BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Ukrainian leaders on Thursday to give jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko "proper treatment" for her ailments, as more top officials announced they would boycott the Euro 2012 soccer championship co-hosted by Ukraine.
Merkel insisted that she had not yet decided whether to stay away from the matches in Ukraine, but said her priority now was the former leader's health.
Euro 2012 is the continent's most prestigious soccer tournament, taking place only once every four years. The dispute over Tymoshenko, Ukraine's top opposition figure, is coming as a big blow to the country's hopes of using the tournament to boost tourism and trade with the 27-nation European Union. Ukraine, which is not in the EU, is co-hosting with EU member Poland.
"Much more important than my travel plans is that we must now do everything possible to see that Yulia Tymoshenko gets the proper treatment," Merkel was quoted as saying by the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. "Our offer stands for her to receive this medical treatment in Germany."
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, announced Thursday he would not travel to any of the matches in Ukraine, joining other top officials such as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the governments of Austria and Belgium.
Tymoshenko, 51, is on a hunger strike to protest alleged mistreatment in an Ukraine prison where she is serving a seven-year sentence on charges of abusing her power while in office. She claims guards punched her while forcibly taking her to a hospital to be treated for debilitating back pain.
The West has criticized her sentence as being politically motivated for Tymoshenko is a big rival of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. His government has denied any claims of bias in the case.
"The Tymoshenko case has dramatically darkened the chances of Ukraine improving its image during the Euro," Ukrainian political analyst Vadym Karasyov said. "Ukraine will be judged not by how well it organizes a European sporting event, but by Tymoshenko's case, the political repressions, the bruises on Tymoshenko's body that she said she got in prison."
In Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said while he is disturbed by Ukraine's treatment of Tymoshenko and is urging Ukraine to observe international human rights standards, he will not back a boycott of the June 8-July 1 Euro 2012 tournament.