The European Union has formally recognized Ukraine as a market economy. The designation during a summit meeting in Kiev fulfills a key goal of Ukraine's new President Viktor Yushchenko, who wants to integrate the former Soviet republic more closely with the West.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the announcement granting Ukraine market status in his capacity as the current head of the European Union.

The move was expected after the European Commission said Wednesday that Ukraine had fulfilled the technical criteria necessary.

The designation will help Ukrainian exporters because it limits anti-dumping duties the European Union can impose in the future.

President Viktor Yushchenko has made closer economic integration with the European bloc a key goal since he came to power during the "Orange Revolution" a year ago.

It is welcome news in a country that has been beset with political turmoil due to allegations of high-level corruption and a break between Mr. Yushchenko and some of his key supporters.

One sign of opposition came on the streets outside, where thousands of people gathered to protest Mr. Yushchenko's call to move closer to the NATO military alliance.

This lady says that she does not want Ukraine to be involved with NATO, or for Ukrainian soldiers to be used as cannon-fodder in distant wars.

Before the summit, E.U. officials expressed optimism about Ukraine's progress despite its recent political problems.

Mr. Yushchenko has seen his approval ratings slide in recent months, and he is anxious to boost the country's economy before crucial parliamentary elections next March.

Mr. Yushchenko faces formidable opposition in that vote from some of his former political allies who helped him come to power last year.