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 DR M: M'sia Hopes Ukraine Provides Distribution Ce

KIEV (Ukraine), July 15 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr MahathirMohamad has expressed Malaysia's hope that Ukraine could provide adistribution centre for Malaysian palm oil and other products for the EastEuropean market.

He said Ukraine's strategic position at the crossroads of Europe and Asiamakes that prospect very attractive.

On the other hand, he said, Ukraine had a gateway to the other Aseannations and by extension the rest of East Asia.

"Furthermore, with the realisation of the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) in2004, a market of over 500 million people is open to you through Malaysia.We are Ukraine's logical springboard for the region," he said whenspeaking at an official dinner hosted by Ukrainian President Leonid D.Kuchma at the Mariinsskyi Palace here Monday.

Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, thePhilippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Dr Mahathir, who is on a four-day official visit to Ukraine beginningSunday, also urged Malaysian and Ukrainian businessmen to promote theirrespective companies and products through participation in trade fairs andexhibitions to exchange ideas through dialogues and seminars.

Dr Mahathir is the first Malaysian Prime Minister to visit the formerSoviet republic since diplomatic relations were established between bothcountries in March 1991.

Ukraine, situated in the south-eastern part of Central Europe, is thebiggest eastern European country after Russia covering over 600,000 squarekilometres. It borders the Black Sea, Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland,Romania, Russia and Slovakia.

Dr Mahathir also expressed Malaysia's gratitude to Ukraine for openingtheir academic doors to Malaysian students pursuing their studies inmedicine and engineering.

The Crimea alone is home to more than 500 medical students.

"Ukrainian students too are welcome to pursue their studies in Malaysia asit offers interesting courses that could bring about greater understandingof different cultures and religions," he said.

On his visit to Ukraine, Dr Mahathir said that it is a testament to thestrength of Malaysia-Ukraine relationship characterised by warmth andfriendship since diplomatic ties were established in 1991.

"Our bilateral ties premised on mutual respect and understanding have seenremarkable progress since the establishment of Ukrainian Embassy in KualaLumpur," he said.

Dr Mahathir said Ukraine's strength lies in its extraordinary people whoseskills, talents and resourcefulness in the fields of science, medicine andaviation are the envy of many.

"Ukraine can stand tall and proud as you have freed yourself fromcommunism and embraced a democratic free market system.

The path to economic development is never easy or smooth but you haveendeavoured to introduce reforms," he added.