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Denmark gov't minister rejects VIP seat at Euros

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KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) -Denmark's government representative at the European Championship declined a VIP seat at the national team's opening match to show he's not there as a guest of Ukraine's government.

Culture Minister Uffe Elbaek told The Associated Press he decided to watch Saturday's Group B match against the Netherlands in Kharkiv with other Danish fans "so I wouldn't be kidnapped by the Ukrainian government and be part of the VIP show."

European Union governments have been debating whether to boycott Euro 2012 matches played in Ukraine to protest alleged abuse of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Elbaek said he balanced sports with politics by meeting with human rights activists as well as Tymoshenko's lawyer, who told him her health is "still very troublesome and critical."

Tymoshenko launched a hunger strike in April after saying she was beaten by prison officials, prompting several European governments to consider boycotting the matches in Ukraine.

Leaders, sports officials and even some rights activists argue that using Europe's most prestigious sporting event to punish Ukraine is hardly likely to win Tymoshenko's release. On the other hand, it could alienate Ukraine further from the West, demoralize its people and create a troubling sporting precedent.

After initially saying it would boycott the tournament, the Dutch government this week changed its tune and decided to send Sports Minister Edith Shippers to the Netherlands-Denmark match.

"The situation there has changed," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a news conference in The Hague on Friday, citing an improvement in medical treatment of Tymoshenko.

Elbaek said going to Ukraine was a "difficult decision," but he was convinced that it was the right thing to do. He said the human rights activists he met agreed.

However, the Danish Football Association, DBU, didn't appreciate Elbaek's decision to opt out of the VIP lounge and other activities and denied him a seat on their chartered flight to Kharkiv.

"The minister asked not to be part of some of UEFA's activities and therefor also DBU's activities and we've told him that we don't have room for him on our flight," association spokesman Lars Berendt said in an email.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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