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Lawyer for Ukraine's former PM Tymoshenko charged with assaulting wife

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KIEV, Ukraine - A top lawyer for jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday was charged with beating his ex-wife, a move supporters see as a possible attempt to derail a landmark agreement with the European Union that hinges on her release.

Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko's long-time lawyer and ally, was charged with assaulting his former spouse and was being questioned late in the evening, prosecutor Ruslan Demyanyuk told reporters, according to the Interfax news agency.

An ally of Tymoshenko said earlier that Vlasenko texted him that he was arrested, but then prosecutors said that wasn't the case.

There was no immediate comment from Vlasenko on the charges, but he has previously denied similar accusations connected to his divorce.

The opposition saw Vlasenko's questioning as a sign of President Viktor Yanukovych's reluctance to fulfil the EU's demand to free his arch-rival Tymoshenko, a condition for signing an association agreement with Ukraine, a precursor to eventual EU membership.

Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, insists she is innocent and accuses Yanukovych of ordering her imprisonment in order to bar her from challenging him in the 2015 presidential election.

Demyanuk, the prosecutor, was quoted by Interfax as saying prosecutors would likely ask the court to arrest Vlasenko, but Prosecutor General's spokeswoman Margarita Velkova told The Associated Press that prosecutors had already petitioned for him to be granted bail.

Parliament is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would permit Tymoshenko to travel to Germany for medical treatment, but Yanukovych's allies have opposed it. Two top EU envoys are set to deliver a crucial report on the case in Brussels on the same day.

Yanukovych may hope that the EU will drop its demand for Tymoshenko's release out of fear that Ukraine would opt for closer ties with Russia.

Over the weekend, Yanukovych made a surprise trip to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Recent comments made by Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on the importance of good economic ties with Russia also suggest that Kyiv is considering a tilt toward Moscow.

Yatsenyuk warned that Parliament's reluctance to pass the bill and Vlasenko's questioning signalled Yanukovych's readiness to abandon the deal with the EU ahead of a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"This means a failure of the Vilnius summit. This is the main task that has been put forward," Yatsenyuk said on his party's website.

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