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AP Interview: Ukraine premier sees ball cross line

Wednesday - 6/20/2012, 2:37pm  ET

By MARIA DANILOVA
Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine's prime minister says even he saw the ball cross the line.

Mykola Azarov attended the European Championship soccer match between his country and England on Tuesday night, when Ukraine striker Marko Devic's shot appeared to go over the line before being cleared away by defender John Terry.

"If I saw from the stands that the ball had crossed the goal line, the referee was bound to see that," Azarov told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

He called on UEFA to "draw conclusions about this refereeing ... so that such incidents don't take place in the future.

"These days there are five referees on the pitch, including a referee near the line who was obliged to have registered the goal," he added.

If the goal had been awarded, Ukraine would have tied the score at 1-1. That wouldn't have been enough to advance to the quarterfinals, but it would have given the Ukrainians a better chance of achieving the win they needed. Ukraine lost 1-0, eliminating the team from the tournament.

Azarov praised his country's success in co-hosting Euro 2012 and dismissed a boycott of the tournament by some Western officials as irrelevant. Senior EU officials have refused to attend matches played in Ukraine over the jailing of Azarov's predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader. Her seven-year jail sentence for abuse of office while conducting gas negotiations with Russia has been condemned by the West as being politically motivated. She also faces a number of other charges.

Ukraine also has been rocked by allegations of racism and a call by a former England star for supporters not to attend matches here because they might return "in a coffin." Ukrainian officials have angrily denied the claims.

Azarov said the tournament has proceeded without any major glitches so far and the protests over Tymoshenko were merely "a spoon of tar in a sea of jubilation.

"The country has prepared for it with dignity and held this championship in a commendable way," Azarov said. "Our people are greeting foreigners in a very hospitable and welcoming way. There haven't been any complaints."

Azarov said the absence of some EU officials at the matches has not spoiled the sports celebration and made it clear that Ukraine will not be ordered around.

"We didn't invite anyone by saying 'please, oh please, come,'" Azarov said. "If you don't want to come, it's your business.

"We are not in first grade to be listening to how others assess us, our behavior and so on."

Azarov said the (EURO)5 billion ($6.4 billion) spent on Euro 2012 has helped upgrade the country's Soviet-era infrastructure.

"The Euro will end, but all those facilities that we built _ the renovated roads, the airports _ all of this will stay," Azarov said.

Azarov, 64, a close ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, insisted that Tymoshenko was not being punished for opposing Yanukovych.

"Tymoshenko is prosecuted not at all because of her political convictions but for what she did, for bringing colossal losses to the country, to the people," Azarov said.

In Kiev, many fans agreed with Azarov's assessment of the tournament, saying Euro 2012 has been a success.

"It's a beautiful country, beautiful city, beautiful people," said Daniel Ekeroos, a 39-year-old carpenter from Linkoping, Sweden. "I don't have any negative things to say."

But Stefane Gaertner, a 30-year-old engineer from Strasbourg, France, stopped by a protest camp set up by Tymoshenko's supporters just outside the Euro 2012 fan zone in the center of Kiev to get a T-shirt that read "Free Yulia."

"The (French) government has declared that one must show solidarity and it's true that it's a strange case, it's bad," Gaertner said, adding that he would wear the T-shirt at matches played by France. "One should fight for liberty, human rights and we try to support freedom."


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)