Jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is facing a trial on murder charges. Proceedings continued Thursday after she was fined for refusing to appear at the Kyiv court while riot police pushed protesters out of the courtroom.
The trial resumed after police dressed in full riot gear stormed the courtroom and pushed out deputies of her party.
The legislators are furious at what they view as a political trial against the opposition leader, who already is serving a seven-year prison term on charges of abuse of power.
Unmoved by the protests, the judge at Kyiv's Pechera District Court fined Tymoshenko the equivalent of $2,000 for refusing to attend the hearing into the killing of a Ukrainian parliamentarian more than 16 years ago.
Public prosecutor Ihor Pushkar defended the punishment.
He said Tymoshenko "released a statement in the afternoon saying she wished to be brought to court. "But, the prosecutor added, "This was clearly an attempt to delay the trial and manipulate public opinion.”
Yet her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, told reporters that his client wanted to face the court.
The lawyer explained that “Yulia Tymoshenko stated both verbally and in written form that she demands to be present at the hearing." But, he said, authorities "are afraid of Tymoshenko appearing in public. They are afraid she will discredit their witnesses.”
Last month, Ukraine's prosecutor-general said Tymoshenko was a suspect in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban at an airport in eastern Ukraine in 1996.
There is controversy, however, over a key witness asked to testify in the trial.
Journalists said they were unable to hear his name and that the man acknowledged his information came from other sources.
This is not the only trial faced by Tymoshenko, who has been treated for serious back pain in a prison hospital. On Tuesday, separate tax evasion proceedings against her were postponed again after she did not appear in court.
Tymoshenko claims the charges are politically motivated and an attempt by the president and government to stifle the opposition, a view shared by the European Union, the United States and human rights groups.
This week, her former acting defense minister, Valery Ivashchenko, was reportedly granted political asylum in Denmark amid concerns he could be jailed again on controversial charges of financial wrongdoing.
Last year, Tymoshenko's husband, Oleksander Tymoshenko, received political asylum in the Czech Republic.
The European Union has already warned Ukraine that the imprisonment of Tymoshenko and the perceived lack of reforms threaten deals on more trade and closer political ties.
Ukraine's leadership has strongly denied wrongdoing in Tymoshenko's case, saying courts are independent.