Ukraine faces an embarrassing boycott of next month's Euro 2012 soccer tournament by European leaders, in protest at the treatment in jail of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in a court case last northern autumn that observers say was politically motivated.

President Viktor Yanukovych, her long-standing rival, has refused to intervene despite calls from the international community. Now Tymoshenko says she is ill and has been mistreated by prison officials and doctors.

A number of European leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said they may boycott the tournament in protest. A German Government spokesperson said Merkel would visit Ukraine only if Tymoshenko's conditions were improved.


Der Spiegel reported Merkel will abstain from attending any matches and urge her Cabinet members to do so as well unless Tymoshenko is freed to undergo medical treatment abroad. The German Government has offered to treat her in Berlin, but Kiev has rejected the offer.

The chief of the European Union's head office says he will not go to Ukraine unless there is a swift improvement in the human rights situation there.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's announcement followed that of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who is skipping the ceremonial Euro 2012 opening on June 8.

Ukraine is co-hosting the tournament with Poland. But the jailing of Tymoshenko, concerns over lack of infrastructure and accommodation, and a series of mysterious bomb blasts in the city of Dnipropetrovsk last week, have all combined to create a less-than-ideal backdrop for the tournament.

Tymoshenko is being held in a prison in Kharkiv, one of the venues for the Euro 2012 tournament.

Germany will play a match against the Netherlands in the city.

All three of the England team's group games will be in Ukraine.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus cancelled his visit to a summit of Central European leaders being held on May 11-12 in Ukraine because of Tymoshenko's treatment, his spokesman said. German President Joachim Gauck said he also will not travel to the Yalta gathering.


Photographs surfaced last week of bruises on Tymoshenko's body, which she says were inflicted by prison guards.

The Ukrainian Government has insisted that Tymoshenko's jail term, for overstepping the powers of office when she was Prime Minister, is a court matter and not one in which the President can intervene.

- Independent, AP