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Ukraine opposition claims it is being targeted in campaign of repression

Opposition groups in Ukraine have accused Kyiv of running a campaign of repression against them. Former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and several members of her cabinet are already under investigation.

Tymoshenko and Yanukovych

Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are bitter political foes

Opposition leaders in Ukraine have accused the authorities of running a campaign of repression against the main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and her allies.

President Viktor Yanukovych has dismissed the claims as groundless. Yet a total of 12 members of the country's opposition are under criminal investigation, six of them are set to ring in the New Year in prison.

The latest prominent opposition figure be arrested was Yuri Lutsenko, a former interior minister in Tymoshenko's cabinet. Lutsenko was walking his dog when the security service arrested him on Sunday.

"These are not the last arrests we are going to see this Christmas and New Year's season," Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of parliament, said on Tuesday. "People could be going to jail all the way through Epiphany."

Vasyl Onopenko, head of the country's supreme court on Tuesday called on officials to respect the rights of detainees.

"The presumption of innocence must be respected," he told a news conference. "This is a constitutional principle. But in our country, there aren't even formal charges, and still a person is immediately declared a criminal."

Running the country "like mafia"

Woman cheering with orange flag

Tymoshenko was swept to power during the 2004 Orange Revolution

Apart from Lutsenko, the former environment and economy ministers and a former deputy justice minister have also been arrested. Yulia Tymoshenko herself has been charged with abuse of office.

She is accused of having spent money destined for environmental issues on paying pensions. For the time being, she has not been detained, although she is not allowed to leave the capital Kyiv and must be available for questioning.

Before being questioned in the public prosecutor's office last week, Yulia Tymoshenko accused the government of President Viktor Yanukovych of running the country "like a real mafia," and that repressions against the opposition were aimed at ensuring that the opposition was in prison when the next elections are due.

"I would like to say to Viktor Yanukovych that, if he must carry out repressions, to do it in such a way that the people will not start laughing, when he puts the former prime minister behind bars for paying pensions," she said.

Yanukovich, however, denies all allegations. During a recent television interview, he stressed that the president does not have the power to exert influence on the courts and that, besides, Tymoshenko had all means at her disposal to defend herself.

Opinion polls show that many people appear to have grown weary of politics. The indicate that a growing number of Ukrainians have little faith in their president - but they have even less faith in other politicians.

Author: Geert Groot Koerkamp, Andreas Illmer (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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