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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian Legislators Barred From Meeting Arrested Opposition Leader

KIEV, Ukraine - Several Ukrainian opposition lawmakers and activists went to a Kiev prison facility Friday to visit their arrested leader Julia Tymoshenko, but wardens turned them away.

"We wanted to check on her health and prison conditions," said Stepan Khmara, a veteran human rights activist. "But we were told we would only be able to meet with the prison head."

Tymoshenko, an ex-deputy premier turned opposition leader, was arrested earlier this month on charges of large-scale corruption and bribery. President Leonid Kuchma has said that Tymoshenko could be funding the current opposition protests, which seek his ouster.

Tymoshenko denies the charges, saying they were orchestrated by political foes and corrupt officials and businessmen.

Outside the Lukianivskyi detention center, the legislators' delegation was backed by fewer than 10 pensioners holding placards in support of Tymoshenko - a further sign that opposition protests were losing momentum.

Kuchma's critics failed this week to bring the promised thousands of people to their protests, but they are pinning their hopes on a rally Sunday that is to include a street concert and a mock trial of Kuchma.

The opposition, an assortment of parties ranging from ultra-nationalists to socialists, accuses Kuchma of involvement in the killing of a critical journalist, and it seeks to capitalize on his failure to revive Ukraine's ailing post-Soviet economy. Kuchma denies the allegations.

"I've stated repeatedly that all this is a well-planned provocation," Kuchma, a former Soviet missile plant director, said in comments published Friday in the daily Fakty. "I do not agree with and do not recognize my opponents' frequent definition of the current events as a crisis."

Kuchma's press service, meanwhile, said the president had called for Ukrainian prosecutors to assist in the possible FBI examination of a beheaded body found in November and believed to be that of the missing journalist, Heorhiy Gongadze.

Prosecutors have said there was a near 100 percent probability that the body was indeed that of Gongadze, but refused to rule so conclusively. Russian experts who examined the body said Thursday the probability was 99.99 percent.

Kuchma's press service said FBI Director Louis Freeh sent a letter offering Ukraine help from FBI experts.