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Ukraine looking forward to joining a united Europe, Yushchenko says

WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers heralded Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko with several standing ovations Wednesday as he told a joint session of Congress that his country is looking forward to being part of a united Europe.

"Today, Ukraine is looking into the future with great hope and expectation," Yushchenko said via an interpreter. "I am proud that, at last, my country has shed the demons of criminal rule, corruption and authoritarianism and is ready to enter Europe as a modern, democratic state with a growing economy and a vibrant civil society."

His face badly scarred from the poisoning he endured during his presidential campaign, Yushchenko wore an orange tie and handkerchief with his pinstriped suit, homage to the color his supporters adopted as they protested in the streets against a fraud-plagued election that at first had denied him the presidency. A court-ordered runoff propelled him to victory, removing Ukraine's Kremlin-backed government from power.

Members of Congress and President Bush's Cabinet paid tribute to Yushchenko by wearing orange ribbons, handkerchiefs, scarves and corsages.

Yushchenko is in the midst of a three-day tour of the United States, during which he's received star treatment. Tuesday, he met with Bush and other high-ranking administration officials and received this year's John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the late President Kennedy's brother, praised Yushchenko for standing up "for what he believed in, even in the face of direct threats to his personal safety."

Ukraine's 2004 election was a test of the former Soviet republic's true allegiance, which has been divided between those who identify with Western Europe and those who remain loyal to Russia. Yushchenko's victory was seen as an affirmation of the nation's pro-Western sensibilities, and in Wednesday's speech the new president called for the European Union to make good on Ukraine's gesture and allow the country to join the organization.

"My vision of the future is Ukraine in a united Europe," Yushchenko said. "It would be unfair to deprive Ukrainians, who so graciously proved their European identity, of this chance."

Yushchenko asked the United States to reach out to Ukraine, pointing to his nation's participation in the Iraq war—to which it has sent about 1,600 troops—and the steps it's taking to open its economy to outside investment. He called "irrational" the United States' classification of Ukraine as a non-market economy—a status that severely limits the abilities of Ukrainian producers to trade with the United States—and said his government was "targeting our efforts" at gaining membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that Bush has cautiously supported.

"I deeply believe that America is again ready for such historic decisions," Yushchenko said. "Supporting Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations is just this kind of decision. We do not want any more walls in Europe, and I am certain that neither do you."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Viktor Yushchenko

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