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Ukraine's Tymoshenko refuses video-link trial

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July 31, 2012, 4:12 p.m. | Politics — by Reuters

Jailed Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko defied state prosecutors on Tuesday, telling a court that she would refuse to take part in a new trial by video link from her hospital bed.
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KHARKIV, Ukraine - Jailed Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko defied state prosecutors on Tuesday, telling a court that she would refuse to take part in a new trial by video link from her hospital bed.

The 51-year-old Tymoshenko is already serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office but has been moved from prison to a clinic for treatment for a chronic back problem.

Her condition has led to several postponements of a new trial on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement going back to the 1990s when she was a prominent businesswoman involved in the gas trading industry, earning the sobriquet "gas princess".

When a fresh attempt to resume the trial happened on Tuesday, with Tymoshenko once again absent, state prosecutors proposed she take part in proceedings via a video conferencing link from hospital.

But Tymoshenko replied with a statement from her lawyer, refusing to cooperate and suggesting that state prosecutors would seek to exploit any video coverage for their advantage.

"We know that you would carry out unpredictable actions. I do not agree to take part in a video link," she said in the statement read out by lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko.

The statement said attempts to have her take part in court proceedings by video link were a violation of her rights and showed "an unwillingness to establish the truth of the case."

Judge Kostyantyn Sadovsky ordered another postponement of the trial until Aug. 14, saying the break might allow the issue to be clarified.

German doctors who have been treating Tymoshenko said on Monday that her physical condition required up to eight more weeks of attention.

Prosecutors say Tymoshenko's now-defunct gas trading company caused losses to the state of about $4 million, while she personally evaded paying $85,000 in taxes. She denies the tax evasion and embezzlement charges.

Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yanukovich's main political opponent, was jailed last October, convicted of abuse of office when prime minister, relating to a gas deal which she brokered with Russia.

The government says the 2009 deal saddled Ukraine with an unfair price for gas imports which has hamstrung the economy.

Tymoshenko says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich who defeated her in a presidential election in February 2010.

The European Union has backed her, saying her prosecution smacks of selective justice, and has shelved landmark deals on free trade and political association in response to her conviction.

Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency and has since been prime minister twice.

Since losing the 2010 election to Yanukovich in a close run-off, Tymoshenko and a number of her opposition allies have faced corruption-related charges which she has dismissed as political vengeance.

Even though her imprisonment bars her from running for election, Tymoshenko symbolically heads a candidate list put forward by an opposition coalition for a parliamentary election in October.

More than 1,000 supporters and opponents gathered outside the courtroom in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

"Keep her in prison! She is a thief!" read posters carried by her detractors. Supporters of Tymoshenko and her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party wore T-shirts bearing her peasant-braided portrait and chanted "Yulia - Freedom!"

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