EU Official assured that Tymoshenko will not be stopped from standing for political office
YALTA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukraine has assured the European Union that former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is on trial on a charge of abuse-of-office, will not be convicted as a felon, a top European Union official said on Friday.
EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule, after meeting President Viktor Yanukovich, said he expected the former Soviet republic to amend its criminal laws to allow Tymoshenko to go free and continue to be active politically.
Tymoshenko has been on trial in Kiev since the end of June accused of exceeding her authority by brokering a gas supply deal with Russia that left the country saddled with paying high prices. She denies the charge and says the trial is a vendetta by a crooked court acting on orders from her rival Yanukovich.
The president, in power since February 2010 when he beat Tymoshenko narrowly in a bitter election, says the courts are simply acting to crack down on corruption and has up to now refused to intervene.
But court proceedings were abruptly adjourned last Monday until Sept. 27 after the United States and the EU, which also see the trial as politically motivated, expressed fresh concern at the trial.
On the sidelines of an international conference in the Crimean resort of Yalta where Yanukovich spoke on Friday, Fule said: "We have been fully assured about his commitment to finding a solution."
Ukraine is pursuing talks with the EU bloc aimed at signing an association agreement which would include creation of a free trade association.
"If the solution is not found, although we are determined to finalise the negotiations, it might be difficult, " Fule added. "If the former prime minister is put into prison, the relationship will hardly be the same between the EU and Ukraine."
Tymoshenko would be unable to run for election again if she were convicted of a criminal charge and her supporters say the trial is aimed at neutralising the charismatic politician as an opposition force.
A parliamentary election is scheduled to be held in Ukraine in October 2012.
But Fule said the EU wanted to see Tymoshenko, who is being held in detention during the trial, not only set free but also allowed to run for office.
"The most important point we have talked about is the decriminalisation of that article, " he said, referring to a procedure under Ukrainian law under which a person can still run for public office despite having a conviction.
"We would like to see her being fully a part of political life."
Fule said he had not discussed any deadlines with Yanukovich but expected Ukraine to take into account the "political calendar".
Officials from both sides hope to initial the association and free trade agreements in December.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
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