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Germany

Yushchenko Promises a New Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko promised in a speech to the German lower house of parliament on Wednesday that the world would soon see a new, more democratic Ukraine.

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The Ukrainian president got a standing ovation after his speech

Yushchenko told the parliament, or Bundestag, that the Ukrainian people were grateful for Germany's support during the so-called "Orange Revolution" last December but he called for it to do more to help the former Soviet republic transform itself into a modern European country.

"Ukraine deserves special attention," Yushchenko told a packed house. "The world will see another Ukraine, a Ukraine which is stronger, healthier and economically robust and one that is not plagued by corruption. Germany understands that a new chapter of European history is being written in Ukraine."

Viktor Juschtschenko im Bundestag

By addressing the German parliament, Yushchenko followed in the footsteps of world leaders such as US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the reformist liberal's first official visit to Germany has been dogged by a continuing scandal over

visas issued to immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, mainly Ukraine.

The German opposition claims that by relaxing the criteria for issuing visas between 2000 and 2003, hundreds of thousands of people were able to enter Germany, many with the help of organised crime networks.

Yushchenko's team is said to be concerned that the scandal is leading all Ukrainians to be portrayed as illegal workers, or even criminals, in Germany and undermining their efforts to change the country's image.

In his only reference to the visa affair, Yushchenko called on Germany to "support our students, artists and journalists through your visa policy."

The EU track

Continuing the theme of his two-day visit, Yushchenko said Ukraine's future lay in the European Union and he called for his country to be given swift membership in the European bloc.

Viktor Juschtschenko im Bundestag

"Our road map lies down the route towards the European Union," he said, borrowing a term from the Middle East peace process. "I see Ukraine in a unified Europe in the not-too-distant future." He said he predicts his country will enter the EU as a full member well before 2016, but that view is seen with some scepticism in Brussels.

For his part, Chancellor Schröder refused to set any timetable for Ukrainian EU membership, saying that was up to the European Commission.

He added that Ukraine's attempts to move closer to the EU and NATO should not be seen as a slight to its neighbour and former master.

"Russia is our eternal strategic partner," he said.

Change promised

Seeking to demonstrate that Ukraine was on the road to change, Yushchenko promised to solve the brutal murder of Ukrainian opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze, whose headless corpse was found two months after he disappeared in September 2000.

"Four years after it happened, we will arrest Gongadze's murderers and bring them to justice," Yushchenko said.

As Yushchenko was speaking in Berlin, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that former president Leonid Kuchma would be questioned as part of the investigation. Kuchma denies any involvement in the killing.

Ukrainischer Präsident Viktor Juschtschenko und Schröder

Yushchenko (left) and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said after talks with Yushchenko earlier on Wednesday that Germany was throwing its weight behind efforts to help Ukraine emerge from its former isolation.

"We intend to support Ukraine's desire to be accorded the status of market economy by the European Union as quickly as possible and naturally we are committed to assisting Ukraine to become a member of the World Trade Organization," Schroeder added.

Germany is Ukraine's second biggest trading partner after Russia.

The furor over the first Ukrainian presidential election last year, which produced a victory for the pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych but was marred by widespread reports of irregularities, was a severe test of Schröder's close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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