The United States this week denounced a prison sentence imposed on a former Ukrainian interior minister in the latest complaint about politically tainted trials and authoritarian trends under a pro-Russia president in the former Soviet republic.
U.S. Ambassador John Tefft in Kiev called the trial of Yuriy Lutsenko a violation of international human rights treaties that Ukraine has signed.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Mr. Lutsenko was held illegally for more than a year in pre-trail detention before a Ukrainian court in February convicted him of abuse of power and sentenced him to four years in prison. An appellate court upheld his conviction in May, and the lower court sentenced him to another two years in prison on a separate charge on Aug. 17.
"In its verdict, the [European human rights] court not only recognized the treatment of Mr. Lutsenko as illegal but also sharply criticized the prosecution, the trial and the abuse of pretrial procedures," Mr. Tefft wrote in an article this week in the Ukrainian newspaper ZN.UA.
"This is exactly the type of improper legal arguments that can be expected from the judicial system, which is built to support the prosecution and proceeds from the principle that the police and prosecutors are never wrong, and they are not required to prove the lawfulness of their actions. One cannot imagine such legal reasoning in a competitive system of criminal justice."
The State Department on Friday also criticized the verdict and said the case against Mr. Lutsenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko "raises series concerns about the government of Ukraine's commitment to democracy and the rule of law."
Mrs. Tymoshenko was sentenced to 11 years in prison in October on similar charges in a trial widely denounced as politically motivated.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have noted a decline in civil rights in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician, won the presidential election in 2010 against Mrs. Tymoshenko.
KIWI TRADE DEAL
New Zealand Ambassador Mike Moore says the U.S. needs a free-trade deal with his country to remain competitive in the Asia-Pacific region, where China is dominating business.
"It's very much in America's interest that they do this deal," Mr. Moore told New Zealand's "Q and A" television news program.
The two countries have been negotiating a trade deal since 2007.
"They know Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand are doing much more business with China than the United States," he said.
China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, after Australia. The United States, with about $9 billion in bilateral trade, is third.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Trade Minister Tim Groser discussed the trade deal this week with visiting Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"The Asia-Pacific region will drive the next wave of economic growth, so America has to strengthen our trade ties with countries like Japan and New Zealand to stay competitive," Mr. Baucus said before leaving on his trip.
NO TROOPS TO TUNISIA
The U.S. ambassador to Tunisia is trying to reassure a suspicious Tunisian press that Washington has no intention of stationing U.S. troops in the North African nation that gave birth to last year's Arab Spring uprisings.
"The United States has no base in Tunisia and has no plans in this sense," Ambassador Jacob Walles said in his first news conference since arriving in Tunis in July.
Mr. Walles added that Washington's only security interests in the country are to help Tunisia train its troops and secure its borders against terrorists.
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