Ukraine ex-president testifies against Tymoshenko

17th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine's former president Viktor Yushchenko gave dramatic testimony Wednesday against his one-time premier and fellow Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko in her controversial abuse of power trial.

Yushchenko was met by cries of "Shame!" from Tymoshenko's supporters as he entered the court room to give evidence in a trial that could put his former 2004 uprising ally behind bars for up to a decade.

Tymoshenko sat stony-faced in the court room and refused to ask questions on principle while Yushchenko quietly recalled a government crisis whose repercussions continue to unsettle Ukrainian politics to this day.

"We have to work on annulling this agreement," Yushchenko said in reference to a 2009 gas deal that Tymoshenko signed with Russia in the midst of a price war that triggered a temporary cut-off in supplies to Europe.

He alleged that Tymoshenko had turned into a "pro-Russian leader" while in office, who gave up on Ukrainian principles and began playing off various parties against each other for personal gain.

"She exchanged her national interests for political benefit," Yushchenko said.

Tymoshenko -- a flamboyant but divisive figure who now spearheads the opposition -- is accused of signing a bad 10-year deal that the government is now trying to renegotiate amid concerns over Ukraine's economic health.

The trial has seen Ukraine's new head of state Viktor Yanukovych come under intense criticism from EU nations just as the two sides approach a closer commercial union that could see Kiev slip further from Moscow's influence.

Yushchenko was a close partner of Tymoshenko who appeared at her side during the Orange Revolution rallies that prevented Yanukovych from seizing power in fraudulent polls.

The Western-leaning Yushchenko rewarded Tymoshenko for her help during that uprising by appointing her as his prime minister.

But the two had a bitter falling out while serving together in government and discord in the movement's ranks helped Yanukovych claim the presidency in bitterly contested polls last year.

Yushchenko, who arrived in court accompanied by a bodyguard, told the judge that he lacked the authority to keep his prime minister from signing the inter-government agreement with Russia even though it looked like a bad deal.

He described Tymoshenko as a poor negotiator who inexplicably turned down a sound gas offer before accepting a deal that paid Russia a far higher amount.

"There was a complete breakdown in the negotiations," Yushchenko said.

He also charged that Tymoshenko hid details of the gas agreement from the presidential administration before it was signed for reasons he still cannot clearly understand.

"There is a political subtext to the 2009 gas deal ... that the court must sort out," said Yushchenko.

Yushchenko also suggested that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia's Gazprom gas giant be called to testify in the case -- a move immediately dismissed by the prosecution as unnecessary.

Yushchenko's black sedan was pelted with eggs as it pulled out of court after the testimony while Tymoshenko told the judge at the start of the hearing that she did not want to get into a public fight with her former ally.

"Let God be his judge," Tymoshenko told the packed courtroom.

Tymoshenko has been shuttled to hearings from her prison cell since being placed under arrest for contempt of court on August 5.

Yanukovych has said he has no right to intervene in the case and brushed aside suggestions that it was a part of a broader political vendetta.

© 2011 AFP

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