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Monday, 31 March 2014

My support goes to all who are victims of Government sponsored subjugation of the individual, not necessarily for their beliefs.

The two pasted articles under #LouisArmstrong and his #WonderfulWorld are must reads for any folks who may have been confused by the "messages" conveyed from and during #EuroMaidan #ArabSpring #IranElection

In the past two decades I have travelled widely across #Arabia and #CIS and lived in a few of those nations, so I believe I have a level of experience and exposure to justify my comments.

First and foremost I believe I am a #humanist , rapidly followed by being a believer in the #democratic process.

Supporters of #democracy  and #opposition  to authoritarian/corrupt governments takes many forms and all should be welcomed.

I would state that whilst I support their activities, few would get my vote, if I was entitled to one.

What #Putin  is labelling as #fascists  in #Ukraine  do actually, from my viewpoint, echo what many Russians think and say. The fascist label is an easy propaganda tool to stir up historical emotions. For me they are extremists and generally the ballot-box shows they are on the margins.

Ironically over the past few years, since #ArabSpring ,  I have been accused of being an #Islamist , also a #terrorist , due to my support of the democratically elected government in #Egypt  , which was overthrown by a brutal, bloody #coup .

When #IranElection  took place in 2009 I was accused of being a #Pahlavi  supporter, which is utterly ridiculous.

One day global society may be non-partisan, but not in my lifetime. Sorry Satchmo!

My support goes to all who are victims of Government sponsored subjugation of the individual, not necessarily for their beliefs.

LGBT Rights Sidelined After Ukrainian Revolution | New Republic:
Kiev is getting back to normal. Downtown streets that just one month ago looked like battlefields are now full of busy crowds and tourists. In one of the newly revitalized city squares, I met Olena Shevchenko, an LGBT-activist-turned-revolutionary. I had heard a lot of about her—an openly gay woman who managed to form a female-only military unit. Some call them the “Maidan Amazons.”
Olena joined the revolution in its very first days, but the idea to form a women-only “sotnya” (a Cossack term for a group of one hundred fighters) came a bit later, as a response to rising sexism within Maidan (Independence) Square. The women in Maidan Square were being asked to make sandwiches; meanwhile, they had been building the barricades.
At the start, Olena had only eight women in her military unit (mostly human rights activists from feminist or LGBT groups). But thanks to social media, the number rose to 500 people in Independence Square and more than 1,500 at other locations. (For comparison, the right-wing Right Sector, had around 2,500 fighters in downtown Kiev on a regular basis.) “It was amazing, because ‘feminism’ is still a dirty word in Ukraine,” she says, “the same as ‘gay.’”
It’s more surprising, in the end, that the Maidan protesters—particularly the far-right groups that became a driving force against President Yanukovych—were able to accept a gay fighter rather than a feminist one. Homophobia has been on the rise in Ukraine. A 2013 GFK Ukraine study showed that 80 percent of those polled had negative attitudes towards gay people. That's at least 8 percent more than the previous year. In another 2013 poll by the Ukrainian Gay Alliance NGO and the Ukrainian State Sociology Institute, 63 percent of surveyed Ukrainians said homosexuality is a perversion or mental disease; only 9 percent supported same-sex marriages. And post-revolution Ukraine does not seem to be much better for LGBT Ukrainians.
First, many open homophobes are still among the country’s top-officials. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov (also a Baptist preacher) famously said, back in 2007, “If a man has normal views, then you label him a conservative, but those who use drugs or promote sodomy—you label them a progressive person. All of these are perversions.” Several leaders from the far-right Ukrainian nationalist party, Svoboda, have been given ministerial posts in the post-revolution government, including the vice-prime minister position. In fairness, Svoboda has toned down its anti-gay rhetoric in recent months. One of the party’s MPs, Yuriy Syrotyuk, called the first gay pride parade in Kiev “an act of aggression” against Ukraine in 2012, but now presents a more moderate, if still limited, position. “We respect rights of all minorities, but LGBT legalization will blow up this country,” he stated in an interview. “If we take this discussion to the parliament, not only Crimea will secede, but Ukrainian provinces will also start to leave the country.”

The new government is also actively trying to block an anti-discrimination law that would protect 
LGBT people in workplaces. This piece of legislation, pushed as part of integration talks with EU is, frankly, the only progressive thing to happen for the local gay community since 1991, when Ukraine became the first post-Soviet country to decriminalize homosexuality. (Some opponents of the law argue that support for it would give Russia a cart-blanche; in the past, the Kremlin has showed amazing capabilities to organize quickly and effectively against any kind of gay movement inside Ukraine.) Now, a law similar to the Russian’s "gay propaganda" law—which criminalizes even discussion of gay rights—is pending in the Ukrainian parliament.
A wave of recent violence against gay people in Ukraine has underlined how precarious the situation is for LGBT activists. During January and February, far-right revolutionary fighters attacked a famous gay club in Kiev five times. The owners didn’t want to go public with the story, afraid of more attacks and allegations of being “unpatriotic” or “Kremlin provocateurs,” so they just closed the place down. Nearby luxury boutiques were left untouched. Here is footage from the vandalized club, which the owners posted on YouTube following my request:

But despite these aggressions, LGBT activists are in a tricky position when it comes to the revolution. When I approached revolutionary campaigner Bohdana Babich, whoposted about the attacks on the gay club on her Facebook page, she refused to speak with me, saying that I shouldn’t create “informational noise” at a time of a crisis in Ukraine. When a group of LGBT activists decided to support the revolution last year, they did so with the understanding that they would have to do so quietly. “A majority of LGBT activists decided to fully support and participate in the revolution, because European values are close to our values and goals,” said Bogdan Globa, a well-known local LGBT activist, in an interview with Hromadske TV in January. “But, at the same time, we decided not to use our rainbow flags in joining the protest, not to demand a special attention to us and to publicly demonstrate our concerns.”
Svoboda MP Yuriy Syrotyuk is right when he says that “the majority of local members of the parliament would not [vote for gay marriage legislation]. Absolutely all attempts to put this legislation up for a vote have resulted in public fury and mass protests.” The consensus here—among conservative and liberal politicians—is that Ukrainian gays should wait another 15 or 30 years for the expansion of civil rights. This is the message I’ve heard from almost every local politician I spoke to in the last three months.
There are even reports that the European Union has considered tabling LGBT civil rights in Ukraine. Pavel Petrenko, the country's Justice Minister, said Monday that the European Commission had dropped a demand to include "sexual minorities" in an anti-discrimination law, a requirement for EU integration. Later, the EU embassy in Kiev responded: “There is no change of the EU position; we prefer a solution whereby the law covers sexual orientation,” stated David Stulík, press and information officer for the EU delegation to Ukraine. According to a source involved in these talks, the EU hinted at the possibility of dropping the LGBT-rights provision in integration talks, and the Ukrainian government rushed to announce the shift as a done deal. According to Globa, who attended talks on Wednesday between European Commission representatives and Ukrainian civil rights groups, the European Commission has dropped gay rights provisions from its negotiation requirements.
So what of those LGBT activists who were on the front lines? “Personally, I feel betrayed. It’s like a sellout, from both sides,” says Ukrainian gay activist Zoryan Kis. “The new Ukrainian government uses the chaotic, post-revolution situation as a pretext for not letting any kind of gay rights legislation to pass through the parliament.” Zoryan is not naïve; he understands that gay marriage and full equality are years away. But equality at the workplace was a crucial first step in the right direction, and now the measure to ensure workplace equality is in trouble.
I asked Shevchenko of the “Maidan Amazons” the same question: Does she feel “betrayed” by the new, post-revolution government? For Shevchenko, the alternative—some kind of union with Russia—seems much worse. “What gay rights would we be talking about in that case?” she says. “Despite all ongoing controversies, we made a couple of clear steps towards the EU. And it means hope for all of us.” 
Maxim Eristavi is a freelance writer based in Kiev. He previously worked as executive producer for the Voice of Russia and journalist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Azerbaijan’s Illiberal Opposition – OpEd | Eurasia Review:

By Eldar Mamedov
A common assumption among Western observers is that political opponents of authoritarian leaders in the Caucasus and Central Asia tend to be themselves relatively liberal in their political beliefs and tolerant in social views. But several recent incidents in Azerbaijan challenge this assumption.
Before examining the Azerbaijani examples in depth, it should be noted that President Ilham Aliyev’s administration in Baku has clamped down in recent years on basic freedoms, closing open space in the political arena and muzzling the press. At the same time, the political opposition in the country lacks cohesionand doesn’t seem likely to pose a serious political challenge to Aliyev’s authority anytime soon.
The weakness of the political opposition may actually help hide the illiberal attitudes held by some of its most prominent elements: some relatively high-profile Aliyev critics have recently voiced opinions that are at odds with the principles of democratization.
The first incident involved the late January suicide of a young gay-rights activist,Isa Shahmarli. In reacting to the tragedy, most civil society activists deplored the pervasive homophobia in Azerbaijani society that was widely seen as a factor in prompting Shahmarli to take his life. Several opposition politicians, however, embraced a socially conservative viewpoint: for example, Erkin Gadirli, one of the leaders of the opposition Republican Alternative (ReAl) stated that the homosexuality was a “choice”, which is why “all religions” condemned it. Meanwhile, another opposition activist, Murad Gassanly, a UK-based exile who used to represent the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella opposition organization, criticized “ultra-liberals” for prioritizing LGBT rights, while downplaying the “mainstream of Azerbaijani public opinion.”
A few weeks later, at the end of February, again the same duo made news. Gadirli called for the assassination of Armenian officials, including the president of the country, for their role in ethnic cleansing of Azeris from the village of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh. When Richard Kauzlarich, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, condemned the call as “a pure incitement to terrorism,” Gadirli refused to retract and proudly announced that he was neither liberal nor humanist. Meanwhile, Gassanly, in what looked more like a Facebook rant than a serious counter-argument, accused Kauzlarich of “hypocrisy” and “ultra-liberals” of being ready to “give up Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenians”.
It is telling that both Gadirli and Gassanly emphatically rejected liberalism in their comments. That, however, does not make them non-democrats because they both endorse the principle that people should be able to choose their rulers via the ballot box. Also, sadly, their dismissive attitude of LGBT rights may well reflect the feelings of many Azerbaijanis. What the incidents also show is they are not liberal democrats in the sense that they can tolerate differences, champion individual rights or show a willingness to protect the rights of the minority against the will of the majority.
Azerbaijani opposition parties on the whole don’t exude much of a liberal vibe. Most are structured along the same lines as the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP); each has an unrivaled leader who expects unquestioning obedience from the rank-and-file; and each tends to reflect the will of its respective leader, rather than reflect a well-defined political philosophy.
An example of an illiberal pattern that Azerbaijan could easily mimic is Turkey. There, Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent, trying to impose its own religiously conservative values on society, while at the same time undermining judicial independence and freedom of speech. And it is doing all this in the name of the majority’s will.
The reality in Azerbaijan should prompt US and European Union officials to rethink their democratization strategy for Azerbaijan, and perhaps for other countries in the region.
Establishing the formal institutions of democracy is relatively easy – they already exist in Azerbaijan. But for genuine change to be possible, it is much more important to promote liberal values. This is going to be an inevitably long and frustrating process. It will not satisfy those who, faced with pervasive corruption and abuse, yearn for immediate change. But, over the long term, the spread of liberal values would increase the odds that any future political change would be sustainable.
The example of Turkey shows that liberalism is not a luxury, but a basic requirement for a well-functioning society. The heavy-handed treatment of dissent by Erdogan threatens to reverse many of the democratic and economic gains made by Turkey over the last decade.
Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament. He writes in his personal capacity.
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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Architecture of the historic center of Lviv · Ukraine travel blog

Architecture of the historic center of Lviv · Ukraine travel blog:

Lviv is the capital city of Lviv region, cultural, educational and scientific center. It is a major industrial center and transportation hub of Western Ukraine, the seventh most populous city in the country.
The historic center of Lviv is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city with the largest number of architectural monuments in Ukraine attracts a lot of tourists. Photos by horoshiyblog
Architecture of the historic center of Lviv, Ukraine, photo 1
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Lavrov: If West accepts coup-appointed Kiev govt, it must accept a Russian Crimea — RT News ht @RT_com

Lavrov: If West accepts coup-appointed Kiev govt, it must accept a Russian Crimea — RT News:

Published time: March 30, 2014 09:33
Edited time: March 30, 2014 10:57

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)
The West is inconsistent in not recognizing the Crimea referendum as legitimate, while recognizing the military coup in Kiev, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said. He accused the EU and US of duplicity and described sanctions as a “dead-end track.”
If the West accepts Kiev’s coup-appointed government then it must, in turn, accept the legitimacy of Crimea’s referendum to join with Russia, Lavrov said in an interview Sunday.
“Even if you put aside the issue of legitimacy where Maidan and Crimea are concerned (though I am convinced that the Kiev coup goes against the rule of law, while Crimea referendum was the will of the people, and to contest such an overwhelming number of votes in favor of joining Russia is impossible). From a diplomatic point of view, it doesn’t make sense to recognize what happened on Maidan as legitimate, while at the same time claiming what happened in Crimea is illegitimate," Lavrov told Irada Zeinalova, the host of the “Sunday Time” analytical program on Russia’s Channel One TV.
“If they are willing to accept the first event as legitimate, then surely they are obliged to acknowledge the second.”
Sanctions against Russia by Western states aren’t able to resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis. They resemble an attempt to express one’s insult in a decent manner, Sergey Lavrov said.
“Speaking of sanctions – that is the dead-end track,” Lavrov said. “There’s a feeling that our western partners have for a long time created conditions for 'tearing' Ukraine from Russia. When they understood they were wrong and made a mistake, by undertaking actions which undermined agreements reached following the collapse of the Soviet Union, they could not acknowledge that. The falsely understood feeling of pride hampered them from doing so. All of the sanctions we are witnessing now resemble an attempt to express one’s insult in a decent manner.”
Lavrov said he was concerned with reports that the EU might make a decision to give Schengen visas to Crimeans only at Ukrainian embassies and only on condition they submit a Ukrainian passport.
“This is unacceptable. This is the gravest violation of human rights,” Lavrov said. “People who live in Crimea and have chosen Russian citizenship have nothing to do with geopolitics. They want to live in the country which meets their cultural and linguistic demands, their so-called ‘genetic heritage.’ If the European Union does anything like that, I’m sure we will respond to it so that the EU understands the unacceptability of the gravest human rights violation.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister said he knew that some of the countries were pressurized into approving the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine.
“The pressure that was exerted [on UN member states] in connection with this resolution was the strongest,” Lavrov said. “We know that there have not only been requests to vote in favor of the resolution, which is clearly of a provocative nature. There might have been no threats, but there have been hints at possible consequences. Like the country which will not obey, will lose a certain loan or will have a certain official visit canceled.”
Moscow has information about the Ukrainian far-right movement Right Sector being behind the snipers shooting people on Maidan, Lavrov said.
“I cannot affirm with absolute determination, but there are a good deal of facts that point to this. Certainly, it is needed to recheck them. I hope that an investigation which current Ukrainian leaders announced will be finalized and will not be swept under the carpet," Lavrov said.
Lavrov said he was hoping for Russia’s European and US partners to urge Kiev get rid of the radical movements and to have all of the illegal weapons handed over to law enforcement agencies.
The Minister also criticized the West for duplicity and inconsistency in their statements over the situation in Ukraine.
“Inviting us to [engage in] dialogue and pledging to us their commitment to facilitate the stabilization of the situation, our partners are not being fully consistent, as simultaneously, speaking at international forums, including the UN General Assembly, they encourage very confrontational and quarrelsome statements, which border on insults and clearly do not promote the right atmosphere for normal dialogue. This ambivalence and duplicity is very obstructive.”
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Kiev Ukraine News Blog: Ukraine’s Hopes Riding On A Chocolatier

Kiev Ukraine News Blog: Ukraine’s Hopes Riding On A Chocolatier:

KIEV, Ukraine -- After a leading contender dropped out of Ukraine’s presidential race on Saturday, the hopes of many Ukrainians and their Western supporters are now riding on a man known as the Willy Wonka of Ukraine, the billionaire owner of a chocolate candy company. 

Vitali Klitschko (L), threw his support behind businessman Petro Poroshenko (R), as the leading pro-Europe candidate in the upcoming Ukraine elections.

Petro Olekseyevich Poroshenko, 48, was the highest-profile Ukrainian industrialist to support the street protests that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych last month, and has for several weeks led in polls for the May 25 presidential election.

Known as a centrist who had previously worked for both pro-Western and pro-Russian governments, he became a strong advocate of integration with Europe after Russia banned imports of his chocolate.

On Saturday, the candidate who had been running second in polls, the former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, withdrew from the race, throwing his support behind Mr. Poroshenko and solidifying his lead.

The shuffle leaves Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and prisoner under the ousted government, as the remaining credible competitor to Mr. Poroshenko.

She had been in third place according to a survey by four Ukrainian polling agencies last week.

The former pro-government party, whose association with Mr. Yanukovych makes it a long shot, nominated Mikhail Dobkin, an oligarch with close ties to the former president, on Saturday.

Mr. Poroshenko, also known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Roshen, the Ukrainian chocolate manufacturer, won notice during the antigovernment protests last month for climbing onto a backhoe to prevent an angry demonstrator from driving it into police lines.

Until then, the man with the beefy face and mop of salt and pepper hair was hardly known for drama.

In a country where politicians tend to be flamboyant and boisterous, Mr. Poroshenko carefully weighs his words and speaks in measured, sometimes monotonous technicalities.

In fact, political analysts say, his staid manner may be part of his appeal in a country leery of further dramatic change.

Mr. Poroshenko might have remained merely a chocolatier with a modest political career if not for Russian actions that started last summer as part of an effort to apply economic pressure on pro-European businessmen to discourage the country from signing a trade deal with the European Union.

Russia banned his chocolate, ostensibly on the grounds that it posed health risks beyond the usual ones associated with candy, costing him millions in lost sales.

Mr. Poroshenko reacted angrily.

Rather than buckle, he financially supported the pro-European Union opposition, and won wide support for it.

In an interview in his office in Kiev, he highlighted the economic skills he said he brings from businesses that, aside from sweets, also include media, shipping, agriculture and automobiles, and explained the limits of possible compromise with Russia.

“I have experience in how to build up a new investment climate,” he said.

“I know how to build zero tolerance to corruption. I know how to build a court system. I know how to create a positive, absolutely new page of Ukrainian history.”  

For him to win, he will need to persuade Ukrainians to overlook their wariness of someone who has made a career of combining business with government.

A member of Parliament, he is also a former chairman of the national security council and a former minister of foreign affairs and of the economy.

He began his political career in 1998 as a legislator loyal to the ruling pro-Russian government, before throwing his support in 2001 behind the opposition politician Viktor Yushchenko, who would rise to power and win the presidency three years later in the pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

Though that government became mired in scandal, Mr. Poroshenko remained one of the most prominent and powerful opposition voices in the country.

Like other tycoons throughout post-Soviet countries, Ukraine’s capitalized on the flawed privatization of publicly held assets to amass enormous fortunes.

Mr. Poroshenko parlayed early profits from consumer goods trading to buy Ukraine’s rundown candy factories for a pittance in the 1990s, and later moved into government positions.

“He bought his way in; that’s the way it works in Ukraine,” said Ivan Lozowy, the director of a policy research group in Kiev, adding that no real evidence of malfeasance had ever come out.

Mr. Poroshenko’s reputation as a moderate who has tried to straddle the political divide between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east and as an economic modernizer has clearly intrigued Western governments, who have wagered vast sums of money and much national prestige on the proposition that Ukraine’s teetering domestic politics can be stabilized, with a goal of thwarting a threatened Russian invasion and a new war in Europe.

Mr. Poroshenko, whose daughter-in-law is Russian, met last week with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and his leading position in the race reportedly gave the International Monetary Fund confidence to agree to release an $18 billion aid package.

A leading position for a centrist could also elevate the chances of a negotiated resolution with Russia.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia are to meet in Paris on Sunday to try to forge a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Yet even as Mr. Poroshenko’s political ambitions became clear, Russian authorities stepped up their economic pressure against his businesses, just this month raiding and shutting two Roshen chocolate factories in the Russian city of Lipetsk worth $200 million.

The problem in finding a resolution with Russia, Mr. Poroshenko said, is that while the Kremlin’s military action in Crimea caused Russians to rally around the flag, it also did the same for Ukrainians, erasing any good will toward Russia.

The chances of any candidate who openly endorses Russian proposals winning the election are vanishingly small.

Mr. Poroshenko, for all his moderate leanings, flatly rejected Russia’s proposal for the federalization of Ukraine as allowing “somebody in the Russian government trying to tell us what type of governmental system we should have.”

He cited polls showing Ukrainians who viewed Russia positively dropping to 20 percent from 92 percent after the Russian Army invaded Crimea this month.

Rather than agreeing to rewrite its Constitution, Mr. Poroshenko said, the Ukrainian government’s response to Russian troops massing on the eastern border should be “if the aggression continues against the rest of the country, the Ukrainian Army will open fire.”

Still, he has held up his experience running chocolate factories in Russia, along with his job as foreign minister, as proof he can work with the Russians.

In fact, before the Russian ban, his company had bet big on the Russian market, introducing a line of Russian Classic candy bars that revived Soviet brands like the Seagull bar, featuring a Social-Realist style beach scene on the wrapper.

Source: The New York Times

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Ukraine's Klitschko pulls out of election, backs 'Chocolate King' | Reuters #EuroMaidan

Ukraine opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, receives a phone call as he leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Ukraine opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, receives a phone call as he leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris, March 7, 2014.

Ukraine's Klitschko pulls out of election, backs 'Chocolate King' | Reuters:

(Reuters) - Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko pulled out of the race for Ukrainian president on Saturday, throwing his weight instead behind billionaire confectionary oligarch Petro Poroshenko.
Klitschko's withdrawal sets up a May 25 contest between the man known as the 'Chocolate King' and Ukraine's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Poroshenko, 48, confirmed his candidacy late on Friday. Several opinions polls already had him in the lead even before he said he would run to succeed ousted president Viktor Yanukovich.
Poroshenko was an early and influential supporter of the popular uprising that toppled Yanukovich in late February, three months after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union and plunged the country of 46 million people into turmoil.
Ukrainians will vote under the shadow of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea Crimea peninsula.
Like Tymoshenko, who announced her candidacy on Thursday, Poroshenko promised to strengthen Ukraine's armed forces and protect its borders, which the West fears are still under threat from a possible Russian incursion into Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine.
"We need to build a new, efficient and modern Ukrainian army, which will defend the sovereignty and integrity of our country," Interfax news agency quoted Poroshenko as saying in the town of Vinnitsa southwest of Kiev.
He officially submitted his candidacy to the election authorities in Kiev on Saturday.
Klitschko, addressing a meeting of his UDAR (Punch) party, urged supporters to back Poroshenko, and announced he would run instead for mayor of the capital.
"The only chance of winning is to nominate one candidate from the democratic forces," Klitschko said.

(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Louise Ireland)
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