Ukraine's Tymoshenko expelled from courtroom

MARIA DANILOVA - Associated Press
AP
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Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is seen at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. The Ukrainian security service says it has opened a criminal investigation into the activities of an energy company once headed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, is already on trial on charges she abused her office in signing a natural gas import deal with Russia in 2009. Tymoshenko denies the accusations and says the trial is an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from politics. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The chaotic trial of Yulia Tymoshenko was plunged further into disorder Wednesday when the former Ukrainian prime minister was expelled from the courtroom for calling the judge a monster.

Tymoshenko, the country's charismatic top opposition leader, known for the blond braid around her head, has dismissed her abuse-of-office trial that started last month as a ploy by her enemy, President Viktor Yanukovych, to bar her from politics.

Her supporters have been routinely disrupting proceedings and Tymoshenko has refused to respect the court or rise when addressing the judge.

"You are not a judge, you are a monster," Tymoshenko told judge Rodion Kireyev Wednesday after police forced out some of her supporters for disrespecting the court. Tymoshenko also joined her activists in the courtroom in shouting "Shame! Shame!" when the judge entered the room.

A visibly agitated Kireyev, sighing deeply and struggling to contain his anger, barred Tymoshenko from proceedings for one day for contempt of contempt. Tymoshenko was escorted out of the session hall by black-clad riot police.

Tymoshenko stands accused of abusing her office powers by signing a natural gas import contract with Russia amid a bitter pricing dispute in 2009. Prosecutors say Tymoshenko did not have a formal authorization from her Cabinet to sign the deal because the price was too high.

Tymoshenko says she is a victim of political repression. She says the contract ended weeks of natural gas disruptions to Ukrainian and European consumers and that she did not need any special permission as the country's premier.

The U.S. and EU have criticized the trial and other corruption probes into Tymoshenko and her top allies as political persecution. The U.S. State Department has said that Tymoshenko's trial "does create the appearance of a political motive."

Tymoshenko was the central figure in the 2004 mass protests dubbed the Orange Revolution that threw out Yanukovych's fraud-tainted presidential election victory and brought a pro-Western government to power. She became prime minister but Ukrainians grew frustrated over economic hardships, slow reforms and endless bickering in the Orange camp, and she lost to Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.

Many Tymoshenko allies also have faced official charges recently, which she describes as part of the government's efforts to weaken the opposition.

Her former economics minister, who faced corruption allegations over the reconstruction of Kiev's airport, was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic in January. The former interior minister has been in jail for six months on charges that he defrauded the government when he paid his driver illegal bonuses.