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Viktor Yushchenko Addresses the US Congress

Ukraine's newly-elected president, Viktor Yushchenko, has thanked the United States for supporting Ukraine as it begins a series of democratic and economic reforms. VOA's Victoria Cavaliere reports that the Ukrainian leader is also asking the U.S. Congress for more financial support.

Mr. Yushchenko's speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress Wednesday marked the first such address by a Ukrainian leader and the only one by any leader of a former Soviet republic, except Russia.

The Ukrainian president got a standing ovation from Congress, which he thanked for its support during Ukraine's so-called "Orange Revolution" last December, when a populist uprising forced a second election that brought him to power.

"We highly appreciate the message sent by your country's leadership before the elections and during the Orange Revolution. It was clear and unambiguous. The United States condemned fraud and upheld Ukraine's right to freely elect their government," said Mr. Yushchenko.

Mr. Yushchenko's rise to power included a near-fatal dioxin poisoning that left his face deeply scarred; a poisoning he says was an assassination attempt by his Kremlin-backed opponent.

He told Congress that despite the struggles Ukraine has faced in the past, it is committed to a future that includes political transparency and the protection of civil liberties and minority rights.

Mr. Yushchenko said, "My goal is to place Ukraine in the forefront of prosperous democracies. My vision of the future is a Ukraine in a united Europe. We view accession to the European Union as an opportunity to realize the potential of our country. For us, a European future is a powerful incentive to attain high political, social and economic standards. We have observed the openness of European doors -- adding to our neighbors confidence. It would be unfair to deprive Ukraine of this chance."

The Ukrainian president asked Congress to remove Cold War trade restrictions, as the country seeks to rebuild its economy. He also urged strong U.S. support for Kiev's bid to join the World Trade Organization this year, and the NATO defense alliance in the near future.

President Bush has voiced support for these moves -- often citing Ukraine as a model of peaceful democratic reform.

The U.S. president met privately with his Ukrainian counterpart Monday. The two leaders talked about Ukraine's decision to complete a troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year -- a move President Bush says is understandable.