Yulia Tymoshenko jailed for seven years

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Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years today in a trial widely condemned in the West as politically motivated.

Ms Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, was also banned from holding government posts for three years after the end of her sentence and fined 1.5 billion hryvna (£121 million) in damages to the state.

Ms Tymoshenko remained calm, but did not wait for the judge to finish reading the lengthy ruling, standing up from her seat and addressing reporters in the courtroom as he spoke.

She compared her verdict, which she claimed was written by her long-time foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, to the horrific purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"The year 1937 has returned to Ukraine with this verdict and all the repression of citizens," she said, adding that she would contest the ruling. "As for me, be sure that I will not stop my fight even for a minute. I will always be with you as long as it is necessary."

"Nobody, not Yanukovych, not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name. I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine's sake," Ms Tymoshenko said earlier.

As judge Rodion Kireyev was leaving the court, Ms Tymoshenko's husband Oleksandr yelled out that his time would also come for a similar verdict.

Ms Tymoshenko was found guilty of exceeding her authority during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. The court ruled that she was not authorised to order the contract signed and that the price she agreed to was too high, causing losses to the state budget.

The EU condemned the verdict as politically motivated and urged the Ukrainian authorities to ensure a transparent and fair appeal. A failure to do so would have "profound implications" for Ukraine-EU relations and could jeopardise the conclusion of a landmark association agreement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ms Tymoshenko, 50, was the driving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned Mr Yanukovych's fraud-tainted election victory then. Mr Yanukovych staged a comeback, narrowly defeating Ms Tymoshenko in a 2010 presidential vote amid public disenchantment with economic hardships and constant bickering.

Ms Tymoshenko has already spent over two months in jail for contempt of court. Ms Tymoshenko had also spent several weeks in prison in 2001 on charges of document forgery and tax evasion, but the charges were later dropped.

Ms Tymoshenko maintains her innocence and charges that her trial was orchestrated by Mr Yanukovych to bar her from upcoming elections.

She says as prime minister she did not need any special permission to order the signing of the gas deal and maintains her actions helped end a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which had led to energy supply shortages across Europe.

The area outside the court building was flooded by helmeted riot police as supporters and opponents of Ms Tymoshenko held competing rallies.