KIEV Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich signaled on Thursday that he would sign a law to release his jailed opponent Yulia Tymoshenko to go to Germany for medical treatment only if it meant she went there as a convicted person.
He said the law could not be used "as a means of evading criminal responsibility" - meaning that Tymoshenko would be expected to return to Ukraine after treatment for back trouble and continue serving her sentence.
A landmark free trade agreement which Ukraine is due to sign with the European Union on November 28 hinges on the release of Tymoshenko, Yanukovich's fiercest opponent, who was jailed in 2011 for abuse of office.
The EU says her trial was political and regards her as a victim of "selective justice' which it wants ended in Ukraine.
Yanukovich said five drafts were under discussion ahead of a special parliament session next Tuesday which is due to discuss a law to free her and clear the way for the November 28 signing of the trade pact in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Arguing that the law could not be abused to evade criminal responsibility, he said: "The law ... must apply not only to Tymoshenko but to all citizens".
Yanukovich, whose comments were carried on the presidential website, was clearly ruling out using his presidential powers to give her an official pardon to allow her to go to Germany as a free person.
The formula that Yanukovich, who has to sign any draft into law, was insisting on has been opposed by her supporters in parliament in the past.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)