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    Crimean residents protest Ukraine's move towards NATO membership

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    Residents of Ukraine's Black Sea autonomy of Crimea are holding a rally on Sunday to protest the country's move towards NATO membership.

    SIMFEROPOL, March 16 (RIA Novosti) - Residents of Ukraine's Black Sea autonomy of Crimea are holding a rally on Sunday to protest the country's move towards NATO membership.

    In January, Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk sent a letter to the alliance's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer saying they hoped that the country could join the NATO Membership Action Plan.

    However, the opposition Party of Regions led by former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych and the Communist Party blocked parliamentary work for over a month in protest against the move, demanding a referendum on the matter. Recent opinion polls showed that over 50% of Ukrainians would vote against joining NATO.

    Parliament recently reopened for work after a compromise decision was reached on the possibility of holding a referendum on the issue.

    Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has threatened to target nuclear missiles on Ukraine if it joined NATO. The ex-Soviet republic of Georgia is also seeking membership in the organization.

    Western countries have been cautious about the two countries' NATO bids, unwilling to further anger Russia, already irritated by and wary of the alliance's ongoing eastward expansion.

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