Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev. (Reuters)
Updated 22 April 2019
0

Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

  • Petro Poroshenko tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag and national identity
  • Zelenskiy is a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies

KIEV: A comedian with no political experience won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, exit polls showed, dealing a stunning rebuke to the country’s political establishment.
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only previous political role was playing the president in a TV show, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73 percent of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by several think tanks.
It was an extraordinary outcome to a campaign that started as a joke but struck a chord with voters frustrated by poverty, corruption and a five-year war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 13,000 lives.
The 41-year-old star of the TV series “Servant of the People” will now take the helm of a country of 45 million people beset by challenges and having run on the vaguest of political platforms.
“I will never let you down,” Zelensky told jubilant supporters at his Kiev campaign headquarters where he was showered with glittering confetti after the exit polls were released.
“While I am not formally president yet, as a citizen of Ukraine I can tell all post-Soviet countries: ‘Look at us! Everything is possible!’.”
Zelensky won in all regions of the country, defeating Poroshenko even in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support.
Poroshenko, 53, conceded defeat in a speech at his campaign headquarters.
He said the results were “clear” and enough reason to “call my opponent and congratulate him.”
“I will leave office but I want to firmly stress — I will not quit politics,” Poroshenko said.
Preliminary results were expected in several hours but the same exit polls were accurate in the first round of the election.
After taking the most votes in last month’s first-round vote, Zelensky had enjoyed a strong lead going into Sunday’s poll.
From Ukrainian-speaking regions in the west of the country to Russian-speaking territories in the war-torn east, many voters said they feared uncertainty but yearned for change.
“We’re tired of all the lies,” said Marta Semenyuk, 26, who cast her ballot for the comedian.
“I think it just cannot get any worse and I hope he’ll live up to his promises,” said Larisa, an 18-year-old student from the government-held eastern port city of Mariupol.
Zelensky’s victory opens a new chapter in the history of a country that has gone through two popular uprisings in the last 20 years and is mired in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east.
His supporters say only a fresh face can clean up Ukraine’s politics and end the separatist conflict.
But others doubt the showman will be able to take on the country’s influential oligarchs, negotiate with the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“People have gone mad,” Viktoriya Olomutska, a 39-year-old Poroshenko supporter, said in Kiev. “Cinema and reality are two different things.”
Poroshenko had previously mocked his rival’s lack of political experience and argued he was unfit to be a wartime commander-in-chief.
The outgoing leader came to power after a 2014 pro-Western uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime, triggering Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
His supporters credited him with rebuilding the army and securing an Orthodox Church independent of Russia.
But many feel the country’s ruling elite have forgotten the promises of the revolution.
The comic shunned traditional campaign rallies and instead performed comedy gigs and used social media to appeal to voters.
The Ukrainian president has strong powers over defense, security and foreign policy but needs backing from parliament to push through reforms.
Poroshenko’s faction has the most seats in the current legislature and new parliamentary polls are due in October.
The West has closely watched the race amid concern a new government might undo years of economic reforms.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called both Zelensky and Poroshenko on the eve of the run-off vote.


French police hunt suspect after Lyon bomb ‘attack’

Updated 20 min 2 sec ago
0

French police hunt suspect after Lyon bomb ‘attack’

  • Police issued an appeal for witnesses on Twitter as they sought the man believed to be in his early 30s
  • Justice minister Nicole Belloubet told BFM television it was too soon to say whether the blast was a “terrorist act”

LYON: Police in France were on Saturday hunting a suspect following a blast in a pedestrian street in the heart of Lyon that lightly wounded 13 people two days ahead of hotly contested European Parliament elections.
President Emmanuel Macron called the Friday evening explosion, from a package believed to have been packed with shrapnel, an “attack” and sent interior minister Christophe Castaner to Lyon.
Police issued an appeal for witnesses on Twitter as they sought the man believed to be in his early 30s, who was picked up by security cameras on a mountain bicycle immediately before the explosion.
An image of the suspect, wearing light-colored shorts and a longsleeved dark top, was posted. He was described as “dangerous.”
Justice minister Nicole Belloubet told BFM television it was too soon to say whether the blast was a “terrorist act.”
The case was nonetheless handed to the Paris prosecutor for anti-terrorism that deal with all terrorist cases.
The number of wounded stood at 13 people, with 11 taken to hospitals. None of the injuries was life-threatening but included eight women and a 10-year-old girl as well as four men.
A police source said the package contained “screws or bolts.” It had been placed in front of a bakery near a busy corner of two crowded streets at around 17:30 p.m. (1530 GMT).
District mayor Denis Broliquier said “the charge was too small to kill,” and an administrative source told AFP it was a “relatively weak explosive charge” that was triggered at a distance.
The blast occurred on a narrow strip of land between the Saone and Rhone rivers in the historic center of the southeast city. The area was evacuated and cordoned off by police.
“There was an explosion and I thought it was a car crash,” said Eva, a 17-year-old student who was about 15 meters (50 feet) from the blast site.
“There were bits of electric wire near me, and batteries and bits of cardboard and plastic. The windows were blown out,” he said.
“I was working, serving customers, and all of a sudden there was a huge ‘boom’,” said Omar Ghezza, a baker who works nearby.
“We thought it had something to do with renovation work. But in fact it was an abandoned package,” he said.
France has been on high alert following a wave of deadly terror attacks since 2015 which have killed more than 250 people.
“It’s an area in the very center of Lyon, a major street,” the city’s deputy mayor in charge of security, Jean-Yves Secheresse, told BFM television.
“These areas are highly secured, the police are continually present,” as were patrols by soldiers deployed in a long-running anti-terror operation, he said.
Lyon is the third-biggest city in Francewith extensive suburbs and a poplation of 2.3 million.
The most recent package bomb in France dates back to December 2007, when an explosion in front of a law office in Paris killed one person and injured another. Police never found who carried out that attack.