Tymoshenko is on trial for alleged abuse of office in striking gas deals with Russia in 2009 [Al Jazeera]

Ukraine's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, has told a court trying her for abuse of office that she is the victim of a "lynching trial" that has shamed the country.

In a four-hour speech on Thursday that was part legal defence, part political tirade, she attacked the leadership of Viktor Yanukovich, her long-time political rival and current president.

"I will never under any circumstances appeal [to Yanukovich] for a pardon because that would be recognition of the presence of a dictatorship in our country," Tymoshenko said.

"We must get rid of these authorities and do it quickly."

Summing up her defence at the end of a trial in which the prosecutor called for a seven-year jail sentence to be passed on her, Tymoshenko said: "You should have already brought in an acquittal sentence and ended this humiliation of Ukraine. But the show goes on."

The court is to reconvene on Friday when Tymoshenko will continue speaking.

'Classic lynching trial'

Standing up after weeks of remaining seated in defiance of the judge, Tymoshenko, 50, turned to her supporters in the courtroom and said: "This has been a classic lynching trial by a group of people who were given the task of sorting out a mess."

Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of office linked with a gas deal signed with Russia in January 2009 which the Yanukovich leadership says burdened Ukraine with an excessive price for gas.

"I acted legally, effectively, in a correct manner of state ... If the circumstances were the same today, I would act in the same way"

- Yulia Tymoshenko, 
Ukraine's former prime minister

She denies this, and says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich who beat her narrowly in a presidential election in February 2010.

The US and the European Union say the trial is politically motivated. They have urged Yanukovich to find a way to end the case against her.

The Yanukovich leadership says Tymoshenko's action in pressuring the state energy firm Naftotgaz into signing an agreement with the Russian gas giant Gazprom in 2009 put national interest in danger.

Referring to the negotiations with the Russians, Tymoshenko said: "I acted legally, effectively, in a correct manner of state ... If the circumstances were the same today, I would act in the same way."

Tymoshenko's courtroom rhetoric was reminiscent of her fiery speeches that brought tens of thousands of people out on the streets in Ukraine's Orange Revolution protests in 2004-5, which ultimately doomed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency.

The EU, with which Ukraine is hoping to sign an association agreement and create a free trade zone, has warned Yanukovich that these deals will be in jeopardy if Tymoshenko is jailed.

Yanukovich himself will meet EU officials on Friday at an Eastern Partnership summit in neighbouring Poland.

Anxious supporters

Hundreds of Tymoshenko supporters, with riot police stationed nearby, have been camped outside the courtroom throughout the summer in solidarity with her.

They erupted into chants of "Yulia! Yulia!" as she was driven from the courtroom back to her police cell on Thursday night after her marathon speech.

On the eve of the trial resuming last Tuesday, Mykola Azarov, the prime minister, said Russia had finally agreed to review the 2009 gas contract which is the basis of the prosecution's case against her. Gazprom says talks are still continuing.

The EU says the Yanukovich leadership has responded favourably to a suggestion that it reclassify the charge against her so as to allow her to go free.

But his administration comprises conservatives who want to see Tymoshenko extinguished as a political force and there is no sign yet of any draft law to "decriminalise" the charge against Tymoshenko.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies