Fri, Nov 29, 2013 - Page 7 News List

‘Free Ukraine, not me’: Tymoshenko

AFP, KIEV

Ukrainian students carry a 500m-long petition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev on Wednesday. The protesters want Yanukovych to sign a free-trade and political agreement with the UN, but the president said the EU should first stop meddling in the fate of his rival, former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Photo: Reuters

Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called on EU leaders to drop all demands and sign a historic pact with Ukraine without any preconditions at a summit that was to open yesterday.

The EU demanded that Ukraine boost the rule of law and free the jailed former prime minister before the two could sign a landmark political and free-trade deal.

Last week Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government stunned the West by halting all negotiations on the deal that would have set it on a path to EU membership, saying it wanted better terms.

Yanukovych said he would still travel to the two-day summit in Vilnius to continue negotiations, but his government’s shock decision sparked the biggest rallies since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004.

“If Yanukovych takes a positive decision, I passionately ask you to sign the agreement on Friday [today] without any hesitation and conditions including those that are related to my release,” Tymoshenko, 53, said in a message read out by her daughter Yevgenia Tymoshenko on Wednesday.

“I thank you for steadfastly defending democracy in Ukraine. But today it’s necessary to release not just separate political prisoners,” said Tymoshenko, who on Monday launched a hunger strike in solidarity with pro-European protesters. “It’s necessary to free Ukraine. That means it’s necessary to sign the agreement if Yanukovych agrees to it.”

“By signing the agreement with him, you would help an entire nation to overcome a civilizational abyss created by erroneous ideologies and aggressive empires, you would make another important step towards reuniting the entire Europe,” she said.

Yanukovych stressed he would wait for better EU terms including financial aid before considering signing the deal. He said the bloc offered insufficient compensation for the damages Ukraine would suffer by rupturing ties with Russia.

The EU said it was still ready to talk about the deal, but the ball was in Ukraine’s court.

“Our offer stays on the table,” the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said.

The debate over Ukraine’s future has turned into a heated diplomatic tussle between the EU and the Kremlin.

Russia wants its Ukraine to join a Customs Union and Moscow has repeatedly threatened Ukraine, which heavily depends on Russian natural gas, with economic retaliation if it signed the EU pact.

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