Pilgrims Flock To Iraq Shrine Despite Blasts
KARBALA -- Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have poured into Iraq's holy city of Karbala for a rite that has become an annual show of strength for the Shi'ite majority, defying bomb attacks across the country.
Many of the pilgrims have walked for days in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius to mark the birth of Imam al-Mahdi, a Messiah-like figure Shi'a believe vanished centuries ago and will return to bring peace on earth.
A bomb in a parked car struck pilgrims walking in Baghdad early on August 16, killing six and wounding 10, police said.
Late on August 15, a van packed with explosives was detonated at a bus station where pilgrims were assembling in Balad, a Shi'ite town in a mainly Sunni area north of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 40, according to police.
On August 14, a female suicide bomber killed 19 pilgrims and wounded 75 when she blew herself up amid a group making the journey on foot near Al-Iskandariyah south of Baghdad.
Authorities said they had managed to avoid bloodshed in Karbala itself after last year's pilgrimage was marked by gun battles between Shi'ite factions and Iraqi security forces.
"Thank God the situation is under control. We haven't observed any security violations. People are happy and cooperating with security forces," said Captain Abdullah Muhammad of the Iraqi army in Karbala.
"This year we haven't seen the pilgrims holding pictures of clerics or shouting against the government like last year."
Pilgrim Najim Muhammad al-Lami, 43, said he had walked for six days with his wife and two children from the southern city of Al-Basrah.
"We come every year. Last year my son was wounded by a bullet during the pilgrimage, but I insisted on coming again anyway. This year the situation is more secure and organized."
Demonstrations Of Strength
Several of Iraq's annual pilgrimages have evolved into massive demonstrations of strength for the Shi'ite majority since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who restricted Shi'ite religious practice.
The events are targets of attacks despite declining rates of violence in the country.
Iraqi security forces, backed by helicopters and hundreds of snipers on rooftops, say they will search pilgrims and use sniffer dogs to help find explosives. U.S. forces have had virtually no troops stationed in the vicinity for some time.
Authorities have banned people from carrying weapons and chanting sectarian slogans. Police in fatigues and red berets checked identity cards and searched the faithful entering the golden-domed Imam Husayn Mosque, strung with brightly colored lights.
Nearby, makeshift clinics were set up in tents. Some pilgrims donated blood.Many of the worst attacks of Iraq's war have taken place during pilgrimages.
Bombs killed 171 people during a pilgrimage in 2004, heralding Iraq's looming sectarian conflict. Rumors of a bomb on a Baghdad bridge during a pilgrimage in 2005 caused a stampede in which more than 1,000 people died, the deadliest incident of the war.
During the last major pilgrimage in July, three female suicide bombers killed nearly 30 people.
Outrage after the violence among Shi'ite groups at last year's pilgrimage prompted anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a cease-fire of his Al-Mahdi Army militia, which U.S. forces say has helped contribute to a reduction of violence.
Last week, al-Sadr formed a new social wing of his movement and said most Al-Mahdi Army fighters would disarm. The militia would begin disbanding if U.S. forces withdraw on a timetable.
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Latvia Says Ukraine Should Be Free To Strike Targets Inside Russia
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics says Ukraine should be allowed to strike military sites inside Russia as it fends off attacks on its critical infrastructure. "We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or airfields from where those operations are being launched," Rinkevics said on November 29 in an interview while attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest. NATO allies, including the United States, have held back on sending weapons that can strike Russia. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.
Ukraine's Odesa To Remove Monument To Russian Empress Catherine
Lawmakers in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa have decided to remove a monument of 18th-century Russian Empress Catherine the Great, often referred to as "the founder of Odesa," from the city center amid Moscow's ongoing invasion. The Odesa city council also voted on November 30 to remove a monument of 18th-century Russian military commander Aleksandr Suvorov from downtown Odesa. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
EU Executive Recommends Blocking Billions Of Euros In Funds To Hungary
The European Commission has proposed that billions of euros of European Union funds allocated to Hungary remain blocked over the failure of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to implement credible rule-of-law and anti-corruption reforms.
The commission said in September that the EU should freeze around 7.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) in regular funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
Budapest agreed on 17 anti-corruption measures, including the creation of an anti-corruption task force and changes to its public-procurement rules, but the commission believes it has not done enough to fix the problems.
"The commission finds that, notwithstanding steps taken, there is still a continued risk to the EU budget given that the remedial measures that still need to be fulfilled are of a structural and horizontal nature," the executive arm of the 27-member bloc said in a statement on November 30.
The money can be frozen under a recently adopted conditionality mechanism that permits the bloc to take measures to protect its budget.
The European Council, which represents the member states, has until December 19 to make a decision based on the commission's proposal.
"We are today giving our positive assessment to Hungary's comprehensive recovery and recovery plan. Regarding the rule of law, Hungary has committed to significant reforms. Only once these reforms are implemented in full will access to the EU's recovery fund be unlocked," European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference in Brussels.
Hungary's right-wing populist government has antagonized EU officials with its repeated criticism of the EU sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Orban, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, continues to block crucial EU decisions such as the disbursement of 18 billion euros of financial aid to Ukraine and a global tax deal.
With reporting by Reuters
Japarov Signs Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border Laws, Including Deal On Disputed Water Reservoir
BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has signed into law several documents on the delimitation of the border with Uzbekistan, including an agreement to jointly manage the Kempir-Abad water reservoir, a hot-button issue in the country.
The Kyrgyz presidential press service said Japarov signed the documents on November 29.
The two Central Asian countries' lawmakers approved the documents earlier this month. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has yet to sign the documents into law.
The Kempir-Abad reservoir, known in Uzbekistan as the Andijon reservoir, was built in 1983. It is located in the fertile Ferghana Valley and is a vital regional water source. Uzbekistan, whose population of 35 million is five times larger than that of Kyrgyzstan, uses most of the water from the area.
Many Kyrgyz civil activists, opposition politicians, and residents living close to the dam have opposed the deal, saying Uzbekistan should continue to be allowed to use the water, but the reservoir's land should remain within Kyrgyzstan.
Last month, more than 20 members of a group called the Kempir-Abad Defense Committee were arrested in Bishkek and detained for two months after they openly challenged the deal. They were charged with planning riots over the border deal, which is more than three decades in the making.
The former Kyrgyz ambassador to Malaysia, Azimbek Beknazarov, former lawmaker Asia Sasykbaeva, well-known politicians Kanat Isaev, Jenis Moldokmatov, and Ravshan Jeenbekov, and other noted public figures and human rights activists are among the committee members jailed.
Japarov and his allies claim the deal benefits Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyz farmers will still have access to the reservoir.
The two countries share a border more than 1,300 kilometers long.
Crimean Tatar Activist Gets 17 Years In Prison in Russia On Terrorism Charges
A court in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Marlen Mustafayev to 17 years in prison on terrorism charges.
The Crimean Solidarity public group said the Southern Military District Court sentenced Mustafayev on November 30, with the first three years of his term to be spent in a prison cell and the remainder in a correctional colony. The court added that after his release, Mustafayev will remain under parole-like control for 18 months.
Mustafayev is known for actively supporting political prisoners and assisting their families. He was arrested, along with three other Crimean Tatar activists, in Russian-occupied Crimea in February after their homes were searched.
They all were accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group that is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization but is legal in Ukraine.
All three say they are practicing Muslims and members of a group that is legal.
Since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges that rights organizations have called trumped-up.
In September, the de facto Supreme Court of Crimea sentenced a leader of the Crimean Tatar community, Nariman Dzhelyal, to 17 years in prison on a sabotage charge that he and his supporters call politically motivated.
Moscow's takeover of the peninsula was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.
Exiled from their homeland to Central Asia by Soviet authorities under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.
Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries.
Russian, Chinese Bombers Fly Joint Patrols Over Pacific
Russian and Chinese strategic bombers on November 30 flew a joint patrol over the western Pacific in a show of increasingly close defense ties between the two countries. The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Tu-95 bombers of the Russian Air Force and the Chinese H-6K bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea during an eight-hour mission. As part of the drills, the Russian bombers for the first time landed in China and the Chinese bombers flew to an air base in Russia, the ministry said. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Russian Anti-Putin Shaman's Appeal Against Extention Of Forced Psychiatric Care Denied
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- The Primorye regional court in Russia's Far East has rejected an appeal filed against the extension of forced psychiatric treatment filed by a Yakut shaman who became known across Russia for his attempts to march to Moscow to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.
Aleksandr Gabyshev's lawyer, Aleksei Pryanishnikov, said that Judge Marina Sazhneva pronounced the ruling on November 30. Pryanishnikov added that his client's right to confidentiality was violated during the hearing, as the psychiatric clinic's nurse was always present with a rope in his hands when the lawyer talked to Gabyshev.
The decision to prolong Gabyshev's forced treatment in a psychiatric clinic was made by a lower court in October after the Primorye regional court had ruled in favor of Gabyshev's appeal against the extension of his forced treatment.
That court sent the case back to the Ussuriisk district court for a new hearing, citing inconsistences in medical conclusions regarding the case.
In early August, the Ussuriisk district court ruled that Gabyshev must continue being treated in a psychiatric clinic even though a team of psychiatrists had concluded that he could be transferred from a psychiatric clinic to a regular hospital because his "condition had improved."
However, several days later, a new medical commission concluded that the shaman's mental health "had worsened" and he must be transferred back to a psychiatric clinic.
Gabyshev, who has been stopped several times by the Russian authorities since 2019 when he tried to march from his native Siberian region of Yakutia to Moscow with the stated goal of driving Putin out of office, was sent to a psychiatric clinic against his will in July last year after a court found him "mentally unfit."
During the hearing, the court accused him of committing a "violent act against a police officer" when he was being forcibly removed from his home to be taken to a psychiatric clinic in late January.
The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev's lawyers and supporters, who say his detention is an attempt to silence dissent.
The Memorial Human Rights Center in Russia has recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner and Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling for his release.
Von Der Leyen Proposes Plan To Confiscate Frozen Russian Assets, Russian War Crimes Tribunal
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has proposed a plan to confiscate Russian assets that have been frozen in the wake of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and set up a Russian war crimes tribunal.
"We have blocked 300 billion euros ($310 billion) of the Russian Central Bank reserves and we have frozen 19 billion euros ($19.6 billion) of Russian oligarchs' money," commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
She said that the EU and its partners could manage the funds and invest them in the short term, with the proceeds going to Ukraine in order to compensate for damages caused by the Russian invasion.
"We will work on an international agreement with our partners to make this possible. And together, we can find legal ways to get to it," she said.
Von der Leyen also said that the EU was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, "to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression."
"Russia's horrific crimes will not go unpunished," she said.
Sweden, Finland, And Turkey 'Make Progress' On NATO Membership
Sweden and Finland have made good progress toward an agreement with Turkey on the Nordic countries' admission to NATO, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said. "We had a very good bilateral yesterday between Sweden, Finland, and Turkey and I felt after this meeting that there is progress. We are moving forward," Billstrom told reporters on arrival for the second day of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest on November 30. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
NATO Ministers Focus On Russia Regional Destabilization Concerns
NATO foreign ministers will on November 30 seek to reassure fragile countries in Russia's neighborhood that they fear could be destabilized by Russia as the conflict in Ukraine drags on, squeezing energy supplies and pushing up prices. Speaking on November 29, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-member alliance would hold talks with Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries "facing pressure from Russia." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukrainian Forces Stave Off Multiple Attacks Amid Relentless Russian Shelling Of Energy Targets
Ukrainian forces have repelled more Russian military attacks in the east as Moscow pounded civilian settlements in central and southern Ukraine, targeting energy infrastructure, the military and regional officials said as millions of people faced power and heating shortages at the onset of winter.
Five people were killed In the eastern Donetsk region in shelling over the past day, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on November 30.
In the central Zaporizhzhya region, Russian rockets hit a gas distribution point, according to regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh.
"In one of the settlements of the Zaporizhzhya district, a gas distribution point was damaged as a result of a missile, resulting in a fire. It was quickly liquidated, but three streets remained without gas," Starukh wrote on Telegram.
No one was injured in the attack, he wrote.
Russia has launched numerous waves of attacks on Ukraine's electricity and heating infrastructure since October, an act that Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians and amounts to a war crime.
In Kyiv and its surroundings, millions of people struggled to heat their homes amid dropping temperatures and snowing.
A power company official wrote on Facebook that 985,500 people in Kyiv were without power, and another electricity provider said the city would have emergency power cuts on November 30.
A glimmer of hope was offered early on November 30 by Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, who said the stability of electricity supply was "improving every day" as technicians work around the clock to repair the damage. But Halushchenko warned that further attacks could cause additional damage.
On the front line, the Ukrainian General Staff said on November 30 its forces had repelled six Russian attacks in the past 24 hours in Donetsk and the adjacent Luhansk region.
The military said Russian troops continue to attack in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions employing tank and artillery fire. Russian air strikes were carried out near Avdiyivka, it added.
Meanwhile, Russian forces relentlessly shelled the right bank of the Dnieper River and Kherson city further south.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that Ukrainians were defending against attempted Russian advances in multiple regions, as NATO allies promised more arms for Ukraine and equipment to help restore power supplies cut by Russian strikes.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriot missile-defense systems, calling the 30-member alliance a "criminal entity" for delivering arms to what he called "Ukrainian fanatics."
WATCH: Ukrainian artillery crews make regular use of the Western-supplied M777 howitzer and say it has had a major impact against Russian forces.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, speaking in Romania, where foreign ministers from the alliance are holding a two-day gathering, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "trying to use winter as a weapon of war" as Moscow's forces lose ground on the battlefield.
U.S. and European officials said NATO ministers would focus on providing nonlethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies, and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance, while Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power-grid equipment.
U.S. President Joe Biden said providing more military aid for Kyiv was a priority, but Republicans, who take control of the House of Representatives in January, have talked about pausing the funding, which has surpassed $18 billion.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
U.S. OKs $1 Billion Arms Sale To Qatar During Key World Cup Match With Iran
The Biden administration approved a $1 billion arms sale to Qatar in a transaction unveiled on November 29 during halftime of the World Cup 2022 match between Iran and the United States. The State Department announced it had signed off on Qatar’s purchase of 10 defensive drone systems, 200 interceptors, and related equipment just as the second half of the U.S.-Iran game began. Qatar, along with other Gulf Arab states, faces threats from Iranian-backed proxies in the region. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Russian Diplomat Says Prisoner Swap With U.S. Remains Possible
Russia and the United States have been on the verge of agreement on a prisoner exchange, a senior Russian diplomat said on November 29. The Biden administration has been trying for months to negotiate the release of women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and another American. There have been a few occasions when it seemed that a decision in favor of a swap was about to be made, but it never happened, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, told reporters. Ryabkov said a deal is still possible before the year's end. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Belgian Aid Worker's Family Concerned Over Son's Hunger Strike In Iranian Prison
The family of a Belgian aid worker says their son, who is jailed in Iran, has gone on a hunger strike to protest the "inhumane" conditions of his incarceration, which they say "amount to the equivalent of torture."
Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, was detained by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.
His family said in the statement on November 29 that their last contact with him was at the start of September and that they feared that his detention in solitary confinement, along with his hunger strike that started about two weeks ago, are causing his health to fail.
They added that he finally was in contact with representatives of the Belgian Consulate in Iran.
Vandecasteele has been at the center of a controversy in Belgium over a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran.
Tehran is reportedly seeking a prisoner exchange with Brussels to take back Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was last year sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018.
The Belgian opposition has alleged that the agreement with Tehran was tailor-made to permit Assadi's release, while Iranian exiles have also mounted a fierce campaign against the deal, leading a group of 11 human rights organizations to appeal to Brussels to cancel the agreement.
Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.
During a current wave of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody.
Iranian cities continue to be the scene of anti-government protests, with videos published on social media showing protesters taking to the streets in different areas of Tehran and chanting slogans against the country's leaders amid an outcry that erupted in mid-September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood chanted the slogans for the release of rapper Toomaj Salehi from custody.
Salehi is one of 21 people who face the death penalty after being charged with what a UN official told Reuters on November 29 are "vague and broadly formulated criminal offenses."
Javaid Rehman, a UN-appointed independent expert on Iran, told Reuters in an interview that Salehi was indicted for "corruption on Earth for publication of lies on a large scale."
Meanwhile, Ali Karimi, a former player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran’s national soccer team, said in an interview that due to frequent threats from Tehran authorities, he had to leave Dubai, the city where he lives.
In an interview published by Manoto TV, a London-based Persian-language television station, the Iranian soccer star said that after his support for the protests, he was sent a message through his close relatives that a death sentence had been issued against him and could be carried out at any moment.
Iran is known to have assassinated and abducted multiple exiled opposition figures in the past, including Iranian-German dual citizen Jamshid Sharmahd and journalist Ruhollah Zam.
Karimi is one of several high-profile Iranians to support the protests.
Several Iranian celebrities have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated after showing support for the anti-government protests that have occurred daily since Amini's death.
Voria Ghafouri, who has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment and was surprisingly left out of this year's World Cup squad, was reportedly arrested on November 24, just days after expressing sympathy for Amini's family and calling for an end to the violent crackdown on protesters in his and Amini's native western Kurdistan region.
Iranian media reported that Ghafouri was released on bail on November 29.
Pressure has also been placed on an Iranian soccer legend, Ali Daei, who said he chose not to travel to Qatar for the World Cup due to the government's crackdown and said on social media on November 28 that he had received "numerous threats against myself and my family in recent months and days."
Several thousand people have also been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Jailed Belarusian Opposition Activist Kalesnikava Hospitalized In Intensive Care
Maryya Kalesnikava, a leading opposition activist in Belarus who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in September 2021, has been transferred to a hospital and is currently being treated for unspecified illness in an intensive care unit.
Viktar Babaryka, a would-be Belarusian presidential candidate in 2020, wrote on Telegram on November 29 that Kalesnikava was rushed to a hospital in the city of Homel, 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, Minsk, a day earlier.
Kalesnikava's father, Alyaksandr Kalesnikav, said she underwent surgery and was in serious but stable condition. Her doctors didn’t share her diagnosis or any other details with him about the surgery, he said.
Babaryka's press service also said that Kalesnikava had undergone surgery. It said last week that she had been put in solitary confinement for "impolite behavior."
Kalesnikava’s lawyer, Uladzimer Pylchanka, told RFE/RL that the hospital confirmed to him that his client is being treated in the facility, adding that he was not allowed to see Kalesnikava due to "the absence of the convict's request."
Pylchanka is waiting for the official response to his letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office demanding to see his client.
Kalesnikava, together with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala, formed a trio of women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2020.
Kalesnikava, 40, is the only one of the three still in the country and has been imprisoned over her role in the mass protests for more than two years.
Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after Lukashenka claimed victory in the presidential election that many people in Belarus believe she won, said the news that Kalesnikava had been hospitalized was worrying.
"We need information about her condition & must assure that she gets proper help," she said on Twitter.
It remains unclear why Kalesnikava was transferred to a hospital and what she is being treated for. Before being rushed to the hospital, Kalesnikava was in punitive solitary confinement on unspecified charges.
Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years, respectively, on September 6, 2021, after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both had pleaded not guilty and rejected the charges.
Kalesnikava was a coordinator of Babaryka’s campaign before he was excluded from running. Babaryka, the former head of Belgazprombank, was arrested weeks before the presidential election. Kalesnikava then joined Tsikhanouskaya's support group and became a prominent leader of protests demanding the resignation of Lukashenka, who was officially announced the winner of the election.
Kalesnikava has been in custody since masked men snatched her and two male colleagues from the streets of Minsk on September 7, 2020. The three were driven early the next day to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine.
Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she ripped her passport into pieces after they arrived in the no-man’s-land between Belarus and Ukraine. Her two associates entered Ukraine, but with no valid passport, Kalesnikava remained in the country and was subsequently arrested.
Human rights watchdogs in Belarus have recognized Kalesnikava and two other associates also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called her prosecution a "politically motivated conviction" on "bogus" charges.
Kalesnikava last year won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor "outstanding" civil society action in the defense of human rights.
With reporting by AP and AFP
McDonald's Restaurants In Kazakhstan Temporarily Close As Supplies Halted Amid Russia Sanctions
ASTANA -- The licensee of McDonald's in Kazakhstan has been forced to temporarily suspend operations because of supply chain issues sparked by Russia's war against Ukraine and not, government officials said, because of the arrest of a relative of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev who controls the company that operates the restaurants in the Central Asian nation.
Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangharin said on November 29 that McDonald's had suspended their operations earlier this month to help restructure operations after imports of many items needed to run the franchises were halted.
"A large chunk of needed items, about 1,000 used by McDonald's in Kazakhstan, used to be imported. The process of restructuring is under way. I have asked the Committee of Technical Regulation to provide assistance [to McDonald's franchises] with certification," Zhumangharin said when asked by reporters about the situation surrounding the closure of the restaurants.
He added that the arrest in March of Qairat Boranbaev, the owner of Food Solutions, the company that operates the franchises in Kazakhstan, "had not significantly affected" the situation.
Boranbaev is the former father-in-law of the late Aisultan Nazarbaev, a grandson of Nazarbaev.
Zhumangharin did not give any additional details.
The company uses many supplies imported from foreign countries, mainly from Russia, which was hit with Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. McDonald's subsequently exited the Russian market in May, selling all its restaurants to a local licensee, leaving Kazakh restaurants scrambling for new suppliers.
Joe LaPaille, a spokesperson for McDonald's Corporation in the United States, told Reuters on November 29 that the "McDonald's licensee in Kazakhstan has temporarily closed all of its restaurants due to local supply issues. We are working together to resume operations as quickly as possible."
Since McDonald's started its operations in Kazakhstan in February 2016, it has become extremely popular across the country, with 24 outlets operating in Astana, Almaty, Atyrau, Aqtobe, Qaraghandy, and Qostanai. McDonald's has a staff of about 2,000 people in Kazakhstan.
A source close to Food Solutions told Reuters that the company started looking for new suppliers after it started running out of packaging materials imported from Russia. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk publicly about the situation.
With reporting by Tengrinews and Reuters
Kazakh Protester Sentenced To 17 Years After Convicted In Death Of Soldier
QYZYLORDA, Kazakhstan -- A court in the southern Kazakh city of Qyzylorda has sentenced a participant in the nationwide anti-government protests in January to 17 years in prison after finding him guilty of killing a soldier by running him over with a car during the dispersal of the protests.
Judge Duman Aliev sentenced 34-year-old Qazybek Qudaibergenov on November 29. Qudaibergenov had pleaded not guilty.
His wife, Inkarim Sultanova, said there were two autopsy reports on the soldier, who was among 26 people killed during the protests in Qyzylorda, adding that the two documents contradicted each other, which makes the case against her husband dubious.
Qudaibergenov was among thousands of people arrested during and after the protests, which left 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, dead across the country. The protests were violently dispersed by police and in some parts of the country turned into deadly mass disorders.
Many in Kazakhstan, including relatives of those killed during the unrest, have demanded an explanation from President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on his decision to invite troops from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to disperse the protests, as well as his public "shoot to kill without warning" order.
The unrest occurred after a peaceful demonstration in the western region of Manghystau on January 2 over a fuel-price hike tapped into deep-seated resentment of the country's leadership.
Toqaev said at the time that the protests were caused by "20,000 terrorists" from abroad, a claim for which the authorities have provided no evidence.
Human rights groups have provided evidence that peaceful demonstrators and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by police and the military.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Aset Shyndaliev admitted in June that six people had been tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests. He said a number of security officers had been arrested in connection with the alleged torture.
In early November, Toqaev signed a decree granting amnesty to hundreds of people jailed in connection with the violence.
Rights activists say the mass amnesty was initiated to allow law enforcement officers who opened fire at unarmed demonstrators to escape responsibility for their actions.
Russia Declares Lithuanian Think Tank 'Undesirable'
Russia has declared Lithuanian think tank Riddle Russia an "undesirable" organization amid an ongoing crackdown on international and domestic NGOs, independent media, and civil society. The Prosecutor-General's Office explained the move on November 29 by saying that the think tank's activities "pose a danger to the Russian Federation's constitutional order and security." The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.
Trial Starts In Norway For Son Of Putin Ally Accused Of Flying Drone
The son of a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin denied any wrongdoing as his trial started in northern Norway, where he is accused of violating a law that bars Russians from flying drones. Andrei Yakunin, who holds both Russian and British passports, was arrested on October 17 after he had sailed around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and along the coast of Norway. The 47-year-old had been filming with the drone while mountaineering, glacier walking, and sailing, according to his lawyer, John Christian Elden, who has said that Yakunin should be considered a British citizen, rather than Russian. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iranian Teachers' Union Official Says He Was Chained To A Hospital Bed For 12 Days
The jailed spokesman of the Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council has published a letter saying that, after he was transferred from Tehran's infamous Evin prison to hospital due to illness, authorities chained him to the hospital bed for 12 days and denied him access to his lawyer and family.
The Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council published the letter written by Jafar Ebrahimi on November 28, saying it shows the "disastrous behavior of prison officials toward a sick prisoner."
"They made the hospital a worse place for me than the prison," Ebrahimi said in the letter as he described being held incommunicado from his relatives and legal team.
The Evin prison has a long history of brutal behavior toward it inmates.
In March, the hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali, which claims to work inside Iran to expose the "true face of the regime," released video footage highlighting the inhumane conditions in the country's most-notorious prison.
Ebrahimi, along with Rasul Bodaghi, Ali Akbar Baghani, and Mohammad Habibi, all teachers' union activists, were arrested by security agents on April 30, just ahead of demonstrations held in several cities on May Day, which coincided with Teachers' Day in Iran.
They were also accused of coordinating the protests with French teachers' union official Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris.
Iran has attempted to link the French nationals to the protesting Iranian teachers. The arrests were largely seen as an attempt to discredit the rallies and increase pressure on the Iranian teachers' union to stop the protests.
Iranian officials have accused the French couple of "entering the country to sow chaos and destabilize society."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Putin Proposes Creation Of 'Natural Gas Union' With Kazakhstan And Uzbekistan
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed creating a "gas union" with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to establish a mechanism to ship natural gas between the three countries and to other nations, including China.
A day after Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said he had talks with Putin in Moscow on the issue, Russian Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on November 29 that the proposal was being discussed between the three countries because there was a "need for synchronization" since they all sell natural gas.
The first stage of Putin's proposal envisages "the creation of a coordination mechanism" for the plan, Peskov said.
"The issue likely will have to be discussed with a legal entity to establish cooperation between the three nations and to secure the development of infrastructure for outer markets," Peskov said.
Toqaev's spokesman Ruslan Zheldibai wrote on Facebook on November 29 that the Kazakh and Russian presidents had discussed how "to coordinate joint actions for the transportation of Russian gas through the territories of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan."
"Presidents Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and Vladimir Putin said they think it is necessary to hold detailed talks with the participation of experts to find a rational solution to the issue that considers the interests of all involved sides," Zheldibai wrote.
Peskov noted that, since Kazakhstan's northern regions depend on natural gas transported from Siberia in Russia, it would be economically advantageous to increase Russian gas supplies instead of following through on a Kazakh government plan to build a new pipeline to secure Kazakh gas deliveries to the region. This, the Kremlin spokesman said, would save Astana "tens of billions of dollars."
Russia is known as a major natural gas exporter, while the amount of natural gas produced by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is barely enough for their own consumption.
The two major economies of the Central Asian region share a gas pipeline to Russia and a pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan to China.
Moscow has increased its natural gas deliveries to China since European nations began decreasing their dependence on Russian gas amid the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which started in late February.
With reporting by Interfax and TASS
Man Who Ran Onto Field During World Cup Game Defends 'Breaking The Rules'
An Italian who ran on to the field during a World Cup game wearing a T-shirt in support of Ukraine and Iranian women is a football player with a history of similar stunts. Mario Ferri, 35, who calls himself "The Falcon," interrupted the Portugal-Uruguay game on November 29 when he sprinted on to the field wearing a blue Superman T-shirt with "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian Woman" on the back. He also carried a rainbow-colored flag adorned with the words PACE, meaning peace in Italian. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Russia Extradites Another Native Of Tajikistan's Restive Gorno-Badakhshan
DUSHANBE -- Relatives of a Tajik man from the country's restive Gorno-Badakhshan region say Russia extradited him to Tajikistan, where he may face illegal incarceration and arbitrary prosecution.
The relatives, who spoke with RFE/RL on November 28, said 34-year-old Amid Alifshoev, who has been living in Moscow for five years, was detained by Russian police last week and extradited days later. They said that they do not know why he was detained and extradited and what charges he may face in Tajikistan.
On November 17, another Gorno-Badakhshan native, Firuz Mamadyorbekov, was arrested in Moscow and has been held incommunicado since then.
The Pamir Daily News website, which monitors developments in the region, said earlier that at least 20 of the region's natives had been detained in Moscow and forcibly taken to Tajikistan in the past six months.
Relatives and rights defenders have said that the arrests in Moscow were most likely linked to mass protests in Badakhshan that were violently dispersed by the authorities in May.
Deep tensions between the Tajik government and residents of the volatile region have simmered since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled Central Asian country, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
The latest crackdown on activists in Gorno-Badakhshan followed protests initially sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of regional Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and Rizo Nazarzoda, the mayor of the regional capital, Khorugh.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters, 29-year-old Zamir Nazrishoev, was killed by police on May 16, prompting the authorities to launch what they called a "counterterrorist operation."
The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.
Kyrgyz President Replaces Mayor Of Osh, The Country's Second-Largest City
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov on November 29 appointed Bakytbek Jetigenov as the mayor of Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, after sacking Almaz Mambetov amid media reports saying a criminal case had been launched against him. Mambetov was appointed to the post in August 2021. Jetigenov, 56, is a former lawmaker who spent one month in pretrial detention in late 2021 on a charge of plotting to seize power. He was released after the case against him was closed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Lukashenka Pays Last Respects To Belarusian Foreign Minister
Belarus's authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has bid farewell to his longtime confidant, Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey, who unexpectedly died at the age of 64 last weekend. Lukashenka arrived with flowers on November 29 at the House of Officers in Minsk, where Makey’s casket was placed. Other officials started arriving at the building after Lukashenka had left. The cause of Makey's death is yet to be officially announced. He will be buried later in the day at Minsk's Eastern cemetery. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.
'We're Dying Like Flies': Remote Russian Village Grapples With Shortage Of Men Amid Putin's War In Ukraine2
Ukrainian Troops Say M777 Howitzers Change The Course Of Battle In Donetsk Region3
Pentagon Mulling Cheap, Precision Strike Weapon For Ukraine As Arms Makers Wrestle With Demand4
'We Remain Human': Bodies Of Russian Troops Collected To Exchange For Dead Ukrainians5
Former Estonian Military Chief: 'Ukraine Has Already Won' In War With Russia6
Inside Yugoslavia's Secret Naval Tunnels7
Ukraine's Nuclear Chief Says He Sees Signs Russia May Be Leaving Occupied Nuclear Plant8
Photos Of The Week (November 21-27)9
Zelenskiy Says Russians Shelled Kherson Region 258 Times In Past Week10
Wider Europe Briefing: NATO Meeting Will Be Heavy On Symbolism, But Not Much Else; And Will The OSCE Survive?