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Ukraine’s New Leader Gets Sworn In, Immediately Dissolves Parliament

The 41-year-old Zelenskiy had upended the traditions of Ukrainian politics

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Ukraine's New Leader, Parliament
Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy greets supporters before inauguration ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 20, 2019. VOA

Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in as the country’s new president on Monday, promised to stop the war in the country’s east against Russian-backed separatists and immediately disbanded parliament, which he has branded as a group only interested in self-enrichment.

Even before he disbanded the Supreme Rada, which had been one of his campaign promises, the 41-year-old Zelenskiy had upended the traditions of Ukrainian politics.

He ditched the idea of a traditional motorcade to his inauguration, walking to the parliament through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, he was giving high-fives to some spectators and even stopped to take a selfie with one of them.

Before he made the announcement, Zelenskiy asked the Supreme Rada to adopt a bill against illegal enrichment and support his motions to fire the country’s defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Prosecutor General. All of them are allies of former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost the presidential election in a landslide to the comedian with no previous political experience.

Ukraine's New Leader, Parliament
Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in as the country’s new president on Monday. Flickr

In a feisty speech after his inauguration, Zelenskiy told the Rada that his main goal for the presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years.

“I’m ready to do everything so that our heroes don’t die there,” he said. “I’m ready to lose my popularity and, if necessary, I’m ready to lose my post so that we have peace.”

Zelenskiy garnered 73% of the vote at the presidential election last month in a victory that reflected Ukrainians’ exhaustion with politics-as-usual. For years, he has played the Ukrainian president in a popular television show.

The new president wrapped up his speech at parliament by referring to his career as a comedian.

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“Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh,” he said with a smile. “In the next five years I will do everything so that Ukrainians don’t cry.” (VOA)

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Kenya’s Parliament to Nationalize Country’s Main Airline Kenya Airways

A failed expansion drive and a slump in air travel forced it to restructure $2 billion of debt in 2017

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Kenya, Airline, Parliament
FILE - Kenya Airways planes are seen parked at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport near Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 28, 2016. VOA

Kenya’s parliament voted on Tuesday to nationalize the country’s main airline Kenya Airways to save it from mounting debts.

The loss-making airline, which is 48.9% government-owned and 7.8% held by Air France-KLM, has been struggling to return to profitability and growth.

A failed expansion drive and a slump in air travel forced it to restructure $2 billion of debt in 2017. The airline later proposed taking over the running of Nairobi’s main airport to boost its revenue.

Parliament’s transport committee, however, rejected that plan, recommending instead the nationalization of the airline in a report debated by the national assembly on June 18.

Kenya, Airline, Parliament
Kenya’s parliament voted on Tuesday to nationalize the country’s main airline Kenya Airways to save it from mounting debts. Pixabay

In a voice vote taken on Tuesday afternoon, the majority of lawmakers in the chamber voted to accept the report.

Kenya Airways Chairman Michael Joseph told Reuters the vote was “great news.”

“Nationalization is what is necessary to compete on a level playing field. It is not what we want, but what we need,” he said, referring to competitors such as Ethiopian Airlines which are state-run and profitable.

Air France-KLM could not immediately be reached for comment.

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The government will now draw up an implementation plan, with clear time lines, said Esther Koimett, the principal secretary at the ministry of transport.

“Parliament is our boss … we will obviously take the recommendations of parliament,” she told Reuters.

Kenya is seeking to emulate countries like Ethiopia which run air transport assets from airports to fueling operations under a single company, using funds from the more profitable parts to support others, such as national airlines.

“The government is keen to take a consolidated view of aviation assets of the country in order to make sure they work in a coherent and efficient way to support the (Nairobi aviation) hub,” Koimett said.

Kenya, Airline, Parliament
The loss-making airline, which is 48.9% government-owned and 7.8% held by Air France-KLM, has been struggling to return to profitability and growth. Pixabay

The committee’s report proposes that Kenya set up an aviation holding company with four subsidiaries, one of which would run Kenya Airways. Another arm of the holding company would operate Nairobi’s main international airport.

The committee’s report also recommended the holding company be given tax concessions for a period to be determined and that it be exempted from paying excise duty on all goods, including jet fuel.

Koimett dismissed concerns that nationalization could lead to further mismanagement. Kenya’s state-owned enterprises sector is riddled with corporate corpses and near failures caused by theft and poor management over the decades.

“Implementation is really the key thing … Ultimately all these things have to do really with ensuring that we get the right people in the right places,” she said.

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($1 = 103.7000 Kenyan shillings) (VOA)