EU keeps talks with Ukraine on track despite trial

MONIKA SCISLOWSKA - Associated Press
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European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, right, and Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk, left, speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during arrivals for an informal dinner at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. Poland is welcoming European Union leaders on Thursday for what is expected to be a key event of its EU presidency: a two-day summit aimed at keeping alive the prospect of the bloc's eastward enlargement. The summit in Warsaw is to focus heavily on Ukraine, which has been negotiating free trade and association agreements with the EU, a milestone for the former Soviet state in its hoped-for path toward deeper integration with its wealthier neighbors. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The European Union says it expects to finalize association talks with Ukraine by the end of the year despite the imprisonment and trial of Ukraine's former prime minister.

EU leaders also issued a separate declaration condemning Belarus for its "deteriorating" record on human rights and the rule of law.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy spoke Friday at the end of a two-day summit devoted to the Eastern Partnership, an initiative launched in 2009 to deepen the EU's ties with Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan and spur them into embracing the EU's political and economic standards.

Prospects for concluding negotiations with Ukraine had appeared at risk because of the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which the U.S. and EU see as politically motivated. Tymoshenko is the country's key opposition figure and a leader of the Orange Revolution that brought more democracy to Ukraine.

EU officials expressed their opposition to Tymoshenko's trial repeatedly at the summit, which was attended by her rival, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Van Rompuy said EU leaders "expressed our concern" about the selective use of judicial procedures against former government figures.

"This is a serious matter in our relations and we are expressing ourselves very clearly on this matter," Van Rompuy said.

Donald Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said under Tymoshenko's term Ukraine embarked on its pro-European path.

"Bad treatment of the opposition will have negative effects for the negotiations," Tusk said.

The head of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said all were concerned about the situation in Belarus, where opposition leaders are being held in prison without trials, many since a crackdown after the country's the rigged presidential election last December.

"There are various opinions on how to proceed on Belarus," Buzek said. "Should we be offering a new, conditional opening, or should we turn away from Belarus after what happened there?"

Belarus on Friday boycotted the summit, protesting the decision by organizers to exclude the country's autocratic leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

An empty chair was left for Belarus at the table.

Van Rompuy said the EU will not cooperate with Belarus without news signs of democratization and a respect for human rights.

EU leaders issued a final declaration saying they "acknowledge the European aspirations" of some countries on the 27-nation bloc's eastern periphery, indicating that they are keeping open the prospect of enlargement in the future for those who embrace democracy. Leaders, however, have stressed that any new enlargement is not a realistic prospect for now.

Later Friday, summit participants traveled to the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot for the partnership's first business forum.