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Ukraine lawmakers delay Tymoshenko travel vote

Ukrainian lawmakers have postponed their vote on a bill to allow jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to travel abroad for medical treatment. The legislation is a key part of Ukraine's bid for EU integration.

House speaker Volodymyr Rybak declared an extraordinary parliamentary session closed on Wednesday, saying that a bill to permit Tymoshenko to travel to Germany was not yet ready.

Rybak said legislation to allow convicted individuals to leave the country for treatment abroad would have to be delayed after a working group between the ruling Regions Party and the opposition failed to agree a joint text.

The parliamentary announcement was greeted with cries of "shame!" from members of the opposition, who accused President Viktor Yanukovych of never having wanted to sign the bill - seen a vital for an integration deal between Ukraine and the EU.

Yanukovych last month said that if parliamentarians agreed he would sign a law allowing Tymoshenko, his political archrival, to travel for back pain treatment in Germany.

"The authorities do not want to sign the Association Agreement," said the leader of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party, world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.

Some opposition lawmakers wore T-shirts bearing portraits of Tymoshenko before the opening of the session.

Regions Party leader Olexander Yefremov said the opposition had sabotaged the release by being unwilling to cooperate on a text.

Vital to EU agreement

The ruling party wants Yanukovych to be released to Germany for treatment and then returned to Ukraine to complete her sentence. The opposition is calling for her sentence to be expunged after treatment.

The EU's two special envoys, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox, were present at the parliamentary session.

The parliament is to make a second attempt to hear the bill on November 19.

Defeated in 2010

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence. She was convicted after losing by a small margin against Yanukovych in a 2010 presidential election.

Her release is a central condition set by EU leaders for Ukraine to sign an association agreement with the bloc, which is scheduled to take place at the end of this month.

The deal - seen as a first step towards EU membership - is unpopular with Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to see Ukraine join an alternative Customs Union, which would also include Belarus and Kazakhstan.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's union of industrialists and businessmen called on Yanukovych to delay the signing of the deal by one year. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told his Cabinet on Wednesday that normalizations of ties with Russia should be the top priority for Ukraine.

rc/ipj (AFP AP, dpa, Reuters)

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