EU leaders threaten to boycott Euro 2012 over Tymoshenko treatment


EUROPEAN UNION leaders are threatening to boycott June’s Euro 2012 football championship in Ukraine and several have withdrawn from a summit in the country, in protest at its treatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The former prime minister is on hunger strike after Ukraine rejected her request to receive treatment for severe back problems in Germany, and she claims she was punched by prison guards recently when they took her to a local hospital against her will.

The EU and US say Ms Tymoshenko’s conviction for abuse of power, and other court cases against her allies, were politically motivated attacks by officials and courts loyal to her rival, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

“As things stand now, the president has no intention of going to Ukraine or indeed participating in events in Ukraine at this point in time,” said Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a spokeswoman for European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.

In Berlin, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said “there are no concrete travel plans yet” for German chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Ukraine for Euro 2012. “Any travel plan is conditional on the fate of Ms Tymoshenko and is conditional on the rule of law in Ukraine,” he added.

Germany’s environment minister yesterday labelled Ukraine a “dictatorship” and said “visits by [EU] ministers or prime ministers are beyond question under the current circumstances”.

Germany, along with teams including England, France, Portugal and the Netherlands, will play group-stage games in Ukraine, while Ireland will play in the other host country, Poland.

“I hope that German statesmen won’t reactivate the methods of the Cold War and try to make sports a hostage to politics,” said Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin.

He also confirmed that the presidents of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovenia had withdrawn from a May 11th-12th summit of central and eastern European leaders in Yalta.

“We are informing everyone of this ahead of time so that no one makes a sensation out of it.”

Uli Hoeness, the president of Germany’s biggest football club, Bayern Munich, has urged Germany’s Euro 2012 squad “to inform the public and take every available opportunity to point out that the conditions of detention of Ms Tymoshenko are unacceptable”.

Ukraine’s preparations for the tournament came under further pressure last Friday, when 30 people were injured in four explosions in Ms Tymoshenko’s hometown of Dnipropetrovsk. Police are investigating a claim of responsibility from someone using the pseudonym “Eurobomber”.