovich in the 2015 presidential election when he is widely expected to seek a second term.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Ukraine leader signs law to change constitution via referendum.

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Tuesday signed a law enablingconstitutional change via referendums instead of via parliament, in a move the opposition criticized as aimed at ensuring his own re-election in 2015.

Yanukovich’s Regions party, which approved the new law this month, looks set to secure a slim majority in the 450-seat parliament in the wake of elections on October 28, a handful of results of which have yet to be finalized.

The party’s support fell compared with 2007, however, putting Yanukovich’s chances of re-election in 2015 in doubt.

To boost those chances, opposition leaders say Yanukovich may use the new law to amend the constitution – via a referendum and not via parliament – to scrap presidential elections and let parliament pick the head of state via a simple majority vote.

Some analysts said he may even use the law to push through policies that his party, backed by influential local industrialists, would not support.

“The president could only do this (change the way he is elected) in dire circumstances,” saidMykhailo Pohrebinsky, an analyst at the Kiev Centre of Policy Research.

“This law provides a way to push through decisions which are not supported by the elite but supported by the population. One issue that can be realistically put up for referendum is the question of (joining the Russia-led) Customs Union.”

Russia has long urged Ukraine to join Belarus and Kazakhstan in its post-Soviet trade bloc but Kiev, which is instead seeking a free trade agreement with the European Union, has repeatedly refused.

The new law says a referendum must be held if signatures are gathered from at least 3 million people from different regions of the country and then called by the president or parliament.

It is unclear whether the public would approve a motion to give parliament the right to pick the president, however.

Prior to the new law, amendments to the constitution had to be approved via a two-thirds majority in the house, which Yanukovich’s Regions party is unlikely to win.

The opposition has said it will challenge the new law in the constitutional court.

Yanukovich quickly consolidated power after becoming president in 2010, installing loyal allies in key positions and successfully challenging an earlier constitutional reform in order to lessen his dependence on parliament.

His re-election chances have been hurt as Ukraine’s economy, which had been growing since early 2010, shrank 1.3 percent in year-on-year terms in the third quarter of this year as steel exports fell.

In a move condemned by the West, a local court last year sentenced his main opponent, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, to seven years in prison on charges of abuse of office.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)



Ukraine winners face tough economy decisions after election.

  • Members of a local electoral commission count ballots at a polling station after voting day in Kiev October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

    Enlarge PhotoReuters/Reuters – Members of a local electoral commission count ballots at a polling station after voting day in Kiev October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich‘s ruling party finds itself with a small window of opportunity to carry out painful but badly needed changes to streamline the economy.

The issue following elections that helped the party retain control over parliament is whether it will bite the bullet and take long-delayed steps such as raising household gas prices.

Or, with an eye to Yanukovich’s re-election in 2015, will reforms to cut debt and promote growth be held off?

“While the new majority will likely back possible government reforms… the passing of unpopular measures would still require significant political will,” brokerage VTB Capital said this week.

“This would be especially so, as the strong results of the opposition (in the latest vote)… point to a tough campaign for the 2015 presidential elections.”

The former Soviet republic’s economy, dominated by steel exports, is shrinking. Its budget deficit is surging and large foreign debt repayments are looming.

Ordinary Ukrainians, meanwhile, have been betting against their own hryvnia currency by converting savings into dollars. The hryvnia touched a 3-year low on Thursday as banks and ordinary Ukrainians rushed to buy dollars, forcing a state-run savings bank to intervene.

“A looming external financing gap and the prospect of presidential elections in 2015 mean that the next Ukrainian government has limited time to deliver key reforms following this week’s parliamentary elections,” rating agency Fitch Ratings said in a report this week.

After Yanukovich came to power in February 2010, the government announced an ambitious agenda that included reducing state debt, reforming the crumbling pension system and improving business climate.

But it pulled up sharply on implementing unpopular planks of the program — such as raising gas and heating prices — in 2011 in the face of this year’s parliament vote.

This cost Kiev financial support from the International Monetary Fund which insists, in particular, on the government raising the price of subsidized gas and heating for households.

For a while, this did not seem to be much of a problem as Ukraine’s economy was recovering fast from a 15-percent recession of 2009, aided by strong commodity prices and accessible capital markets.

But starting from late 2011, the euro zone crisis and global economic downturn caused demand for Ukrainian steel to plunge, forcing local producers to cut output and eat into export revenues that used to support the hryvnia.

Rather than let the currency slide and thus correct the trade balance, the authorities stuck to the peg, saying that allowing depreciation would lead to panic.

The government issued its largest and most expensive Eurobond ever in July, borrowing $2 billion at 9.25 percent, and the central bank has spent about $3 billion so far this year on supporting the hryvnia’s peg to the dollar.

In what it described as measures to boost domestic demand, the government also added $3 billion to budget spending this year, raising wages and pensions.

This helped Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, campaigning under the slogan “From stability to welfare”, to secure a majority in the election together with traditional allies such as the communists.


But, as a result of these policies, the government now faces multiple challenges: reviving growth, adjusting the exchange rate and sorting out state finances to avoid a debt trap.

Ukraine’s economy shrank by 1.3 percent in the third quarter in its first contraction since 2009.

The country’s largest steel producer Metinvest reported a 71-percent drop in January-June net profit on Thursday as its crude steel output fell 8 percent year-on-year.

The firm, owned by billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov who is one of Yanukovich’s main supporters, cut investments by 31 percent in the same period.

“We do not expect any significant improvement (in market conditions) in 2013 compared to 2012,” Metinvest’s Chief Financial Officer Sergiy Novikov said, adding that the market was glutted by mainly Chinese producers.

The government itself is under growing financial pressure.

“Despite its ability to access the bond markets this year, Ukraine’s external financing position is precarious,” Fitch Ratings said on Thursday.

“The external financing requirement will grow in 2013, as repayments due to the IMF rise sharply to $6 billion, combining government and central bank repayments. Fitch believes this probably exceeds the government’s capacity to borrow externally and will require partial refinancing by the IMF itself.”


There is some anticipation in markets that the government will now allow the hryvnia to fall further against the dollar.

Allowing the currency to depreciate would please the IMF, and help Ukrainian exporters as their costs would fall in dollar terms while revenues would remain stable or even rise.

“A devaluation (of the hryvnia) would be a very positive factor for us,” Novikov of Metinvest said.

But such a move would hurt those who borrowed in dollars, including both ordinary Ukrainians and the government which stepped up issuance of dollar-linked domestic debt this year.

As for gas price hikes, Ukraine had hoped to avoid them by getting a discount on Russian gas supplies, but talks on the price have failed to produce any results and only strained Kiev’s ties with Moscow.

A decision whether to go ahead with the hikes and other unpopular moves needs to be made soon, analysts say.

But policy uncertainty is reinforced by speculation that Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, a 64-year-old government veteran who has held the post since March 2010, may soon be replaced by central bank governor Serhiy Arbuzov, 36, whose mother heads a bank owned by Yanukovich’s son.

“Ukraine’s record of domestic political considerations over-riding policy commitments to international financial institutions suggests this pattern could be repeated ahead of the 2015 presidential election,” Fitch said.

“Effectively, there may be little more than a year to enact these reforms.”

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth/Jeremy Gaunt)


By Olzhas Auyezov | Reuters

Ukraine elects parliament amid violations claims.


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s opposition parties alleged widespread violations in Sunday’s parliamentary vote, seen as a test of President Viktor Yanukovych‘s commitment to democracy and European values.

With the charismatic opposition leader, former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko in jail, the opposition split and regular Ukrainians disillusioned with politics, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was expected to retain control over parliament despite his rollback on democracy.

The West is paying close attention to the conduct of the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state, which lies between Russia and the European Union, and serves as a key conduit for transit of Russian energy supplies to many EU countries.

Ukraine’s relations with the West have soured over Tymoshenko’s jailing, which prompted the EU to freeze a long-awaited partnership deal with Kiev. An election deemed unfair would likely turn Ukraine further away from the West and toward Moscow.

Tymoshenko’s top aide, Oleksandr Turchynov, accused authorities of attempting to rig the vote by registering several hundred thousand Ukrainians as ill and voting at home, where any violations are harder to observe.

Another pro-Western party led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said one of its candidates, Olha Herasimyuk, was attacked while she was trying to record an allege vote-buying scheme. Several polling stations in the Black Sea city of Odessa briefly interrupted their work after election officials found pens with disappearing ink in voting booths.

Opposition forces hope to garner enough parliament seats to weaken Yanukovych’s power and undo the damage they say he has done: the jailing of Tymoshenko and her top allies, the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the snubbing of the Ukrainian language in favor of Russian, waning media freedoms, a deteriorating business climate and growing corruption.

But the failure of Tymoshenko’s and Klitshchko’s parties to form a genuine alliance has played into the hands of Yanukovych, and their ability to work together in parliament remains to be seen.

Dmitry Kovalenko, a 50-year-old entrepreneur in Kiev, said he voted for Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party in hope of ending Yanukovych’s monopoly on power.

“I am against repression,” Kovalenko said after casting his ballot at a polling station in central Kiev. “It’s easy to win when your opponents are in jail.”

While Tymoshenko’s and Klitschko’s parties are expected to make a strong showing in elections by party lists, half of the 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada parliament will be allocated to the winners of individual races, in which Yanukovych loyalists are expected to take the lead. Yanukovych has centered his party’s campaign on emphasizing stability after years of infighting in the Orange camp and relative economic recovery after the global financial crisis, which hit Ukraine severely.

“Stability, stability, stability is what Ukraine needs,” said Olexiy Nalivaichenko, 35, a civil servant in Kiev, who voted for Yanukovych’s party. “We want to feel confident and secure about tomorrow.”

Also expected to win seats in parliament is the Communist party, which will side with Yanukovych’s supporters. Another party that could pass the 5 percent threshold needed for seats is the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom), a staunch government critic infamous for xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements.

The election tainted by Tymoshenko’s jailing on charges of abuse of office has also been compromised by the creation of fake opposition parties, campaigns by politically unskilled celebrities, and the use of state resources and greater access to television by Yanukvoych’s party.

At one polling station in Kiev, voters complained that a clone politician with the same last name as Fatherland’s candidate was intended to split the opposition vote.

“This doesn’t look good,” said Yevhen Yefimov, 43, a Kiev computer specialist, who was nearly fooled into voting for the fake politician rather than a Tymoshenko candidate. “They are trying to trick people into making a mistake … to steal Fatherland votes.”


Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.


By MARIA DANILOVA | Associated Press

Secrecy surrounds Ukrainian president’s home.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — When Ukraine’s president opened up his home to TV cameras, he presented a cozy place with a small office just big enough for his grandchildren to play in. But his critics point to strong evidence he actually lives in very different digs: a luxurious, marble-columned mansion with a golf course, a helipad and even an ostrich enclosure.

The reported grandeur is becoming a campaign issue in a country quickly getting fed up with widespread corruption. Critics call Viktor Yanukovych‘s home an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines his presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his main political opponent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is locked up in prison on charges the West has called politically motivated.

Yanukovych has refused to answer questions about the house or the vast park where it sits, once darkly suggesting that an investigative journalist back off. An opposition activist looking for answers broke into the property James Bond-style, scaling the walls with a tow rope. She was detained, but still managed to salvage photographs of a golf course and glitzy buildings, describing an opulent palace guarded by heavy security.

Political commentator Vitaly Portnikov, who has compared Yanukovych’s government to a “mafia” jeopardizing Ukraine’s desire for greater integration with the European Union, cited Yanukovych’s clandestine residence as an example of the corruption and lack of transparency unacceptable in the West.

“Viktor Yanukovych’s main goal is not to be the president of Ukraine but to be the No. 1 oligarch in Ukraine,” said Portnikov. “He fought for power … specifically in order to consolidate in his hands a huge amount of resources and property, in order to make his family the first family in the country.”

The two main opposition parties are likely to gain ground in Sunday’s parliamentary election. But with the pro-Western opposition’s charismatic leader in jail and a lack of unity among government critics, the president’s Party of Regions is expected to retain its majority in Parliament.

Yanukovych, who returned to power in 2010 after a period out of office, maintains a strong core of support, especially in the Russian-leaning east and south of the country, claiming credit for bringing stability after years of paralyzing political infighting and economic free-fall.

But his democracy and reform record is poor. TV channels, the main source of information for Ukrainians, are controlled by tycoons loyal to the government and they give little airtime to the opposition. Investors complain of being stripped of their companies through unfair legal action brought by government-friendly businessmen. And Ukrainians are angry over perks and unfair treatment for VIPs: Officials and their friends routinely run red lights or avoid traffic by driving the wrong way. In one case that sparked national protests, two of three suspects in the brutal gang rape and murder of a teenage girl were initially released — because of their connections to local officials, activists say.

Yanukovych’s home is in Mezhygirya park, 140 hectares (345 acres) of forested hills situated along the Dnipro River, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Kiev, the capital. Founded decades ago on the ashes of an Orthodox Christian monastery, the park included a government residence for top Communist Party bosses like Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and is off limits to the public.

Through a series of controversial government acts, Yanukovych was able to privatize a modest house on a 1.8-hectare (4.4-acre) plot of land inside the park. After that, two firms were allowed to lease the park from the government for 49 years. They demolished most of the Soviet-era buildings, including the government residence, and began construction of new houses and sports clubs.

Yanukovych has refused to say who is behind the two firms, but his critics have no doubts.

Mezhygirya is “a symbol of the president’s inappropriate desire for luxury, the unknown source of his wealth and the desire to hide it all behind dummy firms,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, a journalist with the Ukrainska Pravda news site whose investigation has linked the two firms to Yanukovych and his family.

Seeking to counter criticism, Yanukovych invited six trusted journalists to Mezhygirya in the summer of 2011 and gave them a tour of his official house. He led the men into his bedroom, where an Orthodox Christian icon stood on a bedside table, and then his small office, where he lets his grandchildren play while he works. He also showed them a fireplace in the living room he said he had to abandon because a family of owls had settled inside.

But ownership documents for the two firms uncovered by Leshchenko link them to Yanukovych and his allies and bolster claims that he controls the entire estate. Aerial photos taken by the Korrespondent weekly magazine show that the property appears to be one entity, complete with a giant mansion, fruit and vegetable greenhouses and an array of sports facilities. Journalists who have tried to get into the park or even a nearby village have been stopped by government security agents.

Investigative journalist Tetyana Chernovil scaled the 5-meter (16.5-foot) fence with a rope and a wooden plank, spending about three hours inside before getting caught by security guards with barking dogs. She was able to see the ostriches and photograph the golf club, a large barge made of rare red wood and plated with gold, and other buildings, before being released after several hours of questioning.

Chernovil, who is running for parliament on the opposition ticket, questions the source of all this luxury given that Yanukovych’s official annual salary is about $115,000 a year. She is infuriated at the lavish spending in a country where some rural schools still have no indoor plumbing.

When “small kids are forced to run to the toilet outside in the winter, how can a president allow himself to . build these helicopter pads, which only he needs, which no one else uses?,” she asked.


By MARIA DANILOVA | Associated Press

Tymoshenko calls on Ukraine to rise up against “mafia-rule”.

  • A supporter of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko takes part in a rally in front of Ukraine's specialized supreme court on civil and criminal cases which is hearing her appeal against a seven-year prison sentence in Kiev May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

    Enlarge PhotoReuters/Reuters – A supporter of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko takes part in a rally in front of Ukraine’s specialized supreme court on civil and criminal cases which is hearing her appeal against …more 

KIEV (Reuters) – Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called on Ukrainians on Saturday to “rise up” at a parliamentary election next month and end President Viktor Yanukovich‘s “criminal rule”.

In a shaky two-minute video filmed at the hospital where she is being held, the former prime minister said she was enduring “a hell”, created by Yanukovich, as she serves a seven-year sentence for abuse of office.

Banned from running in the October 28 election due to her imprisonment, Tymoshenko’s video showed the 51-year-old’s determination to reach her supporters and rally her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, demoralized by the loss of her leadership.

Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions and its allies are expected to retain a majority in the election, but they are closely trailed, according to some opinion polls, by a bloc that includes Tymoshenko’s party.

In the video, posted on her party’s website, Tymoshenko, who has said the election results have already been rigged, accuses Yanukovich of building a corrupt state aimed at enriching a small group of people in a “single mafia criminal band”.

“Today the whole country, sadly, is living under criminal authority. The more they allow this and the further it goes, the more every person will feel this criminal rule weighing on his life,” she says, calling on Ukrainians to “rise up at these elections and throw out this criminal gang”.

The shaky video shows a man, presumably a member of the prison staff, attempting to block the camera from filming Tymoshenko and asking for the recording to stop. A woman prison guard holds a hand over her face to prevent herself being identified.

With her hair in a single plaited tress across one shoulder rather than styled in the circular braid that became her trademark as the popular heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, a seated Tymoshenko complains about her living conditions.

“Every day, there is not just physical and psychological pressure. Every day here is simply transformed into a hell (for me) – completely consciously and intentionally. This is a direct plan by Yanukovich,” she says.


Imprisoned since October 2011, Tymoshenko has been receiving hospital treatment in Kharkiv for back trouble which has prevented a second trial on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion going ahead.

She denies all charges and says they are part of a vendetta by Yanukovich who beat her narrowly for the presidency in a run-off vote in February 2010.

Her prosecution has seriously strained Ukraine’s ties with the United States and the European Union which say it is politically motivated and smacks of “selective justice”.

Shortly after her conviction, the EU shelved landmark agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine, deals Yanukovich hopes will be unblocked once international monitors give the election a clean bill of health.

But EU and U.S. officials have cautioned that Tymoshenko’s continued imprisonment and biased media coverage might weigh on any final judgment of the election by monitoring groups.

Tymoshenko became Yanukovich’s nemesis when she helped lead the “Orange Revolution” protests which derailed his first bid for the presidency. She went on to serve twice as prime minister before losing the 2010 presidential vote.

Because of her imprisonment, her party has formed a bloc with another opposition movement, Front Zmin (The Front of Change), led by pro-Western liberal politician Arseny Yatsenyuk, to contest the election.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


By Richard Balmforth | Reuters

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