Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ukraine Opposition Prevents Assembly Meeting Over NATO

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian opposition members prevented parliament from meeting yesterday, blocking access to the chamber with chairs to protest steps by the pro-Western government to join NATO.

Members of the pro-Russia Regions Party block the parliament tribune in Kiev. Ukrainian opposition members prevented parliament from meeting on Friday, blocking access to the chamber with chairs to protest steps by the pro-Western government to join NATO. The banner, in Russian, reads: NATO will not pass.

The ex-Soviet state’s leaders, linked to the 2004 “Orange Revolution” aimed at moving Ukraine closer to the West, last week asked NATO to grant Ukraine a “Membership Action Plan”, the first stage of a long-term process of seeking membership.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko say membership depends on approval in a referendum, but polls show most Ukrainians are opposed to joining NATO.

Up to two dozen opposition members from the Regions Party of ex-prime minister Viktor Yanukovich and their communist allies gathered around the speaker’s seat and placed chairs at entrances to prevent access to the chamber.

They also placed posters, in Russian, on walls reading “No To NATO!” “NATO-Never!” or “NATO away from the Black Sea.”

Yushchenko made NATO and European Union membership a priority after coming to power in the aftermath of mass “Orange” protests in 2004.

Ukraine is divided over the issue, which has also prompted warnings from Moscow that joining NATO would have serious implications for relations between the two ex-Soviet neighbours.

Outside parliament, hundreds of protesters held noisy rallies in support and against the moves to join NATO.

Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk said deputies were working in committees to restart parliamentary debates, including when and how to hold a referendum. “For now, there are no grounds for holding a referendum.”

Preventing parliament from meeting has been used as a tactic by both sides in a variety of debates that roughly bisect Ukraine into a nationalist western half that looks westward and a Russian-speaking eastern half that feels closer to Moscow.

Similar tactics, also linked to the NATO debate, prevented a sitting last week.

Russia has denounced proposals to extend NATO membership to Ukraine and ex-Soviet Georgia, saying that it would have to take “relevant measures”.

Yushchenko said on Thursday that his administration would take no steps to anger Moscow.

NATO ambassadors are to study Ukraine’s request before a summit in Romania in April.

But NATO officials, uneasy after three years of political instability in Ukraine, have suggested the summit might not approve the Action Plan at that meeting.

Source: Gulf Times

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