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Ukraine's Poroshenko Agrees To Stadium Debate, But Insists On April 14

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to journalists at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv on April 10.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to journalists at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv on April 10.

KYIV -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has accepted challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy's suggestion to hold a debate at Kyiv's Olimpiyskiy Stadium ahead of this month's presidential runoff, but the two still appear divided on the date for the event.

Poroshenko told reporters at the stadium on April 10 that what he called the 14-14-14 debate "will take place here on April 14, at 14 o'clock, and 14 minutes" or 2:14 p.m. local time.

"As Mr. Zelenskiy [has said], it should be the stadium, so let it be the stadium. I will be waiting for you here," he added.

"It was not me who initiated the idea that we should be facing each other at a stadium.... This initiative came from Volodymyr Zelenskiy. At first, I was amazed, but then I agreed," he added.

It was not immediately clear if Zelenskiy would accept the date for the event.

The candidates had earlier both agreed to meet for a debate, but they were not in agreement on the date and venue.

Poroshenko had initially said the debate should be held on April 14, while Zelenskiy said it should be on April 19 and suggested the Olimpiyskiy Stadium.

The stadium has confirmed it has received requests to hold debates on both April 14 and April 19, leaving open the possibility that each candidate will show up on his preferred date and speak to supporters alone.

The campaign has been marked by theatrics on both sides, including public moves by both candidates to be tested for drugs and alcohol.

But it has also been marked by more serious incidents, including a recent scuffle on April 9 by supporters of both men outside of Zelenskiy's Kyiv headquarters.

Poroshenko and Zelenskiy, a comedian who portrays a president in a television series, will face each other in a presidential runoff on April 21.

Zelenskiy secured 30.24 percent in the March 31 first-round vote. Poroshenko finished second with 15.95 percent, setting up the second-round showdown as no candidate captured the required 50 percent to win outright.

Poroshenko will be seeking a second term, but he has seen his favorability ratings decline over perceived failures to enact political and economic reforms or tackle widespread corruption. But he has also kept the broadly popular aim of further integration with Europe high on his agenda.

Poroshenko has attempted to portray the politically inexperienced Zelenskiy as unprepared to hold the office, especially when it comes to dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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