Poroshenko claims victory in Ukraine presidential election
Billionaire Petro Poroshenko claimed Ukraine's presidency after exit polls gave him an absolute majority in a first round of voting and, vowing to end a conflict with pro-Russian rebels, he pledged to align his country with Europe.
Exit polls gave Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate with long experience in government, more than 55 percent of the vote, well ahead of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place with just over 12 percent. If confirmed by results tomorrow, there will be no need for a runoff vote on June 15.
Ukrainians, weary of six months of political turmoil, hope their new president will be able to pull their country of 45 million people back from the brink of bankruptcy, dismemberment and civil war that prevented voting in parts of the Russian-speaking east of the country.
"All the polls show that the election has been completed in one round and the country has a new president," Poroshenko, 48, told a news conference. His businesses have earned him a fortune of over $1 billion and the nickname the "Chocolate King".
At his campaign headquarters, he told supporters the majority of Ukrainians had given him a mandate to continue a course of integration with the rest of Europe but said his first priority was to travel to the east of the country to end "war and chaos" caused by armed pro-Russian separatists there.
He said he was ready to negotiate with opponents and offer amnesty to those who laid down weapons - but he ruled out any negotiation with killers and "terrorists".
Pro-Russian separatists barred people from voting in much of Ukraine's Donbass industrial heartland, turning the main city of Donetsk into a ghost town, after days of violence in the surrounding region in which at least 20 people were killed.
Asked by a foreign journalist about relations with Russia, Poroshenko, speaking in fluent English, said he would insist on respect for Ukraine's "sovereignty and territorial integrity". He also said Ukraine would never recognise Russia's "occupation of Crimea", the Black Sea region seized by Moscow in March.
But Poroshenko will have to try to find common ground with Ukraine's giant northern neighbour, which provides most of its natural gas and is the major market for its exports. He was later quoted saying that he would "certainly" meet Putin since Russian involvement was essential to establishing stability.