KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s president Vladimir Zelenskiy said on Thursday that Ukrainian candidates should take part in an election that is expected to be held in the east of the country, currently controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
“The election should not be held at gunpoint but in accordance with Ukrainian law, with access for candidates from Ukrainian political forces, Ukrainian media and international observers,” Zelenskiy said in televised comments on Thursday.
He also said that all the internally displaced people should have an opportunity to vote.
Zelenskiy made his comments two days after a breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev opened the way to the first international summit in three years being convened on ending fighting in east Ukraine.
Ukraine’s decision to agree to a peace plan, which suggests that the separatist region will be granted a special status and a local election will be held there, sparked protests in Kiev on Wednesday.
Thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev’s main square, chanting “no capitulation!” and “shame!”
“I respect a constitutional right of every Ukrainian citizen to protest. I am hearing you, and believe me, I will never betray Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
He said that he would discuss ending war at the coming four-way talks in so-called “Normandy format”, in which leaders of Russia, Germany and France would also take part.
Over 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Sergiy Karazy; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Potter)