German president cancels trip to Ukraine


German President Joachim Gauck has canceled a planned visit to Ukraine next month amid concerns over the treatment of ailing jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, German media reported Thursday.

The national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Gauck had discussed the matter with Chancellor Angela Merkel and decided not to attend a summit of central European presidents in Yalta next month.

Government sources confirmed the report to various news agencies and said the Ukrainian embassy in Berlin was informed of Gauck's decision. The German president has a mostly ceremonial role, but the trip's cancelation carried heavy symbolic weight.

Merkel's government has expressed "deep concern" over the health of Tymoshenko, however it does not want to consider a boycott of the upcoming European football championship in Ukraine and Poland this June.

From back pain to hunger strike

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a conviction of abuse of power related to her time as prime minister in 2009. She is currently facing a separate trial for attempted embezzlement and tax evasion, charges that could add another 12 years to the term. She denies the charges and says they are part of a campaign to silence the opposition.

The 51-year-old opposition leader has also been suffering from debilitating back pain, which a team of German doctors who examined her earlier this year reportedly attributed to a slipped disc. Germany has lobbied the Ukrainian government to allow Tymoshenko to be treated at a Berlin hospital, but the government has refused, instead sending her to a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she is imprisoned. She refused treatment, fearing the doctors may poison her.

Tymoshenko's lawyer said this week that she has begun a hunger strike, accusing prison guards of beating her.

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