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Ukraine delays trial of fasting former premier

KHARKIV, Ukraine--A Ukrainian court adjourned until May 21 on Saturday the new tax evasion trial of the jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who is on hunger strike, on account of her failing health.

The unexpected decision came as Western concern mounted over the fate of the fiery opposition leader after she stretched her fast into a ninth day to protest an alleged beating at the hands of three prison guards.

“The court has ruled that it is impossible to hear the case in the absence of Tymoshenko,” Judge Kostiantyn Sadovsky told the hearing after reporting that Tymoshenko could not attend the trial due to chronic back pain.

Around 1,000 chanting supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution leader rallied outside the district court building in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she has been serving a seven-year prison term since last year.

About the same number of her opponents held a counter-protest in a sign of how divisive the fiery 51-year-old remains after a spell in government that began with hopes of liberal reform and ended amid complaints of corruption.

The court was about two-thirds full when four state prosecutors prepared to lay out new tax charges against that could keep her behind bars until 2023.

But the judge's sudden ruling saw 400 of her most ardent supporters take their rally to Tymoshenko's prison where they demanded her immediate release.

“The authorities have been forced to officially admit that Yulia Tymoshenko is in a bad state of health,” triumphant defense attorney Serhiy Vlasenko told reporters.

Fellow defense team member Olexander Plakhotnyuk said he would insist that hearings against Tymoshenko could not resume “until her complete recovery.”

He also asked a team of German doctors who had twice before examined her in prison to return to Ukraine “and give one more conclusion that the court could use when deciding whether the trial should be resumed.”

The doctors had previously asked Ukraine to let Tymoshenko get the proper care in Germany.

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