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Tymoshenko's trial adjourned to Oct.11 (updated)

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Sept. 30, 2011, 2:42 p.m. | Politics — by Reuters

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The trial of Ukraine's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, charged with abuse of office in relation to a 2009 gas deal with Russia, was adjourned on Friday until Oct. 11 at the earliest. Judge Rodion Kireyev, who said the date of Oct. 11 was approximate, is expected to announce the verdict soon after the trial resumes.

State prosecutors have asked for a seven-year jail sentence for the 50-year-old opposition leader.

The announcement of the adjournment, made after a lengthy statement by Tymoshenko on Thursday, prompted immediate speculation that it had been called to give President Viktor Yanukovich and his ruling circle a breathing space in which to consider their options.

The European Union, with which Ukraine is negotiating important agreements on association and free trade, has said these will be jeopardised if Tymoshenko is jailed.

It has urged Yanukovich to push through amendments to the criminal law to re-classify the charge against Tymoshenko to allow her to go free and continue as an opposition politician.

Yanukovich himself was meeting EU officials on Friday at an 'Eastern partnership' summit in neighbouring Poland.

In comments to the court on Friday, Tymoshenko, who spoke for four hours on Thursday, said: "The sentence which Kireyev will announce will testify to whether Yanukovich wants European integration for Ukraine."

"Kireyev's words mean that he will start reading out the verdict on October 11 as a preliminary date ... It could happen later, but it is unlikely to happen earlier," Tymoshenko's lawyer, Oleksander Plakhotnyuk, told Reuters.

Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing and says her trial is a vendetta led by Yanukovich, her arch-rival, who narrowly beat her in an election for president in February 2010.

He says her trial is part of efforts by his leadership to root out corruption.

"LYNCHING" TRIAL

In an impassioned speech on Thursday, the fiery opposition leader said she was the victim of a "classic lynching trial" which had brought humiliation on the country.

The prosecution says Tymoshenko exceeded her authority as prime minister when she brokered a gas deal with Russia in January 2009 which the Yanukovich leadership says saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas.

The leadership says Tymoshenko's action in pressuring the state energy firm Naftotgaz into signing an agreement with the Russian gas giant Gazprom put the national interest in danger.

The United States and the European Union say the trial is politically motivated and have urged Yanukovich to find a way to end the case against her.

The trial has polarised public opinion in the ex-Soviet republic and led to street demonstrations against Yanukovich.

Tymoshenko, a stylish dresser known for wearing her trademark peasant-style hairbraid, is idolised by many older voters, particularly women, in central and eastern Ukraine.

But, although she is a powerful orator and a shrewd political operator, she can be abrasive and is regarded as a divisive figure even by many other opposition figures.

All the same, many commentators say the trial has turned into a public relations disaster for Yanukovich, drawing criticism from the West and resurrecting Tymoshenko as a political force.

Hundreds of Tymoshenko supporters, with riot police stationed nearby, have been camped outside the courtroom throughout the summer in solidarity with her.

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