Merkel pledges support to Ukraine after Zelensky win

Volodymyr Zelensky. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019

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.


Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

  • “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said
  • He hailed the text saying it is “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France”

PARIS:President Emmanuel Macron praised French Muslim leaders on Monday after they agreed on a “charter of principles” aimed at combatting sectarianism and radicalized teachings blamed for a surge in jihadist attacks in France in recent years.
The charter offers “a clarification of how the Muslim community is organized,” Macron said after a meeting with representatives of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), his office said.
It will also provide a framework for a new National Council of Imams that will be responsible for vetting imams practicing in the country.
“This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”
Macron had urged the council to act against “political Islam” in November after the killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside his school after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed as part of a free-speech lesson.
The attack prompted a crackdown against extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defense of French secularism.
The new 10-point charter “states clearly that the principles of the Muslim faith are perfectly compatible with the principles of the republic,” CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui told journalists after the meeting.
The accord was hammered out Saturday during a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.
Moussaoui said all eight of the CFCM’s federations, representing various strands of Islam, approved the charter, but three had yet to sign the accord because “they need a bit more time to explain what it means to their followers,” an Elysee official said.
Hakim El Karoui, an author and expert on Islam in France, called the intention of the charter “praiseworthy,” but said it also shone a harsh light on internal tensions at the CFCM which he said consists of “five federations financed by foreign countries and three federations that are Islamist.”
El Karoui said “the charter was adopted by people whose interests clash with the text.”
Franck Fregosi, an Islam expert at research institute CNRS, said no other country, and no other religion in France, had a comparable charter.
“I’m not certain that this text, even once it gets signed, will get wide backing from Islam on the ground,” he said.
The imam of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Tariq Oubrou, said the charter had been developed back-to-front.
“It should be Muslim scholars and theologians who write a text and then submit it to the CFCM, not the other way around,” he said.
The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcision, forced marriages and “virginity certificates” for brides.
“No religious conviction whatsoever can be invoked as an exemption from the duties of citizens,” it states.
It also explicitly rejects racism and anti-Semitism, and warns that mosques “are not created for the spreading of nationalist speech defending foreign regimes.”
Macron has also said that authorities plan to expel the roughly 300 imams in France sent to teach from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.
The charter accord comes as a parliamentary commission began debate Monday over a new draft law to fight “pernicious” Islamist radicalism with measures to ensure France’s strict separation of religious bodies and state in the public sphere.
The legislation would tighten rules on issues from religious-based education to polygamy, though Macron has insisted the goal is to protect all French citizens without stigmatising the country’s estimated four to five million Muslims, the largest number in Europe.