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.


Graft trial for Syrian President Assad’s uncle opens in Paris

Updated 09 December 2019

Graft trial for Syrian President Assad’s uncle opens in Paris

  • Lawyers for Rifaat Assad cited health problems as the reason for his absence
  • He is dubbed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly commanding troops that put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982

PARIS: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s uncle went on trial in Paris Monday on charges of pilfering Syrian state coffers and using the spoils to build a property empire in France.
The dock was empty as the hearing got underway, with lawyers for 82-year-old Rifaat Assad citing health problems as the reason for his absence.
“His doctors have recommended that he avoids all stressful situations,” lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille told the Paris court.
Rifaat Assad, dubbed the “Butcher of Hama” for allegedly commanding troops that put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, has been under investigation in France since 2014.
This year, an investigating magistrate ordered he stand trial on charges of organized money laundering related to his 90-million-euro ($99.5-million) property portfolio in France.
The trial of the younger brother of Syrian ex-president Hafez Assad — the current president’s father — is scheduled to last until December 18.
It concerns crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.
Assad, who splits his time between France and Britain, denies the charges.
Formerly Syria’s vice president, Assad left his home country in 1984 after mounting a failed coup against his brother Hafez, who led Syria from 1971 to 2000.
After he arrived in Europe, Rifaat Assad’s lavish lifestyle, four wives, and 16 children soon raised eyebrows.
His reported French fortune includes two Paris townhouses, one measuring 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet), as well as a stud farm, a chateau and 7,300 square meters of office space in Lyon.
He and his family also built up a huge portfolio of 507 properties in Spain, valued at around 695 million euros, Spanish legal documents show. All his properties in that country were seized by the authorities in 2017.
Assad has maintained that his lifestyle was made possible by gifts from the Saudi royal family that amounted to more than a million dollars per month.
But despite documents from Assad’s lawyers meant to justify gifts of almost $25 million between 1984 and 2010, French investigators registered transfers of only $10 million from Saudi Arabia.
This is only the second trial of a foreign dignitary in France on charges related to “ill-gotten gains.”
The first, Equatorial Guinea vice president Teodorin Obiang, received a three-year suspended jail term in October 2017 after being convicted of using public money to fund a jet-set lifestyle in Paris.
Paris has long been a favored destination for the corrupt gains of wealthy figures linked to political leaders in Africa, particularly in France’s former colonies.