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Merkel in new plea on jailed leader

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Ukrainian leaders to allow jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko "proper treatment" for her ailments, as more top officials announced they would boycott the Euro 2012 football championship co-hosted by Ukraine.

Mrs Merkel insisted that she had not yet decided whether to stay away from the matches to be held in Ukraine and that her priority now is the former leader's health.

"Much more important than my travel plans is that we must now do everything possible to see that Yulia Tymoshenko gets the proper treatment for her medical problems as soon as possible," she said. "The German government has been working on this for weeks and our offer stands for her to receive this medical treatment in Germany."

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, announced he would not travel to any of the matches in Ukraine, joining other top officials such as the European Commission's President Jose Manuel Barroso and the governments of Austria and Belgium.

The decisions have come as a blow to a country that had hoped the soccer championship would showcase it and boost its ties with the EU.

In Warsaw, however, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that while he is disturbed by Ukraine's treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko and is urging Ukraine to observe human rights standards, he does not plan on supporting a boycott of the June 8-July 1 Euro 2012 tournament, which is being co-hosted by Poland.

"I have appealed multiple times to the authorities in Ukraine not to let politics ruin this national celebration and nothing will affect our determination to fight for human rights and alleviate the situation of Yulia Tymoshenko," he told reporters.

Russian Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin also weighed, saying Russia would be willing to allow Mrs Tymoshenko to come for medical treatment, if she and Ukrainian authorities agreed to it, according to news reports. But Mr Putin said the Tymoshenko situation should not involve Euro 2012. "One must not in any circumstances mix politics, business and other questions of this sort with sports," he said.

Mrs Tymoshenko, 51, is on a hunger strike to protest at alleged mistreatment in a Ukraine prison where she is serving a seven-year sentence on charges of abusing her powers while prime minister. She claims guards punched her and twisted her arms and legs while forcibly taking her to a hospital to be treated for debilitating back pain.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is a fierce rival of Mrs Tymoshenko, but government officials have denied any claims of bias in the case, which the West widely sees as political.


From Belfast Telegraph