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EU-Ukraine pact gets Dutch approval despite rejection in advisory referendum

The Dutch parliament has completed the ratification of a pact between the European Union and Ukraine despite voters in the Netherlands rejecting the agreement in an advisory referendum last year.

Dutch approval was the last major step needed to clinch the much-delayed Association Agreement - aimed at keeping Russia at arm's length - between the 28-nation EU and the eastern European nation.

Ending months of often bitter debate, two-thirds of 75 senators in the upper house of parliament stood briefly to show their support for ratifying the pact to boost trade, fight corruption and improve human rights in Ukraine. Lawmakers in the lower house approved ratification three months ago.

The approval came after Prime Minister Mark Rutte obtained written assurances from EU leaders that the Association Agreement was neither a stepping stone to EU membership for Ukraine nor provides a collective security guarantee or extra money. The assurances were intended to allay concerns of "No" voters in the April 2016 referendum, Mr Rutte said.

The other 27 EU member states have already ratified the deal. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was quick to welcome the Netherlands' belated green light.

"Today's vote in the Dutch Senate sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire European Union to our Ukrainian friends," Mr Juncker said in a statement. "Ukraine's place is in Europe. Ukraine's future lies with Europe."

He said he hopes the ratification process can now be concluded in time for an EU-Ukraine summit in July.

Mr Rutte had pushed for ratification despite voter disapproval, saying the European Union needed to display a united front and to shore up its eastern border in the face of what he called Russia's "increasingly destabilising foreign policy."

AP

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