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EU-Ukraine association deal to be initialled March 30

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(WARSAW) - The European Union and Ukraine will initial an Association Agreement on March 30, despite the bloc's refusal to finalise the deal pending Kiev's release of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The move, however, falls short of a full official signature of the agreement which would give Kiev a key step on the long road to becoming a member of the European club.

"On March 30, the agreement will be initialled for the good of Ukraine and the entire European Union," Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Thursday in Warsaw, at a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk.

Both Brussels and Kiev had hoped to fully sign and implement the Association Agreement last year, as part of the process of drawing ex-Soviet Ukraine closer to the Western bloc.

But the sentencing of ex-Ukrainian premier Tymoshenko last October to seven years in jail for abuse of authority for the gas contracts she agreed to with Russia in 2009, sparked a crisis in ties between Ukriane and the EU just as Russia was putting out feelers to Kiev to come closer into its orbit.

The EU believes the verdict against one of the leaders of Ukraine's 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution is politically motivated and insists that it has stalled the full signing of an agreement.

Her long-time opponent Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has denied any involvement in the case.

"From the point of view of Poland and of our EU partners, and making every effort to understand as best as possible the circumstances and arguments of the Ukrainian government, we express our concern over this situation," Tusk said Thursday.

Brussels is demanding Tymoshenko's release and insists she should be able to run in Ukraine's next general election in October 2012.

Talks on the agreement, largely focused on improving trade ties, began in 2007.

EU relations with Ukraine

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