EU integration priority for Ukraine: president

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President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday vowed EU integration was a priority for Ukraine, hitting back at critics who have accused his government of treason over a swift rapprochement with Russia.

In an address marking the 19th anniversary of the Ukrainian parliament's proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union, Yanukovych also rejected accusations he has hindered media freedoms in the country.

"European integration remains a priority for our foreign policy," Yanukovych said in an address in Ukrainian to around 2,000 people on Independence Square in the heart of Kiev, known locally as the Maidan.

Yanukovych has outraged pro-Western politicians since coming to power in February by extending the lease of a Russian naval base on Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula for 25 more years and tightening diplomatic ties with Moscow.

His policies have marked a stunning reverse from the strategy of the previous leadership, who were swept to power in the 2004 Orange Revolution and sought to steer Ukraine away from Russia's orbit.

But the president said: "It is clear that normalizing our relations with Russia does not only not hinder our EU integration but on the contrary contributes to it."

His opponents -- led by feisty ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- have accused him of treason for selling out Ukraine's interests.

Yanukovych has also been under fire from the media for a tightening of press freedoms, something usually seen as one of the few tangible gains of the Orange Revolution.

He said there may have been problems with conflicts of interests of the oligarch owners of Ukraine's media, but insisted that the government has never been implicated.

"As a guarantor of the constitution I will do everything not to allow the slightest pressure on the media, whatever quarter they come from," said Yanukovych.

© 2010 AFP

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