Merkel pledges support to Ukraine after Zelensky win

Volodymyr Zelensky. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Merkel pledges support to Ukraine after Zelensky win

  • Germany key broker in conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists
  • The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed some 13,000 lives

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has congratulated comedian Volodymyr Zelensky on his landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, saying she hopes the vote will help stabilize the troubled country.

“I congratulate you on your election,” Merkel said.

“The stabilization of Ukraine and a peaceful conflict resolution are as close to my heart as the implementation of central reforms of the judiciary, decentralization and the fight against corruption,” her statement said.

“The Federal government will continue to actively assist Ukraine in its right to sovereignty and territorial integrity in the future.”

Merkel, who met incumbent Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko earlier this month in Berlin, added that she would welcome receiving Zelensky soon.

Germany has been a key broker in the conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since Moscow annexed the Crimeapledgen peninsula in 2014, negotiating with France the now moribund Minsk peace accords.

The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed some 13,000 lives and rumbles on despite a series of periodic truce deals.

The EU also has sanctions in force against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praised Poroshenko for his “great contribution to his country over the last five years” and echoed Merkel’s offer of support to Zelensky.

“Volodymyr Zelensky became known during the election campaign for further reforms and the fight against corruption,” said Maas in a statement.

“Germany will continue to stand at the side of Ukraine and offer support on this path.”

Ukrainians looked to the future with hope and anxiety after Zelensky took 73 percent of the vote, according to nearly complete official results.

The star of the sitcom “Servant of the People,” now in its third season, has vowed to stick to the pro-European course set out by his predecessor.

But he has also said he will try to improve ties with Russia.

On the streets of Kiev, many praised honest elections and a peaceful transfer of power after popular uprisings of 2004 and 2014.

“People showed that they want change,” said 28-year-old Karina.

“We had the most honest polls in the history of Ukraine,” she added, praising Poroshenko for conceding defeat soon after exit polls were published.

Zelensky presented a vague manifesto and one of his campaign slogans was, “No promises. No apologies.”

He shunned traditional campaign rallies, instead performing comedy gigs, and implied he would use the same unorthodox style to run the country of 45 million dependent on international aid.

It remained unclear Monday who would fill top positions, including the role of prime minister.

US President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron called the political novice to congratulate him on his landslide win.

“Allow us to express our appreciation for the strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law that the people of Ukraine have demonstrated,” EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in a joint letter to Zelensky.

Outgoing Poroshenko said he stood ready to help his successor, despite a bitter campaign.

Russia — which Kiev and the West accuse of fueling a smoldering separatist conflict in Ukraine’s industrial east — said it saw an opportunity with the new leader.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said there was “a chance” to improve ties.

“What’s needed for this? Honesty. And a pragmatic and responsible approach,” Medvedev wrote on Facebook.

There was no immediate comment from President Vladimir Putin.


Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

Updated 42 min 7 sec ago
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Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

  • Voters across Europe will elect 751 lawmakers in the elections
  • UK’s 73 lawmakers in the EU Parliament will lose their jobs if the country leaves the union

THE HAGUE: Dutch and UK polls opened Thursday in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.
A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the challenge is “not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades.
In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by 10 other nationalist leaders, including far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally party and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.
On Thursday morning, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and adding that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”
Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. The Dutch make up just 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.
Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night.
The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU’s open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum.
Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini, although in a debate Wednesday night he called Salvini a “hero of Europe” for his crackdown on migration.