KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine rejected a demand on Friday from jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko for a criminal probe into what she calls severe beatings at the hands of prison guards - claims which alarmed Western leaders who view her as a political prisoner.
Tymoshenko - who is on hunger strike and has complained for months of crippling back pain but refused treatment from Ukrainian medics - has agreed to accept treatment from a German doctor at a Ukrainian hospital, a doctor who saw her said.
The case has embittered Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union weeks before it co-hosts the continent’s soccer championship, a prestige event that was meant to be a showcase for the ex-Soviet state’s dreams of European integration.
Tymoshenko, 51, says she is the victim of a vendetta by her rival, President Viktor Yanukovich. Last week she said prison guards had beaten her during a forced visit to a hospital. Her supporters circulated photographs showing bruises on her arms and abdomen.
The allegations revived outrage in the West over her plight which some European politicians say reflects a decline in democratic standards in the former Soviet republic since Yanukovich came to power in February 2010.
Prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka said on Friday his office had been unable to verify Tymoshenko’s claims of physical mistreatment and he refused to open a criminal inquiry.
“Following an investigation, the request to launch a criminal case has been denied,” he told reporters.
Tymoshenko, 51, has been in detention since last August and declared a hunger strike in prison on April 20 in protest at being mistreated. She has said that she cannot trust Ukrainian doctors because they work for the authorities.
Germany, one of the countries that has been most outspoken over her case, had offered to treat her back pain in Berlin, but Pshonka said she would not be permitted to travel.
After seeing Tymoshenko in prison in the eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv, Doctor Karl Max Einhaupl of Berlin’s Charite clinic said she had “provisionally agreed” to be treated by one of his colleagues in a local hospital starting from May 8.
The European Union, partner in Ukraine’s declared drive to European integration, has condemned Tymoshenko’s conviction on abuse-of-office charges last October as an example of selective justice. It has shelved landmark deals on political association and free trade with Ukraine over the issue.
Some European politicians have cancelled plans to visit Ukraine on May 11 for a gathering on Central European issues in the southern resort of Yalta.
Leaders are also threatening to boycott the ceremonial opening of next month’s Euro-2012 soccer championship, a month-long event which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.
Despite Western pressure, Yanukovich, who narrowly beat Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election, has refused to intervene to free her, and prosecutors have brought to court fresh tax evasion charges against her which carry a sentence of up to 12 years.
Tymoshenko has been suffering from chronic back pain for months and has trouble walking, her family says.
Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests which doomed Yanukovich’s first bid for presidency but failed to produce a strong ruling coalition, allowing him to make a comeback in 2010.
Tymoshenko says the charges brought against her are driven by Yanukovich’s desire for personal revenge.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov and Richard Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff