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Ukraine's Yanukovych 'ready to let Tymoshenko travel'

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said he is prepared to let jailed political rival Yulia Tymoshenko travel abroad for medical treatment. The most likely destination for the former prime minister is Germany.

The Ukrainian president said on Thursday that he would allow Tymoshenko to leave the country, provided that parliament passed the necessary legislation to allow it.

Any such law would have to be debated as a bill before the single chamber Verkhovna Rada, which would then require President Yanukovych's signature.

"Today Ukraine does not have a law which would allow Tymoshenko to go abroad for treatment," Yanukovych told reporters. "Naturally if parliament adopts such a bill I will sign it."

The ruling Regions Party is believed to be keen to rush the legislation through parliament, with the government seeking to remove a major obstacle in negotiations with the EU.

The most likely destination for Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, is believed to be Berlin's Charite clinic.

In October 2011, Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail on charges that she abused power during her time in office as prime minister. Tymoshenko, who challenged Yanukovych for the presidency in 2010, claims the charges were politically motivated - an opinion shared by many Western governments.

Looming trouble with Moscow

Even if she is freed, it is expected that - under the planned legislation - the 52-year-old would be unable to take part in a presidential poll in 2015.

Tymoshenko's release would pave the way for an Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, scheduled for discussion at a summit in Lithuania at the end of November.

Brussels has insisted there can be no deal with Kyiv while Tymoshenko remains jailed. However, the agreement is likely to generate tension between Ukraine and Russia, with Moscow anxious about losing influence over its smaller southern neighbor.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia would not stand by if Ukraine strengthens economic ties with the EU rather than joining a Russian-led Customs Union, also encompassing Kazakhstan and Belarus.

rc/rg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)