BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Ukrainian leaders on Thursday to allow jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko "proper treatment" for her ailments, as more top officials announced they would boycott the Euro 2012 soccer championship co-hosted by Ukraine.
Merkel insisted that she had not yet decided whether to stay away from the matches to be held in Ukraine and that her priority now is the former leader's health.
"Much more important than my travel plans is that we must now do everything possible to see that Yulia Tymoshenko gets the proper treatment for her medical problems as soon as possible," Merkel was quoted as saying by the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. "The German government has been working on this for weeks and our offer stands for her to receive this medical treatment in Germany."
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, announced Thursday he would not travel to any of the matches in Ukraine, joining other top officials such as the European Commission's President Jose Manuel Barroso and the governments of Austria and Belgium.
The decisions have come as a blow to a country that had hoped the soccer championship would showcase it and boost its ties with the EU.
In Warsaw, however, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that while he is disturbed by Ukraine's treatment of Tymoshenko and is urging Ukraine to observe human rights standards, he does not plan on supporting a boycott of the June 8-July 1 Euro 2012 tournament, which is being co-hosted by Poland.
"I have appealed multiple times to the authorities in Ukraine not to let politics ruin this national celebration and nothing will affect our determination to fight for human rights and alleviate the situation of Yulia Tymoshenko," he told reporters.
Russian Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin also weighed in Thursday, saying Russia would be willing to allow Tymoshenko to come for medical treatment, if she and Ukrainian authorities agreed to it, according to news reports.
But Putin said the Tymoshenko situation should not involve Euro 2012. "One must not in any circumstances mix politics, business and other questions of this sort with sports," he said.
Tymoshenko, 51, is on a hunger strike to protest alleged mistreatment in a Ukraine prison where she is serving a seven-year sentence on charges of abusing her powers while prime minister. She claims guards punched her and twisted her arms and legs while forcibly taking her to a hospital to be treated for debilitating back pain.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is a fierce rival of Tymoshenko, but government officials have denied any claims of bias in the case, which the West widely sees as political.
The case is overshadowing Ukraine's hopes for Euro 2012, one of Europe's top sporting events of the year.
"The Tymoshenko case has dramatically darkened the chances of Ukraine improving its image during the Euro," Ukrainian political analyst Vadym Karasyov said. "Ukraine will be judged not by how well it organizes a European sporting event, but by Tymoshenko's case, the political repressions, the bruises on Tymoshenko's body that she said she got in prison."
In Kiev, Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn acknowledged the Tymoshenko case has put Ukraine in a difficult position.
"The situation is pretty tough today in the country," said Lytvyn, a Yanukovych ally. "This is linked to the court hearings, the reaction from Western countries. All of this has become a problem for the country and obviously for Europe."
During a visit to Lithuania, U.S. Sen. John McCain joined the chorus calling for Tymoshenko to receive urgent medical care.
McCain also said the Ukraine's leadership cannot expect closer relations with Europe while it persecutes political opponents and fails to hold free and fair elections.
"The message needs to be clear and sent now by the EU to the Ukrainian government," he said, suggesting that international observers could go to Ukraine and arrange for Tymoshenko to leave.