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14:23 GMT +3 hours21 December 2014
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Ukrainian opposition protests government bid to join EU, NATO

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KIEV, December 1 (RIA Novosti) - Several thousand opposition activists took to the streets in downtown Kiev Thursday to protest against the government's plans to join NATO and the European Union.

About a thousand activists from the Progressive Socialist Party, a staunch opponent of Ukraine's accession to the North Atlantic alliance, rallied on Independence Square in the early morning, carrying 2,500 lit candles in commemoration of the civilians killed in NATO's 1999 operation in Yugoslavia. They called for the reintegration of the former Soviet republic with Russia and Belarus.

Ukrainian ultranationalist party Bratstvo also staged a rally Thursday against the government's bid for EU and NATO membership. Some 300 Bratstvo activists gathered outside the presidential staff headquarters with signs proclaiming, "Blair, Go Home!"

The protests were held against the backdrop of a Ukraine-EU summit, the first one since the "Orange Revolution" a year ago that had swept pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko into power.

At the Kiev summit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair - whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency - and leaders of other EU nations granted Ukraine market economy status and backed its bid to join the World Trade Organization.

The recognition of Ukraine as a free market economy is a major achievement for President Yushchenko, bringing him a step closer to Brussels.