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Ukraine judge gives Yulia Tymoshenko 7 years

KIEV, Ukraine - A Ukrainian court found former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of office Tuesday and sentenced her to seven years in prison in a case widely condemned in the West as politically motivated.

She was found guilty of violating legal procedures during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Earlier, under Ukrainian court procedures, the judge read a lengthy summary of the case. In the course of the reading, Judge Rodion Kireyev said Tymoshenko inflicted damages of some 1.5 billion hryvna ($190 million) on the national gas company by signing an import contract with Russia in 2009.

Tymoshenko, now the country's top opposition leader, used her power as prime minister "for criminal ends and, acting consciously, committed actions which clearly exceeded the limits of rights and powers," Kireyev said.

The United States and the European Union have condemned the trial as politically motivated, and Tymoshenko has dismissed the trial as persecution ordered by her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, to bar her from politics. The case has galvanized her supporters, who regularly held rowdy protests inside and outside the courthouse.

Prosecutors say Tymoshenko was not authorized to order the signing of the contract with Russia and say the price for natural gas she agreed to was too high, causing losses to the state budget.

Tymoshenko says that as a prime minister she did not need any special permission to order the signing of the deal. She says her actions helped end a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which had led to energy supply shortages across Europe.

Tymoshenko has already been jailed for more than two months during the trial for contempt of court.

On Tuesday, the area outside the court building was flooded by helmeted riot police as supporters and opponents of Tymoshenko held competing rallies. Police buses blocked traffic on Kreshchatik Avenue, which runs through the heart of the capital.

Tymoshenko, wearing her trademark blond braid wrapped around her head, looked composed in the courtroom, occasionally chatting with her daughter Eugenia as Kireyev spoke. She even occasionally addressed reporters while Kireyev read out the lengthy ruling, causing him to become visibly irritated.

"Whatever the verdict will be ... I will continue my fight for Ukraine, for its European future," Tymoshenko told reporters during a short break before the verdict. "Nobody, not Yanukovych, not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name. I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine's sake."

Tymoshenko was the driving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned Yanukovych's fraud-tainted election victory then. Yanukovych staged a comeback, narrowly defeating Tymoshenko in a 2010 presidential vote amid public disenchantment with economic hardships and constant bickering among those who had ousted Yanukovych.

The European Union has warned that jailing Tymoshenko may cost Ukraine its integration with the 27-nation bloc.

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