Tymoshenko to remain in custody as Ukraine postpones key vote

Ukraine’s parliament has delayed a key vote on the release of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, a move that threatens to derail the former Soviet republic’s push toward the European Union and shift it back into Russia’s orbit.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak closed the session, attended by two top EU envoys, saying the bill allowing Ms Tymoshenko to travel to Germany for medical treatment was not yet ready. He said parliament will take up the bill again when it next meets.

EU officials have warned that they will not sign a free-trade and political association agreement with Ukraine if Ms Tymoshenko remains in jail and have urged her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych to release her for treatment in Germany as a compromise measure.

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Opposition leaders accused Mr Yanukovych and his allies in parliament of selling out to Russia and purposely sabotaging the long-awaited EU deal. Russia opposes the signing of the agreement and has used threats, sanctions and offers of price discounts in a bid to lure Kiev away from the EU and into a Moscow-led customs union instead.

After the session was closed, parliament erupted with angry chants of “Shame! Shame!” from opposition MPs, some dressed in white sweaters that read “Freedom to Ukraine” and others wearing red sweaters reading “Ukraine is Europe.”

“It’s a clear answer as to whether Viktor Yanukovych is ready to sign the agreement with the European Union,” opposition leader and top Tymoshenko ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk said after it became clear that the vote would not take place. “You are ready only for political persecution, blackmail and pressure and to hold on to your power.”