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France welcomes release of Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko

Anti-government protesters hold a poster of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko as they await for her arrival in Independence Square in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Anti-government protesters hold a poster of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko as they await for her arrival in Independence Square in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
People greet newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko as she arrives to speak at Independence Square on Feb 22, 2014, moments after parliament voted to hold early presidential elections in May. -- PHOTO: AFP
People greet newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko as she arrives to speak at Independence Square on Feb 22, 2014, moments after parliament voted to hold early presidential elections in May. -- PHOTO: AFP
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko (centre) holds her associate Arseny Yatsenyuk's hand (left) as she is transported on a wheelchair upon her arrival at the airport in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko (centre) holds her associate Arseny Yatsenyuk's hand (left) as she is transported on a wheelchair upon her arrival at the airport in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko waves from a car after arriving in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko waves from a car after arriving in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko visits the site where an opposition protester was killed near a barricade on Grushevsky street in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko visits the site where an opposition protester was killed near a barricade on Grushevsky street in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (centre) in wheelchair, attends a rally on Kiev's Independance square on Feb 22, 2014, after her release. France on Sunday welcomed the surprise release from prison
Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (centre) in wheelchair, attends a rally on Kiev's Independance square on Feb 22, 2014, after her release. France on Sunday welcomed the surprise release from prison of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and called on all sides in the politically divided nation to refrain from further violence. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - France on Sunday welcomed the surprise release from prison of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and called on all sides in the politically divided nation to refrain from further violence.

After three months of violent anti-government protests, Ukrainian demonstrators seized control of the capital Kiev on Saturday in a historic cascade of events that saw jailed opposition icon Tymoshenko walk free while marginalised President Viktor Yanukovych defiantly claimed to still wield power.

"We welcome the release of Mrs Tymoshenko," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is currently on an official visit to Beijing, said in a statement to AFP.

"In the exceptional situation that is the Ukraine, France, alongside its European partners, appeals for the preservation of the unity and integrity of the country and the abandonment of violence."

The situation in the ex-Soviet nation - deeply divided between aspirations towards the European Union and loyalty to Russia - was still fluid and uncertainty reigned over whether the opposition had definitively triumphed over Mr Yanukovych on a day of high drama exactly three months into the country's crisis.

The parliament in Kiev stepped into the power vacuum left by Mrs Yanukovych's departure by voting to oust the embattled president and setting new elections for May 25.

Lawmakers followed that up with an equally dramatic move ordering the release of Mrs Tymoshenko - a former premier and stalwart supporter of close EU ties who remained Mr Yanukovych's nemesis even when she was sent to prison in 2011 on a seven-year sentence for "abuse of power".

Mr Fabius called on Ukraine to ensure fresh elections are held as soon as possible.

"We want respect for the constitution, the formation of a new government and the preparation of elections as soon as possible," he said.

Prior to Saturday's tumultuous events, Mr Fabius had been directly involved in the negotiations of an agreement between Mr Yanukovych's government, Ukraine's opposition, the European Union and Russia. The deal included a unity government and a promise of early elections.

He had to leave the discussion table on Thursday evening to fly to China for a series of scheduled meetings with top leaders there.

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