World – TIME: A Comedian is Leading the Presidential Election in Ukraine

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(KIEV, Ukraine) — Early results in Ukraine’s presidential election showed a comedian with no political experience with a sizable lead over 38 rivals but far from a first-round victory, while the incumbent president and a former prime minister were close contenders to advance to the runoff.

The strong showing of Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Sunday’s voting appeared to reflect Ukrainians’ desire for new blood in a political system awash in corruption and a new approach to trying to end the war with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east that has wracked the country for nearly five years.

With 20 percent of the polling station protocols counted, Zelenskiy had 30 percent, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was a distant second with about 17 percent and Yulia Tymoshenko with 13, the elections commission said early Monday. The results were closely in line with a major exit poll.

The top two candidates advance to a runoff on April 21. Final results in Sunday’s first round are expected to be announced later Monday.

The election was shadowed by allegations of widespread vote buying. Police said they had received more than 2,100 complaints of violations on voting day alone in addition to hundreds of earlier voting fraud claims, including bribery attempts and removing ballots from polling places.

Zelenskiy stars in a TV sitcom about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral and his supporters hold out hope that he can fight corruption in real life.

“This is only the first step to a great victory,” Zelenskiy told reporters after the exit poll was announced.

“Zelenskiy has shown us on the screen what a real president should be like,” said voter Tatiana Zinchenko, 30, who cast her ballot for the comedian. “He showed what the state leader should aspire for — fight corruption by deeds, not words, help the poor, control the oligarchs.”

Campaign issues in the country of 42 million included Ukraine’s endemic corruption, its struggling economy and a seemingly intractable conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people since 2014.

Concern about the election’s legitimacy have spiked in recent days after Ukraine’s interior minister said his department was “showered” with hundreds of claims that supporters of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko had offered money in exchange for votes.

Like the popular character he plays, Zelenskiy, 41, made corruption a focus of his candidacy. He proposed a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of graft. He also called for direct negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“A new life, a normal life is starting,” Zelenskiy said after casting his ballot in Kiev. “A life without corruption, without bribes.”

His lack of political experience helped his popularity with voters amid broad disillusionment with the country’s political elite.

Poroshenko said “I feel no kind of euphoria” after the exit poll results were announced.

“I critically and soberly understand the signal that society gave today to the acting authorities,” he said.

It is not clear whether he would or could adjust his campaign enough to meet Zelenskiy’s challenges over the next three weeks.

Poroshenko, 53, a confectionary tycoon when he was elected five years ago, pushed successfully for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than a branch of the Russian church.

However, he saw approval of his governing sink amid Ukraine’s economic woes and a sharp plunge in living standards. Poroshenko campaigned on promises to defeat the rebels in the east and to wrest back control of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 in a move that has drawn sanctions against Russia from the U.S. and the European Union.

Speaking at a polling station Sunday, the president echoed his campaign promises of taking Ukraine into the EU and NATO.

The president’s priorities persuaded schoolteacher Andriy Hristenko, 46, to vote for him

“Poroshenko has done a lot. He created our own church, bravely fought with Moscow and is trying to open the way to the EU and NATO,” Hristenko said.

Ukraine’s former prime minister, Tymoshenko, shaped her message around the economic distress of millions in the country.

“Ukraine has sunk into poverty and corruption during the last five years, but every Ukrainian can put an end to it now,” she said after voting Sunday.

During the campaign, Tymoshenko denounced price hikes introduced by Poroshenko as “economic genocide” and promised to reduce prices for household gas by 50 percent within a month of taking office.

“I don’t need a bright future in 50 years,” said Olha Suhiy, a 58-year-old cook. “I want hot water and heating to cost less tomorrow.”

A military embezzlement scheme that allegedly involved top Poroshenko associates as well as a factory controlled by the president dogged Poroshenko before the election. Ultra-right activists shadowed him throughout the campaign, demanding the jailing of the president’s associates accused in the scandal.

Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko both used the alleged embezzlement to take hits at Poroshenko, who shot back at his rivals. He described them as puppets of a self-exiled billionaire businessman Igor Kolomoyskyi, charges that Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko denied.

Many political observers have described the presidential election as a battle between Poroshenko and Kolomoyskyi.

Both the president and the comedian relied on an arsenal of media outlets under their control to exchange blows. Just days before the election, the TV channel Kolomoyskyi owns aired a new season of the “Servant of the People” TV series in which Zelenskiy stars as Ukraine’s leader.

“Kolomoyskyi has succeeded in creating a wide front against Poroshenko,” said Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, an independent Kiev-based think tank. “Ukraine has gone through two revolutions, but ended up with the same thing — the fight between the oligarchs for the power and resources.”

World – TIME


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Reuters: World News: China to build 6-8 reactors a year to meet 2030 goals: exec

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China will be able to build six to eight nuclear reactors a year once the approval process gets back to normal in the near future, the chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation told Reuters on Monday.

Reuters: World News


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Reuters: World News: New Japan imperial era to be named Reiwa

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Japan’s new imperial era to begin on May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito becomes emperor, will be called Reiwa, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced on Monday, adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would explain its meaning shortly in a national address.

Reuters: World News


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World – TIME: Nationwide Blackouts Are the New Normal in Venezuela as Power Goes Out Again

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(CARACAS, Venezuela) — Another day, another blackout.

Power went out across Venezuela on Sunday, just as it did on Saturday, and the day before that.

But while some electricity had returned by Sunday afternoon, jittery Venezuelans weren’t so much celebrating the lights coming on as wondering when the next outages would flick them off.

“No one can put up with this. We spend almost all day without electricity,” said Karina Camacho, a 56-year-old housewife who was about to buy a chicken when electronic payment machines stopped working. “There’s been no water since (last) Monday, you can’t call by phone, we can’t pay with cards or even eat.”

As the latest blackout unfolded, many took to balconies and building windows to bang pots in protest and shout curses at President Nicolas Maduro, who they consider responsible for the power failures.

Others responded to a call by opposition leader Juan Guaido to demonstrate against the government, blocking roads and burning rubbish until “colectivos,” or frequently armed government supporters, appeared to arrive on motorbikes. Some of the protests occurred near the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, in a direct challenge to Maduro.

The ongoing blackouts now mark another point of tension in a country paralyzed by political and economic turmoil, compounding a humanitarian crisis and deepening a prolonged standoff between two political parties vying for power.

Netblocks, a group monitoring internet censorship, said network data showed just 15 percent of Venezuela was online after the latest power cuts struck, while water supply, phone service and internet continued to be shaky and unreliable.

On Twitter, Guaido reiterated his claim Sunday that government neglect and corruption had had left the electrical grid in shambles after years of mismanagement.

“There is no sabotage,” the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly wrote. “They brought the electrical system to a collapse because they are corrupt and now they can’t resolve it because they are incapable.”

Maduro alleges U.S.-led sabotage is the cause, citing “imperial aggression” without offering up clear evidence. On Twitter, he encouraged supporters to refer to a bulletin which explained the electrical failure as a result of an international effort to have Venezuela considered a “failed” state.

The United States and dozens of other countries support Guaido’s claim that Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate. The U.S. has imposed oil sanctions and other economic penalties on Venezuela in an attempt to force him out of power, but he has yet to show signs of backing down

The latest outage comes just weeks after Venezuela experienced nationwide blackouts on March 7 which shut down schools, offices and factories and paralyzed nearly every part of the once oil-rich country of 31 million.

World – TIME


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World – TIME: Japan Is Set to Announce the Name of a New Era for Its Next Emperor

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(TOKYO) — Japan’s government is holding top-secret meetings to decide a new era name for soon-to-be-emperor Naruhito, the crown prince who will succeed the Chrysanthemum throne from his father May 1.

Emperor Akihito is abdicating on April 30, with his era of “Heisei” coming to an end.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government later Monday will unveil the era name, or “gengo,” for Naruhito’s reign.

It comes a month ahead of the switch to allow the government, businesses and other sectors time to adjust to the change that still affects many parts of Japan’s society, even though the system is not compulsory and the emperor has no political power under Japan’s postwar constitution.

Under the 1979 era name law, Abe has appointed a panel of experts on classical Chinese and Japanese literature to nominate two to five names for top officials to choose from. The names must meet the strict criteria — easy to read and write but not commonly or previously used for an era name.

Japanese media have scrambled to get scoops out of a new era name. Rumors included “Ankyu,” which uses the same Chinese character as in Abe’s family name, though it is unlikely to be the choice.

The name selection procedure started in mid-March when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga asked a handful of unidentified scholars to nominate two to five era names each. Suga hasn’t made clear how he will present the new name, but hinted he may follow his late predecessor Keizo Obuchi, who is remembered for holding up framed calligraphy of “Heisei” in 1989 at the first televised announcement of an era name.

While a growing number of Japanese prefer the Western calendar over the Japanese system in a highly digitalized and globalized society, the era name is still widely used in government and business documents. Elders often use it to identify their generations.

Discussing and guessing new era names in advance is not considered a taboo this time because Akihito is abdicating. Era name change is also a time for many Japanese to reflect on the outgoing and incoming decades.

Akihito’s era of “Heisei,” which means “achieving peace,” was the first without a war in Japan’s modern history, but is also remembered as lost years of economic deflation and natural disasters.

Heisei was the first era name decided by the government under the postwar constitution, in which the emperor was stripped of political power and had no say over the choice. Still, the government, with its highly secretive and sensitive handling of the process, is underscoring that “the emperor has power in an invisible, subtle way,” says Hirohito Suzuki, a Toyo University sociologist.

Era name changes are creating businesses for both the outgoing and the incoming. Anything dubbed “last of Heisei” attracts Akihito fans, while others are waiting to submit marriage certificates or filing other official registration until the new era starts. Analysts say the era change that expands the “golden week” holidays to 10 days on May 1 could buoy tourism and other recreational spending.

World – TIME


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