The European Council president has joined a growing number of leaders who plan to boycott an upcoming soccer championship over the alleged abuse of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The decision by Herman Van Rompuy deals a fresh blow to the Eastern European nation's hopes of using the event to build ties and woo tourists.
None of the European Union commissioners will attend the Euro 2012 tournament scheduled next month in Ukraine, the Interfax News Agency reported Thursday. The presidents of Austria and Belgium and the head of the European Commission will also join Van Rompuy in skipping the event.
"The president is not happy with how the situation in Ukraine is developing," Van Rompuy's spokesperson told Germany's Spiegel Online. "As such, he will not travel there."
Although European leaders have also announced they'll shun an upcoming Central European summit, the burgeoning soccer boycott seems to have especially infuriated Ukrainian leaders. They had hoped to use the beloved sporting event to showcase their country and advance their aspirations to join the EU. Ukraine and Poland are cohosting the event.
"We view as destructive attempts to politicize sporting events," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a Thursday statement, according to Agence France-Presse. "An attack on this big dream undermines the chances of ... former Socialist bloc members to prove that their economic, human and scientific potential can turn them from the debtors of Europe to its engine of growth."
Tymoshenko, once known as the “princess” of the Orange Revolution that loosened Ukrainian ties to Russia, was sentenced last year to seven years in prison on charges of abusing her power. The case centered on her signing a gas deal with Russia. Western leaders believe the case was pursued to punish her as a rival to President Viktor Yanukovich.
The charismatic former prime minister went on a hunger strike last month, saying she had been beaten by prison guards. Her claims -- backed up by photos of her apparent bruises disseminated by supporters -- have led to indignant calls for Ukraine to investigate the alleged assaults and ensure that Tymoshenko receives medical treatment.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shows what appears to be a bruise on her forearm at the Kachanivska women's prison in Kharkiv in April. Credit: Ukrayinska Pravda / AFP/Getty Images