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'I wanted to show support to Yulia': Swedish host

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'I wanted to show support to Yulia': Swedish host
08:00 CEST+02:00
A Swedish TV-host caused a stir during Sweden's first game of the Euro 2012 football tournament when she sported the same hairstyle as Ukraine's jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in what she later labelled as an act of support.

Johanna Frändén, the foremost studio face for the duration of the tournament on Sveriges Television (SVT), raised eyebrows with the choice of hairstyle on Monday night.

Her plaited style tied around her head was one reminiscent of the distinctive hairstyle adopted by Tymoshenko, who became Ukraine’s first female prime-minister as leader of the Orange Revolution in 2005, and the similarity was no coincidence.

“I had decided to do this in advance of the broadcast,” Frändén told SVT.

“I wanted to show solidarity to Yulia Tymoshenko.”

Europe’s footballing board UEFA has received a great deal of criticism for handing the hosting of the tournament to the former Soviet republic.

Europe had hoped that expanding the tournament eastwards would showcase the progress made by independent Ukraine since the collapse of communism.

Instead it looks like the Tymoshenko debate, which has already been the subject of demonstrations in and around match venues, will overshadow much of the tournament’s proceedings.

At the final whistle of the game between England and France, supporters of Tymoshenko tried to stage a protest march in the direction of Kiev’s Olympic Stadium distributing “Free Yulia” t-shirts, only to be thwarted by police.

Rumours of racist chanting and abuse at matches and open training sessions have also continued to take media attention away from the action on the pitch.

“The European Championships is a festival of football but it is also being played in a nation that is not a full democracy,” Frändén told SVT.

Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in October 2011 after what her supporters claim to be a politically motivated trial and showcase for her opposition. She was accused and convicted for exceeding her powers as Prime Minister, by ordering a Ukrainian company to sign a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Ministers of several EU countries have decided to boycott their attendance of the opening matches of the tournament, including Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and UK ministers, because of the “selective justice” being meted on Tymoshenko.

The former leader is now being held at a hospital in Kharkiv, where she was transported after a series of self-harm episodes in April, including going on hunger strike for nearly three weeks.

“It is no wonder that we as commentators cannot have opinions,” Frändén told SVT when quizzed on her motives.

“It is not a political position right or left. It is an act of solidarity for Yulia Tymoshenko, who had not received a fair trial.”

Joe Lynskey

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