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Poland pressuring Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine over Tymoshenko

Political protests affecting one of soccer's most-watched tournaments.
Philipp lahm on tymoshenkoEnlarge
Germany's national soccer team captain Philipp Lahm slammed Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine for it's treatment of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Can sport save imprisoned Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko?

As Ukraine readies for next month's Euro 2012 soccer championship, co-host Poland today added to mounting political pressure calling for Tymoshenko’s release, The Associated Press said.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said outdated regulations in Ukraine allow political decisions to lead to prison terms.

“These regulations, born under a previous system and until today still unchanged by Ukrainian democrats, are the source of bad temptations and bad decisions,” he said today, according to the AP.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich jailed Tymoshenko, his main political rival and a former prime minister, for abuses of power.

Many other world leaders have decried the decision, saying they would boycott soccer games in Ukraine if the nation didn’t address the situation.

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The controversy has spilled onto the grass, as well, Agence France-Presse reported.

Germany’s captain, Philipp Lahm, earlier this week called upon the European football association (UEFA) to demand Tymoshenko’s release.

He told a German news magazine that soccer is so important in Europe, those involved couldn’t bury their heads in the sand any longer.

“I do not find my views of democratic fundamental rights, human rights, personal freedom or freedom of the press to be found in the present political situation in the Ukraine,” Lahm said, according to AFP.

“When I see how the regime is treating Yulia Tymoshenko, it has nothing to do with my image of democracy.”

His coach was more politically weary, although Joachim Loew suggested soccer’s spotlight could be used for good, according to Reuters.

Loew said Germany isn’t “police for the world” and opposed a boycott, yet suggested something is wrong in Ukraine.

“It is a good opportunity, with all eyes on the tournament, for these issues to be discussed and maybe something positive comes out,” he told Reuters.

Germany plays some of its early tournament games in Kharkiv, the city where Tymoshenko is being held.

Play begins in early June, and the final goes July 1 in Kiev.

Spain is defending champions, and should the nation reach the championship game, the Spanish government won’t attend.

“If Spain gets through to that final, there will be no member of the government present while the case of Yulia Tymoshenko is unresolved,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said, according to Reuters.

Ukraine has billions riding on the tournament, the AP reported.

UEFA awarded Poland and Ukraine the tournament in 2007, and Ukraine has spent as much as $14 billion preparing.

Ukraine was hoping the tournament would spark its economy, and perhaps lead to inclusion into the European Union.

That was before Tymoshenko, serving a seven-year sentence, was jailed.

“This was a chance to show off the country because a thousand journalists will come here,” Oleh Rybachuk, a cabinet minister in Tymoshenko’s government, told the AP. “Now, those thousand journalists will come and write about a million problems.”

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