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Quick release of Ukrainian is unlikely, leader hints

KIEV, Ukraine — President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine suggested Monday that he is not bending to international pressure to free his political rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, despite his desire to complete a deal that would integrate the country with Western Europe.

Tymoshenko was sentenced last week to seven years in prison, in a case that was condemned in both Russia and the West as politically motivated.

European leaders had hoped that the sentence might be hurriedly reversed in Ukraine’s Parliament this week — in part because Yanukovich is due for an official visit Thursday to Brussels, where leaders have warned that they may not receive him. Yanukovich poured cold water on such speculation Monday, however, telling reporters he was willing to take that risk.

For months, Western officials have protested the prosecution of Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, who was charged with harming Ukraine by agreeing to pay a high price for Russian natural gas. The critics seemed to have leverage, since Ukraine is on the verge of signing free trade and association deals with the European Union. Hours after the conviction of Tymoshenko, moreover, Yanukovich said the verdict was “not a final decision.”

—Ellen Barry, The New York Times

Pro-Gadhafi enclave in desert reported to fall after battle

Libyan forces fighting the vestiges of Moammar Gadhafi’s toppled regime said Monday that anti-Gadhafi fighters were in complete control of Bani Walid, a loyalist desert enclave south of Tripoli, the capital, but had yet to proclaim total victory in his Mediterranean hometown of Sirte.

Bani Walid and Sirte, the last holdouts of pro-Gadhafi resistance, have prevented the National Transitional Council, the interim government, from declaring the official end of the Gadhafi era in the nearly two months since Gadhafi fled Tripoli and went underground.

Western news agencies with correspondents close to Bani Walid said anti-Gadhafi fighters had driven into the center of the enclave, raised the new Libyan flag, fired machine guns into the air and screamed, “God is Great!” in victory chants.

Agence France-Presse quoted Seif al-Lasi, a commander of one of the units that assaulted Bani Walid, as saying the city had been “completely liberated.” The news agency also quoted Musa Yunis, the overall commander of the assault force, as saying that all pro-Gadhafi resistance had stopped and that the loyalists had taken off their military uniforms, changing to civilian clothes to avoid arrest.

Previous victory claims by the National Transitional Council have often proved overly optimistic. But if their accounts about Bani Walid are verified, that would mean that a small district within Sirte is the last remaining pocket of pro-Gadhafi forces in Libya.

—Rick Gladstone, The New York Times