OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko received a rapturous welcome usually reserved for sports stars from Canadian lawmakers on Wednesday as he thanked the country for helping save lives in the battle with Russian-speaking rebels.
Canada last month promised to provide Kiev with helmets and bullet-proof vests to help it secure the unstable eastern region, scene of heavy fighting.
Around 1.2 million of Canada’s 35 million population are of Ukrainian descent. The Conservative government has taken a hard line with Russia, repeatedly accusing it of trying to destabilize the country by backing the rebels.
In a speech interrupted by cheers, applause and the occasional standing ovation, Poroshenko told a special session of the Canadian Parliament that Ottawa’s support had been crucial.
“As the commander-in-chief, as a Ukrainian, and as the father of a soldier I thank Canada for each life that is being saved today in the Ukrainian Donbass (region) by the bullet-proof vests or helmets you gave to us,” he said.
Poroshenko, who was in Canada for the day before flying to Washington to address Congress, at times looked overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception. After he finished speaking he gave Foreign Minister John Baird a big hug.
As well as Canadian best wishes, Poroshenko also received some concrete aid in the form of a C$200 million ($182 million)five-year loan. Poroshenko told Parliament he wanted Ukraine and Canada to complete a proposed free-trade deal.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had first promised the loan in March but the deal was held up by concerns in Ottawa about corruption in Ukraine.
Poroshenko, who has vowed to clean up Ukraine, later told a rally outside the parliament buildings that the crisis in the east was no excuse for failing to crack down on corruption.
Although Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists have signed a ceasefire, it is under some strain.
Ukraine’s prime minister told government forces to remain on full battle alert on Wednesday as fighting in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk killed at least two civilians.
Poroshenko is hoping to consolidate his rule with a parliamentary election on Oct. 26. He told the rally that he hoped the vote would cast out what he called the “fifth column” of pro-Russian legislators.
He has made similar comments in the past.
Editing by James Dalgleish