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Ukraine's President Signs WTO Agreement

The World Trade Organization has formally approved Ukraine's membership in the group after 14 years of negotiations.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and WTO director Pascal Lamy Tuesday signed a protocol on Ukraine's accession to the group. The signing in Geneva came just hours after the organization's general council approved the document. Ukraine's parliament now has until July to ratify the agreement and make Ukraine the WTO's 152nd member.

The U.S. State Department welcomed the signing as "an important milestone" in Ukraine's ongoing economic transformation. A statement also said Washington sees WTO membership as an incentive for further economic reform.

Earlier today, opposition lawmakers physically blocked the president from delivering a key presidential address to parliament. Opposition MPs were protesting the Yushchenko administration's move asking NATO to accept Ukraine into the organization's Membership Action Plan.

The protest was made despite assurances from visiting U.S. lawmaker Robert Wexler, who told VOA Ukrainian service he expects U.S. officials at a NATO summit later this year to formally back Kyiv's move toward the pre-membership plan.

The opposition is demanding that authorities first hold a referendum on Ukraine's planned NATO membership before seeking to participate in the Membership Action Plan.