1. Ukraine Inaugurates a New President
He’s the Willy Wonka of Kiev – he also happens to be one of its richest men. And today Petro Poroshenko was inaugurated as the new president of Ukraine. The 48-year-old “Chocolate King” is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $1.6 billion. He started his rise by importing cocoa beans into the Soviet Union in 1991. It grew to become the popular candy manufacturer Roshen, part of a business empire that now includes ship-building and a TV station. And if anyone can bridge the gap between Kiev and Moscow, it might just be Poroshenko. In 2001, he helped found the pro-Russian “Party of the Regions” – the political machine of the man he replaces, ousted president Viktor Yanukovych who Poroshenko served as foreign minister, and briefly as economics minister after Yanukovych came to power in 2010. But Poroshenko was one of those to desert Yanukovych soon after the protest movement broke out in late November 2013.
2. Pope Hosts Israelis, Palestinians
Two weeks after his trip to the Holy Land, this weekend Pope Francis entertains the Presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as they “pray for peace.” Francis unexpectedly invited Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas after visiting Bethlehem last month but has stressed the initiative is purely spiritual and is not part of an attempt by the Vatican to mediate in the conflict. Israeli-Palestinian relations have taken a further turn for the worse in recent days following the formation of a new Palestinian unity government as part of a reconciliation deal between Abbas and the Islamist Hamas. Israel says it will build 1,500 new homes in Jewish settlements on land which the international community says Israel occupies illegally. “Building peace is difficult” says the Pope, “but living without peace is a constant torment.” Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in late April and there have been no high-level meetings for a year.
3. Shimon Peres Exits the Stage
His Vatican trip will be Shimon Peres’s final bow on the international stage. On Tuesday, Israel’s Parliament will elect a new president and later this month the world’s oldest head of state will pass the torch to a successor. During 66 years in public life, Peres has twice been Prime Minister, spent many years at the right hand of Israel’s founding premier David Ben-Gurion, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Peres was responsible for some of the defining decisions that ensured Israel’s survival and prosperity. He was the country’s arms procurer in its early years, and, in his 70s, as foreign minister, was the architect of the peace efforts with the Palestinians – winning the Nobel with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the peace talks that produced the Oslo Accords. He’s got one final act before he bows out. Peres will come to the United States on a farewell visit to receive the Congressional Gold Medal – one of only nine individuals to receive both the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom. And in the race to appoint his successor, who is the most popular choice for president, even among right-wing Israeli voters? Shimon Peres!