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Ukraine's leader can still save EU deal: EU presidency

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Lithuania, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said on Wednesday that Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych could still save a historic free-trade deal with the European Union.

Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said the inability of Ukraine's parliament to agree on a bill to free jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko did not yet rule out the conclusion of an EU-Ukraine association agreement in Vilnius later this month.

"I believe President Yanukovych can still save the EU deal if he assumes leadership and responsibility," Linkevicius told AFP.

"Of course, the situation isn't good because of a lack of clarity. There seemed to be the political will to sign the deal, but it has not been backed up with concrete steps", Linkevicius said.

Without elaborating, he insisted Kiev must "make progress" before the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania's capital Vilnius slated for November 28-29.

The EU has repeatedly urged Kiev to ensure there is no "selective justice" in the Tymoshenko case.

The release of Tymoshenko from prison is a key condition set by EU leaders for Ukraine signing an Association Agreement -- a first step toward EU membership -- at the summit in late November, but an extraordinary session of parliament ended on Wednesday without deputies even taking a vote on the issue.

The bill would have allowed convicts to leave Ukraine for treatment abroad and thus permit Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, to go to a clinic in Germany.

The session was widely seen as a last chance for Ukraine to allow Tymoshenko to go free ahead of a Vilnius summit on November 28-29.

But Linkevicius insisted the chances were still on the table: "If you ask if today we can certainly say that the agreement will not be signed, I would not confirm that".

The prospect of Ukraine signing the agreement had infuriated Moscow, which wants Kiev to join its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and has raised the prospect of retaliation on the already battered Ukrainian economy.

The opposition's suspicions about the intentions of President Yanukovych were amplified when it emerged he had travelled to Moscow on Saturday for secret talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131113/ukraines-leader-can-still-save-eu-deal-eu-presidency