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Billionaire Poroshenko Claims Victory In Ukraine Election

Exit polls show Petro Poroshenko will have a commanding victory in the first presidential elections held in Ukraine since the government was ousted in a popular uprising.

Radio Free Europe, a news service funded by the U.S. government, reports exit polls show Proshenko received 55.9 percent of the vote and Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has been linked to allegations of corruption, received 12.9 percent of the vote.

As Carol reported this morning, Poroshenko needs at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election in June.

Perhaps more importantly, the election, which is being billed at the most important since Ukraine split from Moscow 23 years ago, went off despite some violence and despite the fact that in some eastern cities pro-Russian separatists closed off polling places.

Reuters reports that Poroshenko, a pro-European candidate, claimed the presidency with the exit poll numbers.

Reuters adds:

"All the polls show that the election has been completed in one round and the country has a new president," said the burly 48-year-old billionaire who has long experience in government.

"At his campaign headquarters, he told supporters the majority of Ukrainians had given him a mandate to continue a course of integration with the rest of Europe but said his first priority was to travel to the east of the country to end "war and chaos" caused by pro-Russian separatist rebels."

Poroshenko, Reuters adds, also ruled out any negotiations with separatists until "they put down their weapons."

Update at 3:08 p.m. ET. An 'Important Step Forward':

In a written statement, President Obama congratulated Ukrainians for their presidential election.

"Throughout the last few months, the Ukrainian people have repeatedly demonstrated their desire to choose their leaders without interference and to live in a democracy where they can determine their own future free of violence and intimidation," Obama said. "This election is another important step forward in the efforts of the Ukrainian government to unify the country and reach out to all of its citizens to ensure their concerns are addressed and aspirations met."

Obama added that he was looking forward to working with Ukraine's next president.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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