Yulia Tymoshenko, on trial for allegedly abusing her authority in reaching a 2009 gas deal with Russia when she was Ukraine's prime minister, was arrested today on contempt-of-court charges. One of her assistants told a Kyiv Post reporter she was taken to the Lukyanivska pre-trial detention center in Kyiv.
Brawls erupted outside the courtroom as Tymoshenko supporters attempted to block police from leaving the court with the arrested Tymoshenko. A Kyiv Post reporter witnessed police driving away from the courthouse at 4:42 p.m. in an armored truck that witnesses said was carrying Tymoshenko. The vehicle was surrounded by dozens of police officers from several agencies -- court, plainclothes, patrol officers and Berkut -- who broke through a human blockade of Tymoshenko supporters.
The armored truck carrying Tymoshenko made its way on to Kreshchatyk Street and then turned west on Shevchenko Boulevard. There busloads of officers formed a convoy behind the vehicle believed to be carrying Tymoshenko.It was not immediately clear where Tymoshenko was taken.
Tymoshenko supporters in the crowd chanted: "Yulia, we're with you!" as dozens of people scuffled with police officers. "Shame! Shame!," her supporters also screamed to police.
Tymoshenko's press service issued this reaction from her: "To say this trial is a circus gives it too much credibility. It is politically motivated and demeans Ukraine on the international stage. It saddens me greatly that our country has come to this."
Tymoshenko believes the prosecution’s request was related to her “uncomfortable” questions to witness Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. “The court and prosecution because I asked awkward questions regarding corruption at RosUkrEnergo immediately announced a change in sanctions from a travel ban to my arrest,” she told journalists.
Criticism of Tymoshenko's arrest was swift and intense, despite President Viktor Yanukovych's denial that he had nothing to do with the arrest. Many in the West and in Ukraine believe that Tymoshenko is facing trumped-up charges designed to eliminate her as Yanukovych's political rival.
"Democracy is over," said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former speaker of parliament who is leading the opposition party Front For Change. "There is not one regime that has won a war against its own people."
Many supporters gathered on Khreshchatyk Street, mostly elderly women, broke down in tears. A Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko member of parliament pleaded with police over a microphone to "stay with Ukrainians, don't take her away."
Some of the most detailed information about the order for her arrest came from a report on the official Tymoshenko website
. Authorities could not immediately be reached for information.
Pechersky District Court judge Rodion Kireyev also adjourned the court hearings against Tymoshenko until 10 a.m. on Aug. 8.
A scuffle erupted in the courtroom after Kireyev granted the prosecution's motion to arrest Tymoshenko. Specifically, the judge ordered her detained "because of regular violations, interference in establishing the truth and violating court order."
Riot police protect a prison truck carrying former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko outside the Pecherskiy District Court in Kyiv on Aug.5. (Yaroslav Debelyi
Parliamentarian Serhiy Vlasenko, who earlier acted as Tymoshenko's defense attorney, attempted to break through a police cordon to approach her, but a number of commandos from the Berkut special task force surrounded him and prevented him from doing so. Before police escorted Tymoshenko out of the courtroom, she managed to pass her purse to Vlasenko, the politician's press service reported.
The arrest came after prosecutors asked the court to keep Tymoshenko in custody. A petition seeking her detainment was read by prosecutor Lilia Frolova at a session of the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv. Frolova cited Tymoshenko's obstructive behavior in court.
"I am stating the request to change the restrictive measure against the defendant from a travel ban to arrest because the defendant with her behavior is preventing the establishment of the truth," prosecutor Liliya Frolova told the court. Tymoshenko reportedly responded jokingly by asking when the judge will hear the motion to have her executed.
The prosecution's motion for Tymoshenko's arrest was made after a heated debate between her and Azarov, who was giving testimony in the case. Tymoshenko's press service said the judge had disallowed any questioning of Azarov from the defense involving RosUkrEnergo, the controversial intermediary company removed from the gas trade in the 2009 agreement with Russia.
The prosecution accuses the 50-year-old Tymoshenko, who served as prime minister from 2007-2010 and before that in 2005-2006, of illegally forcing state energy company Naftogaz to sign the gas supply agreement with Russia in 2009, a contract that the state says required approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. She could face more than five years in prison if convicted.
Tymoshenko's agreement with Russia ended a three-week standoff with the Kremlin and Russian Gazprom over the price of natural gas. The deal also cut out RosUkrEnergo as a gas-trading intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, an agreement that angered RosUkrEnergo co-owner Dmytro Firtash and politicians backing him.
Riot police block supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko outside the Pecherskiy District Court in Kyiv on Aug. 5. (AP)
Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, has criticized her trial as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from elections. She has refused, as required, to stand up when addressing the judge and her supporters have repeatedly disrupted court hearings.
She has also played an aggressive role in defending herself, grilling witnesses and eliciting testimony to back her claims that ex-President Viktor Yushchenko lobbied the interests of RosUkrEnergo and attempted to thwart her efforts to reach an agreement with her counterpart then, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Lukyanivska pre-trial detention center, named after the Lukyanivka neighborhood and located just behind the Defense Ministry barracks, is at 13 Degtyaryivska Street. It is a whitewashed brick building, complete with watchtowers and barbed wire, a blue steel door and a gray sliding gate.
Besides charges in the gas deal
, Tymoshenko also faces charges for allegedly misspending millions of dollars that Ukraine received as part of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas house emissions, as well as allegedly misappropriation of money for the purchase of ambulances. She says all the charges are politically motivated attempts to eliminate her from participating in future elections. Tymoshenko lost her bid for presidency to Yanukovych by 3.5 percentage points. Her loss came after Ukraine suffered a deep economic recession in 2009 and after years of conflict with Yushchenko. Tymoshenko and Yushchenko had a bitter falling out after their alliance during the 2004 Orange Revolution, the peaceful uprising that denied Yanukovych election as president after a rigged vote.
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