Ukraine opposition calls for Tymoshenko release

Opposition lawmakers in the Ukrainian parliament on Friday called for the release of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and for the dismissal of the government of her bitter foe President Viktor Yanukovych.

"Our political demand is the release of Yulia Tymoshenko and her return to political life," said prominent opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as his supporters chanted "Free Yulia!"

Speaking in parliament, Yatsenyuk said that "Ukraine has a talentless government and a talentless president, who should be forced to step down."

But the opposition failed to carry a vote of no confidence in the government, gathering only 190 of the 226 votes necessary.

Tymoshenko was convicted of abuse of power in 2011 for signing a gas deal with Russia and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that the European Union and the United States argued was politically motivated.

The EU says the release of Tymoshenko, the feisty former Orange Revolution figurehead, is an essential step towards Ukraine's goal of an association and trade agreement.

The agreement -- an important step on the way to possible future EU membership for Ukraine -- is due to be signed in November.

This month top EU officials visited Kiev and held talks with Tymoshenko as well as with Yanukovych and premier Mykola Azarov.

Former European Parliament head Pat Cox said Thursday that the "dense and intense... (visit) has yielded positive results."

A new fraud and tax evasion trial against Tymoshenko has dragged on for nearly a year with hearings repeatedly postponed due to her absence for medical reasons.

Besides her tax evasion trial, Tymoshenko was also accused in January of ordering the 1996 gangland murder of influential lawmaker Yevgen Shcherban.

The Ukrainian leadership won rare praise from the West for its decision earlier this month to pardon top Tymoshenko ally Yuriy Lutsenko, the country's former interior minister, who was jailed for abuse of office and embezzlement.