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17 Jun, 2008 16:27

Ukrainian protesters say 'NATO go home!'

NATO’s Secretary General has sparked protests during a visit to Ukraine where he has pledged to do all he can to help the country’s bid for membership.

The comments from Jaap de Hoop Scheffer came at a news conference in Kiev as Ukraine's government continues its push to join. 

The government’s stance differs from opinion polls which suggest the majority of the population are against the plan.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer reiterated NATO’s position on the matter. He once again stressed that whatever political course Ukraine chooses the final decision will remain with the Ukrainian public.

He said: “The NATO ambassadors are coming into areas where there is, perhaps, a more critical attitude vis-à-vis NATO, to explain what the modern NATO is and that nobody has anything to fear from the North Atlantic alliance. The Ukrainian people will decide themselves what course they want to follow, and that is the only right way.”

According to the local laws there has to be a public referendum – people have to vote on whether they want to see their country within the alliance or not.

The NATO chief also reiterated that nobody should fear the alliance’s eastward expansion.

“Let’s not forget that never in its history has NATO been directed against a nation or against somebody,” he said.

He also added that the decision to send Ukrainian servicemen to take part in NATO operations will rest with Ukraine.

This is something President Viktor Yushchenko confirmed.

“I want to stress once again that Ukraine has no plans to locate any foreign military bases on its territory. I would also like to dismantle the myth that if Ukraine joins NATO membership action plan, it will make Ukrainian military forces obliged to participate in all NATO operations. This is total nonsense,” said Mr Yushchenko.

However, many countries do not share this position, including Russia. It sees the ambitions of Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO as a direct threat to its national security.

Meanwhile, several hundred anti-NATO protesters took to the streets on Monday and Tuesday, protesting against Mr. De Hoop Scheffer’s arrival. The campaigners are against Ukraine joining. They were carrying flags and chanting anti-NATO slogans.

The NATO chief said during the press conference that he sees these protests as a sign of democracy in Ukraine showing that people can freely speak their mind.