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article imageUkraine 'disappointed' as Romania cancels visit over language bill

By AFP     Sep 22, 2017 in Politics

Ukraine on Friday expressed disappointment after the president of Romania said he would not travel to the ex-Soviet country next month in protest over a bill that obliges schools to teach in the Ukrainian language only.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the bill "drastically limits" the access of minorities to education in their native language, adding that the cancellation of his visit is a "very strong signal."

A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that the visit had been cancelled.

"We are disappointed that the Romanian side doesn't want the leaders to have dialogue," she told AFP.

The draft law has been approved by the Ukrainian parliament but President Petro Poroshenko has yet to sign off on it.

According to the text of the bill, starting from September 1, 2020, education for Ukrainian pupils will be provided in the Ukrainian language when they reach the fifth grade.

They can still learn their native language as a separate subject.

Ukraine has sizeable communities of Romanians, Hungarians, Poles and other groups with roots in neighbouring countries.

But ethnic Russians account for Ukraine's biggest minority and many Ukrainian regions are mainly Russian-speaking.

The use of Russian has long been a bone of contention between Moscow and Kiev, with the Kremlin claiming the Ukrainian authorities are seeking to sideline the Russian language and ethnic Russians.

Kiev defended the bill, saying it is in the interests of children and would improve their chances to do in local universities.

Other countries have also criticised the proposed law.

Some 400,000 children receive education in languages other than Ukrainian in the country, 90 percent of which go to Russian language schools, according to Education Minister Liliya Grynevych.

About 16,000 children are taught in Romanian, according to the Ukrainian education ministry.

Moscow said last week that the bill was "in direct contravention of both the Constitution and international obligations in the humanitarian sphere that Kiev has taken upon itself."

Language is a contentious issue in multi-ethnic Ukraine and has fuelled a conflict between Kremlin-backed separatists and Kiev in the country's east after Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

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