Ukraine makes new attempt to break deadlock on EU deal

21st November 2013, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine's parliament meets on Thursday in what could be a final chance to agree legislation that would free jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko in time for an EU summit where Kiev hopes to sign a historic deal with the bloc.

EU leaders have made clear that Ukraine will only be able to sign the Association Agreement -- a first step to membership -- at the November 28-29 summit in Vilnius if it allows some form of release to Tymoshenko who was jailed in 2011 in a controversial abuse of authority case.

The signing of the Association Agreement would represent a break by Kiev from its historical master Russia, which has warned of severe repercussions on bilateral trade if the deal is signed.

Parliament has for the last weeks unsuccessfully tried to agree a bill on allowing the treatment of convicts abroad, which would allow the ailing opposition leader Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Germany.

The pro-Tymoshenko opposition has accused President Viktor Yanukovych of having no interest in signing the deal and deliberately trying to stymie the passing of the law.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who met Yanukovych on Tuesday, said he was "encouraged to see the determination" of the president to have the legislation passed on Thursday.

But he gave no guarantee that the legislation would be passed.

Ukraine's Kyiv Post English language weekly quoted diplomatic sources as saying Yanukovych told Fuele that Ukraine had "no plan" to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius. There was no confirmation of the report.

The Verkhovna Rada parliament was due to open its session to debate the legislation at 0800 GMT. Yanukovych was Thursday expected on an official visit to Austria.

A parliamentary working group of ruling Regions Party and opposition MPs on Wednesday again failed to agree a common text for the bill, despite the presence at their meeting of the two EU special envoys on Ukraine, Poland's former president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former EU parliament speaker Pat Cox.

President Dalia Grybauskaite, of Lithuania, which holds the EU presidency, told AFP in an interview that Kiev must act now to secure the deal.

"There are no guarantees that it could be signed after a year or two... The pause in relations may take a very long period of time," she said.

Yanukovych -- who made a visit to Moscow earlier this month for secret talks with President Vladimir Putin -- is reported to be extremely worried by the possible effects of Russian retaliation on the already embattled Ukrainian economy.

The head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Alexei Pushkov, accused the European Union of putting "monstrous" pressure on Ukraine to sign the deal.

Opposition leaders, including world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko who heads the UDAR (Punch) party, have called for a mass rally in Kiev on Sunday to protect Ukraine's European choice.

Tymoshenko was one of the co-leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution uprising that forced the annulment of presidential elections initially claimed by Yanukovych.

However Yanukovych bounced back to win presidential elections in 2010 and just one-and-a-half years later Tymoshenko was arrested and jailed for seven years charges of abuse of power while in office.

Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, is currently receiving treatment in a hospital run by the Ukrainian railways outside her prison in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

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 should remain in place.

© 2013 AFP

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