Supporters of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, continued their sit-in Sunday to protest her recent arrest for contempt of court in her ongoing trial on abuse-of-power charges.
AFP - Tensions rose in Ukraine on Sunday between the authorities and supporters of imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko after a court said an indefinite protest demanding her release was illegal.
Some 100 members of the elite Berkut anti-riot police unit were in position on the edge of the tented camp set up by Tymoshenko supporters in central Kiev as rumours spread that the authorities could forcibly remove the protest.
In a tense stand-off, around 100 supporters of the ruling Regions Party staged a counter rally opposite the street from Tymoshenko's supporters as street protests returned to Kiev in an echo of the Orange Revolution of 2004.
"We are going to stay despite the attempts by the authorities to remove us. We are not scared, we just want our children to be able to live in a normal country," said Tymoshenko supporter Galina Zanko, 58.
The protest on the capital's central Kreshchatyk avenue had been ruled illegal overnight by the Kiev district administrative court. However despite the tension there was no sign of police moving in to disperse the action.
Several dozen Tymoshenko backers chanting "Yulia, you are not alone" also rallied outside her Kiev detention centre as a small group of policemen watched on.
A larger demonstration was scheduled for Monday when the court was due to reopen a controversial hearing that could put one of the country's most flamboyant but divisive figures in jail for seven to 10 years.
The presiding judge on Friday ordered Tymoshenko arrested for contempt in a dramatic turn to a trial she claims is part of a political vendetta pursued by her current rival, President Viktor Yanukovych.
Tymoshenko is accused of causing a loss to Ukraine's budget of 1.5 billion hryvnias ($190 million) in 2009 when as prime minister she signed a gas deal with Russia's Vladimir Putin that resolved a disruption of deliveries that also affected Europe.
Yanukovych became president last year after defeating Tymoshenko in bitterly-contested elections.
Since coming to power, Yanukovych has sought to dispel Western fears over his pro-Kremlin leanings by setting a clear aim of EU integration. But the arrest has raised alarm among Ukraine's partners.
Echoing comments from the European Union, the United States said her arrest "raised concerns internationally about the application of the rule of law in Ukraine and further contributes to the appearance of politically-motivated prosecutions."
Tymoshenko also found heavyweight support from Ukrainian boxing star Vitali Klitschko who announced he halted training for an upcoming fight to take part in a "battle for democratic values" following her arrest.
Top figures in Tymoshenko's party, including her right-hand-man Olexander Turchinov, have called for mass protests next week to stage a repeat of the Orange uprising, though analysts are sceptical they can muster big numbers.
Tymoshenko already has experience of jail after briefly being imprisoned in 2001 under former president Leonid Kuchma on forgery charges that were eventually quashed.
The current charges carry a sentence of between seven and 10 years in prison. Even a suspended sentence would disqualify her from parliamentary polls next year and the next presidential elections in 2015.
Yanukovych -- whose Regions Party unsuccessfully tried to forge a political coalition with Tymoshenko in 2009 -- also spent time in jail under the USSR in 1967 and again in 1970 on convictions of robbery and assault.
Date created : 2011-08-06