Germany's Merkel welcomes beleaguered Ukrainian leader

Germany's Merkel welcomes beleaguered Ukrainian leader
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, left, address the media during a joint press conference as part of a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised the “very close relations” her country has built with Ukraine over recent years as she welcomed beleaguered President Petro Poroshenko to Berlin shortly before Ukrainian voters decide on their next leader.

Polls show Poroshenko trailing by a wide margin ahead of the April 21 runoff against comic actor and political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Germany and France, which have led diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between Ukraine and Russia in recent years, are following the election closely.

French President Emmanuel Macron was set to meet Friday with both contenders, while Merkel received only Poroshenko.

At a joint news conference in Berlin, Merkel deflected a question about impressions that she favors Poroshenko. She said that she is in “permanent contact” with the incumbent.