ARTICLES 
BULGARIA, NEW MEMBERS WELCOMED IN NATO
Novinite.com (3 April 2004)

Bulgarias national flag and NATO flag fluttered in
centre Sofia as the capital marked the accession
of seven new member states.
Photo by Gergana Kostadinova (novinite.com)
Bulgaria, together with six other eastern European countries, were welcomed into NATO Friday as their national flags were hoisted for the first time at an official ceremony in front of Brussels headquarters.
Bulgaria's national flag was the first to be raised under the sounds of the national anthem. The moment brought tears of joy in the eyes of Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, one of the country's staunchest supporters for accession to the Alliance.
"This is a historic day," said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a news conference after the ceremony. "We rejoice. We are glad. We are happy."
In an almost simultaneous ceremony Sofia marked the accession of the new member states as their flags were raised in the center of Sofia on Nezavisimost Square, between the buildings of the Council of Ministers and the Presidency. Twenty-one gun salutes were fired.
Being a NATO member gives Bulgaria some extra military power, Bulgaria's prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg said at the ceremony. He tempered fears that entering NATO would worsen relations with Russia. As a member of the Alliance Bulgaria has even more opportunities for a dialogue with Russia, he insisted.
The prime ministers of the seven former Soviet-dominated nations submitted the accession documents to the US government in Washington March 29.
NATO, created 55 years ago to counter communism during the Cold War, is adding 200,000 military personnel to its existing 2.8 million as it seeks to fight terrorism. NATO aims to create a rapid-reaction force, to reach full operational capability by October 2006, that will be able to move 20,000 troops anywhere in the world in as little as a week.

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