President of Belarus to further embarrass hosts at Euro 2012 final

 

Belarus' authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko may attend the final match of the European football championship on Sunday along with other EU leaders, a Ukrainian government spokesman said.

The appearance of Lukashenko, who faces EU sanctions for cracking down on dissent in his country, would be embarrassing for the Ukrainian government and the prime ministers of Spain, Italy and Poland who plan to attend the match.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych is already under fire for the politically tainted jailing of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, now the country's top opposition leader. Top EU leaders are boycotting Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine, including Sunday's final in Kiev, over her imprisonment, calling it an attempt to sideline a political rival.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Oleh Voloshin said that Lukashenko was slated to attend the game, but had no further information. Lukashenko's spokesman Pavel Liogkiy declined to comment on whether Lukashenko would attend.

Lukashenko has ruled the nation of 10 million for nearly 18 years, earning the nickname in the West of "Europe's last dictator." The U.S. and the European Union introduced sanctions against Belarus after Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on the opposition after a 2010 vote deemed fraudulent by international observers.

His presence at the stadium next to EU leaders would likely further embarrass Yanukovych, who has denied any involvement in Tymoshenko's jailing.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in October on charges of abuse of office when negotiating a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Yanukovych has resisted strong Western pressure to release Tymoshenko and even linked her to a murder case 15 years ago, suggesting she would not be freed any time soon.

Tymoshenko denies all the accusations, saying Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 presidential election, threw her in jail to bar her from parliamentary elections.

AP

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