Ukraine’s Yushchenko Asks Parliament To Let Foreign Troops In For Maneuvers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has asked parliament to urgently endorse the presence of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory for a multinational military exercise, a request that came amid a weeklong protest sparked by the arrival of a group of U.S. Marine reservists.

Viktor Yushchenko in Parliament

Yushchenko's request, which was published on the presidential website late Saturday, is expected to be taken up by parliament when it reconvenes on Wednesday.

The 200 Americans arrived last week on the Crimean Peninsula at the invitation of the Ukrainian government to help refurbish a Ukrainian training facility to be used in the exercise in the Black Sea area in mid-July. The annual exercise will involve 40 countries, including many NATO member states.

Several dozen participants in the protests organized by a small pro-Russian party and the Communists have prevented the U.S. Marines from getting to their construction equipment or into the Ukrainian base. The protesters accused Yushchenko of sidestepping parliament's authority, and claimed that the Marines are really here to set up a U.S. or NATO base, something both U.S. and NATO officials deny.

Yushchenko had first requested parliament's permission for the foreign troops' presence before March's parliamentary elections, and lawmakers rejected it then. The measure may have a stronger support now, but Yushchenko's government is likely to face some harsh questions about its initial contention that parliamentary approval was unnecessary because the U.S. Marines are unarmed reservists involved in construction work.

The presidential order also accuses local authorities of exceeding their authority by trying to ban the maneuvers. Crimea has a large ethnic Russian population and many of its local councils are controlled by pro-Russian opposition parties. Yushchenko also called on state security agencies to crack down on foreigners who are participating in the protests, deport them and bar them from returning to Ukraine.

Yushchenko's decree, first endorsed by Ukraine's Security and Defense Council on Friday, appeared aimed at Russian lawmakers who came to Crimea to express solidarity with the protesters.

Crimea's main port, Sevastopol - 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Feodosiya where U.S. Marines have arrived - is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Source: AP

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