BRUSSELS – The chief of the European Union's head office says he will not go to Ukraine during the European soccer championships in June unless there is a swift improvement in the human rights situation there.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and other European leaders piled the pressure Monday on the leadership in Kiev in support of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Barroso's announcement followed that of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who is skipping the ceremonial Euro 2012 opening on June 8.
"It is clear that as things stand now, the president has no intention of going to Ukraine," Barroso's spokeswoman said.
The tournament, more important to Europe than the Olympic soccer tournament, is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine from June 8 until July 1.
Activists have called for protests against Ukraine where Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year jail sentence in a case the West has called politically motivated. Ukraine's president is a fierce rival of Tymoshenko but government officials have denied any claims of bias in the case.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's environment minister has urged top European government officials to boycott the Euro 2012 matches. Also, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Merkel will abstain from attending any matches and urge her Cabinet members to do so as well unless Tymoshenko is freed to undergo medical treatment abroad.
The German government has offered to treat her in Berlin, but Kiev has rejected the offer.
Also Monday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus canceled his visit to a summit of Central European leaders being held May 11-12 in Ukraine because of Tymoshenko's treatment, his spokesman said.
German President Joachim Gauck said he also will not travel to the Yalta gathering.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin tried to downplay the announcements.
"I hope that German statesmen won't reactivate the methods of the Cold War and try to make sports a hostage to politics," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Poland, as co-host of Euro 2012 but also an EU member, was in a tough position.
"We believe that at this point calls for a boycott of the Euro 2012 are totally unfounded," government spokesman Marcin Bosacki said. "These two things should not be linked together."
He stressed that Poland has made it clear to Ukraine's authorities that it did not approve of the trial and the treatment of Tymoshenko but added that she herself had asked others not to link the two events
"Poland will follow that appeal," Bosacki said.
Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Jim Heintz in Moscow, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this story.