Top ally of Ukraine's ex-PM Tymoshenko sentenced

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A Ukrainian court on Thursday sentenced a top ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to five years in prison for abuse of office.

The Pechersk district court in Kiev found former acting Defense Minister Valery Ivashchenko guilty of abusing his office during the sell-off of a state shipbuilding plant in 2009. Ivashchenko denied any wrongdoing, calling the verdict unjust and politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, is serving a seven-year prison term on charges of abuse of office after a verdict that has been condemned by the West as politically driven. Yuiri Lutsenko, the interior minister in Tymoshenko's Cabinet, has also been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

The trials of Tymoshenko and her allies have significantly strained Kiev's relations with the West. Tymoshenko claims that President Viktor Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 presidential election, is seeking to get rid of political opponents. Yanukovych says his government is merely fighting corruption.

On Thursday, Germany's top human rights official Markus Loening urged Ukrainian authorities to ensure that Tymoshenko, 51, gets proper treatment for her back condition.

German doctors who examined her say she is in severe and constant pain caused by a herniated disk and needs urgent treatment in a specialized medical clinic.

Ukrainian authorities long insisted that Tymoshenko's health was satisfactory and that she can be treated inside the prison. But they finally bowed to Western pressure and announced earlier this month she can be treated at a hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv where her prison is located.

"Ukrainian authorities have to do everything to make sure that people who are sick, if they are in jail, that they get the best treatment possible, that is their duty," Loening told reporters in Kiev. "And (at) the moment, the impression is that the Ukrainian authorities are not fulfilling their duty."

Tymoshenko's daughter Yevhenia has accused prison doctors of trying to kill her mother and Tymoshenko is still pondering whether to accept the offer to be treated at a Ukrainian clinic.

Tymoshenko has voiced doubts that government-employed doctors will treat her properly and said she would agree to the Ukrainian clinic if it is approved by her German doctors. The doctors from Berlin's Charite clinic are to inspect the Kharkiv hospital this week.

The German government is in talks with Ukrainian officials about allowing Tymoshenko to be treated in Germany. Ukrainian authorities have said such a move would require a new law.

Also Thursday, a Rome court released from custody another Tymoshenko ally, Arsen Avakov, the former head of the eastern Kharkiv region and put him under house arrest, said Yuri Boichenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office.

Avakov, accused of misappropriating over 50 hectares (125 acres) of land, was arrested in Italy on Ukraine's request last month.

Tymoshenko's office calls the accusations against Avakov politically motivated. Boichenko said Ukraine will press for Avakov's extradition.