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Pope Francis praying Monday at the Western Wall.
Pope Francis praying Monday at the Western Wall.

Monday, May 26, 2014

As many observers expected, multibillionaire Petro Poroshenko will become Ukraine’s next president. The man dubbed “The Chocolate King” leads the race with 53.75% of the votes in the first round, with 70% of the votes counted, The Kyiv Post reports. He said during his victory speech that his first goal was to stop the war in eastern Ukraine, “to put an end to this chaos and bring peace to a united Ukraine.”

But speaking at a news conference this morning, Poroshenko explained that the military operation in the east would continue with improved efficiency. He pledged to give troops better equipment, life insurances and high wages. He also called for parliamentary elections before the end of the year and announced that Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk would keep his job.

Poroshenko added that he was hoping to meet Russian leaders in the first half of June, with Reuters quoting him as saying that restoring stability in the eastern regions would require Moscow’s help. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was ready for a direct dialogue with the elected president.

The result of the presidential vote appears to have done nothing to appease tensions in the Donetsk region, where leaders of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic have declared martial law “to clear the Republic's territory of Ukrainian military units.”

Pope Francis is in Jerusalem, where he is visiting the city’s holy and symbolic sites in the last day of his visit to the Middle East. According to The Times Of Israel, the pontiff will be under intense scrutiny from Jews and Muslims as he meets with leaders from both sides. Upon his visit at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to the Jews as Temple Mount, he called all to “work together for justice and peace,” AFP reports. Pope Francis also went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he expressed shame in “what man, created in God’s own image and likeness, was capable of doing,” before adding that the Nazi genocide was a “massive idolatry” that must never happen again. Yesterday, the Pope issued an unprecedented invitation to both Israeli and Palestinian presidents to meet for a prayer summit at the Vatican, describing relations as “increasingly unacceptable” and defending the two-state solution. Read more from The New York Times.

The European Parliamentary elections ended yesterday, resulting in unprecedented support for anti-EU and far-right parties in many countries, particularly France and Britain, where the National Front and UKIP finished ahead of government parties. France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls described yesterday’s results as an “earthquake,” as the country’s Socialist Party finished third, with less than 14% of the vote.

Despite the victory of Angela Merkel’s party in Germany and the second place showing by her party’s coalition partners, a party likened to neo-Nazi movements managed to get one of its members elected to the European Parliament for the first time. Meanwhile in Greece, far-left and anti-austerity party Syriza finished first with about 26% of the vote.

Still, EU Observer explains that despite the surge in radical votes, center-right parties will lead the Parliament, taking 214 seats, with Socialist parties earning 189 seats.

Slovakia showed an unprecedented lack of interest in the European Parliament elections Sunday, when just 13% of the country's voters cast ballots.

Egyptians began voting this morning to elect a new president, with former army leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win easily against sole opponent Hamdeen Sabbahi. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi was toppled in last July’s coup led by al-Sisi, is boycotting the election. As the BBC explains, the election is taking place under a “huge security operation” amid fears of attacks to disrupt the vote. A state television channel reported an explosion outside a polling station, but the country’s Interior Ministry later denied the claim, saying the sound was in fact that of a car backfiring. Follow the two-day elections live updates onMada Masr.
For more about Egypt’s likely future president, we offer this Le Temps/Worldcrunch piece, Who Is Al-Sisi? A Man Of The People Or Just Another Egyptian Dictator?

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As Silke Wichert writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung, what may be the least sexy footwear on the planet — Birkenstocks — have become this season’s ultimate fashion statement. “Suddenly in the run-up to summer, they're everywhere,” the journalist writes. “Practically all brands, from Isabel Marant to Marni and Zara, are offering their take on the Birkenstock. Customers often ask for Marant Birkenstocks, even though there is no such thing. Birkenstock doesn't care. People refer to these Birkenstock-inspired shoes as simply Birkenstocks, which does wonders for their brand recognition. Besides, in the glossy magazine fashion spreads, the original "Arizona" — the classic Birkenstock unisex model — is virtually always featured.”
Read the full article, Birkenstocks, The Ultimate Anti-Fashion Footwear, Is Officially Hot.

General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last Communist leader best known for his 1981 martial law crackdown on the independent trade union Solidarity, died Sunday in Warsaw at age 90.

Gunmen suspected of belonging to Islamist group Boko Haram killed at least 24 people yesterday in a village in northeast Nigeria, taking the number of victims in the region over the past week to more than 100, Vanguard reports. According to residents, the gunmen arrived in the village two months ago and demanded that they raise 250,000 Nigerian Naira ($1,500) to carry out “God’s work,” but residents took the threat lightly and raised under $500, which angered the gunmen. “They destroyed everything we have, carted away our foodstuff and burned down the remaining ones,” a witness said.

“It’s not fair that the tax I pay covers all the medical expenses of slouches,” Japan’s Finance Minister told his country’s lawmakers.


Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer played a friendly match against former world champion Stefan Edberg — and wore Google Glass to capture the game. Check expand=1] it out here.

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War In Ukraine, Day 279: New Kherson Horrors More Than Two Weeks After Russian Withdrawal

Shelling in Kherson

Anna Akage, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

While retreating from Kherson, Russian troops forcibly removed more than 2,500 Ukrainians from prison colonies and pre-trial detention centers in the southern region. Those removed included prisoners as well as a large number of civilians who had been held in prisons during the occupation, according to the Ukrainian human rights organization Alliance of Ukrainian Unity.

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The NGO said it has evidence that these Ukrainians were first transferred to Crimea and then distributed to different prisons in Russia. During the transfer of the prisoners, Russian soldiers also reportedly stole valuables and food and mined the building of colony #61.

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