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Russia, Vatican To Upgrade Relations

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during his visit to Italy on December 3
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has told Pope Benedict he has decided to upgrade diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Moscow to the highest level.

"President Medvedev told Pope Benedict at today's meeting that he signed a decree concerning the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Vatican," Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova, told reporters.

The Vatican and the former Soviet Union established ties in 1990 -- a year before the collapse of the Communist state -- at the level of an office of representation, even though their representatives have always had the rank of ambassador.

The new status means that Russia and the Holy See will have full-fledged embassies in Moscow and Rome.

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Police Clash With Protesters At Tehran University

Protesters rally in Tehran on October 2. Iran has seen a rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by women.

Iranian security forces have clashed with students at a university in the capital of Tehran in the latest protests in Iran linked to the death in custody of a young woman.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, died on September 16 after she was detained for days by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Since her death, Iran has seen a rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by Iranian women.

Videos posted on social media on October 2 showed Sharif University, traditionally a hotbed of dissent, surrounded by dozens of riot police.

One of the videos showed security forces firing teargas to drive the students off the campus and the sound of what appeared to be shooting in the distance could be heard.

Another video showed security forces chasing dozens of students trapped in the university's underground parking. The account said dozens of students had been arrested.

Iranian state media described "reports of clashes" at the university and said the country's science minister visited the campus to check on the situation.

Students were protesting at numerous universities on October 2 and demonstrations were held in several cities, such as Tehran, Yazd, Kermanshah, Sanandaj, Shiraz, and Mashhad, with participants chanting "independence, freedom, death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei," earlier social media posts showed.

Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group, in a statement said that "so far 133 people have been killed across Iran," including more than 40 people it said died in clashes last week in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

With reporting by Reuters

Central, Eastern European States Back Ukraine's NATO Bid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg bump fists at a press conference in Brussels in December 2021.

Nine Central and Eastern European countries have given their backing to Ukraine's bid to join NATO and urged the Western alliance to provide Kyiv with more weapons to defend itself against invading Russian forces.

The statement, issued on October 2, was signed by the leaders of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

The joint statement comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on September 30 that Ukraine had submitted an application for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure.

That announcement came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had annexed four Ukrainian regions that are partially occupied by invading Russian forces.

Putin's declaration that Russia was annexing Donetsk, along with Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, was viewed as a major escalation by the Kremlin.

"We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory," the statement by the nine leaders said.

It said the leaders "firmly stood behind the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit decision concerning Ukraine’s future membership."

At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine and Georgia's aspirations to join, but declined to provide a clear timeline for the two countries’ possible ascension.

Asked about Ukraine's NATO bid, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told U.S. TV that "any decision on membership has to be taken by consensus all 30 allies have to agree to make such a decision."

Stoltenberg also said Ukraine’s capture of the city of Lyman, which is in Donetsk, was proof that Ukrainians are making progress and able to push back against Russian forces.

"We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing," Stoltenberg said in an interview with NBC's Meet The Press.

The best way to counter Russia's proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine is to continue supporting the government in Kyiv, Stoltenberg said.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, meanwhile, on October 2 announced the delivery of 16 wheeled armored howitzers produced in Slovakia to Ukraine next year. The weapons will be financed jointly with Denmark, Norway, and Germany.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Damaged Nord Stream 1 Pipeline Stabilized, Gas Leak Halted

A gas leak fromone of the pipelines is seen roiling Baltic Sea waters in the Swedish economic zone following a rupture on September 26.

Stable pressure has been achieved in the damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline, authorities in Denmark say, indicating the outflow of natural gas from the last leaks has now halted.

A total of four leaks were discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea near Denmark and Sweden last week.

While neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, they were filled with gas that has been spewing out and bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea since September 26.

On October 1, the Danish Energy Agency announced that gas was no longer flowing out of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Three leaks -- two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone -- were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on September 29 said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 30 accused the West of sabotaging the Russian-built pipelines, a charge denied by the United States and its allies.

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week.

"Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU," Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet on October 1 after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

"We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague," he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on October 7.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Pope Calls On Putin To Stop 'This Spiral Of Violence And Death'

Pope Francis made the remarks on October 2 in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

Pope Francis has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop "this spiral of violence and death" over the war in Ukraine.

Francis's remarks, made on October 2 in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, were some of the strongest remarks he has made since the February 24 invasion.

"My appeal is addressed first of all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death," Francis said.

"On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression suffered, I direct an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals," he said.

The Roman Catholic leader also decried the growing risk of nuclear war, calling it "absurd."

"I deeply regret the serious situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law," he said. "In fact, it increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide."

The pope's comments came two days after Putin gave a fiery Kremlin speech in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

In the September 30 speech, Putin also made veiled threats about using nuclear weapons in the conflict, echoing earlier remarks in which he warned the West "this is not a bluff."

The Kremlin had no immediate reaction to the pope's comments.

Zelenskiy Says Ukrainian Troops In Full Control Of Strategic City Of Lyman

A Ukrainian soldier takes down a Russian flag hoisted on a monument in Lyman on October 1.

Ukraine's president has declared that Ukrainian troops are in full control of the eastern city of Lyman, a strategic city in the Donbas region that Russian forces withdrew from a day earlier.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy made the brief comment in a video clip posted to his Telegram channel on October 2.

"As of 12:30 p.m., Lyman is fully cleared," he said. "Thank you to our soldiers. Glory to Ukraine."

The recapture of Lyman is the Ukrainian forces' most significant battlefield gain in weeks, and followed a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north that swept Russian forces and stunned many observers.

Lyman sits at a crossroads and a rail hub and analysts say Ukrainian troops will likely use the city as a staging post for further advances east.

The city had been the scene of intense fighting for days, with Ukrainian troops gradually encircling it and the estimated 5,000 Russian troops that were defending it.

Russia's Defense Ministry on October 1 said it was pulling troops out of the area "in connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement."

Unconfirmed reports said Russian forces there had suffered heavy casualties, and an unknown number of soldiers taken prisoner.

It was the latest setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, coming the day after he proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions that have been partly occupied by Russian forces for months now.

The Donetsk region, where Lyman is located, is one of those four regions Putin claimed.

Kyiv and the West have condemned the annexation declaration as illegal and a farce.

"The liberation of this city in the Donetsk region is one of the key factors for the further de-occupation of the Luhansk region," Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk military administration, wrote on Telegram.

Putin’s declaration that Russia was annexing Donetsk, along with Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, was a major escalation by the Kremlin. Observers said it signaled a further digging-in by the Russian leadership, dampening prospects for a peace deal.

Together with Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, the four regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territory.

Kyiv has said it will not negotiate with Moscow as long as Putin remains in power.

In the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, Ukrainian forces have been waging a parallel counteroffensive that has so far yielded few of the dramatic gains seen in Kharkiv.

Experts say Russian commanders shifted some of their most experienced and capable units away from the Donbas to Kherson in August, in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

With reporting by Reuters

Swiss Police Fire Rubber Bullets To Break Up Anti-Iranian Protests

Protesters gather in support of Iranian women and against the death of Mahsa Amini in Madrid on October 1, said to be one of the 159 rallies around the world.

Swiss police have fired rubber bullets as protesters demonstrated outside Iran's embassy in Bern, and two men climbed over the embassy's fence and pulled the Iranian flag from a flagpole.

No one was injured in the October 1 demonstrations, which were one of dozens held around the world in solidarity with protests being held inside Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman while in police custody.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, died on September 16 after she was detained for days by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Since her death, Iran has seen rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by Iranian women.

In Bern, police said they used rubber bullets after several other protesters at the unauthorized demonstration also tried to enter the embassy's yard.

The two men who entered the embassy premises were detained, police said.

Rallies were held on October 1 in 159 cities around the world, according to an Iranian human rights organization.

Iran has blamed outside forces for the protests, which are some of the largest and most sustained protests in the country in years.

A Norway-based rights group said at least 92 people have been killed across Iran amid the ongoing police crackdown on the Amini protests.

"The international community has a duty to investigate this crime and prevent further crimes from being committed by the Islamic Republic," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, said in a statement on October 2.

Activists and relatives say Amini was killed by blows to the head while she was in police custody. They've rejected authorities’ claim that she had suffered a heart attack.

News of her death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardship. That hardship has been exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions imposed in response to Iran's nuclear program.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AFP, and Swissinfo.ch

Russia Blocks Audio-Streaming Site SoundCloud, Citing Spread Of 'False Information'

The Russian state communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked access to Twitter and banned Meta's Facebook and Instagram.

Russian regulators have reportedly blocked the website of the audio-streaming app SoundCloud, citing "false information" about the war in Ukraine.

Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax reported on October 2 that communications watchdog Roskomnadzor had blocked the site at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

"Roskomnadzor restricted access to the SoundCloud service in connection with placement of materials containing false information regarding the nature of the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine," Interfax quoted the regulator as saying.

According to some reports, the order only affected the SoundCloud website; the mobile version of the app was still accessible within Russia.

Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have stepped up efforts to censor information and criticism about the war.

Lawmakers passed a law shortly after the invasion criminalizing "the distribution of false information" about the Russian armed forces, and prosecutors have charged dozens of people.

The regulator has throttled access to Twitter and banned Meta's Facebook and Instagram.

It was unclear why authorities moved against SoundCloud now. However, some media reports said broadcasts by RFE/RL's Russian Service might be the primary reason.

SoundCloud in Russia was used not only by news media, but also independent musicians, podcast authors, and others.

After the invasion, the Prosecutor-General's Office demanded that SoundCloud and other podcast platforms remove podcasts by the independent news site Mediazona and war-related productions from the BBC, Kholod, Doxa, and other media.

With reporting by Mediazona
Updated

Polls Close In Bosnian Vote Amid Little Hope For Change

Voting Kicks Off In Bosnian General Elections
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Polls have closed in Bosnia-Herzegovina after elections that were expected to bring little change to the leadership of a country racked by clientelism, corruption, and poverty.

Balloting on October 2 was held to choose the three members of the Bosnian presidency, parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels, and the president of the country's Serb-run entity. More than 60,000 observers were accredited to oversee the process.

Voter turnout was 50 percent or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

Officials said the voting had proceeded in a satisfactory manner despite reports of irregularities and the detention of some people over ballot fraud.

Voting at one polling station was suspended and five officials detained after independent monitors reported irregularities with ballots, news portal Klix had reported earlier.

After polls closed, Bosnia's international peace overseer announced he had imposed changes to the election law aimed at preventing blockades of the government.

"I imposed measures that will improve the functionality of the institutions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will enable all citizens to have their voices heard and ensure that they are truly represented by those they elected," said Christian Schmidt, who has vast powers as international high representative in Bosnia.

"It is crucial for destiny of this country that there will be no blockades," Schmidt added.

Bosnia's 3.4 million registered voters could choose from a huge slate of more than 100 parties and coalitions in the country's eighth general election, but the beleaguered Balkan state's postelection landscape will almost certainly be dominated by many of the same personalities that have thrived on existential crisis and patronage for years, and even amplified their ethnic vitriol in campaigning.

It also took place amid Russia's war in Ukraine, which has further divided Bosnia and raised fears of raising the temperature on long-simmering issues in the Balkan state.

Bosnia remains divided into a Bosniak and Croat federation and the mostly Serbian entity of Republika Srpska under the terms of the 1995 Dayton agreements that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

Toby Vogel, a Western Balkans analyst and senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council who has been critical of Western failures in Bosnia, says he doubts the vote will be "transformative."

"At the end of today, the problems in Bosnia are not linked to who's in power and who's in opposition, but to how power is structured and the exercise of power structure. These are structural problems that go back to the Dayton peace accords and the constitutional setup that they contain," he said.

Still, tight races among the tripartite federal presidency's ethnically apportioned seats, including an unprecedented challenge for the majority Bosniaks' seat, was expected to make for an interesting day of balloting.

Meanwhile, a handful of races in the upper house of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- whose seats are chosen indirectly, after the elections -- could dramatically affect obstruction efforts that have paralyzed government for years. And the results could go a long way toward answering whether Bosnia is fated, at least for the near future, to remain one of Europe's most vulnerable hotspots.

Much of the attention was also expected to focus on the Republika Srpska and its leader, Milorad Dodik, who has pushed an acceleration of the entity's secessionist efforts.

Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.

The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.


With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Exit Polls Show Party Of Bulgarian Ex-PM Borisov Winning Snap Poll

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov enters a polling station to cast his ballot in the town of Bankya on October 2.

Exit polls in Bulgaria suggest the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party of longtime leader Boyko Borisov has won snap parliamentary elections, the fourth such poll in 18 months.

An exit poll conducted by the Gallup International pollster showed GERB with 24.6 percent, apparently edging out the reformist We Continue the Change (PP) party of former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, which is expected to take 18.9 percent.

Polling data from Alpha Research had GERB with 25.5 percent, followed by PP with 19.9 percent.

It could take days before the final official results are announced. If they confirm the exit polls, Borisov will be handed a mandate to form his fourth cabinet.

Voter turnout on October 2 was estimated at about 30 percent.

Petkov and former Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, co-chairs of the PP party, later conceded and declared they will not participate in a coalition with GERB.

"It is GERB's responsibility to form a government. We promised that we will never participate in a coalition with GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and we will keep our promise," Petkov said, referring to an ethnic-Turkish-backed party, the DPS.

Vassilev added that GERB and the DPS were both a "symbol of corruption" in Bulgarian politics.

The Southeast European country of nearly 7 million people has been plagued by political gridlock since 2020, when it was rocked by nationwide protests as public anger over years of corruption boiled over.

Much of the ire was directed at longtime leader Borisov and GERB.

The latest government, led by Petkov, collapsed in June after just six months when one of its coalition partners quit. Petkov has struggled to deliver on his pledge to stamp out corruption.

He has also backed Ukraine in its fight against Russia in a country traditionally friendly toward Moscow and accuses the Kremlin of helping orchestrate the collapse of his government, which refused to pay for gas in rubles as demanded by Russia.

After casting his vote, Borisov told reporters that Bulgaria needs to clearly position itself on Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"With this, aggression, with this war with a clear aggressor in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin -- [I have] nothing against the Russian people -- with this farce with the referendums, Bulgaria must be very clear, categorical, and precise about its place in the European Union and NATO," he said, adding that Bulgaria's entry into the eurozone should be the first and most important task.

Petkov rejected recent polls as questionable and voiced confidence that the vote will yield positive results for his party.

"After this election, we will make a coalition with the Bulgarian people," Petkov told reporters after casting his ballot.

"Today's election is very important. The choice is between going back to the years of transition or to break with this period once and for all and heading to a new prosperous and reformed Bulgaria. I believe that all Bulgarians today will make the choice for Bulgaria to move forward," Petkov said.

As many as eight parties may break the 4 percent threshold needed to gain entrance to parliament and take seats in the 240-member legislature.

One of them, the far-right Revival party which has been polling at around 11 percent to 13 percent, has taken advantage of a wave of populism sweeping Europe -- as witnessed by recent gains by far-right parties in Italy and Sweden -- spurred by economic fears and uncertainty first stoked by the COVID-19 pandemic and now Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Revival party has promised to take Bulgaria out of the EU and NATO, and advance policies friendly to the Kremlin.

While many experts dismiss the anti-Western rhetoric of the Revival party as little more than campaign bluster, they do caution that the party is doing the bidding of the Kremlin.

Alpha Research polling showed Revival securing 10 percent of the vote.

With reporting by AP

UN Nuclear Watchdog Calls For Release Of Detained Ukrainian Plant Director

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with journalists after he and part of an IAEA mission come back from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant at a nearby Ukrainian checkpoint on September 1.

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog has called for the release of the director of Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, who was reportedly abducted by a Russian military patrol.

The call late on October 1 by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi came one day after Ihor Murashov was detained while travelling between the Zaporizhzhya plant and the town of Enerhodar.

Murashov "was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded, he was driven in an unknown direction," Enerhoatom, the Ukrainian state company that oversees the plant, said on Facebook.

Grossi "expressed the hope that Mr. Murashov will return to his family safely and promptly and will be able to resume his important functions at the plant," the IAEA said on Twitter.

Murashov's detention had had a "very significant impact" on him and nuclear safety and security standards, the agency said.

It's unclear exactly why Murashov was detained. Russian authorities have made no statement about the detention.

The plant and the surrounding area have been controlled by Russian forces since March, while Ukrainian staff have continued operating the plant.

Its last reactor was shut down in September because of shelling near the plant.

Kyiv and the IAEA have warned of the possibility of an environmental catastrophe because of nearby fighting.

Russia has rejected calls to create a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhya plant.

Last month, the IAEA's board of governors passed a resolution calling on Russia to end its occupation of the plant and to "immediately cease all actions" against it and "any other nuclear facility in Ukraine."

Russia and China voted against the resolution.

Iranian-American, 85, Allowed To Leave Iran, Son Released From Prison On Furlough

A photo shows Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi (right) and father Baquer Namazi, both of whom had been held in Iran.

An Iranian-American previously barred from leaving Iran is now allowed to depart and his imprisoned son was released on a furlough, the United Nations and the men's lawyer said.

The UN said in a statement on October 1 that following appeals by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Iranian president, Tehran has agreed to allow Baquer Namazi to leave the country for medical treatment and that his son, Siamak Namazi, has been granted a furlough.

Siamak Namazi, a 50-year-old Iranian-American who has been imprisoned for nearly seven years, has been allowed out of Tehran's Evin prison on a one-week, renewable furlough, lawyer Jared Genser said in a statement.

Baquer Namazi, 85, a former UNICEF official who reportedly suffers from a heart condition, had earlier been released from prison on a medical furlough but was barred from leaving Iran.

“We are delighted to share the news as announced by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Baquer Namazi's travel ban has been lifted and that, for the first time in seven years, Siamak Namazi is at home with his parents in Tehran," said Genser, who is listed as a pro bono counsel to the two men.

"While these are critical first steps, we will not rest until the Namazis can all return to the United States and their long nightmare has finally come to an end," he added.

It was not immediately clear if the moves were related to a separate announcement in which Iran's Nournews said that a regional country had mediated between Iran and the United States for the "simultaneous release of prisoners."

"In recent weeks, intensive talks, with the mediation of a regional country were held for the release of Iranian and American prisoners," the semiofficial news agency said.

It also said that "billions of dollars of Iran's frozen assets because of the U.S. sanctions will be released soon."

The two Namazi men received 10-year prison sentences in 2015 for "collaborating with the hostile American government" -- charges they both denied.

Washington also rejected the allegations and called for their immediate release.

Siamak Namazi was based in Dubai with the Crescent Petroleum Company and was detained while visiting family in Tehran in 2015.

Baquer Namazi was arrested at the Tehran airport. He served two years of his sentence before being placed on a medical furlough but was forced to remain in Iran until the latest announcement.

He suffers from a heart condition and was hospitalized several times while in prison.

With reporting by Reuters

In Visit To Moldova, German Defense Chief Promises Further Military, Energy Aid

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht shakes hands with her Moldovan counterpart Anatolie Nosatîi during a visit to Chișinau on October 1.

CHISINAU -- German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has said Berlin is prepared to provide drones and other military equipment to Moldova as Chisinau looks warily at Russia’s intensions in the region following its invasion of Ukraine.

In a joint news conference with counterpart Anatolie Nosatii on October 1, Lambrecht said that “I would not be revealing any secrets if I say that it is about the purchase of drones and other equipment."

She also said the German military is ready to provide military training to Moldova, which has a long border with Ukraine and has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has some 1,500 troops in Moldova's Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, a sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova proper and Ukraine.

In recent months, Transdniester separatists claimed that Kyiv had orchestrated what they claimed were shootings, explosions, and drone incursions, raising fears that Moldova could be drawn into the conflict in Ukraine.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu in August marked the 31st anniversary of the small nation’s independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union with a speech that included a condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a push for the country's eventual EU membership.

“Russia's unjust war against Ukraine clearly shows us the price of freedom," she told a crowd at the Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau.

Nosatii welcomed the aid his country has received from Berlin and said German assistance has been used to consolidate and repair weapons depots, inspect and secure ammunition storage, and to deactivate and make safe those that pose a danger.

Lambrecht said Berlin also realizes the importance of supporting Moldova in the wake of energy shortages stemming from the war in Ukraine.

Lambrecht on October 1 also made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, vowing to provide further military aid to Ukraine as it looks to defend against the Russian invasion.

German Defense Minister Visits Odesa, Promises Delivery Of Air-Defense System

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (file photo)

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has made an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, meeting with counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov and at one time being forced into a bomb shelter after air raid sirens blared.

Lambrecht on October 1 visited the city's grain port and inspected a Gepard antiaircraft tank that was provided by her country to help the Ukrainians defend against the Russian invasion.

Lambrecht said the antiaircraft tank would help protect "critical infrastructure" and defend against Russian air attacks.

She also said the first unit of the promised Iris-T SLM ground-based air-defense system would be delivered in the coming days.

Ukraine is scheduled to receive four of the Iris-T SLM systems. A system consists of four vehicles -- a fire-control unit and three rocket launchers -- designed to protect against attacks from the air.

Berlin has so far delivered weapons worth $719 million to Ukraine.

Still, the German government has been criticized -- sometimes even from within -- for its reluctance to provide heavy weaponry to Ukraine while other NATO members have done so.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba last month slammed Berlin for refusing to provide it with Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles it has asked for as Ukraine continues to try and push Russian forces out of territory they are occupying in the east and south of the country.

"Disappointing signals from Germany while Ukraine needs Leopards and Marders now — to liberate people and save them from genocide. Not a single rational argument on why these weapons cannot be supplied, only abstract fears and excuses," he said in an unusually blunt comment on Twitter on September 13.

"What is Berlin afraid of that Kyiv is not?" he added.

Berlin rejected Kyiv's call for battle tanks at a time when some analysts say Ukraine is gaining an upper hand in its battle against occupying Russian forces and high-tech battle vehicles would give them even more momentum.

Lambrecht at the time said that no other countries were currently supplying such vehicles and Germany would not do so unilaterally. During her visit to Odesa, Lambrecht again said Germany will continue to coordinate with its partners on such major decisions.

Earlier on October 1, Lambrecht stopped in Moldova and vowed to increase military aid to Moldova as Chisinau looks warily at Russia's intensions following its invasion of Ukraine.

Lambrecht said during her stop in the capital that negotiations on the details of the support will take place next week.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and dpa

EU Leaders To Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents On Russian Pipelines

The Nord Stream gas leak seen from a Danish defense aircraft at sea in Denmark on September 30.

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

"Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU," Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet on October 1 after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague," he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on October 7.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels "to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

"NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure," Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced "deep concern" over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents "deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage."

Three leaks -- two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone -- were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on September 29 said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

Turkey's Erdogan Renews Threat To Block NATO Bids By Sweden, Finland

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his threat to block the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland, saying he would not give his approval until the two Nordic countries kept promises he said were made to Ankara.

"Until the promises made to our country are upheld, we will maintain our principled position," Erdogan said in a speech to parliament in Ankara on October 1.

"We are closely following whether the promises made by Sweden and Finland are kept or not, and of course, the final decision will be up to our great parliament," he added without elaboration.

Ankara initially said it would veto the two countries' membership in the Western alliance, with Erdogan accusing them of providing havens for Kurdish militants operating in Turkey and for promoting what he called "terrorism."

Following negotiations, Erdogan said he would drop his objections but indicated he could still block their membership bids if they failed to follow through on promises, some of which were undisclosed.

Membership bids must be approved by all 30 NATO members. So far, only Hungary and Turkey have yet to send the membership bids to their parliaments for ratification.

The historic shifts by Sweden and Finland came in the face of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine in February and other aggressive moves by the Kremlin in the region.

Public opinion in the Nordic countries quickly turned in favor of NATO membership following the invasion.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Russia Loses Place On UN Aviation Agency's Governing Council

CANADA - Montreal, ICAO Council discussions about the plane Ryanair FR4978

Russia has not received enough votes to remain on the United Nation aviation agency’s governing council, another diplomatic blow to Moscow in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

The results were announced on October 1 at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)'s 36-country governing council’s assembly, which runs through October 7 in Montreal.

Moscow has closed its airspace to airlines from 36 countries -- including all 27 members of the European Union -- in response to Western-imposed sanctions targeting Russia's aviation sector following the Kremlin's decision to invade Ukraine in late February.

Western countries say Moscow has illegally confiscated hundreds of foreign jets, a charge the Kremlin denies.

"It's important that Russia is held accountable for its actions, and we will not be supporting Russia's nomination to the council," Omar Alghabra, Canada's transport minister, told Reuters prior to the vote.

Adina Valean, the European Union's transport commissioner, had also suggested that Russia should not continue to serve on ICAO's governing council.

"We cannot accept that a member, breaching so clearly the Chicago Convention, sits in the very council that should act as its guardian," Valean said, referring to the 1944 treaty that created the ICAO and set rules for international aviation.

"This is not about politics. It is about the fundamentals of this organization," she told the assembly.

Based on reporting by Reuters

At Least 20 Killed In Southeastern Iran In Separatist Attack

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops march during a military parade outside Tehran.

At least 20 people have been killed in clashes between Iranian security forces and armed separatists in the southeast of the country, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has said.

Four members of the IRGC, including a top officer, were among those reported killed in the attack on September 30 in the city of Zahedan, the group said in a statement.

The IRGC said Colonel Hamid Reza Hashemi, an intelligence officer in the Iranian Army's ideological arm, "succumbed to injuries he sustained during clashes with the terrorists."

At least 32 IRGC members were injured in the fighting, the local governor was quoted by state media as saying.

State media claimed the assailants hid among worshippers near a mosque in Zahedan and attacked a nearby police station.

State media did not identify the separatist group allegedly involved in the attack. The region borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and has seen attacks on security forces by ethnic Baluchi separatists.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was related to anti-government protests erupting throughout the country sparked by the death in custody a 22-year-old woman who was detained in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Officials have said she died of a heart attack, but her relatives and some rights groups have rejected that assertion saying she was in perfect health and that they believe she was beaten while being detained.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

New Pipeline Seen In Bulgaria As 'Freedom' From Russian Gas Imports

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (in red) was joined by leaders from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and North Macedonia at the opening in Sofia on October 1.

SOFIA -- A new natural-gas pipeline from Greece to Bulgaria has come into service, marking a significant step toward weening the country and others from a dependence on Russian energy imports.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was in Sofia for the occasion, said the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline would help limit Moscow's ability to pressure European Union members and other countries.

"This pipeline changes the energy-security situation for Europe," von der Leyen said. "This project means freedom."

The commissioning event was hosted by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and was attended Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as well as the presidents of Serbia and North Macedonia. Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Chuka also attended.

The project was first conceived in 2009, when Russia unilaterally stopped transiting gas through Ukraine, leaving Bulgaria and other countries in the region without gas for about a week.

The project became even more important in late April, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after Sofia rejected a demand to pay for deliveries in Russian rubles.

"People in Bulgaria and across Europe are feeling the consequences of Russia's war [against Ukraine]," von der Leyen said. "But thanks to projects like this, Europe will have enough gas for the winter."

"Europe has everything it needs to break free from our dependency on Russia," she added. "It is a matter of political will."

The 182-kilometer pipeline connects to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, which supplies natural gas from Azerbaijan. It is initially projected to provide up to 3 billion cubic meters of gas annually, but could be expanded to up to 5 billion cubic meters in the future.

"Natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria will break the strong grip of Russian gas on the region," Mitsotakis said. He urged the EU to stand up against "Russian gas blackmail."

Bulgarian project director Teodor Georgieva said the new pipeline would enable Bulgaria to help supply gas "to the Western Balkans" and "to ensure supplies to Moldova and Ukraine."

Global Solidarity Rallies Held As Amini Protests Continue In Iran

A woman cuts her hair during a protest against the Islamic regime of Iran and the death of Mahsa Amini in New York on September 27.

Iranians and their supporters around the globe are holding rallies on October 1 to show solidarity with protests inside Iran sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Rallies were being held in 159 cities around the world, including Auckland, New York, Seoul, and Zurich, the Iranians for Justice and Human Rights nongovernmental organization said in a statement.

In Brisbane, Australia, thousands from the Iranian diaspora protested under the slogan "Be our voice." In Tokyo, demonstrators carried photographs of Iranian women burning their headscarves and cutting their hair.

Inside Iran, protests continued for the 15th straight day on September 30, despite a brutal crackdown by authorities that Iranians for Justice and Human Rights claims has taken more than 80 lives.

Security forces reportedly fired live ammunition toward demonstrators in several towns and cities on September 30.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said two of its colonels had been killed in the violence, claiming that 20 IRGC troops in all had been killed.

Riot police were massing in Tehran on October 1 amid reports that university students were planning protests to call for the release of students detained at earlier rallies.

Iran has blamed outside forces for the unrest. On September 28, Iranian drone and missile strikes killed 14 people in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region after Tehran accused rebel groups there of fueling the protests.

Amini died on September 16. Activists and relatives say she was killed by blows to the head suffered while in police custody and rejected the authorities’ claim that the 22-year-old had suffered a heart attack.

News of her death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardships exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program.

Protests have erupted in more than 80 cities to denounce state violence against women and demand greater rights, freedom, and justice for women. Many of the protesters have also called for an end to the Islamic republic.

With reporting by AFP
Updated

Russia Withdraws Forces From Lyman In Major Victory For Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers pose in front of the Lyman administration office on October 1.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it has withdrawn its troops from the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman, hours after Kyiv said it had surrounded Russian forces there and a day after Moscow said it was annexing the surrounding Donetsk region.

"In connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement, allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of [Lyman] to more advantageous lines," the ministry said on October 1.

It said, without providing evidence, that it had inflicted heavy casualties on Ukrainian troops in the fight for the town.

But it added that it was forced to withdraw when "the enemy, having a significant superiority in forces and means, introduced reserves and continued the offensive in this direction."

Moments before the Russian withdrawal announcement, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said its forces had entered Lyman, a crucial rail hub that had been the target of Kyiv's counteroffensive in recent days.

"Ukrainian Air Assault Forces are entering Lyman, Donetsk region," the ministry said on Twitter on October 1.

The Twitter post included a video of two soldiers taping a Ukrainian flag up near a sign bearing the name of the town.

"We're unfurling our state flag and establishing it on our land. Lyman will be Ukraine," one of the soldiers says in the video.

Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesman for the Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces, said earlier on October 1 that Ukrainian forces had encircled Russian troops near the crucial rail hub northeast of Slovyansk.

"The Russian group in the Lyman area is surrounded," Cherevatiy said. "The settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve, and Stavky have been liberated and stabilization measures are being taken there."

Moscow has used Lyman as a logistical hub for operations in the northern part of the Donetsk region. Its fall would mark the most serious setback for Russian forces since a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive sent Russian troops reeling in the Kharkiv region last month.

Cherevatiy estimated the number of surrounded Russian troops at about 5,000, adding that Russian forces continue to try to break out of the encirclement.

One road, to the Russian-occupied city of Kreminna, appeared to remain open early on October 1, perhaps giving Russian forces one last escape route.

It was not immediately clear how many Russian troops may have escaped the encirclement nor were there any initial reports on casualties from either side in the latest fighting.

Cherevatiy added that the liberation of Lyman would enable Ukrainian forces to push into the Luhansk region "toward Kreminna and Syevyerodonetsk."

Such a move would further embarrass the Kremlin, which declared the Luhansk region fully occupied in early July.

"It is psychologically very important," Cherevatiy said, emphasizing that "the operation is not yet over."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 30 illegally proclaimed the partially occupied Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya as Russian territory, a significant political escalation that was broadly condemned by the West.

The four regions together with Crimea, which Moscow grabbed in 2014, make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territory.

Kyiv has said it will not negotiate with Moscow as long as Putin remains in power.

With reporting by Reuters

Munich Soccer Fans Unfurl Banners Supporting Iranian Player For Backing Protests In Iran

The banners were unfurled when Azmoun, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, came off the bench in the 60th minute of the match on September 30, which Bayern Munich ultimately won 4-0.

Bayern Munich fans have shown their support for Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun, who has backed anti-government protests taking place in Iran, during a match in their home stadium.

The Munich fans revealed two banners expressing solidarity with women in the Islamic republic who have been demonstrating to demand more freedoms.

The banners were unfurled when Azmoun, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, came off the bench in the 60th minute of the match on September 30, which Bayern Munich ultimately won 4-0.

One banner read "Women, life, freedom" in Persian -- a common chant heard in the Iranian protests. Another read "Solidarity with the feminist revolution in Iran" in English.

Earlier this week, Iranian soccer bloggers took screenshots of an Instagram post from Azmoun saying that because of "restrictive rules on the Team Melli (Iran), I could not say anything."

But he added that he also could not stay silent about the crackdown against the protests.

"This will never be erased from our consciousness. Shame on you!" he wrote on his Instagram account, which is followed by some 5 million people.

The post was deleted, and the entire content of his account disappeared for days.

The protests in Iran began after the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in police custody. Amini was arrested for allegedly breaching Iran's strict rules requiring women to wear an Islamic headscarf, or hijab.

Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based rights organization, has said 83 people, including children, have been killed during the two weeks of protest.

Iranian media reported on September 29 that Hossein Mahini, the retired captain of Iranian soccer giant Persepolis FC, has been arrested on charges of "encouraging riots and sympathizing with the enemy" after he posted content on social media in support of the protesters.

Based on reporting by AFP

Iran Threatens Response If U.S. Targets Drones Used In Campaign Against Kurds In Iraq

A man and woman hold up a banner depicting the image of Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, on September 24.

Iran has threatened retaliation against the United States if it targets drones that Tehran has been using to attack Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

Since September 23, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been using drones in deadly attacks targeting the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Irbil, and the eastern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah.

Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff for the Iranian armed forces, was quoted as saying that Iran would consider any U.S. response to Iranian drones as a "hostile action" and reserved the right to respond.

U.S. Central Command said on September 28 that it downed an Iranian drone on its way to Irbil, adding that the drone appeared to pose a threat to U.S. personnel in the region.

Washington confirmed on September 30 that an American was killed in the attacks the day before.

"We can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed as a result of a rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region" on September 29, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, declining to provide further details but reiterating U.S. denunciations of the strikes.

"We continue to condemn Iran's violations of Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Patel told reporters.

Iraq's state news agency said the attacks had killed least 13 people and wounded 58 others.

The attacks have been carried out against Kurdish political parties, as well as an Iranian Kurdish refugee camp, while a senior member of Komala, an exiled Iranian Kurdish opposition party, told Reuters that several of its offices had been struck as well.

The attacks come amid massive protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in custody after being arrested by the so-called morality police for allegedly wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab, improperly.

The protests started in Amini's hometown of Saghez in Iran's Kurdistan Province and quickly spread to dozens of cities and towns across Iran.

The IRGC attacks started after security forces in the city of Oshnavieh in West Azarbaijan Province temporarily lost control of the city and the soldiers stationed there were on the defensive.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it would summon the Iranian ambassador to voice Iraq's opposition to the attacks, which Baghdad considers to be a violation of its sovereignty.

The IRGC said in a statement that it would continue to target "terrorists" in the region.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Turkey Joins Condemnation Of Russian Bid To Claim Ukrainian Territories

The Moscow-appointed heads (left to right) of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, and Zaporizhzhya region, Yevgeny Balitsky, jRussian President Vladimir Putin, Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin, and Luhansk separatist leader Leonid Pasechnik react after signing treaties formally annexing the regions in Moscow on September 30.

Turkey has joined a growing international chorus in condemning Russia's attempt to illegally annex an additional four Ukrainian regions, as the three Baltic states urged NATO to open a fast track for Ukraine to join the transatlantic alliance.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on October 1 called the Russian gambit a "grave violation" of international law, noting that Ankara had also refused to recognize Russia's illegal 2014 seizure of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

"We reiterate our support for the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations," the Turkish statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 30 signed documents formalizing Russia’s attempt to annex Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions, parts of which are occupied by Russian forces. Earlier, Moscow held sham wartime referendums in the four regions that were broadly rejected by the international community.

U.S. President Joe Biden said that "these actions have no legitimacy," while countries including Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Poland also swiftly condemned Moscow's action. Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate halt to Moscow's "full-scale, unlawful invasion of Ukraine."

Late on September 30, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia issued a joint statement endorsing Kyiv's request that Ukraine be granted expedited membership in NATO.

"Ukraine's Baltic friends fully support welcoming Ukraine into NATO as soon as possible," the statement said. "Ukraine's inspirational bravery can only strengthen our alliance."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that Kyiv would seek to join the alliance immediately after Moscow's attempt to seize the four Ukrainian regions. However, the statement met a cautious response from Washington and NATO headquarters.

"Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through practical, on-the-ground support in Ukraine, and that the process in Brussels should be taken up at a different time," U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

Analysts said it was unlikely NATO would admit a country that was at war.

Russia launched its mass military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, setting off the largest war in Europe since World War II. The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced.

With reporting by dpa, AP, and Reuters
Updated

Ukraine Says Head Of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant Detained By Russian Forces

Ukrainian staff continue operating the power plant. Its last reactor was shut down in September because of shelling near the plant.

KYIV -- The director of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant has been detained by a Russian military patrol, Enerhoatom, the state firm that runs the plant, has said.

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has monitors at the plant, told Reuters it had contacted the Russian side and was "requesting clarification."

Plant Director Ihor Murashov was detained in the afternoon on September 30 while travelling between the plant and the town of Enerhodar.Enerhoatom said.

Murashov "was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded, he was driven in an unknown direction," the Enerhoatom statement said.

The nuclear power plant and the surrounding area have been controlled by Russian occupation forces since March. Kyiv and the IAEA have been warning of the possibility of an environmental catastrophe at the plant because of ongoing fighting in the vicinity.

Russia has rejected calls to create a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhya plant.

Last month the IAEA's board of governors passed a resolution calling on Russia to end its occupation of the plant and to "immediately cease all actions" against it and "any other nuclear facility in Ukraine." Russia and China voted against the resolution.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of shelling the plant.

Ukrainian staff continue operating the plant. Its last reactor was shut down in September because of shelling near the plant.

Murashov's "detention...jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe's largest nuclear power plant," Enerhoatom President Petro Kotin was quoted as saying.

Writing on Telegram, Kotin called on Russia to "stop immediately its acts of nuclear terrorism toward the management and personnel" of the plant and to release Murashov.

Russia did not immediately respond to the statement. The IAEA, which has monitors working at the plant, also did not respond.

Protests In Iran Continue Despite Violent Government Crackdown

Protesters in Sanandaj, the capital of Mahsa Amini's native Kurdistan Province, take to the streets for the 10th night in a row on September 26.

Iranians are continuing to protest the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody two weeks ago despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown will continue.

Videos posted on social media showed demonstrations taking place in several cities across the country on the evening of September 29 and the morning of September 30.

The latest wave of protests in Iran was sparked by the death Mahsa Amini on September 16 after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab, or headscarf.

Activists and relatives say Amini was killed as a result of blows to the head by police, while the authorities claim she died of a heart attack, a rare event for someone her age.

News of her death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardships exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program.

Protests have erupted in more than 80 cities to denounce state violence against women and demand greater rights, freedom, and justice for women. Many of the protesters have also called for an end to the Islamic republic.

Police have responded harshly. Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based rights organization, said 83 people, including children, have been killed during the two-weeks of protest.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that nine foreigners had been arrested in connection with the protests.

Those arrested include citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden, state news agency IRNA reported. It was not immediately clear if they held dual citizenship.

The violent response, however, has not stopped Iranians, including popular figures, from taking to the streets in protest or voicing their anger on social media.

On the evening of September 29, protesters gathered in the northeastern city of Mashhad, according to posts on social media. An officer can be seen firing at least twice at the demonstrators, thought it did not appear that anyone was hurt.

The same evening, young people in the northern city of Rasht gathered to chant anti-government slogans, according to another video.

Meanwhile, protesters can be seen running in the central city of Kerman on the evening of September 29 as gunshots ring out.

Security forces reportedly tried to prevent protesters from gathering in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz on September 30. In videos published online, women in Ahvaz can be seen chanting slogans against the government without headscarves.

Iranian media reported on September 29 that Hossein Mahini, the retired captain of Iranian soccer giant Persepolis FC, has been arrested on charges of "encouraging riots and sympathizing with the enemy" after he posted content on social media in support of the protesters.

Actress Katayon Riahi, one of the first Iranian celebrities to have removed her hijab in protest of Amini's death, reportedly fled before police showed up at her home to arrest her.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda. With reporting by AP

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