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UPDATE: EU says Ukraine must act fast on Tymoshenko to secure deal

Mon, 18th Nov 2013 11:20

BRUSSELS (Alliance News) - EU foreign ministers urged Ukraine on Monday to act fast on the bloc's demands - notably regarding jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko - if they want a landmark deal on closer ties signed at a summit next week.

Several EU member states have called for Tymoshenko's release - even if only temporarily for medical treatment in Germany - as a symbol of Kiev's intent to end selective justice, one of the bloc's key demands before signing the association and free trade agreement.

"My urgent appeal to Ukraine is to act now, to agree to a viable path to the rule of law, and not to play for time," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as he arrived for talks in Brussels. "Time is running out," he added.

"You don't play with Europe. The conditions are clear," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, urging the EU also to stick to its guns. "Ukraine is not doing well economically - moving closer to the EU would be in Ukraine's interest," he said.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power linked to oil deals when she was prime minister between 2007-10. The EU has called the charges against her politically motivated.

Last week, the Ukrainian parliament postponed a bill that would have allowed Tymoshenko to get treatment abroad for her chronic back pain. Lawmakers will return to the issue on Tuesday.

Her case is "an indication of where Ukraine is at on the issue of rule of law," said Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore. "There is some work to be done yet," he added.

The ministers also appealed to President President Viktor Yanukovych, who has so far refused to use his authority to pardon Tymoshenko.

"Everything is in the hands of President Yanukovich," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. His Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger said he would seek to convince the president to "do something," during bilateral talks in Vienna on Thursday.

The EU's demands of Kiev also include judicial and electoral reforms. Bills on these issues have had a positive first reading in the Ukrainian parliament, but still need to be implemented.

"It's got to be reform that is permanent and irreversible, not just reform for Christmas," said British Minister for Europe David Lidington.

The bloc also hopes to initial association agreements with Moldova and Georgia at the Eastern Partnership summit on November 28-29 in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, which will also be attended by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

The EU is offering these countries a gradual path towards economic integration, the easing of travel restrictions and closer political ties, in return for reform pledges. Financial aid is also involved.

Last week, a senior EU official described the last-minute negotiations as "arm wrestling" with Ukraine, but also with Russia, which has reacted suspiciously to the EU'S efforts to improve relations with the six countries in its sphere of influence.

Moscow has been increasing pressure on these countries ahead of the summit, for example by imposing trade barriers on Ukraine and blocking imports of alcoholic beverages from Moldova.

It has also been courting them to join a Russia-backed customs union - a path that Armenia has chosen, despite three years of free trade negotiations with Brussels.

Monday's talks will also focus on developments in Syria, Libya and Egypt, as well as EU migration challenges, following the death of hundreds of migrants off the coast of Italy last month.

Rome has asked the EU to consider taking naval action against organized crime networks trafficking people across the Mediterranean - an option that ministers could address in the context of broader discussions on common security and defence policy.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said she planned to use Monday's meeting to "better explain" the proposal, which is still in its infancy.

"The control of the southern border, in particular the fight against traffickers, is a common responsibility," Bonino said, adding that human trafficking involved not just women and children but also "people who can be a real assault on the security of our countries."

Copyright dpa

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