MOSCOW Ukraine's presidential pardon commission said on Saturday it was too soon to consider pardoning Yulia Tymoshenko, the president's main political rival whose continuing detention is a major obstacle to improved ties with the West.
The commission said that as some criminal charges against Tymoshenko were still being investigated and the courts had not yet ruled, the "issue of her pardon is premature."
On Thursday, foreign ministers of several EU countries visited Ukraine and said there was unlikely to be rapid progress on free trade and political association deals, citing the Tymoshenko case as a major obstacle.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 for crimes related to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which Yanukovich says saddled Ukraine with exorbitant energy prices.
Since last May, Tymoshenko, who served twice as prime minister before narrowly losing the 2010 presidential run-off to Yanukovich, has been receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run hospital in the city of Kharkiv.
Yanukovich himself says he cannot order her release because Tymoshenko is due to be tried on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and is being investigated in a murder case. She denies all the charges.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)