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11/13/2013

Ukraine delays vote to free former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko

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Ukrainian riot police stand in front of a sign to free former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wed. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian parliament has put-off a vote to let former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko out of prison, a move that jeopardizes the signing of a free trade agreement with the European Union.

The 28-member EU is demanding Ukraine let Tymoshenko out of prison so she can seek German medical treatment for her bad back. They say if Ukraine does not comply, the free trade deal the EU is set to sign with the former Soviet state at the end of the month will be derailed.

Tymoshenko is a former leader of the Orange revolution in Ukraine. She was jailed in 2011, for seven years, on the charge of abuse of office. Tymoshenko is a chief rival to current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In 2005, she became the first female prime minister of the nation of 46 million. She ran for president in 2010 but lost to Yanukovych.

Germany is warning the Ukraine that they must act now or risk everything. But Russia could not be more pleased as they are opposed to Ukraine forging deeper ties with the EU. Instead, Russia wants Ukraine joining its own customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.   

"We regret that the parliament of Ukraine today again could not agree on a new legal measure to allow medical treatment abroad. This is a missed chance for a way of solving the Tymoshenko case. Time is running out," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, told Reuters.

And the EU envoy warned Ukraine they have one more chance, at next week's parliament, to free Tymoshenko. The historic EU agreement with Ukraine is supposed to be signed in Lithuania on Nov. 28. 

Ex-Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an EU negotiator, said Nov. 19 is Ukraine's last chance. "We hope that there will be goodwill to find a compromise so all the necessary laws will be adopted," reported the Washington Post.

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

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