Ukraine's jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shunned doctors on Saturday after being moved to hospital for back pain that stopped her attending a new trial for tax fraud.
Witnesses cited by local media said two ambulances and four police cars arrived at the women's penal colony in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she is serving a seven-year sentence and took her away late Friday.
Her supporters immediately claimed that she had been moved under duress while Deputy Health Minister Raisa Moiseyenko confirmed that Tymoshenko was refusing to be touched by doctors until the arrival of her lawyer.
"She is refraining from a medical examination," Moiseyenko told reporters.
"She is refusing to have any detailed medical discussion... until she meets her attorney."
The flamboyant but divisive 2004 Orange Revolution leader was convicted of abuse of office for negotiating a gas deal with Russia while prime minister in 2009 that the new administration says was disadvantageous for Ukraine.
She was sentenced last October at the end of a high-profile trial that was watched closely by strongly critical diplomats from Europe and the United States.
The case cast a shadow over Ukraine's nascent relations with the European Union and prevented the signing of a partnership agreement the ex-Soviet nation hopes to secure before eventually winning membership in the bloc.
Western officials criticized the trial as selective justice while Tymoshenko has branded her prosecution as the result of a political vendetta being waged by her triumphant presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych.
But prosecutors have brushed aside the complaints and have since launched several new cases against Tymoshenko relating to her tenure in the 1990s as head of a private natural gas trading firm.
She went on trial again Thursday on tax evasion charges that may extend her sentence by five years. The 51-year-old sent a formal letter to the authorities saying she was in too much pain to attend.
The controversy surrounding her move to the clinic underscores the level of mistrust running between Tymoshenko's supporters and the authorities.
Ukraine's prison service has persistently denied the seriousness of her condition while members of the ruling party accuse of her of feigning pain to draw more Western sympathy and avoid the new trial.
Tymoshenko for her part had previously refused treatment in a Ukrainian hospital until it had been cleared by a team of visiting German doctors who examined her earlier this year.
A German doctor formally approved the clinic this week. But he also noted Tymoshenko's "deep mistrust" of Ukrainian doctors as a complicating factor.
"It seems highly unlikely that the trust required between a patient and therapists for treating chronic pain can be established at the Kharkiv hospital," he wrote in a recommendation posted online by Tymosheno's party.
Her attorney also expressed "serious doubts" about whether Tymoshenko had actually agreed to be moved.
"She was moved at night, suddenly and right before the start of the weekend, when she will not be able to meet with her defence," court representative Serhiy Vlasenko told Agence France Presse.
"In the meantime, (Ukrainian health officials) can say anything they want."
Kharkiv prison service chief Yevgen Barash conceded that Tymoshenko had never given her written permission to be moved to hospital for treatment by Ukrainian doctors.
But he added that "an agreement was reached" with Tymoshenko and argued that no written permission was required from the inmate under Ukrainian law.
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