Merkel to boycott Ukraine football tournament

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel could cancel her visit to Ukraine during the Euro 2012 football tournament in June if jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not released by then, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported yesterday (29 April). 

"If Tymoshenko is not released by the start of the Euro in June, the German footballers will then most likely have to play without Merkel being in attendance," the magazine said, without naming any sources.

Last October, the European Union saw Tymoshenko's jailing as politically-motivated and has criticised her conviction (see background). Ukraine is co-hosting the June 8-July 1 tournament together with neighbouring Poland.

Merkel usually travels to attend important matches involving the German national team, Reuters reported. Der Spiegel said if Merkel refused to attend, other cabinet members were likely to follow suit. A spokesman for the German government declined to comment on the report.

German President Joachim Gauck said last week he had cancelled a planned visit to Ukraine next month. The former human rights activist had been due to attend a meeting of central European heads of state in Ukraine's Black Sea resort of Yalta.

On Friday, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said a decision on whether the chancellor would attend matches in Ukraine depended on the situation.

"Obviously further developments in Ukraine and the Tymoshenko case would play a role in the decision," he said.

Other EU nations have also been alarmed. On Sunday, Italy's Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said he was following the case with "growing concern".

"The news…that Ms Tymoshenko was said to be recently faced with physical violence during a transfer from prison to hospital can't help but raise serious alarm," he said in a statement.

Berlin has repeatedly offered to treat Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, in a German hospital.

A poll by German newspaper Bild am Sonntag found that 52% of Germans are in favour of Merkel and her ministers staying away from matches in Ukraine.

The poll also found 50% of Germans were opposed to Euro matches taking place in Ukraine in the first place.

Terrorism threat?

A series of bomb explosions in Ukraine added to the tensions. Four bombs left in trash cans in various locations in Dnipropetrovsk, an industrial center of over one million inhabitants in eastern Ukraine, exploded in quick succession around midday on Friday, injuring 30 people, including 11 children.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich promised a swift probe into the blasts, which the country’s prosecutors said were an "act of terrorism".

Polish president Bronis?aw Komorowski voiced worries for the football championship his country is co-hosting with Ukraine.

"Of course this causes concern, including in Poland because of the approaching Euro 2012 tournament, [about] a worsening atmosphere… in a country with which we are organising this great sporting event," Komorowski said, as reported by the Voice of Warsaw.

Poland’s Internal Security Agency said that for now it was not recommending that the authorities in Warsaw should warn of an increased level of terrorist threat. It added in a statement that “there is no reason to link the attacks on Ukraine with the current level of terrorist threat to Poland.”

Media in Poland have speculated that the explosions may have been the work of feuding criminal gangs.

Ukrainian soccer federation chief Hryhory Surkis said that those who planted the bombs were "accomplices to an attack on the image of our country ahead of Euro 2012."
Euro 2012 matches will not be played in Dnipropetrovsk itself.

UEFA, European soccer's governing body, said it remained confident that security measures taken by Ukraine would ensure a "smooth and festive" tournament, despite the bomb blasts.

Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Germany's centre-left Social Democrats, and Claudia Roth, head of the Greens, said it would be a mistake for German leaders to appear in Ukraine while Tymoshenko was in jail.

"Politicians need to watch out that they're not being used as cheerleaders for the regime at the European championships," Gabriel said through social media. "Because it's possible they'd be sitting in stadia next to jail wardens and secret police."

Roth told reporters in Lübeck: "Politicians [from Germany] shouldn't take on the role of extras for a dictatorship."

Deutsche Welle quoted Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gudrun Kopp who said the Euro 2012 matches scheduled for Ukraine should be moved to co-host Poland or a third country. While the tournament's opening games will be in Poland, the final is set for July 1 in Kyiv.

The European Union said it was "disappointed" with the sentencing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison over allegations that she abused her office in relation to a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.

The trial was "politically motivated" and did not respect international standards, the EU has said, adding that it "would reflect" on its policies towards Ukraine.

The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

On 30 March, the document was initialled, but full signature depends on changing the system of "selective justice" and the parliamentary elections in Ukraine due on 28 October 2012.

  • June 8-July 1: Ukraine is co-hosting Euro 2012 football tournament together with neighbouring Poland.

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