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Newsline - November 9, 2005

A majority of Russians favor burying the embalmed body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and less than 10 percent would protest such a move, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 November citing a poll by the government-supported All Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM). According to the poll, 52 percent favor burying Lenin and 37 percent are opposed. But just 9 percent said they would take to the streets to oppose such a move. The survey of 1,600 respondents in 153 towns and cities across Russia was conducted on 22-23 October and had a margin of error of 3.4 percent. The emotional issue of removing Lenin's body from its Red Square mausoleum has been raised recently by politicians close to President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that the Kremlin is considering such a move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September, 3, 6, 11 and 18 October 2005). BW

Prosecutors in Trento, Italy have issued arrest warrants for eight Russian citizens suspected of kickbacks and money laundering, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 November. The case involves financial machinations surrounding the restoration of historic buildings in the Moscow Kremlin during the 1990s, Prosecutor Stefano Dragone said. Arrest warrants have been issued for ex-KGB General Yevgenii Ananev, the former head of the Russian arms export company Rosvooruzhenie, and Yekaterina Siletskaya, the daughter of former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin. Warrants have also been issued for Viktor and Radida Bondarenko, Viktor Machitskii, Andrei and Margarita Nerodenkov, and Milena Novotorzhina. "We launched a probe into the case about two years ago after the Russian national Beltsova received a large amount of money transferred into her account at Raiffeisen Bank in Vigo di Fasa," Dragone said. According to the prosecutor, the group laundered $62 million in kickbacks from a Swiss firm that was awarded contracts to refurbish the Kremlin in 1996. BW

UPDATE: On May 29, 2008, an Italian judge ruled that there were no grounds for proceeding against Ananev, Beltsova, Bondarenko, Machitskii, Nerodenkov, Novotorzhina, and Siletskaya. ​

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 8 November that further negotiations between Iran and the European Union (EU) should recognize Tehran's right to develop peaceful nuclear technology, Interfax reported the same day. "Iran has been speaking about it for a long time," Lavrov told journalists in Podgorica, Montenegro. The United States and the EU have warned Iran it will be referred to the Security Council unless it complies with a September resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) urging it to suspend all nuclear fuel work. Talks between Iran and the EU -- represented by Germany, France, and the United Kingdom -- seeking to freeze Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for economic and political concessions broke down in the summer. Iran said last week it wants to resume negotiations. BW

Lavrov also said on 7 November that the final status of Kosova should be determined by direct talks between Belgrade and the province's leaders, not through international bodies, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "A final decision as to Kosova's status mustn't be imposed from the outside, but can only result from direct agreements between Belgrade and Prishtina. It is necessary, however, that Belgrade specify its approaches to solving the issue," Lavrov said at a press conference in Belgrade after talks with his Serbia and Montenegro counterpart, Vuk Draskovic. United Nations-sponsored talks on Kosova's final status are scheduled to begin later this month. Lavrov also said the UN needs to be more pro-active in securing security and freedom of movement in the province. BW

Aleksandr Rumyantsev, the head of Rosenergoatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, said Moscow's assistance to Iran in building a nuclear power plant is in strict compliance with international law and will not result in a weapons program, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 November. Rumyantsev said the project to build a nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr could be a model for Moscow's future assistance to other countries. Rumyantsev noted that according to the agreement, Iran has 0agreed to return all spent nuclear fuel to Russia. BW

An official with the Federal Security Service (FSB) said on 8 November that approximately 60 Islamic organizations, 100 firms, and 10 banking groups are financing terrorism in Russia, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The FSB has information on approximately 200 foreign nationals involved in terrorist activities in Russia," FSB spokesman Nikolai Zakharov said at a conference on terrorism in Vienna. Zakharov added that the statistics were from the early 1990s and some of those on the list have since been killed or jailed. "Recent events graphically show that no nation, however strong it may be financially or socially, is immune to manifestations of terrorism on its territory," he said. BW

The chairman of the Federation Council's Agrarian Policy Committee called on the Russian government on 8 November to provide additional funds to combat bird flu, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The government could draft a proposal to repay damages to people and enterprises for the elimination of poultry and livestock and to allocate money from the reserve fund," the Agrarian Policy Committee's Chairman Gennadii Gorbunov said. He noted that specific regions -- the Altai Krai and the Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen, Kurgan, and Tula oblasts -- were specifically in need. Gorbunov added that Russia needs a federal target program to monitor dangerous diseases of animals and birds for 2006-2010. BW

Russia's chief epidemiologist Gennadii Onishchenko said it is citizens' "civic duty" to get flu inoculations and decried as "immoral" the rise in the cost of vaccines, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 November. "I have heard terrible news that the price of flu inoculation reached 1,200 rubles (about $40). This is immoral as the vaccine costs 60-80 rubles," Onishchenko said. Speaking at a bird flu conference in Geneva, Onishchenko said inoculation is especially important in light of the possible dangers of a bird flu mutation and a potential pandemic. "The most optimistic forecast for the development of a vaccine against a new flu type is six months after the appearance of the strain," he said. BW

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 8 November that violations in Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections were minor and should not call into question the vote's legitimacy, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "The elections on the whole were held in accordance with the acting Azerbaijani legislation. There were violations. There are always violations in elections. They were registered by Russian observers as well. However, the scale of the violations does not call for questioning the legitimacy of the election results," the ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies. On 7 November, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the 6 November elections failed to meet some international standards. The United States and European Union have also called the elections flawed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 November 2005). BW

Russia's Federal Migration Service is planning to grant an amnesty next year for some citizens of ex-Soviet states working illegally in Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 9 November. "The experiment will be conducted in eight regions of Russia and it is expected that about 1 million citizens of CIS countries will be amnestied," Vyacheslav Postavnin, head of the Federal Migration Service's Foreign Labor Migration Directorate said, according to RIA-Novosti. "The beneficiaries of the amnesty will be those citizens of the member states of the CIS who are living and working in Russia illegally, thereby committing administrative offences, but who have no criminal record," he added. Postavnin said that no timetable has been set for the amnesty, and that the legislative details are being worked out. BW

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party on 8 November sharply condemned a rally held by several nationalist organizations during last week's People's Unity Day holiday, ITAR-TASS reported on the same day. "We would like to draw the attention of the authorities of Moscow and other federation constituents to the fact that the action organizers flagrantly breached the Russian Law on Assemblies, Rallies, Marches, and Pickets by using hitherto undeclared slogans," a statement by Unified Russia said. "The law stipulates that this is a reason for the future denial of authorization of actions for the same organizers." The 4 November march by nationalists has also drawn criticism from State Duma Speaker and Unified Russia member Boris Gryzlov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2005). BW

Fedor Shcherbak, spokesman for presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, has denied that Kozak has discussed with Israeli leaders erecting a barrier along Chechnya's border comparable to Israel's security fence on the West Bank, reported on 9 November, citing Shcherbak said that Israel's experience in combating terrorism cannot under any circumstances be transposed to Russia. "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 8 November that Kozak met the previous day with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra to discuss the proposed security fence and other antiterrorism measures, and that he is also scheduled to meet with Mossad head Meir Dagan. In 1997, both Stavropol Krai and Daghestan considered digging trenches along their respective borders with Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997). North Ossetia has increased the number of border posts and patrols along its border with the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic to prevent the infiltration of militants, reported on 8 November. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen Central Election Commission head Ismail Baikhanov told journalists in Grozny on 8 November that the European Union will send observers to Chechnya to monitor the 27 November parliamentary election there, reported. The Foreign Ministry of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) responded to that announcement by posting a statement the same day on the website reminding the EU that the ChRI leadership has not scheduled elections or invited observers to monitor them. The Chechen statement further condemned what it termed statements by individual unnamed leaders of EU member states who seek to justify Russia's policy of "state terrorism" against the Chechen people. LF

Several former dozen commanders of informal Armenian detachments that fought in the Karabakh war in the early 1990s announced on 8 November their intention to found a new union that will seek to alleviate the poverty in which many war veterans live, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. One of those former commanders, Manvel Yeghiazarian, told journalists on 8 November that the new union "will rally around the idea of patriotism and brotherhood." He denied any differences of opinion with the powerful Yerkrapah union of war veterans that was instrumental in the forced resignation in February 1998 of then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Yeghiazarian likewise denied any connection between the planned new organization and the referendum on proposed constitutional amendments scheduled for 27 November. LF

Police detained an unspecified numbers of members and supporters of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) on the morning of 9 November, apparently in an attempt to prevent them attending a planned protest in Baku at 3 p.m. local time that day to demand the annulment of the 6 November parliamentary elections, Turan reported. Police also set up road blocks at approach roads and on four major regional highways leading to the capital. Leading members of the opposition Azadlyq election bloc, of which the AHCP is a member, predicted on 8 November that 50,000 people would attend the 9 November protest against the perceived falsification of the election, reported on 9 November. Azadlyq plans a further protest on 12 November. LF

The results of the 6 November parliamentary election have been annulled in two constituencies (Nos. 9 and 42), as have the results from six of a total of 28 polling stations in a third constituency (No. 31), Azerbaijan Central Election Commission (MSK) Chairman Mazahir Panahov told journalists on 8 November. The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal investigation into violations in the former two constituencies. Opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan First Deputy Chairman Sardar Djalaloglu thus stands a chance of winning in constituency 9, AHCP candidate Flora Kerimova in constituency 42, and AHCP Chairman Ali Kerimli in constituency 31. Reported "serious shortcomings" in three further constituencies where prominent oppositionists were candidates are still being investigated, Panahov said. LF

Magerram Aliyev, chairman of the Central Election Commission (MSK) of Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, said on 9 November that the 6 November elections to the exclave's new parliament were held "at a high level" and no complaints have been received, Turan reported. He said that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party won 37 of the 45 seats, nonpartisan candidates six, and the AHCP two. The AHCP office in Nakhichevan announced even before the ballot that it would not recognize the outcome as fair and valid, reported on 4 November. The AHCP alleged that the republic's MSK is formed exclusively from YAP members, and that opposition parties were not allowed to stage pre-election rallies. LF

Otar Khetsia, who is the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia's interior minister, warned on 9 November that Abkhaz police will take "appropriate measures" if Georgia's White Legion guerrillas resume their activities in the Abkhaz conflict zone, reported. White Legion commander Zurab Samushia has said he will mobilize his men to protect Georgians living in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion as the CIS peacekeepers deployed there are incapable of doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2005). Over a 12-year period, the White Legion and its companion force, the Forest Brothers, killed over 100 Russian peacekeepers and some 1,000 Abkhaz civilians, including more than 300 policemen. Meanwhile, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba accused the Georgian parliament, which on 8 November observed one minute's silence to honor a Georgian reportedly beaten to death for his refusal to serve in the Abkhaz army, of making a "martyr" of a common criminal, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 November 2005). LF

In response to a demand by the Aytayra political movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005), Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh has decreed the creation of a commission, which he will chair, to draft amendments to the unrecognized republic's constitution and the government apparatus, reported on 8 November. LF

Parliament approved on 9 November in the first reading a draft bill that would increase the combined personnel of the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. The draft sets the maximum number of personnel at 31,868 persons, of whom 26,000 are subordinate to the Defense Ministry, and 5,868 to the Georgian State Border Defense Department. According to the present law, the combined total strength of the Defense Ministry and State Border Department must not exceed 29,703. The Defense Ministry's troops currently number 21,468 men, according to Caucasus Press on 8 November. The Georgian armed forces were downsized in the early 1990s with the aim of creating a highly trained, highly mobile army of between 13,000-15,000 active duty personnel in line with NATO standards. However, those reductions have since been reversed (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 July 2005), fuelling suspicions that Tbilisi plans military action to restore its hegemony over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

King Abdullah II met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty on 8 November to discuss bilateral relations, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev stated that the two countries' views on international and regional politics coincide, but noted that bilateral trade needs to be improved. Bilateral trade in 2003 totaled $43 million, with Kazakh exports accounting for $42.7 million of the total, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. King Abdullah said, "In the political sphere, we have always had good, close ties. But for our two countries to grow closer for real, we need to develop cultural and economic ties." The meeting witnessed the signing of a cultural cooperation agreement and an agreement naming Astana and the Jordanian capital Amman as sister cities. DK

Kazakhstan's Poppy-2005 antidrug operation, which ran from 20 May to 20 October, resulted in the confiscation of 16.5 tons of various narcotics, Interfax-Kazakhstan and "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 8 November citing information from the Interior Ministry. The reports did not provide an exact breakdown of the confiscated drugs, but noted that total seizures for January-October came to 19 tons, including 130 kilograms of heroin. Poppy-2005 uncovered 4,607 drug-related crimes, as compared with 2,134 crimes recorded during last year's operation in the same time period, and resulted in the arrest of 3,803 people. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 8 November to confirm Kambaraly Kongantiev as prosecutor-general but rejected the candidacy of Daniyar Usenov for the post of deputy prime minister, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Fifty-nine of 75 deputies took part in the voting, with 57 casting votes in favor of Kongantiev and two opposed. Usenov garnered the support of only 17 deputies. The report noted that while Usenov continues to occupy the post of acting deputy prime minister, it is not known whether President Kurmanbek Bakiev will resubmit his candidacy for the deputy premiership. DK

A court in Bishkek on 8 November acquitted Sulaiman Imanbaev, former head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, on charges that he abused and exceeded his authority during his tenure from 1996 until earlier this year, reported. The court found insufficient evidence of a crime. Galina Skripkina, a lawyer representing Imanbaev, added that the Pervomaiskii District prosecutor did not support the accusation. The charges stated that Imanbaev used his position to help Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of former President Askar Akaev, gain a seat in parliament during the spring 2005 elections. DK

Rear Admiral Robert T. Moeller, director of plans and policy at U.S. Central Command, met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alibek Jekshenkulov in Bishkek on 8 November to discuss revisions to the agreement on the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Jekshenkulov noted that Kyrgyzstan wants the United States to pay a higher rent for the base. The first round of talks on the issue produced an agreement to review the technical and financial aspects of the current arrangement. Jekshenkulov told journalists: "As you know, in 2001 we made a very quick decision on opening this base [at Manas Airport near Bishkek], and we had no time to look carefully at the conditions of that agreement. That's why the conditions for using this base were very privileged. And now Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has obliged us to reconsider that agreement and we just started working on it." DK

Roger Haynes, the head of Canada's Buried Hill Energy, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 7 November, Turkmen state television reported. The two agreed to sign a production sharing agreement (PSA) for the development of energy resources in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. Reports did not specify the resources involved or the timeframe for signing the PSA. Previous negotiations between Turkmenistan and Buried Hill Energy on the possible development of the disputed Serdar/Kyapaz field (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2005) -- which is claimed by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- strained ties between the two littoral states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2005). Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien accompanied Haynes to Ashgabat on 7 November. DK

In a statement made public on 8 November by the United Kingdom, which currently holds the European Union presidency (, the EU expressed alarm over the human rights situation in Uzbekistan in the wake of violence in the eastern city of Andijon on 12-13 May. The EU asked the Uzbek authorities to allow an "independent assessment" of the condition of jailed opposition leader Sanjar Umarov, and voiced concern "at the circumstances of the arrest and detention of [rights activists] Mukhtabar Tojibaeva and Saidjahon Zainabitdinov." Urging adherence to international standards, the EU called on the Uzbek authorities to "protect freedom of expression by bringing to an end the harassment and detention of those including human rights defenders, journalists and others who exercise these fundamental rights." DK

Belarus's state postal service, Belposhta, has not included the private newspapers "Narodnaya volya" and "Salidarnasts" in its list of periodicals that can be subscribed to in 2006, Belapan reported on 8 November. "Narodnaya volya" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Kalinkina said the move is the continuation of an official harassment campaign against her daily. "They have put forward absolutely absurd grounds [to justify the subscription stoppage]," Kalinkina said. " For instance, they charged that we failed to notify Belposhta that we had changed the printer. It is unclear how this concerned the distributor, as the schedule of publication did not change and the volume remained the same." In September, a court ordered "Narodnaya volya" to pay nearly $50,000 in libel damages, while a state printing plant and distributor refused to print the daily and distribute it through a state monopoly network of kiosks and newsstands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September and 6 October 2005). "An era of the Internet and samizdat has begun for the non-state media," "Salidarnasts" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich said. JM

Mikalay Charhinets, chairman of the Committee for International Affairs and National Security in the Council of the Republic, Belarus's upper house, has been denied a visa to travel to the United States to attend the current session of the UN General Assembly, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 8 November. Charhinets told journalists that the U.S. State Department explained through the U.S. Embassy in Minsk that he behaved improperly while staying in the United States in 2004. Charhinets said the U.S. State Department objected to his being an observer of the U.S. presidential election simultaneously with representing Belarus at the then UN General Assembly. He asserted that he had been invited to observe the election by the U.S. State Department as an official representative of the OSCE. According to Charhinets, the U.S. authorities denied him a visa because of his criticism of the U.S. electoral system. JM

Several tourist firms in Orsha, Vitsebsk Oblast, are offering a tour of places connected with the life of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 8 November. In particular, the proposed tour route includes the town of Kopys where Lukashenka was born and the village of Aleksandryya where he spent his childhood. However, the offer does not include a prison in Orsha where Lukashenka had a short stint as a deputy warden. The cost of the tour depends on the size of a touring group but does not exceed $20 per head. JM

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 8 November ruled in favor of Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze who was slain in 2000, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Myroslava Gongadze filed a suit in 2002, accusing the Ukrainian authorities of failing to protect her husband and subsequently to investigate the case in a coherent and effective manner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April and 2 June 2005). The court ruled that the Ukrainian authorities failed to protect Heorhiy Gongadze's life, failed to investigate his death, treated Myroslava Gongadze in an inhuman and degrading manner, and in the absence of an effective criminal investigation, prevented her from receiving compensation. The court awarded Myroslava Gongadze, who fled to the United States after her husband's death, 100,000 euros ($118,000) in damages. Ukraine has three months to appeal the decision. "This is...a precedent for other people like myself, who have suffered from the Ukrainian authorities, to file such complaints. And this shows that we can win and this will teach the Ukrainian authorities to really respect their citizens," Myroslava Gongadze told RFE/RL. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 8 November dismissed Zaporizhzhya Oblast Governor Yuriy Artemenko and Luhansk Oblast Governor Oleksiy Danilov, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Mr. Artemenko and Mr. Danilov will be offered other positions in the government," presidential spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko commented on the dismissals. "The dismissals in Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts should be viewed in the context of the [upcoming] parliamentary elections," opposition Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych said. "The governing party needs its own people in the regions, and if somebody fails to understand that, he has to leave." JM

The European Union has allocated $3.8 million euros ($4.5 million) to help Kyiv fight illegal migration and create an efficient system of managing migratory movement through the country, Ukrainian media reported on 8 November, quoting Deputy Interior Minister Hennadiy Moskal. In particular, the money will be spent on the establishment of two detention centers for illegal migrants, one in Volyn Oblast and the other in Chernihiv Oblast. Moskal explained that Ukraine has no such centers at present, and detained migrants are kept jointly with vagrants and homeless persons, which is against international law. JM

Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova said in a statement on 8 November that the negotiating team that will represent the ethnic Albanian majority in the upcoming status talks will accept nothing less than independence, and called on the Serb minority to support them, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September and 2 November 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). The statement noted that the committee "was authorized to start work immediately...[on] a political platform for an independent and sovereign Kosova." Rugova stressed that the "platform for the talks is independence and, as such, is not negotiable." The work of the negotiating team, which includes leaders from the four main political parties, has been held up by public feuding between some of the individuals involved. The talks are expected to begin soon under the mediation of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who is a veteran negotiator in Kosova and several other international trouble spots. PM

Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 8 November that Kosova must become fully independent as is the case with other countries in the region. He added that the upcoming talks will center on three crucial issues: the right of Kosova's citizens to have their own state, the functioning of the new state and its institutions, and the establishment of peace in the region. Several proposals, notably from within the EU, have called for "conditional independence" for Kosova, which would not enjoy full sovereignty until it joined the Brussels-based bloc and had adopted its rules and restrictions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005). PM

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 8 November that "the Kosovo Albanians...have to prove to...the international community...that they can govern democratically, that they can govern effectively, and that they can design a future Kosovo that will protect the rights of the minority population," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 October 2005). He said that NATO is prepared to use force to prevent any attempt to influence the status question through violence and warned Belgrade against urging the province's Serbian minority to boycott the talks. Former U.S. Balkan envoy Richard Holbrooke told the same hearing that the Kosovar Albanians must give the Serbs "iron-clad guarantees" regarding the protection of their rights and cultural sites. Holbrooke stressed that it is important for the United States to remain active in Kosova, saying that "we must finish the job. And if we don't, the subsequent costs will be even higher. War could resume, and what was done so far will have been wasted." PM

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Vienna on 8 November that the planned referendum on independence will consist of two questions: "Are you in favor of Montenegro becoming an independent and internationally recognized state?" and "Do you agree that Montenegro remains in a joint state with Serbia?" RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2005). He stressed that these formulations will enable the voters to express their will clearly. PM

Former Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis and seven lawmakers have formally left the Our Moldova (AMN) opposition alliance to form their own party, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 November. "The new party will advance European values, principles of a rule-of-law state and market economy, protection of human rights and liberties, and will aim to enhance the well being of Moldovan citizens," Braghis said the same day. The new party's organizing committee includes some 70 people. Braghis shared the leadership of AMN with former Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean. But in late October, Braghis and 30 others withdrew from the party's Central Political Council, accusing Urechean of "dictatorial" practices in running the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). BW

Among the improvements registered in the 2005 Azerbaijani parliamentary campaign in comparison to previous elections over the past decade, the International Election Observation Mission noted in its preliminary assessment the allocation to opposition candidates of more free airtime on state-controlled media. But that improved access to free airtime was not complemented either by increased objectivity on the part of the state-controlled media in their coverage of the opposition, or by a reduction in the enormous quantitative discrepancy between the coverage afforded to the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan (New Azerbaijan) Party as compared to the opposition.

The revised election law stipulated that only parties or blocs that nominated more than 60 candidates could qualify for free airtime. Those that did were each to receive a total of 4 1/2 hours of free exposure -- parceled out into 90 minute allotments on state television, state radio, and the new Public Television channel, which began broadcasting in late August. Only four parties or blocs met that criteria: Yeni Azerbaycan, the Azadlyq and Yeni Siyaset (YeS) opposition election blocs, and the opposition Liberal Party. In line with a 10 September ruling by the Central Election Commission (MSK), each of the four parties/blocs was allowed a daily "slot" six times weekly, Mondays through Saturdays.

That commitment was, by and large, honored, although MSK secretary Vidadi Makhmudov claimed in late September that state television and Public Television were offering selected candidates additional unpaid airtime. The sole major infraction registered was the suspension by state television of live election broadcasting, both paid and unpaid, by Azadlyq on 17 October -- the evening of former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev's abortive attempt to return to Azerbaijan from exile to participate in the election as an Azadlyq candidate. That ban was lifted on 20 October after international organizations protested, according to on 21 October.

In addition, all candidates were entitled to purchase airtime on state television, Public Television, or on private television channels. But the Central Election Commission (MSK) set limits on both the amount of free and paid airtime state television and Public Television could broadcast per week: 135 minutes per week free airtime and 270 minutes paid airtime, and not more than 45 minutes paid airtime on any given day. Each registered candidate was entitled to 1 million manats ($217.72) from the state budget to cover the costs of his/her media campaign, but just one minute of paid television advertising cost between $420-$850 on the private television station ANS, between $295-$590 on Azerbaijan TV, and between $420-$640 on the privately owned Space TV, according to on 9 September, citing Public Television General Director Ismail Omarov announced on 5 September that his channel's rates were to be set lower than those on private channels, but he did not say what the tariff would be. The maximum a candidate could spend on campaign advertising was 412.5 million manats ($88,000), MSK spokesman Azer Saryev told of 26 August.

But paradoxically, in trying to treat all candidates equally, some television channels ended up inadvertently infringing on the legal limit on the maximum amount of election-related programming that could be aired each week, reported on 27 October. The National Television and Radio Council had to caution state television that it was violating the election law by broadcasting between two and three hours of paid election-related programming per night. Such efforts to provide all eligible candidates with the maximum airtime to which they were entitled, and which they could afford, are laudable. But they may have had a possibly unintended negative effect: even the most politically engaged viewers are likely to lose interest after several weeks of election-related programming. That is not, however, to deny the importance of maximum coverage -- given that the electronic media, rather than newspapers, continue to be the primary source of information for most of Azerbaijan's population.

That public reliance on television for information renders all the more crucial the need for objectivity and balance. A Code of Conduct for media coverage of elections prepared by the Council of Europe and intended to promote those qualities was adopted in July, but monitoring of some 40-50 media outlets -- both electronic and print -- during the election campaign showed that, as in previous elections, several television channels continued to give disproportionately extensive and almost exclusively favorable coverage to candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party, while their coverage of opposition parties tended to be cursory and largely negative. That monitoring identified Azerbaijan state television as the main offender, followed Lider and Space television, both of which are privately owned, reportedly by persons close to the ruling elite. Public Television proved to be less tendentious and more objective than either of those latter three channels, but was still far from entirely free of bias.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Jami'at-e Islami (Islamic Society) party and president of Afghanistan in the 1990s, said he will run for the post of speaker of the Afghan National Assembly, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 8 November. Mohammad Shafi, head of Rabbani's office, told Hindukosh that the former president has begun discussing his strategy with members of his party. Former Education Minister and head of the New Afghanistan Party, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni; the leader of the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan, Mohammad Mohaqeq; and Kabul representative Shokria Barakzai have also announced that they want to be the speaker. Rabbani won a seat in the National Assembly from Badakhshan Province in northeastern Afghanistan with 26,422 votes, while Mohaqeq (52,586 votes), Qanuni (31,225 votes) and Barakzai (2,021 votes) have all won seats from Kabul Province. AT

The political administrator of the North Waziristan tribal agency issued a 24-hour deadline on 7 November for those Afghan refugees still in the area to leave, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 8 November. Afghan refugees in North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, were asked in August to leave the area for other areas of Pakistan or return to their country. Sayyed Zahir al-Islam, a political agent for North Waziristan, told "The News" that Afghan refugees still "hiding" in the area were helping the Al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants in their attacks on Pakistani military installations. AT

The Kabul Serena Hotel has opened, AP reported on 8 November. The hotel project near the presidential palace is backed by Agha Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili branch of Islam. At the hotel's opening, which was attend by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other dignitaries, Agha Khan called Serena's opening an "important milestone in Afghanistan's reconstruction and its reengagement with the world community." The hotel, with rooms ranging from $250 to $1,200 per night, is obviously mainly for foreigners, as an Afghan government employee earns around $50 per month. AT

Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, described the outcome of a 7 November EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in an 8 November interview with Radio Farda. "The discussion had a very clear message: We warned Iran to play its full role in the international community of nations," Gallach said. "But the Iran we want to play a role in the international community of nations is one that respects the state of Israel, is one that negotiates on the question pertaining to [the uranium conversion facility at] Isfahan, and gives up all projects to have nuclear weapons, and we want an Iran which moves [toward] the path of democracy." Turning to Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani's request that the EU resume nuclear talks, Gallach said the EU's "red line" is that Iran suspend uranium enrichment activities, in line with the November 2004 Paris agreement. Asked about that in Tehran on 8 November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi accused the Europeans of ignorance about world affairs, state television reported. He explained, "I thought that the first subject that the declaration would refer to would be the crimes committed in the Palestinian and occupied lands." BS

The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor released its "International Religious Freedom Report 2005" on 8 November ( The report highlights the difficulties in Iran for these minorities: Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha'is, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. It describes their problems as: "reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs...a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities, especially Baha'is, Jews, and evangelical Christians." BS

The managing directors of Iran's state-owned Keshavarzi, Mellat, Melli, Saderat, Sepah, and Tejarat banks were replaced in early November, "Iran" reported on 5 November. "Iran" provided only the surnames of the prospective directors -- Ansari at Melli Bank, Eskandari at Tejarat Bank, Borhani at Saderat Bank, and Divandarei at Mellat Bank. Nurbakhsh replaced Jalal Rasulof as the head of Keshavarzi Bank. BS

Iranian Ambassador Ali Ahani said in Brussels on 8 November that the EU stance on terrorism is not serious because it allows rallies of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK), an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq, to take place on its territory, IRNA reported. MEK supporters staged a demonstration the previous day as EU foreign ministers met in the Belgian capital. MEK is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, Canada, and the EU, but members still in Iraq were granted "protected status" under the Geneva Convention in July 2004. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who ended a three-day visit to Tehran on 6 November, said that Iran has a "legitimate concern" regarding the MEK, the "Financial Times" reported on 7 November. "We should enforce the article in our constitution that Iraq should not be a transit point or base for destabilizing neighbors," Chalabi said. "We should deal with these issues humanely and fairly, but firmly." BS

The third conference and trade exhibition on reconstruction in Iraq began in Tehran on 8 November, Mehr News Agency reported. More than 280 companies are participating in the four-day event. Reconstruction is not Iran's sole interest in Iraq. Iraq's National Security Council learned on 30 October that Iran is backing a campaign to assassinate Iraqi pilots who flew in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad's "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 31 October. Citing anonymous representatives in the Iraqi National Assembly, the daily noted allegations of an Iranian role in attacks on multinational forces in Iraq. BS

Laith Kubba told Al-Jazeera television in an 8 November interview that Operation Steel Curtain has dealt very strong blows to terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's network in Al-Qa'im. Kubba said the operation seeks to cut insurgent supply lines, and noted that the hardest part of the operation -- taking control of the city -- has been achieved. He said more than 160 foreign fighters were captured. Asked about al-Zarqawi's threat against the Iraqi government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2005), Kubba said: "I do not believe it can strike any governmental body, because the majority of its past operations targeted civilians.... Therefore, nobody pays attention to what this organization says because Iraqis see it as a group of criminals and mentally-ill people who come from outside to kill themselves in Iraq." KR

The National Forces Parliament announced its platform for the 15 December parliamentary elections on 8 November in Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Da'ud Hashim Da'ud, media spokesman for the coalition, told reporters that the parliament calls for opening dialogue with the "Iraqi resistance," rejecting sectarian and ethnic quotas in government, and abolishing decisions issued by previous governments that have negatively influenced Iraqi society. The parliament vowed to address the security situation and strengthen security services. KR

Ammar al-Hakim, spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told Al-Jazeera television in a 7 November interview that some groups left the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) ahead of elections because they wanted more seats in the future parliament. Parties such as Deputy Prime Minister Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress demanded more representation on the list, a demand the UIA could not meet while trying to accommodate similar demands from other parties to the list, al-Hakim said. Through negotiation, parties on coalition lists are given a certain number of ranked slots on the electoral lists. Parliamentary seats are then distributed according to the candidate names on the ranked list up to the number of actual seats awarded to the list, which is based on the percentage of votes that list garnered in the elections. Al-Hakim denied that there was any kind of political problem between Chalabi and the UIA. Chalabi has said he left the UIA because of its Islamic stance. The UIA includes some 16 prominent parties and dozens more independent candidates, al-Hakim said, adding: "The entry of [Muqtada] al-Sadr's followers lends significant weight to the UIA." KR

Seven policemen were killed and six wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted police patrols in Ba'qubah on 9 November, international media reported. Three civilians were also wounded in the attack. Meanwhile, Japanese Self-Defense Force troops stationed in Samawah, northwest of Al-Basrah, were attacked twice on 8 November, Al-Sharqiyah reported the same day. No Japanese troops were hurt in the attacks, which left an Iraqi policeman and a taxi driver wounded. Iraqi police in Babil Governorate arrested 11 suspected insurgents following a two-hour gun battle there on 8 November, the news channel reported. Four gunmen and three policemen were wounded in the fighting. KR

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Iran Prepares To Bury President Raisi In His Hometown

The last day of funeral ceremonies for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commenced on May 23 in the eastern city of Birjand.
The last day of funeral ceremonies for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commenced on May 23 in the eastern city of Birjand.

The last day of funeral ceremonies for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi commenced on May 23 in the eastern city of Birjand, where thousands of black-clad people marched along the main avenue holding portraits of the president and others killed in a weekend helicopter crash.

Throngs of mourners accompanied Raisi's casket draped in the Iranian flag and placed on a platform truck that also displayed a sign reading, "This is the shrine," before the ceremonies were to move to the late ultraconservative president's home town of Mashhad, where he will be buried at the holy shrine of Imam Reza, an important Shi'ite site.

Foreign dignitaries from friendly states are expected to attend, including Russian parliamentary leader Vyacheslav Volodin.

Although thousands of people joined the procession, the attendance was less numerous than on other similar occasions, a likely indication of a deepening rift between the country's Islamic theocracy and ordinary citizens frustrated by the increasing repression of their rights and declining living standards.

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was also killed in the helicopter crash, was to be buried later on May 23 in the Shah Abdul Azim shrine in the city of Rey, just south of Tehran. Ahead of the burial, Iranian officials and foreign diplomats paid their respects to Amir-Abdollahian at a ceremony in Tehran.

A day earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led funeral prayers in Tehran, where thousands attended a funeral procession.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession.

Khamenei presided over the start of the ceremony, where he delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi and then left the ceremony without giving a speech. Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, was also in attendance.

Several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

Analyst Mehdi Khalaji, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that no matter who will become the next president, Iran's future leadership will not be endured by one person, but the regime will try to form a "special joint leadership stock company."

The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Raisi's has pushed back nuclear negotiations to improve Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"Now Iran is in a period of mourning and it should be respected, but when this period is over, we want to re-engage with Iran to improve cooperation," Rafael Grossi said on May 22 in Helsinki.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Russia Says It Shot Down Dozens Of Ukranian Rockets, Drones

Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems repelled a large Ukrainian rocket and drone attack targeting Belgorod region on May 23.
Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems repelled a large Ukrainian rocket and drone attack targeting Belgorod region on May 23.

Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems repelled a large Ukrainian rocket and drone attack targeting Belgorod region on May 23. "The air-defense systems on duty destroyed three Vilkha MLRS rockets, 32 Vampire MLRS rockets, and three UAVs over the territory of the Belgorod region," the ministry said in a message on Telegram. Belgorod Governor Cyacheslav Gladkov said in a separate message that the there were no casualties from the attack, but two children's camps were damaged by falling debris. The claims could not be independently verified immediately. Ukraine has not commented.

Norway Slaps Further Restrictions On Russian Visitors

Norway-Russia border (file photo)
Norway-Russia border (file photo)

Norway has announced further restrictions for the entry of Russian citizens in the Nordic country in reaction to Moscow's ongoing war in Ukraine. Oslo first introduced restrictions on visas for Russian visitors in the spring of 2022, after the start of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion. Under the new restrictions, police can refuse the entry of certain Russian citizens, the Justice Ministry said in a statement. "The in line with the Norwegian approach of standing by allies and partners in the reactions against Russia's illegal war of aggression against Ukraine," it said. The new rules take effect on May 29.

UN General Assembly To Vote On Resolution To Commemorate Srebrenica Genocide

A woman prays amid the gravestones of Srebrenica victims at a memorial cemetery in Potocari.
A woman prays amid the gravestones of Srebrenica victims at a memorial cemetery in Potocari.

The UN General Assembly has scheduled a debate on a UN resolution to establish an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs on May 23 to be followed by a vote.

The resolution would designate July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica.

The resolution has sparked protests and a lobbying campaign by Serbia’s president and the Bosnian Serb leadership to block its adoption by the 193-member General Assembly. Approval requires a majority of those countries that take part in the vote.

The draft resolution condemns “without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event.” It also “condemns without reservation actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.”

Sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, the resolution also asks the United Nations to prepare an outreach program and invites countries, organizations, civil society organizations, and others to observe July 11 with “appropriate education and public awareness-raising activities" in memory and honor of the victims.

The killings began near the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian War, which broke out after the breakup of Yugoslavia and pitted Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

A Doctor Hid Bones Of Srebrenica Victims In His Garden. He's Still Practicing.
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On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica and began targeting Bosniak men and boys. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, determined in 2007 that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, and the court’s determination is included in the draft resolution.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Antje Leendertse said the resolution “has the support of a large cross-regional group. She noted in a statement to the Associated Press last week that there is an official UN commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide every year on April 7, and the Srebrenica resolution aims to do the same for Bosnia before the 30th anniversary of the start of the genocide in 2025.

Serbia’s nationalist president, Aleksandar Vucic, and the leadership of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, have vehemently opposed the adoption of the resolution, saying it brands Serbia as a “genocidal nation.”

Serbian Foreign Minister Marko Duric told the UN Security Council on April 30 that Serbia has consistently condemned the “horrific” Srebrenica massacre and other crimes committed during the Bosnian War. Duric called for the resolution to be withdrawn and replaced by one that honors all victims of the war.

Vucic said the resolution should be subjected to a vote in the UN Security Council, not the General Assembly. Those put to a vote in the Security Council can be vetoed by any of its five members, therefore allowing Russia and China to sink it.

Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, dismissed the resolution as “one-sided” and “politically charged” in his comments to the Security Council on April 30. Nebenzya said the move would not promote reconciliation among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska's Russia-friendly leader, has repeatedly threatened that if the resolution is adopted, the entity "will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has regularly reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide, told supporters at a rally in Banja Luka last month that the actions of the Republika Srpska Army in Srebrenica in 1995 were "a mistake that left the crime," but he denied it was genocide.

With reporting by AP

Turkey Claims Its Drone Was Instrumental In Finding Wreckage Of Iranian Helicopter

An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)
An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)

Turkey says its Akinci drone deserves more credit for helping to locate the wreckage of the Iranian helicopter that crashed in a remote and mountainous area of Iran on May 19, killing President Ebrahim Raisi and other top Iranian officials, according to Turkish media reports on May 22.

The reports say that the Akinci drone was first to find the site of the wreckage and accused Iran of changing its narrative about the use of the Turkish equipment after it provided information about the location of the wreckage and then made counterclaims that its own drone found the site.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that the Akinci drone was sent at the request of the Iranian government.

According to Erdogan, despite the bad weather conditions the drone was able to conduct search operations in the region for seven and a half hours and fly a total of 2,100 kilometers.

After the Turkish drone identified the helicopter wreckage and detected heat sources believed to be the crash site in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province, the Iranian search team successfully located the downed helicopter and the bodies of Raisi and the others in the mountainous terrain, according to Turkish media reports.

However, Iran rejected the notion that there was foreign participation in the search operation despite data from the Turkish drone that revealed the coordinates of the crash, and confirmation of this data by some Iranian news agencies.

After the Akinci drone captured images of the wreckage using its night vision and thermal camera and released them on the Internet, Pirhossein Kolivand, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, called foreign participation in the search a rumor.

“We did not stop the search in the dark, fog, and rain, and when we discovered the wreckage of the helicopter with our own drone, we moved to the exact place where the helicopter fell," Kolivand said.

He claimed that rescuers from the Red Crescent found the wreckage at an altitude of 2,500 meters and "it took 40 minutes from the time of finding the wreckage of the helicopter to reaching the accident site.”

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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But during the overnight search, the Red Crescent said in a statement at around 4 a.m. local time on May 20 that after the Turkish drone identified two potential “hot spots” the Red Crescent rescue teams headed toward the sites.

The head of the East Azerbaijan Red Crescent also cited the Turkish drone report that a “burning spot” had been detected and said rescue forces were sent to that area.

The head of Turkey, Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Research (ULISA) said in an opinion piece published by the state news agency Anadolu that the drone’s role in finding the wreckage site demonstrated the need to recognize Turkey’s commitment to fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities through its defense capacity.

Professor M. Nazmul Islam said that, after Iran accepted Turkey’s offer to send the drone, the Akinci took off from a Turkish base at around 11:30 p.m. local time and began searching nearly an hour later. Turkey claims that it transmitted the image of the wreckage of the helicopter at 3:06 a.m. Iranian time and shared the coordinates with the Iranian authorities.

But according to Iranian media accounts, an Iranian drone belonging to the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps found the remains of the helicopter at around 5:30 a.m. local time.

A statement issued by Iran's military said that, despite Turkey sending a drone equipped with night vision and thermal cameras, it "failed to accurately locate the crash site due to its lack of detection equipment and control points below the cloud," referring to the adverse weather conditions.

Iran Radio reported that it was “five o'clock in the morning when the correct coordinates were finally found with Iranian equipment and Iranian relief forces.”

Iran, whose military has its own drone program, was not able to deploy its drones because they were located in the northern part of the Indian Ocean at the time, the Iranian military said. Western powers have accused Iran of providing drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

With reporting by Anadolu and Reuters

Bulgarian Prosecutor Seeks Closure Of 2 Pro-Russian Paramilitary Groups

Pro-Russian demonstrators hold a rally in Sofia in May 2023.
Pro-Russian demonstrators hold a rally in Sofia in May 2023.

Two pro-Russian paramilitary organizations operating in Bulgaria should be closed because their activities violate the constitution, a district prosecutor’s office said on May 22.

The request to shut down BNO Shipka and the Vasil Levski Military Union was submitted to the district court in Varna by the local prosecutor’s office. The court is expected to schedule a hearing to consider the request.

The two paramilitary organizations are connected to one another and known for their pro-Russian rhetoric. They have been conducting combat training for years and oppose Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic affiliations, including its membership in the European Union and in NATO.

The request comes a year and a half after the state prosecutor’s office announced that it was investigating BNO Shipka for sedition.

Investigators found that the two paramilitary organizations violated the constitution’s prohibition of actions “against the sovereignty [and] territorial integrity of the country and the unity of the nation” and its prohibition of inciting hatred and creating "secret or paramilitary structures."

The Varna district prosecutor's office said members of both groups had made organized visits to the border with Turkey aimed at "catching illegal migrants."

In addition, the leaders of the two associations have maintained contacts with representatives of German political factions, including people known for their far-right beliefs, the investigators said.

The groups describe their activities as patriotic.

The leader and spokesman for the organizations, a man who introduces himself as Vladimir Rusev, has spread conspiracy theories against NATO and the European Union on social media for years. Rusev, who has gained fame in the past with the nickname Walter Kalashnikov, opposes COVID-19 vaccination, linking it to disinformation that circulated on social media during the pandemic.

Questions about the organizations were raised last year by investigative journalist Hristo Grozev, who reported that they were linked to a 2016 attempt by Russia to destabilize Bulgaria using a model deployed in Montenegro the same year.

Grozev’s investigation looked into a protest in Sofia in April 2016 organized by BNO Shipka and the Vasil Levski Military Union in front of the National Assembly. Many of the activists of the paramilitary organizations were preemptively detained before the protest.

A few months later members of the organizations beat protesters who demonstrated against the visit of the pro-Russian biker Night Wolves club to the Black Sea port city of Burgas. The Burgas district court in April 2019 convicted three people in the case.

Custody Extended For Russian Teen Jailed For Posting Ukrainian Poet

Darya Kozyreva in court earlier this year
Darya Kozyreva in court earlier this year

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A court in St. Petersburg has extended pretrial detention by another two months for an 18-year-old activist who is charged with repeatedly discrediting Russian armed forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Petrograd district court ruled on May 22 that Darya Kozyreva must stay in pretrial detention at least until July 25.

Kozyreva was detained on February 24, the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, after she glued a poster on a monument to prominent Ukrainian writer, poet, and thinker Taras Shevchenko with an excerpt of a well-known poem from his book, My Testament:

Oh bury me, then rise ye up

And break your heavy chains

And water with the tyrants' blood

The freedom you have gained.

The poster was so strongly glued to the monument that police were unable to remove it and had to cover it with a black plastic bag.

Kozyreva was initially charged with vandalism in January last year after she left a comment in December 2022 on an art installation symbolizing "friendship" between St. Petersburg and Ukraine's city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by Russian bombs at the start of the invasion.

An investigation into that case is still under way.

On December 18, 2022, less than a week after the installation was unveiled in St. Petersburg's Palace Square, the words “Murderers, you bombed it to ruins yourselves!" appeared on the installation.

Kozyreva was expelled from St. Petersburg State University in January after she was found guilty of discrediting Russia's armed forces and ordered to pay a 30,000 ruble ($330) fine in December.

That charge stemmed from Kozyreva's online posts criticizing Russian laws on discrediting the country's armed forces, which were introduced shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in late February 2022.

6 Kyrgyz, 4 Foreign Nationals Detained Over Mob Attacks In Bishkek

Pakistani students leaving Kyrgyzstan following mob attacks. Manas international airport in Bishkek. May 21, 2024
Pakistani students leaving Kyrgyzstan following mob attacks. Manas international airport in Bishkek. May 21, 2024

BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on May 22 that six Kyrgyz and four foreign citizens had been detained on suspicion of being involved in a brawl that sparked mob attacks on foreign students in Bishkek, triggering a mass exodus of Pakistani students from the Central Asian nation.

According to the ministry, nine investigations have been launched into hooliganism, robbery, mass disorder, and inciting ethnic hatred. Thirty-three people were injured in the violence, the ministry added.

Hundreds of Pakistani students have left Kyrgyzstan since the May 18 violence, which was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "people of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13.

Pakistani Students Report Food Shortages While Sheltering At University In Bishkek
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The group then pursued the students to their dormitory, where at least one foreigner was assaulted by several men and dragged along the floor.

Kyrgyz officials said later that the foreigners involved in the brawl on video were Egyptians.

The Kyrgyz government has vowed to pursue those responsible for the violence.

Still, it appeared to lay the blame for the attack on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

On May 22, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said in a statement that five Egyptian citizens were arrested on charges of extortion, illegal drug possession, and violating immigration laws.

A day earlier, the UKMK said six Pakistani nationals were detained overnight while trying to illegally enter Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan.

Just three days before the violence, the UKMK detained 28 Pakistani nationals for "working illegally" in a sewing shop in Bishkek.

The same day, Bishkek city police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan, on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

Britain Accuses China Of Working To Provide Russia With 'Lethal Aid'

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on May 16 during a two-day state visit.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on May 16 during a two-day state visit.

Britain has accused China of preparing to or already providing ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for its ongoing full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Citing U.S. and British defense intelligence, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said there was evidence that “lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine.”

“Today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine,” Shapps told a defense conference in London on May 22.

The British defense minister did not provide details or evidence to back up his claim, but his assertion, the first such accusation from a Western official, would indicate a new level of support for Moscow from Beijing and that China had pivoted to directly supporting Russia’s military.

“We should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war, China would like to present itself as a moderating influence on” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Schnapps said, adding that trade data since the Kremlin’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of invasion shows that Beijing and Moscow “are covering each other's backs.”

China has emerged as the Kremlin's leading international supporter as a vital consumer for oil and gas that has helped boost the Russian economy and by supplying Russia with key militarily useful, but nonlethal, dual-use components for the production and repair of weapons.

In April, senior U.S. officials said that Beijing was providing Moscow with drone and missile technology, satellite imagery, and machine tools.

Analyses of Chinese customs data show that in 2023 some 90 percent of “high priority” dual-use goods used in Russian weapons production was imported from China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a late April visit to China that there was no evidence that Beijing was sending weapons to Russia to use in Ukraine.

“What China is doing, or what some of its enterprises are doing, is to provide critical components for Russia’s defense industrial base, things like machine tools, microelectronics, and optics,” Blinken said during his trip to the Chinese capital.

However, Shapps' accusation would mean that China is no longer shying away from directly helping Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, where fighting is in its third year.

Putin visited China in May for a state visit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping where the pair touted their burgeoning ties as a “new era” and as “one of the main stabilizing factors in the international arena,” while criticizing the United States for “hegemonic” behavior.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Extremism Trial Of Kazakh Journalist Resumes

Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)
Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)

QONAEV, Kazakhstan -- The trial of independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is accused of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, resumed on May 22 after a pause of more than 100 days.

Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, told RFE/RL that the trial resumed after investigators concluded that his client's complaint about being tortured by jail guards was "baseless."

About 20 people came to the court in the southern town of Qonaev to support Mukhammedkarim but were not allowed to enter the building as the trial is being held behind closed doors.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken critic of the Kazakh government, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was labeled extremist and banned in the country in March 2018.

Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12 but was postponed after he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch a probe into the matter.

The journalist has held at least two hunger strikes demanding that his trial be open to the public and protesting against being held behind bars for such a long period when his trial was on hold.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international rights organizations have urged Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and immediately release him.

Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a "political prisoner."

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan consider the reforms announced by Toqaev to be cosmetic, as a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Baltics Criticize Russian Proposal On Maritime Borders; Moscow Withdraws Draft

Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)
Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)

Russia has withdrawn without explanation a Defense Ministry draft that proposed revising Moscow's maritime border in the eastern Baltic Sea and expanding its territorial waters that raised the ire of littoral NATO members Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The draft, dated May 21, was initially published on an official Russian portal of legal drafts. It proposed expanding Russia's territorial waters in the Gulf of Finland and around the Kaliningrad exclave near the maritime borders with Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland and Sweden have joined NATO, leaving Kaliningrad completely surrounded by members of the alliance.

According to the draft, expanding the border off the coast of Kaliningrad between Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk and in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland would have allowed the corresponding maritime areas to be used as internal sea waters of Russia as vessels made the trip from St. Petersburg.

It also proposed changes off the coast of Lithuania in the area of the Curonian Spit, the crescent-shaped sand dune separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.

Following the publication of the draft, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry said it was "summoning a representative of the Russian Federation for a full explanation." Moscow has not had an ambassador in Vilnius since April 2022.

Lithuania expelled Moscow's envoy and downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia following the atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

"Another Russian hybrid operation is under way, this time attempting to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their intentions in the Baltic Sea," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“Finland acts as always: calmly and based on facts,” Finnish President Alexander Stubb wrote on X.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Helsinki will monitor Russia's moves, while Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told reporters that Helsinki was "following the situation."

"We don't have any official information on what Russia is planning," she said.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson reminded Moscow that it was a signatory to the UN convention regulating maritime border changes.

“Both we and Finland assume that Russia -- which is a signatory party to that convention -- lives up to that responsibility,” Kristersson was quoted as saying by the Swedish news agency TT.

The draft was withdrawn without any explanation just hours after the wave of criticism, with an unnamed Russian diplomatic source telling Interfax that Moscow had no intention of revising its maritime borders, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there was “nothing political” in the draft.

“You see how tensions and the level of confrontation are escalating, especially in the Baltic region. This requires appropriate steps from our relevant bodies to ensure our security,” Peskov said.

News of the Russian proposal to redraw the maritime border was first reported by the Moscow Times

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Kyrgyz Activist Goes On Trial On 'Mass Unrest' Charge

Askat Jetigen
Askat Jetigen

Kyrgyz activist Askat Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, went on trial on May 22 on a charge of calling for mass unrest. Jetigen, who rejects the charge as politically motivated, was arrested in March days after his last video criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry was posted online. Human rights groups have criticized the Kyrgyz government for using the charge of "calling for mass unrest" as a tool to muzzle dissent. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Memorial Rights Group Recognizes Bashkir Activist As Political Prisoner

Fail Alsynov
Fail Alsynov

The Memorial human rights group on May 22 recognized Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov as a political prisoner. The 37-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison in January on a charge of inciting hatred that he and his supporters call politically motivated. Thousands of Alsynov's supporters have rallied before and since his sentencing, sometimes clashing with police, who have used tear gas, stun grenades, and batons to disperse the protesters. Alsynov is known for his open criticism of Bashkortostan’s Kremlin-backed chief, Radiy Khabirov, and his government. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Fire-Bomber Of Russian Embassy In Chisinau Given Suspended Sentence

Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.
Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.

A man accused of throwing two Molotov cocktails over the fence of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on March 17, the day of Russia's presidential election, has been sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid community service. The Chisinau court took into consideration that the man, whose identity has not been disclosed, admitted his guilt. Judges deducted from the sentence the time spent by the man in preventive custody and house arrest since March 17, thus ruling the sentence has been completed and he can be set free. Moscow had demanded a severe punishment for the man. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

U.S. Says Russia 'Likely' Deployed Anti-Satellite Weapon In Space; Moscow Rejects Claim

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)
Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)

The Pentagon has said Russia "likely" deployed an anti-satellite weapon in space earlier this month, a claim quickly rejected by Moscow.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told journalists during a press conference on May 21 that the new counter-space weapon was launched five days earlier into the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite.

He added Pentagon assessments "further indicate characteristics resembling previously deployed counter-space payloads from 2019 and 2022."

"Certainly, we would say that we have a responsibility to be ready to protect and defend the domain -- the space domain -- and ensure continuous and uninterrupted support to the Joint and Combined Force," he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on May 22 rejected the statement, calling it "false information from Washington."

"We always stand against the placing of assault items in the Earth orbit," Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

A growing number of nations have moved into space, with about a dozen capable of launching spacecraft. Meanwhile, about 80 nations and many private companies have assets in orbit, making the weaponization of space a global concern, even though the the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires weapons to remain on Earth.

On May 20, a UN resolution proposed by Russia against an arms race in space was not approved by the Security Council, with seven countries, including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, voting against it, and seven nations, including Russia and China, voting in favor of the resolution.

Last month, Russia vetoed a U.S. resolution against nuclear weapons in space. The U.S. representative in the UN, Robert Wood, accused Russia at the time of using manipulative tactics regarding the issue of nuclear weapons in space.

In February, media reports in the United States described Russia's nuclear ambitions in space and the nuclear potential of anti-satellite weapons as a threat to national and international security.

Amid the reports, Washington accused Russia of developing anti-satellite weapons, while President Joe Biden publicly assured Americans that neither they nor the international community face any danger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that his country "has always been categorically against and is now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space."

With reporting by AP and TASS

Former Siberian Official Suspected Of Serial Killings To Face Trial

Russia's Investigative Committee said on May 21 that the former deputy governor of the Kalman district in the Siberian region of Altai Krai, Vitaly Manishin, will face trial over the deaths of 11 women. The committee said an investigation into the case is over and that it has been sent to a court. After several women were found dead in 2000, investigators detained Aleksandr Anisimov, who had a criminal record, as a suspect. Anisimov maintained his innocence. He died after he reportedly jumped from a high-rise building while in police custody. Manishin was arrested in May 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL;'s Siberia.Realities, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Ilya Yashin Placed In Solitary Confinement

Ilya Yashin
Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been placed in solitary confinement, just ahead of a scheduled visit by his parents. Yashin said on his Telegram channel on May 22 that the prison administration sent him to solitary for 15 days on May 17 for "a delay in leaving his barracks after a wakeup command in the morning." Yashin says the move was intentional to disrupt his three-day stay with his parents on the penitentiary's premises. The visit was scheduled for May 20. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Ukraine Needs Improved Defense Against Russian Aerial Bombs, Zelenskiy Says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a plea on May 22 for upgraded defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities against guided bombs, which have been used by Russian forces to hit Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

Zelenskiy said the need for improved air defense systems was discussed at a special meeting on Ukrainian arms production and countermeasures against Russian guided aerial bombs.

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"This is a challenging topic, and while we see some good progress on electronic warfare, drones, and the missile program, there is still a lot of work to be done to counter Russian bombs," he said in a summary posted at his website.

He said Ukraine needs systems and tactics that will allow it to protect its troop positions and cities and other communities from the bombs, which he said are the "main instrument of Russian terror and the advance of the occupier."

Zelenskiy's comments came after a Russian air attack on Kharkiv injured at least nine people and set fire to a residential building, local officials said.

"One of the guided aerial bombs, according to preliminary data, hit a cafe. It is very close to a multistory residential building," Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of the investigative department of the regional police, told Ukrainian television.

Zelenskiy said earlier this month that Russia used more than 3,200 guided bombs against Ukrainian targets in April. Russia has increasingly resorted to these bombs, which are directed to a target by a guidance system, have great destructive potential, and pose fewer risks to air crews delivering them.

Commenting on the situation at the front, Zelenskiy said border issues are receiving maximum attention not only in the Kharkiv region but also in the Sumy region.

The areas of the main battles have not changed and remain primarily Pokrovsk and other areas in the Donetsk region and in the area around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian Air Force said earlier on May 22 that its air defenses shot down all 24 drones launched by Russia at targets on Ukraine's territory early in the say.

"The drones were destroyed over the Mykolayiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Sumy, and Odesa regions," the air force command said in a statement.

Separately, the Sumy city council said power lines and water pipes were damaged by falling drone debris and that the power supply to the city was disrupted. It said work was already under way to restore water and electricity to the city's inhabitants.

Zelenskiy also announced in his address that four more countries -- Albania, Austria, Chile, and Mozambique -- had agreed to attend a peace summit in Switzerland in June. The aim of the meeting is to create a broad front to oblige Russia to agree to a peace settlement under the terms of the UN Charter.

"Russian aggression has tried to turn the UN Charter into a museum exhibit," Zelenskiy said. "Our peace summit…can restore the full effectiveness and full protection of the UN Charter to every nation."

Zelenskiy's peace plan calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

Russia, which rejects the plan, has not been invited to the summit and has dismissed any discussion of the conflict without its participation as pointless.

With reporting by Reuters

Khamenei Prays Over Coffins At Funeral For Raisi, Others Killed In Helicopter Crash

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers in Tehran at the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on May 22 as thousands attended a procession for Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other officials killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend.

Khamenei presided over the start of the ceremony at a time of deepening crisis between the country's Islamic leadership and many citizens over a lack of freedoms and declining living standards. He delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi and then left the ceremony without giving a speech.

Khamenei delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi at the ceremony on May 22, three days after the accident in a remote, mountainous area of the country's northwest. Khamenei then left without giving a speech.

Crowds reached out to touch the caskets during the procession as Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby.

Besides Iran's top leaders, including the chiefs of the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

After the ceremony, the caskets of Raisi and the other victims of the crash were carried out on the shoulders of people onto a platform truck amid chants of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" from the crowds.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession, which headed toward Freedom Square in central Tehran.

The caskets were draped in Iranian flags with pictures of the deceased on them, while on Raisi's casket, a black turban was placed to mark his alleged direct descendance from Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Although Egypt and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to Tehran to attend the funeral. Tehran and Cairo have recently floated the possibility of reestablishing relations, which were cut after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing was to attend the memorial service, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, was also seen in live footage as attending. Iran has armed and supported Hamas during the ongoing war with Israel in Gaza. Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, was also present.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

According to Iranian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

WATCH: A woman who lost 11 relatives in executions in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating Raisi's death. Raisi was accused of being on a "death committee" that ordered mass executions at the time.

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

The White House, too, had harsh words for Raisi.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said Raisi's rule was "barbaric" and marked by "terror, danger, and oppression."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the death of Raisi has pushed back nuclear negotiations to improve Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"Now Iran is in a period of mourning and it should be respected, but when this period is over, we want to re-engage with Iran to improve cooperation," Rafael Grossi said on May 22 in Helsinki.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Moldova Becomes First Nation To Sign Security, Defense Pact With EU

Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.

Moldova has signed a security and defense partnership with the European Union, the first country to ink such a pact, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "This partnership will strengthen the country's resilience. It will allow for a joint approach to security challenges, make our engagement more effective, and explore new areas of cooperation," Borrell said. Moldova, led by pro-Western President Maia Sandu, has expressed hopes of joining the EU and has strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moldova’s Transdniester region, a mainly Russian-speaking sliver of land on the eastern bank of the Dniester River, declared independence in 1990. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Council Of Europe Commission Denounces Georgia's 'Foreign Agent' Law

Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.
Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.

TBILISI -- The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe said it "strongly recommends" that authorities in Georgia abandon efforts to introduce planned "foreign agent" legislation that has been condemned in the West and led to massive street protests in the South Caucasus nation.

"The Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination," its said in its "urgent opinion" published on May 21.

The commission, at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, undertook to assess the Georgia legislation, which critics say is similar to laws used in Russia to silence independent media and civil society groups.

It said it "regrets that the Georgian parliament did not wait for its opinion before adopting the law, despite the calls by the president of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the secretary-general of the Council of Europe."

The ruling Georgian Dream party, which has pushed the legislation through parliament, quickly rejected the commission’s report.

"We find many unsubstantiated and conflicting legal reasonings as well as a number of gross distortions of facts [in the conclusions], which further encourages the radicalization of specific groups," Georgian Dream member Salome Kurasbediani told a briefing.

"Obviously, all this undermines the credibility of the institution and the values it should serve," she said.

The so-called foreign agent legislation -- formally the Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence -- has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs and prompted weeks of protests that were repeatedly cracked down on violently by authorities.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Opponents have pointed to similar legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law" and see it as endangering the country's path toward EU integration.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, has vetoed the bill.

However, Georgian Dream's parliamentary majority will allow it to easily override the presidential veto.

Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said lawmakers, as expected, will override the veto in the upcoming week.

During the crackdown on protesters, dozens of people have been arrested, with many reporting beatings at the hands of security forces or roving bands of thugs.

The government, which claims the law is necessary to ensure transparency in social matters, has denied that demonstrators have been beaten.

An American And A Russian Confront Georgia's Violent Crackdown On Protests
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Bryan Bingham, 53, who says he is a tourist from the United States, told RFE/RL he was detained by security forces at a demonstration on May 13. He claims he was beaten by beaten by police wearing black masks.

"It happened very quickly," he said in an interview conducted three days later. "They pulled me through the police and dropped me on the ground."

"They beat me. And somebody punched my face."

"They quit beating me, but there were some Georgians that quickly arrived and they were being beaten badly," he said.

A pro-government media channel reported that Bingham came to Georgia to create "unrest," a claim he denies.

"How ridiculous," he said. "I came here to go backpacking, to meet some Georgian people."

Director Mohammad Rasoulof, Who Fled Iran, Will Attend Cannes

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.
Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who made a dramatic on-foot escape from Iran, will attend the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his new movie, organizers told AFP on May 21. The award-winning director will be on the French Cote d'Azur on May 24 when The Seed Of The Sacred Fig competes for the top prize Palme d'Or, festival director Thierry Fremaux said. An outspoken critic of the Iranian government, Rasoulof served two terms in Iranian jails over previous films and had his passport revoked in 2017. His new film tells the story of a judge's struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. He had come under pressure from the Iranian government to withdraw it from Cannes before the festival opened.

Chechnya's Kadyrov Replaces Sanctioned Prime Minister, Names Relative By Marriage To Post

Muslim Khuchiyev
Muslim Khuchiyev

Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian ruler of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, on May 21 said the region's prime minister, Muslim Khuchiyev, had resigned to take to another, unspecified job. Kadyrov named Highways Minister Isa Tumkhadzhiyev as acting prime minister. Tumkhadzhiyev is married to a relative of Kadyrov. Last week, close Kadyrov associate Magomed Daudov resigned as speaker of the Chechen parliament after serving in the post for nine years. Both Khuchiyev and Daudov are under U.S. and British sanctions over their alleged roles in mass violations of human rights in Chechnya. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Russia Begins Drills Of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Near Ukrainian Border

 A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)
A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)

Russian has begun the "first stage" of exercises in the Southern Military District to increase the readiness of tactical nuclear forces near the Ukrainian border, the Defense Ministry said on May 21. The ministry said the "exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons combat units to respond to and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state." Plans for the drills were announced on May 6. The West has accused President Vladimir Putin of "saber-rattling" and undertaking a "continuation of Russia's irresponsible behavior." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

U.S., EU Criticize Kosovo's 'Uncoordinated' Moves In Serb Areas

Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.
Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.

PRISTINA -- EU and U.S. officials have expressed mounting concern at uncoordinated actions by Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti's government that threaten to further raise tensions with ethnic minority Serbs in the north of that Balkan country.

Speaking to reporters in Pristina on May 21, visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Nicole Chulick urged Kosovo to "listen to the advice of its closest partners" as the partly recognized former Serbian province seeks to join Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Chulick said she had expressed concerns in meetings with Kurti and with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani about a long-promised association of Serb municipalities for dialogue with Pristina and a recent ban on the use of the Serbian dinar, which has remained in widespread use in four Serbian-dominated areas of northern Kosovo.

Kosovar police a day earlier forcibly closed and cordoned off six branches of Serbian banks operating in the region as a currency lifeline for tens of thousands of Serbs.

Pristina said the operation was aimed at establishing "order and legality."

The State Department had previously said in response to a question from RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the action had not been coordinated with Kosovo's international partners.

"Monday's operation proves again that Kosovo authorities prioritize unilateral and uncoordinated actions rather than cooperation with its friends and allies," EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a May 21 statement.

He said the seizures "without prior notice or coordination" just a few days after the last internationally mediated meeting aimed at establishing functioning Serbia-Kosovo relations "is escalatory and goes against the spirit of normalization and it undermines Kosovo's good faith in achieving normalization of relations."

Serbian and Kosovar officials have met seven times in Brussels in the span of just a few months to break the impasse over the currency ban and its effect on financial assistance from Serbia to Kosovar Serbs who make up a majority in 10 of Kosovo's 38 municipalities.

Many Kosovar Serbs don't recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and continue to receive social and other payments from Belgrade and conduct cash transactions in dinars.

Kosovo's Central Bank imposed a strict prohibition in February against use of the dinar outside of designated financial institutions, sparking an immediate outcry from Serbs and Belgrade and compounding EU and U.S. frustrations at unilateral moves by Pristina that could further destabilize a fractious region.

Pristina regards as illegal the parallel structures that Serbia encourages in health care, education, and other aspects of life in northern Kosovo.

"Knowing also the responsibilities that the Central Bank of Kosovo has, we have constantly expressed our concerns about the manner of implementation [of the dinar ban]," Chulick said at her Pristina press conference. "We have not felt that it has taken into consideration how it will affect the communities, especially the Serbian community. So, we are observing the situation and we are concerned."

A previous Kosovar government pledged as early as 2013 to establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities.

"Kosovo must continue to work on these issues, address them, and move forward again," Chulick said.

The EU spokesman echoed the U.S. linkage between progress in talks and the establishment of an entity to represent minority Serbs in Kosovo.

"The status of all Serbia-supported structures and services is foreseen to be resolved in the EU-facilitated Dialogue, in connection with the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-Majority municipalities," Stano said.

Kosovar police said the operation followed reports from financial monitors including the central bank, and included Kosovar tax authorities.

The United States and the European Union have repeatedly expressed frustration with actions by Kurti's government, including the forcible seating of ethnic Albanian mayors in four majority-Serb municipalities after boycotted elections in the north last year that sparked violent protests, injuring dozens of NATO KFOR peacekeepers.

KFOR vehicles were visible in areas where the Kosovar police were raiding the Serbian banks.

But KFOR said on May 21 that its personnel "were not involved in the conduct of these operations."

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