PM Lee, Merkel discuss Crimea issue

THE HAGUE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussed the Russian annexation of Crimea with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday and reiterated Singapore's opposition to such assaults on sovereignty.

During their hour-long meeting, described as warm and cordial, Mr Lee underlined Singapore's objection to any "unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext", said his press secretary Chang Li Lin.

Russia's decision to annex Crimea from Ukraine after a questionable referendum in favour of it in the peninsula has provoked the anger of Western Europe and the United States, which have retaliated with sanctions.

Late on Monday here, US President Barack Obama and the other leaders also axed a Group of Eight meeting planned for Sochi in June, effectively kicking out Russia from the prestigious club as they revert to a Group of Seven format spanning the US, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, Canada and Italy.

During his talks with the German Chancellor, Mr Lee also expressed his appreciation for her country's support for the early ratification of the European Union- Singapore free trade agreement.

The pact, in its final stages of being passed by the different European countries' Parliaments, is expected to come into force later this year or early next year.

Germany is Europe's largest economy and Singapore's 13th- largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to more than S$20 billion last year.

Ms Chang said the two leaders discussed a wide range of topics, "including challenges for regional stability in South-east Asia and Europe, and the prospects for growth". They "also discussed common challenges such as an ageing population and maintaining economic competitiveness", she added.

Mr Lee also accepted an invitation from Dr Merkel to visit Germany next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties. Dr Merkel was last in Singapore in 2011.

The Prime Minister spent his third day in The Hague attending the remaining plenary sessions of the Nuclear Security Summit, which closed on Tuesday evening.

He leaves for Luxembourg today to meet his counterpart Xavier Bettel, before travelling to Britain. In London, Mr Lee will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and receive a Freedom of the City of London award.

The award is given to individuals who have made a significant impact in their fields.

The only other Singaporean to have received it: former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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