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Ukraine passes graft bill needed for visa-free travel to EU

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(KIEV) - Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday approved a key anti-corruption bill that Kiev hopes will pave the way for visa-free travel to EU countries this year.

But the measures come as the 28-nation bloc is busy setting up fences to keep out new migrants and turning to populist politicians who vow to keep their countries from being flooded by those fleeing economic hardship and war.

Conflict-riven Ukraine's new legislation establishes public oversight over the assets of both senior and lower-level officials and their relatives.

They now have to file electronic declarations of their income and holdings and face criminal liability for any inaccurate or falsified information.

The data will crucially be open online to anyone's scrutiny -- a level of transparency that the European Union (EU) believes can move Ukraine closer in line with international standards.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday vetoed an earlier version of the bill that pushed back the asset declarations until 2017.

"Parliament did everything for Ukrainians to travel to Europe without visas this year," Poroshenko tweeted after lawmakers passed the measure by an overwhelming 278 votes to two.

Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolution was driven in part by widespread discontent over the corruption that enriched senior officials in a succession of previous governments.

Kiev's pro-Western leaders accuse the ousted Russian-backed leadership of embezzling billions of dollars (euros) from the state budget and enjoying lavish lifestyles at the expense of the working poor.

- One more condition left -

The former Soviet country had spent years on laborious negotiations aimed at letting its roughly 40 million citizens avoid the costly and time-consuming procedure of obtaining a visa from an EU state.

Many Ukrainians report being denied permission to enter, and for which no reason is given.

The number of such incidents has soared since Europe last year began to struggle with the burden of dealing with hundreds of thousands of migrants from poorer countries and refugees from war-riven Syria and Iraq.

Ukrainian analysts believe that visa-free travel for tourists who wish to enjoy EU countries for up to 90 days could still come into force by the end of July.

The legislation does not cover business trips and would not allow Ukrainians to work in EU countries during their stay.

Kiev officials cheered the bill's adoption as another step in Ukraine's journey toward the European Union and away from Russia's political grasp -- a transition that sparked the country's bloody 23-month separatist war.

Ukraine's ambassador-at-large Dmytro Kuleba called Tuesday's vote "unprecedented".

But the head of European Union's mission to Ukraine said Kiev had one more obligation to meet before it can secure visa-free travel for tourists.

Ukraine has already created a graft-fighting body called the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption.

Yet it has failed to assume its functions because members of a special commission assigned with naming representatives to the new agency continue to argue over the potential nominees.

"The selection of the remaining Board members of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption is one of the (visa liberalisation) recommendations," the EU's Jan Tombinski wrote on Facebook.

"It is also (Ukraine's) last outstanding commitment," Tombinski wrote.

 


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