News24

Ukraine's ex-PM Tymoshenko arrested

2011-08-05 20:43

Kiev - Acting on a judge's orders, police arrested former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during her abuse-of-office trial on Friday for violations of court procedures.

Her supporters in court, including national lawmakers, squabbled with riot police, trying to prevent them from driving her away in a prison car and shouting: "Shame! Shame!"

Dozens of Tymoshenko's supporters then gathered outside the court building in central Kiev and tried to block the road, but riot police pushed them aside.

The charismatic Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, has criticised the trial as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from elections and mocked the court.

She has refused to rise when addressing the court, as required, and routinely insulted the judge. Her supporters have repeatedly disrupted hearings.

Complying with the presiding judge's orders, police surrounded Tymoshenko and escorted her out of the courtroom. Hundreds of police officers surrounded the prison car as it forced its way slowly through the crowd of Tymoshenko supporters.

Later, Tymoshenko's ally, Serhiy Vlasenko, showed reporters what he described as a handwritten note from her describing her arrest as a "political repression."

Gas princess

The 50-year-old opposition leader is charged with abusing her powers by signing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim was disadvantageous to Ukraine.

Tymoshenko insists she is innocent, arguing that the contract ended weeks of natural gas disruptions to Ukrainian and European consumers and that she was authorized to sign the deal as prime minister.

Experts in Ukraine and abroad believe the trial's real motive is to disqualify Tymoshenko from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections by convicting her as a felon.

Tymoshenko was nicknamed Ukraine's "gas princess" in the late 1990s for serving as the head of a leading natural gas importer. She was jailed briefly in 2001 on suspicion of smuggling gas, but the case never went to trial.

Tymoshenko has a long and bitter history with Yanukovych.

She was the central figure in Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests that threw out Yanukovych's fraud-tainted victory in a presidential election and led to another vote that brought a pro-Western government to power.

Tymoshenko became prime minister, but Ukrainians grew frustrated by economic hardships, slow reforms and endless bickering in the Orange camp. As a result, she lost to Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.

Tymoshenko's party said it would mobilise its supporters and call street protests.

"Tymoshenko's arrest is a verdict against the government and the beginning of its end," said one of Tymoshenko's allies, Serhiy Pashinsky.