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Between circus and civil war: Poroshenko aide trolls election frontrunner with Pinochet pic

Between circus and civil war: Poroshenko aide trolls election frontrunner with Pinochet pic
Political life in Kiev was invigorated this week with a promise of a debate between two presidential election frontrunners in a stadium. Less amusing were vibes of a potential coup coming from the camp that’s lagging behind.

Sport venues and debates between presidential hopefuls don’t usually mix, but Ukraine is set to become an exception. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and frontrunner Volodymyr Zelensky are expected to have a verbal bout sometime before the second round of presidential race at the Olympiysky stadium, one of Ukraine’s biggest arenas.

Or it can be used by the Poroshenko-loyal henchmen to slaughter supporters of his opponent in their dozens and hundreds. At least that’s the implication of a picture posted by one of the president’s aides after Zelensky made a public challenge for a debate on Wednesday.

The picture shows the face of Poroshenko photoshopped over that of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. His government notoriously used the national stadium in Santiago to execute political opponents in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup. The words written under Poroshenko’s smiling face paraphrase his actual video response to Zelensky’s challenge and roughly translate as “Let it happen at the stadium then.”

One may take it as harmless jesting – the post, by Yuri Biryukov, is still on his Facebook page at the time of publication. But the same cannot be said about another person firmly in the pro-Poroshenko camp, journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, who expressed a similar sentiment in a far less humorous manner.

In his Facebook post after the first round of the election he said supporters of Zelensky and some other candidates were “traitors” who should be simply “shot”. He added that a civil war and partitioning of Ukraine were “the only chance for our survival left by the pro-Russian majority”. The remark was suspended by the network and the journalist had to apologize after a public outcry over his incendiary words.

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The upcoming event has become a focal point of the run-up to the second round of the election, which is scheduled for April 21. Both candidates ignored their chance for a public debate with each other and the third front-runner, Yulia Tymoshenko, just before the first round.

Poroshenko’s campaign started goading Zelensky into a public face-off against their candidate on Monday – an apparent ploy to undermine the less-experienced contender, who nevertheless scored twice as many votes than the incumbent president. Zelensky’s campaign pulled the rug from under their opponent by challenging him to a stadium appearance, which inevitably changes the format of the event to that of a show, which is far more familiar to Zelensky, a veteran comedian. Poroshenko had to either accept or completely lose face.

On Thursday, both men passed medical tests to prove neither is a drug addict or alcoholic, which was part of Zelensky’s terms for the upcoming political battle. Meanwhile Tymoshenko said she would consider his invitation to serve as the moderator of the debate.

Tymoshenko, who scored a mere 3.6 percent points less than Poroshenko, earlier accused the Ukrainian president of basically stealing her spot in the second round through voter manipulation and fraud. However she refused to challenge his campaign in court. Neither would she endorse Zelensky’s candidacy, distancing herself from what would happen between the two. With her as a moderator, the upcoming debate may become the political show of the decade in Ukraine.

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