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European parliament envoys were set Monday to arrive in Kiev in the hope of securing a last-minute deal for jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad, as Ukraine prepares for a landmark agreement with the European Union.
European Parliament envoys Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox headed to Ukraine for an emergency two-day visit after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said last week he was willing to let Tymoshenko leave the country but would not pardon her.
"Time to secure a viable settlement is running out," the envoys said in a statement on the eve of their visit, indicating that Yanukovych's proposal did not go far enough.
The statement urged a solution that "must respect the dignity and secure the agreement of each of the key personalities involved on both sides."
Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, has said she is ready to go for treatment abroad but added she would push for legal rehabilitation.
During the visit, Poland's former president Kwasniewski and former European Parliament president Cox are expected to meet both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, who is now being treated at a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv under prison guard.
Yanukovych is believed to be looking for ways to prevent Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, from staging a political comeback and taking part in presidential polls in 2015.
Under legislation submitted to the Ukrainian parliament, Tymoshenko would be able to go abroad but would then have to return home to continue serving a seven-year sentence she received for abuse of power in 2011.
At a briefing with reporters on Monday, Yanukovych pointedly sidestepped a question about a possible pardon for Tymoshenko.
Speaking after talks with Czech president Milos Zeman, he merely reiterated that lawmakers were now considering a bill that would allow convicts to be treated abroad.
A leader of Tymoshenko's Batkivschyna party, Arsenii Yatsenyuk, said that the opposition could only accept the amnesty or the pardoning of Tymoshenko.
"This should be a compromise between the Ukrainian government, our European partners and a compromise to which Yulia Tymoshenko would agree," he said in a party statement on Monday.
"The Ukrainian authorities firmly realised that the issue of Yulia Tymoshenko should be solved. She should be released.
"But the bad news is, the Ukrainian authorities still do not know how to do it."
Boxer-turned-opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called on the president to "stop playing with the future of the country."
Tymoshenko's imprisonment has been the single major obstacle blocking a broad political and free-trade deal with Brussels that has been slated for signing at a summit in Vilnius in late November.
Tymoshenko was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in jail on abuse of power charges, which she has dismissed as an attempt by her rival to remove her from politics.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski are expected in Ukraine on Tuesday.