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Ukraine: Popular Ukraine comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy emerges victorious in the presidential poll.

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Source: Reuters

Ukraine entered uncharted political waters on Monday after near final results showed a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies had dramatically up-ended the status quo and won the country’s presidential election by a landslide.

The emphatic victory of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko who tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag by casting himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.

With over 90 percent of the vote counted, Zelenskiy had won 73 percent of the vote with Poroshenko winning just under 25 percent.

Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, is now poised to take over the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

“I’m not yet officially the president, but as a citizen of Ukraine, I can say to all countries in the post-Soviet Union look at us. Anything is possible!”

Zelenskiy, whose victory fits a pattern of anti-establishment figures unseating incumbents in Europe and further afield, has promised to end the war in the eastern Donbass region and to root out corruption amid widespread dismay over rising prices and sliding living standards.

But he has been coy about exactly how he plans to achieve all that and investors want reassurances that he will accelerate reforms needed to attract foreign investment and keep the country in an International Monetary Fund program.

“Since there is complete uncertainty about the economic policy of the person who will become president, we simply don’t know what is going to happen and that worries the financial community,” said Serhiy Fursa, an investment banker at Dragon Capital in Kiev.

“We need to see what the first decisions are, the first appointments. We probably won’t understand how big these risks are earlier than June. Perhaps nothing will change.”

The United States, the European Union and Russia will be closely watching Zelenskiy’s foreign policy pronouncements to see if and how he might try to end the war against pro-Russian separatists that has killed some 13,000 people.

U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Zelenskiy and pledged to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity, while European Council President Donald Tusk congratulated the Ukrainian people on what he called a show of democratic maturity.

Zelenskiy said on Sunday he planned to continue European-backed talks with Russia on a so far largely unimplemented peace deal and would try to free Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia, which is holding 24 Ukrainian sailors among others.

Viktor Medvedchuk, the Kremlin’s closest ally in Ukraine, last week outlined ways in which Ukraine and Russia could mend ties, though Zelenskiy has given no indication of being open to the prospect.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine now had a chance to “reset” and unite its people.

Zelenskiy has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, but has sounded less emphatic than Poroshenko about possible plans for the country of 42 million people to one day join the European Union and NATO.

Poroshenko, who conceded defeat but said he planned to stay in politics, said on social media he thought Zelenskiy’s win would spark celebrations in the Kremlin.

“They believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian President, Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence,” he wrote.

Critics accuse Zelenskiy of having an unhealthily close working relationship with a powerful oligarch called Ihor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel broadcasts his comedy shows.

Zelenskiy has rejected those accusations.

One of the most important and early tests of that promise will be the fate of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, which was nationalized in 2016.

The government wrested PrivatBank from Kolomoisky as part of a banking system clean-up backed by the IMF, which supports Ukraine with a multi-billion dollar loan program.

But its fate hangs in the balance after a Kiev court ruled days before the election that the change of PrivatBank’s ownership was illegal, delighting Kolomoisky but rocking the central bank which said it would appeal.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly denied he would seek to hand PrivatBank back to Kolomoisky if elected or help the businessman win compensation for the ownership change.

The IMF will be watching closely too to see if Zelenskiy will allow gas prices to rise to market levels, an IMF demand but a politically sensitive issue and one Zelenskiy has been vague about.

Zelenskiy gave few new policy details on Sunday, but said he wanted a new general prosecutor to replace incumbent Yuriy Lutsenko, and spoke of wanting new generals to work in the army.

His unorthodox campaign traded on the character he plays in the TV show, a scrupulously honest schoolteacher who becomes president by accident after an expletive-ridden rant about corruption goes viral.

 Zelenskiy has promised to fight corruption, a message that has resonated with Ukrainians fed up with the status quo in a country that is one of Europe’s poorest nearly three decades after breaking away from the Soviet Union

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24 Hours Across Africa

Iran faces sanction over uranium breach plan

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Source: Reuters

Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days — a move likely to worsen tensions with Washington — but it added European nations could still save a nuclear deal that sets those limits.

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In an indication of concern at Iran’s announcement, Germany urged Tehran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord. Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”.

Close U.S. ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.

U.S.-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region, state TV said.

In an announcement drawing signs of Western unease, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfill their commitments.”

Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.

The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.

Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.


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24 Hours Across Africa

China backs Hong kong leader

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Source: Reuters

China doubled down on its support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday after days of protests in the Chinese-ruled city over a planned extradition bill, and a source close to Lam said Beijing was unlikely to let her go even if she tried to resign.

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Lam’s attempts to pass a bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial triggered the biggest and most violent protests in the former British colony in decades.

As the political crisis entered its second week, demonstrators and opposition politicians braved intermittent rain to gather near the government’s offices and call for the bill to be killed and for her to step down.

The upheaval comes at a delicate time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a deepening U.S. trade war, an ebbing economy and regional strategic tension.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing in 1997, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, including an independent judiciary, but short of a fully democratic vote.

Many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of those freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial center.

“The Chinese government, the central government, has always fully affirmed the work of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.

The comments echoed remarks over the weekend from the government’s Hong Kong and Macau policy office.

“The central government will continue to firmly support the chief executive and the SAR government’s governing in accordance with the law,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region” of China.


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