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Former Ukraine PM Tymoshenko maintains innocence in key final court speech as trial nears end
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) ' Choking back tears, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko insisted on her innocence Thursday during her emotional final speech in an abuse-of-office trial criticized by the West.
The top opposition leader broke with her tradition of refusing to rise when addressing the court, standing up from her seat and turning away from Judge Rodion Kireyev to address the small courtroom, packed with supporters, journalists and foreign diplomats.
She accused her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, of "lynching" her to get rid of a tough political opponent.
"The president of Ukraine considers me a dangerous political opponent ' and rightly so," Tymoshenko said. "I will devote my life to making sure that Ukraine becomes free."
Clad in an elegant coffee-with-cream dress and jacket, her blond hair wrapped around her head in a trademark braid, she said it was pointless to address the judge, because Yanukovych has already written a guilty verdict.
Tymoshenko, 50, has been charged with exceeding her authority during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. Prosecutors claim that Tymoshenko had not been officially authorized to approve the deal and believe the price she agreed to was too high.
The United States and the European Union have criticized the trial as politically motivated and Brussels has warned that jailing Tymoshenko may cost Ukraine its integration with the EU.
Tymoshenko has spent nearly two months in jail as part of the trial on charges of contempt of court.
Tymoshenko is a charismatic but divisive figure, who was the driving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Kiev to protest fraudulent election results that showed Yanukovych winning.
Although that election was later annulled, Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in a 2010 vote to become president, as Ukrainians grew angry with constant bickering in the Orange camp.
Tymoshenko said Thursday she takes pride in the 2009 contract, because it ended a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev that led to severe energy shortages in Ukraine and across Europe. She says she did not need any special permission for the contract as the country's prime minister.
"At that time I acted legally, logically and effectively," Tymoshenko said. "The crisis was solved."
Her lengthy speech was often interrupted by applause from her supports, prompting Kireyev to demand silence.
Tymoshenko's trial is part of a web of corruption investigations targeting her and her senior aides. Tymoshenko calls the probe a witch-hunt, but the government insists it is merely fighting corruption.
Earlier in the day, Tymoshenko's lawyer Mykola Siry told the court that the prosecutors' case made no sense and quipped that the people who wrote were mentally unfit. Siry said that the prosecutors claim that the gas contract was highly unfavorable for Ukraine but that Tymoshenko concluded it in order to gain popularity was absurd.
"It's ridiculous to make such stupid statements and think that somebody will believe it," Siry said.