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Merkel makes landmark Moldova visit

While Greece's debt dominated the news on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel shifted the focus briefly to the country of Moldova. Merkel is the first German chancellor to visit the republic since its founding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the leaders of Moldova on Wednesday to discuss the country's relationship with the EU and the progress it has made toward reform.

Moldova, which lies between Romania and Ukraine, has been seeking stronger ties to the EU. The former Soviet Union member has been an independent republic for over 20 years. Chancellor Merkel's visit was the first made by a German chancellor since Moldova's independence.

The process toward a more solid partnership must happen "step by step," Merkel told reporters after her meeting. The chancellor emphasized that the first steps must involve drawing up a treaty of association and a free trade agreement. Moldova also needed to curb corruption, she added.

Chancellor Merkel met with Minister President Vlat Filat and President Nicolae Timofti in the country's capital city Chisinau on Wednesday afternoon.

The chancellor also took the opportunity to address Moldova's talks with Transnistria, saying Moldova needed to make "continued progress" toward mending its relationship with the separatist region. Transnistria lies along much of Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine. The region broke away in the early '90s, but the international community has not recognized its independence.

Moldova's next important meeting is due in September, when its leaders are scheduled to have direct talks with Transnistria.

Moldova, a small republic of 3.5 million inhabitants, has shown the "most positive developments" in comparison to other countries that belong to the EU's Eastern Partnership, according to sources affiliated with the German government who spoke to the news agency AFP prior to Wednesday's meeting.

The EU's Eastern Partnership includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The Partnership works toward agreements that help several Eastern European nations improve their ties with the EU. In return, the EU seeks to help these countries become more stable politically, economically, and socially.

kms/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)