|Supporters of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko protested the opposition leader’s trial yesterday. (Alexandr Kosarev/Reuters)|
Ex-Ukraine prime minister’s trial begins
Foreign observers condemn chaotic trial as political
KIEV — Former Ukranian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine went on trial yesterday on charges of abuse of office, insisting during a chaotic hearing in a small and stiflingly hot courtroom that the case is a plot by the nation’s president to keep her out of politics.
Tymoshenko, 50, said President Viktor Yanukovych is seeking to bar her from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections as a convicted felon.
But the 2004 Orange Revolution heroine, now the country’s top opposition leader, said she would not be quiet: “My voice will be even louder from prison because the whole world will hear me.’’
Confusion reigned in the courtroom. Tymoshenko’s supporters continually disrupted proceedings, ignoring the judge’s demand to respect the court.
They shouted “Shame, shame!’’ through a loudspeaker and insulted the court and authorities. One supporter used water to twice douse a progovernment lawmaker, a fierce opponent of Tymoshenko, then insisted it was an accident. Tymoshenko’s supporters also scuffled briefly with a small group of her opponents, who were forced out of the room.
More than 100 journalists, supporters, and opponents packed the hall in Kiev’s Pechersk district court. Most attendees had to climb on top of narrow wooden benches to see and hear the proceedings and took turns standing near a window for fresh air. Sweat dripped from Judge Rodion Kireyev’s face, and his hair was wet.
Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhyi Vlasov, pleaded with the court for a short break to change into a new shirt because his was soaking wet. A young woman in the courtroom briefly fainted and was escorted out.
The United States and the European Union have condemned the cases against Tymoshenko and a number of her top allies as selective prosecution of political opponents.
“When the senior leadership of an opposition party is the focus of prosecutions out of proportion with other political figures, this does create the appearance of a political motive,’’ US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Jose Manuel Pinton Teixeira, the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine who attended the trial together with a group of other foreign diplomats, said the conditions in the courtroom were horrendous. “I cannot give a political assessment of this case, but the conditions of this trial are inhumane,’’ Teixeira told reporters as he headed out.
Tymoshenko has been charged with abuse of office for signing a deal with Moscow in 2009 to buy Russian natural gas at prices investigators said were too high and without authorization to sign the deal by the members of her Cabinet. Prosecutors say her actions have cost the government $440 million in damages.
Tymoshenko denies the charges, saying that she did not need such permission as the premier and that the deal ended a bitter pricing war with Moscow that led to disruptions in natural gas supply across Europe.
Tymoshenko refused to stand up when addressing the judge, as required, saying the court was not worthy of her respect.
“I declare you a puppet of the presidential office,’’ Tymoshenko told the judge. “You don’t have the right to consider this case. You are fully integrated into a system of political repression directed by authorities.’’
Tymoshenko was the central figure in the 2004 mass protests dubbed the Orange Revolution that threw out Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted presidential election victory and brought a pro-Western government to power. She became prime minister, but Ukrainians grew frustrated over economic hardships, slow reforms, and endless bickering in the Orange camp. She lost to the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.
Many Tymoshenko allies also have faced official charges recently, which she describes as part of the government’s efforts to weaken the opposition.
Her former economics minister, who faced corruption allegations over the reconstruction of Kiev’s airport, was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic in January. The former interior minister has been in jail for six months on charges that he defrauded the government when he hired a driver who was too old and paid him illegal bonuses.