Ukraine opposition leader Tymoshenko may be released from prison

Ukraine opposition leader Tymoshenko may be released from prison
A woman kneels in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, this week in front of a banner showing jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times)

Ukraine's parliament voted Friday to change the country's criminal code in a way that may allow the release from prison of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, a longtime rival of President Viktor Yanukovich, was found guilty of abuse of power in 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison. She lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovich and was accused of exceeding her powers as prime minister in signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

The vote by parliament may mean that Tymoshenko, known as the princess of the 2004 Orange Revolution, will be released soon from the prison in Kharkiv, officials and activists said.

Her lawyer, Sergei Vlasenko, told reporters that Tymoshenko still needed a court order to go free, but he implied that it was a formality.

Political scientist Igor Popov said Tymoshenko's release would be a significant move for the country, considering the recent deadly unrest.

"Yanukovich is a shot-down pilot nothing can save now, as he lost most of the support and loyalty among law enforcement structures of Ukraine for displaying complete inability for tough, swift and resolute steps in dealing with the crisis," Popov, head of the Politika Analytical Center, a Kiev-based think tank, said in an interview with The Times.

Popov said Tymoshenko could become the most likely candidate for the next presidency.

"She may be the only politician with the guts on the current political stage to deal with numerous paramilitary groups," he said.

A peace deal signed Friday between Yanukovich and opposition leaders calls for a presidential election no later than December, the formation of a coalition government and the ceding of some presidential powers to parliament.

The arrangement is aimed at defusing the worst political crisis in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine and stopping the spreading violence, which in the last few days has claimed more than 100 lives and left hundreds injured in clashes in Kiev and elsewhere.

The agreement provides for passage within 48 hours of legislation restoring the constitution of 2004, thus delegating many of the current presidential powers to parliament and restoring what critics say has been a lost balance of power.