Trial of Ukrainian opposition leader Tymoshenko opens
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko went on trial on Friday accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars while she was prime minister, dpa reported.
The scene at the court in central Kiev was chaotic as a judge read out the charges, with Tymoshenko supporters shouting "Shame!" and bailiffs struggling to control the crowd.
Tymoshenko was charged with improperly approving a natural gas import contract with Russia that allegedly cost Ukrainian taxpayers millions of dollars.
Prosecutors have also accused her of responsibility for the disappearance of 313 million dollars in state funds while she was prime minister, from 2007-2010. However, that accusation was not read out to the court during Friday's session.
Wearing her trademark peasant braid and white outfit, Tymoshenko called the accusations "ridiculous" and "politically motivated."
"I do not recognize this court," she said, as supporters applauded.
The single judge at the hearing was hard put to maintain order, with Tymoshenko supporters and opponents repeatedly interrupting the proceedings, which were held in a jammed and stuffy courtroom.
There was pushing and shoving among journalists, Tymoshenko supporters and members of parliament present. At one point a Tymoshenko supporter dumped a bucket of water on Iryna Boguslovskaya, a Tymoshenko critic.
The early debate between Tymoshenko and prosecutors focussed on whether to allow media in the courtroom, and whether the judge was fit to hear the case. Both the media and the judge stayed.
"I demand a trial by a jury of my peers," Tymoshenko said. "My voice will be even louder from prison. The whole world will hear me."
A late-morning brawl also halted proceedings for several minutes as Tymoshenko supporters and opponents attempted to shove each other out of the overheated courtroom.
At a street rally before the court session, Tymoshenko told supporters she had been targeted by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych in a political vendetta.
"(Yanukovych) is a coward," Tymoshenko said in a speech to a crowd of some 1,000 supporters. "He wants to make it illegal for me to run for public office."
Yanukovych on Wednesday denied that the proceedings against her were politically motivated.
"No one is more interested that she get a fair trial than I am," he said.
Prosecutors aruge that Tymoshenko misused government funds and vehicles to support her failed presidential bid and that she misdirected money intended for energy-efficiency projects towards domestic social programmes.
Tymoshenko was a leader of Ukraine's pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004. She served twice as prime minister before losing the 2009-2010 presidential election to Yanukovych.