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Ukraine leader hits back at Russia on anniversary
Mon Aug 24, 2009 9:10am EDT
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By Ron Popeski
KIEV (Reuters) - President Viktor Yushchenko criticized domestic and foreign detractors on Monday and said Ukraine needed strong institutions to parry threats to its future prosperity.
Yushchenko, whose standing is at rock bottom as he seeks re-election in January, was marking the 18th anniversary of independence from Soviet rule as Ukraine's most modern warplanes and transport aircraft flew in formation over Kiev city center.
Speaking in Independence Square, focal point of "Orange Revolution" rallies that swept him to power in 2004, Yushchenko made no direct reference to Russia despite a recent spat.
He spoke only briefly of foreign policy issues that have generated hostility in the Kremlin -- including a drive to secure NATO membership.
"I choose a strong state, strength and dignity, to put in their place not only our local feudals but also foreign overlords who want to set down how we should live," Yushchenko said in his 25-minute address. "I choose a full-fledged future for our country in the future of a united Europe."
For the second year running, several thousand servicemen paraded down Kiev's main thoroughfare, Khreshchatyk Street, and about three dozen aircraft, fighters, bombers and large military transports, roared overhead.
Tanks rolled down Khreshchatyk last year but this time were parked by the square for crowds to admire. After his address, the president rode down the street aboard an armored truck.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this month accused Yushchenko of anti-Russian policies and said he had given up on any improvement on relations as long as he remained in power.
Yushchenko denied the accusation and invited the Russian president for talks.
ROWS OVER NATO, GEORGIA, GAS
Relations have soured over Yushchenko's bid to seek NATO membership, his criticism of Russia's military intervention in Georgia and Kiev's insistence that Russia's Black Sea Fleet must leave its base in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula by 2017.
The neighbors have also been at odds over gas supplies and prices.
Yushchenko has little chance of re-election as his ratings have hit single figures after nearly five years of infighting.
He trails former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed candidate who was initially declared the winner of the 2004 presidential election but lost a re-run after the courts struck down the result as rigged.
Lying second is current prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the president's estranged ally. Yushchenko twice appointed her premier, but the two have sniped constantly as Ukraine slipped into a recession, with gross domestic product plunging 18.0 percent year-on-year in the second quarter. Continued...
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