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Ukraine's president elect promises new peace talks

Volodymyr Zelensky on hearing the news of his successful presidential bid on 21 April 2019.
Volodymyr Zelensky on hearing the news of his successful presidential bid on 21 April 2019. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

The winner of Ukraine's presidential vote Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Sunday to "reboot" peace talks with separatists that also involve Russia and the West.

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The Ukrainian comedian won the second round of a presidential election against incumbent Petro Poroshenko by a landslide, a national exit poll showed on Sunday.

The poll said Zelenskiy had won 73 percent of the vote and that Poroshenko had won just 25 percent of the vote.

Ukraine's outgoing leader Petro Poroshenko conceded defeat in Sunday's presidential election and congratulated comedian Volodymyr Zelensky on his landslide victory.

Poroshenko said the results were "clear" and a reason to "call my opponent and congratulate him", after exit polls showed the performer taking 73 percent of the vote. "I will leave office but I want to firmly stress -- I will not quit politics," he added.

Reboot peace talks

Zelensky says he will seek to 'reboot' peace talks with Russia reporters that "In any case we will act within the Normandy framework, we will continue with the Minsk talks, we will reboot them," he added, "I think we will have personnel changes there."

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.

Popular uprisings

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.

Comedy gigs

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 defence, 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.

 

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