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Barroso snubs Euro 2012 in Ukraine

The EU Commission's president will not go to Ukraine during the European Championships in June unless there is a swift improvement in the human rights situation.

Jose Manuel Barroso announced he will follow the lead of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding who also said she would skip the opening ceremony of the football tournament on June 8. The tournament is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine from June 8 until July 1.

Activists have called for protests against Ukraine in support of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year jail sentence in a case the West has called politically motivated.

Ukraine's president, a fierce rival of Ms Tymoshenko, denies the charges of bias.

"It is clear that as things stand now, the president has no intention of going to Ukraine or indeed participating in events in Ukraine," Mr Barroso's spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said.

Over the weekend, Germany's environment minister openly called on top European government officials to boycott the matches.

Also, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel will abstain from attending any matches and urge her cabinet members to stick to that policy unless Ms Tymoshenko is freed to undergo treatment abroad.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that: "I would not like to think that the statesmen of Germany are capable of reanimating the methods of the Cold War and try to make sport a hostage to politics."

But the protests kept coming. Czech President Vaclav Klaus cancelled his visit to attend a summit of Central European presidents on May 11-12 in Ukraine because of Ms Tymoshenko's treatment, his spokesman Radim Ochvat said. Mr Ochvat said it is premature to comment if Mr Klaus is planning to also boycott the Euro 2012 football tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

Denmark's sports minister, Uffe Elbaek, said he also was following the situation and "continues to have a dialogue with my European colleagues" on what course of action to take.

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