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Eastern Europe

EU to accelerate ties with Georgia, Moldova

Georgia and Moldova are to sign association agreements with the EU in Brussels late next month. Visiting Tbilisi, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said Georgia should not be swayed by "external" pressure.

The EU on Wednesday reasserted its intention to sign association deals with two former Soviet countries, Georgia and Moldova, earlier than planned. Referring to Russia, Van Rompuy (pictured left) said Georgia should resist "security challenges."

"Russia is a neighbor. But good neighbors respect each other's borders," Van Rompuy said, adding that Georgia was a "free democratic country that should make its own choices."

The ex-Soviet republic and Russia fought a brief war in 2008 over two territories - Abkhasia and South Ossetia - which broke away from Georgia. The Caucasus nation of 4.5 million people hosts pipelines that pump oil and gas from the landlocked Caspian Sea region.

Since the 1990s Russia has also backed the separatist region of Trans-Dniestr in a Moldovan border region alongside Ukraine's southern flank.

Date set for signing

Van Rompuy said agreements to enhance trade and political ties between Georgia, Moldova and the EU would be signed in Brussels on June 27 in the presence of "all the EU heads of state or government."

Originally, EU leaders had aimed to have the deals signed by the end of this year.

Van Rompuy spoke in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, after visits earlier this week to Moldova and Ukraine. Georgia has "set the pace," he said, citing its recent adoption of anti-discrimination legislation.

Extensive vetting

The EU president stressed the need for Georgia to also show the independence of its courts and pluralism and cautioned that any Georgian bid for EU membership would require extensive further vetting.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili (pictured right) said the June signing would "make the country's euro integration irreversible."

"Georgia is steadily following its course of European integration. This is our people's choice which is based on our shared values," Garibashvili said.

Georgia is one of six former Soviet states included the EU's Eastern Partnership program. The others are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Ukraine, whose regions became embroiled in bitter wrangles last year on whether to align with Russia or the West.

The breakaway Moldovan region of Trans-Dniester was visited last week by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin.

ipj/mz (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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