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Canada's Trudeau apologises after Nazi veteran praised in parliament

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, US, September 21, 2023 as tensions escalate following Canada's announcement that it was "actively pursuing credible allegations" linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in June. REUTERS

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday formally apologized after the speaker of the House of Commons praised a Nazi veteran in the chamber while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was present.

Trudeau also said Ottawa had already reached out to Kyiv and Zelenskiy through diplomatic channels to apologize.

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Anthony Rota, who publicly acknowledged veteran Yaroslav Hunka in the House last Friday and called him a hero, quit as speaker of the chamber on Tuesday and said he bore sole responsibility for what happened. Hunka, 98, was a Polish-born Ukrainian who served in one of Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS units during World War Two. He later emigrated to Canada.

Russia says the incident backs up its assertion that the war in Ukraine aims to "denazify" the country, a charge Kyiv and Western allies say is baseless.

"On behalf of all of us in this House, I would like to present unreserved apologies for what took place on Friday and to President Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian delegation for the position they were put in," Trudeau told the House on Wednesday.

"For all of us who were present to have unknowingly recognized this individual was a terrible mistake and a violation of the memory of those who suffered grievously at the hands of the Nazi regime."

The Kremlin earlier in the day said the whole Canadian parliament should publicly condemn Nazism.

"It is extremely troubling to think that this egregious error is being politicized by Russia and its supporters to provide false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting for," Trudeau said in earlier remarks to reporters.

Hunka lives in Rota's parliamentary constituency. Trudeau said the Liberal government had no responsibility for vetting who the speaker had invited.

The official opposition Conservatives say Trudeau was ultimately responsible for what happened, given he had invited Zelenskiy to address the Canadian parliament, and accused him of negligence.