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Albright Says Russia Still Concerned With NATO

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels in September 2009
Russia continues to view NATO as a hostile alliance, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That's the conclusion of Madeleine Albright, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton. She shared her thoughts in testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The primary question before the committee was whether NATO is remains relevant. Albright said emphatically that it does. She noted that the alliance was created only 10 years after the start of World War II, which was caused by the economic and political differences within Europe.

"NATO was created in response to the Soviet threat, but not only in response to that threat," Albright said. "It was also designed to rein in the many national rivalries that had ripped Europe apart. And this purpose of creating a Europe whole and free did not disappear with the Soviet Union and has not grown obsolete over time."

Old 'Spheres Of Influence'

But in the minds of most Russians, Moscow remains NATO's chief perceived threat. Albright said that even after the Cold War ended, Russians with whom she met couldn't shake their negative view of NATO.

That attitude has been evident in world headlines, including Russia's distaste for a missile-defense program based in Central Europe, its opposition to former communist states joining NATO, and its insistence that former Soviet republics remain within Moscow's sphere of influence.

"To [Russians], NATO's very existence served as an unwelcome reminder of the Cold War," Albright said. "From what I've been able to observe in the past decade, this mindset has not changed. And this makes dialogue more difficult, but it does not make cooperation impossible. Russia and NATO have important interests in common, and these include support for stability in Central Asia, countering terrorism and piracy, and curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction."

Another witness before the committee, Kurt Volker, a former permanent representative to NATO who is now a senior fellow and managing director of the Center on Transatlantic Relations at the Washington campus of Johns Hopkins University, said that continuing to reach out to Moscow would be good but that members of the alliance should be mindful that Russia is not a democratic country and wants to maintain the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Therefore, Volker said, NATO should keep trying to engage Russia, but understand that it looks at the world differently than the West does.

"I would say that -- as many have -- we need to be inclusive of Russia in our thinking. We need to think of Russia as a European country; we need to want Russia to be part of a Euro-Atlantic community," Volker said. "But simultaneous with that, Russia therefore would take on obligations like the rest of us to adhere to democratic values and good-neighborly relations. And we need to hold those standards very high. And, as an alliance, we need to be prudent about the way we deal with a country that doesn't share those values today."

Nation Building?

The committee also heard testimony about Afghanistan, where NATO forces are fighting a resurgent Taliban in a war that can't have been imagined when the Atlantic alliance was created in 1949. In fact, the fighting there is what led to the questions about NATO's continuing relevance -- or possibly the lack of it.

Besides providing security in Afghanistan, NATO is involved in what many call "nation building," helping the fledgling government in Kabul establish democratic institutions and foster economic well-being in a country that's been a battlefield since the Soviet invasion of 1979.

In a way, Albright sidestepped that question of whether the North Atlantic alliance be involved in nation building in a landlocked Muslim country far from Europe, saying the term "nation building" recently has become something of an epithet.

Rather, she said, the military forces in Afghanistan are merely trying to coordinate with the country's civil authorities, and help them whenever possible.

"We're not trying to create a perfect country over there, or one that has all kinds of aspects of it. It is a society that was able to govern itself for some time," Albright said. "What we have to do is try to figure out a way that the political powers over there are not corrupt, that the people are not terrified, and that there's some kind of governance procedures. So 'nation building,' to me, has all of a sudden acquired -- you know, people just hate the term. But I do think that there has to be some way that the military and the civilian aspect of this go together."

The chairman of the committee, Senator John Kerry (Democrat, Massachusetts), expressed concern that some NATO allies with forces in Afghanistan aren't letting their troops contribute much to the fight against the Taliban, focusing instead on training police and similar duties.

In Kerry's view, that creates entirely the wrong impression of why NATO is in Afghanistan.

"The default position seems to be to allow the U.S. military to run the entire show, which winds up, in my judgment, not only sending the wrong message to Afghans about our motives," Kerry said, "but actually undermines the very core of the mission itself."

There are some who believe that mission is doomed to failure and wonder if its failure would mean the end of NATO. But based on the October 22 testimony, it's clear that Albright isn't among them.

"Clearly [Afghanistan] is the prime NATO mission at this time," Albright said. "And people are saying that the success of NATO is dependent on the success in Afghanistan. I think it will play a very important role, but it isn't the only thing that NATO has to look at."

She added, "I don't think that the whole future of NATO should be judged on the basis of what happens in Afghanistan, but I do think NATO has to perform well in Afghanistan."

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Shelling Damages Nuclear Plant's Power Line, As IAEA Push For Security Zone Ramps Up

IAEA head Rafael Grossi (right) described his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as "excellent," saying that there was progress toward a setting up the safety zone.

Shelling has damaged a power line providing electricity to one of the reactors at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said as it announced that its director will travel to Moscow early next week.

The shelling forced the reactor to temporarily rely on its emergency diesel generators to run cooling systems, the IAEA said on October 7 in a news release.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The UN's nuclear watchdog said it was informed of the shelling, which took place on October 6, by senior Ukrainian operating personnel at the site.

The diesel generators supplied power to the reactor after its connection to the back-up line was cut during shelling that occurred in an industrial area outside the power plant's perimeter. The high-voltage external power line is the only one available to the plant.

The generators operated for about 90 minutes, while an alternative source of power from four of the other reactors was connected to the unit, whose core cooling was maintained at all times, the IAEA said.

"The incident once again underlined the precarious nuclear safety and security situation at Europe's largest nuclear power plant -- now located in an active war zone -- and especially the fragile and vulnerable supplies of external power that are needed for cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions," the IAEA said.

Oleksandr Starukh, the Ukrainian governor of Zaporizhzhya, said earlier on Telegram that the Russian military launched a missile attack on the regional center and its immediate surroundings.

He added that there was a risk of repeated shelling and warned people to stay indoors.

Russia seized control of the Zaporizhzhya plant shortly after it launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The plant's Ukrainian operators have remained on site to run the plant.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has praised the operators as "courageous, skilled, and experienced," saying they have been finding solutions to overcome problems that keep occurring because of the conflict.

"However, this is not a sustainable way to run a nuclear power plant. There is an urgent need to create a more stable environment for the plant and its staff," Grossi said.

Grossi visited Kyiv on October 6 for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the situation at the plant and the IAEA's proposal to set up a nuclear safety and security protection zone around it.

He described his meeting as "excellent," saying on Twitter that there was progress toward a setting up the safety zone.

Grossi will travel to Russia early next week for further consultations on the plan, the IAEA said. The agency had previously said Grossi would travel to Kyiv and Moscow this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 5 ordered the Russian state to seize complete control of the power plant after he signed decrees that Moscow claims absorb into Russia four regions that it only partially controls.

Ukraine's state nuclear energy company, Enerhoatom, dismissed Putin's move and said Russian documents regarding the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant were "worthless, absurd, and inadequate."

The IAEA on October 7 also expanded its presence at the power plant when four IAEA nuclear safety experts arrived to replace two colleagues who had been at the site since September 1.

The experts are providing independent and impartial observations and assessments of the situation at the plant. They would also provide support to the nuclear safety and security protection zone if it is established.

"Today's rotation underlines our determination that the IAEA will stay at the plant as long as it is required," Grossi said in the IAEA news release. "Their presence is necessary to help stabilize the situation, which remains very difficult and volatile."

With reporting by Reuters

Amid Major Military Setbacks In Ukraine, Russia Replaces Eastern Military District Commander

Rustam Muradov previously commanded Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

As Ukraine continues to liberate settlements in its eastern region from occupying Russian troops, Moscow has reportedly replaced another top commander in its armed forces.

The head of Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Sergei Melikov, wrote on Telegram on October 7 that North Caucasus native Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov had been appointed to lead the Eastern Military District.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The district is based in Russia's Far East, but much of its personnel is currently taking part in Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Muradov, who among other Russian officials has been slapped with Western sanctions, led troops in Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, parts of which have been under Moscow-backed separatists' control since 2014.

He also commanded Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

RBK news agency reported on October 7, citing sources close to the Russian military, that Muradov replaced Colonel General Aleksandr Chaiko, without giving any details.

There has been no official confirmation of the report.

On October 3, RBK reported that the commander of the Western Military District, Colonel General Aleksandr Zhuravlyov, had been replaced shortly after dramatic Russian losses in northeastern Ukraine in September and Ukraine's recapture of the strategic city of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

In September, General Dmitry Bulgakov, deputy defense minister in charge of logistics, was replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who is accused by the European Union of orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol early in the war that killed thousands of civilians.

In August, Russian state media said the commander of the Black Sea fleet had been fired after Ukraine carried out several successful attacks, including the sinking of Russia's missile cruiser Moskva and the loss of eight warplanes in an attack on a Russian base in Ukraine's Crimea that was seized by Moscow in 2014.

With reporting by RBK

Tajik Blogger Imomali Goes On Trial On Charges Rights Groups Call Unfounded

Daleri Imomali (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- Tajik blogger Daleri Imomali has gone on trial in Dushanbe on charges human rights organizations call unfounded.

Sources close to prosecutor's office in Dushanbe told RFE/RL on October 7 that The Shohmansur district court in the Tajik capital started the trial behind closed doors on that day.

Imomali is charged with illegal entrepreneurship, premeditated false denunciation, and cooperating with the banned Group 24 opposition movement, which was officially designated in the country as a terrorist organization in 2014.

In March 2015, the movement's founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul, Turkey.

Imomali pleaded guilty to the illegal entrepreneurship charge, but rejected the other two. If convicted, Imomali faces more than 10 years in prison.

Known for his articles critical of the government, Imomali was detained along with noted journalist Abdullo Ghurbati on June 15 and sent to pretrial detention three days later.

Ghurbati was sentenced on October 4 to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges of publicly insulting an authority, minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group. Ghurbati pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have demanded Tajik officials immediately release Imomali and Ghurbati.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Russia's Veteran Rights Defender, Ukrainian Nurse Awarded Politkovskaya Prize

Svetlana Gannushkina has been involved in assisting Ukrainian refugees who had to leave their homes after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in late February and for those Russian citizens who are not part of the war in Ukraine.

Russian human rights defender Svetlana Gannushkina and a Ukrainian delivery nurse from Mariupol, Tetyana Sokolova, have won an international award for their efforts to help people affected by Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Gannushkina and Sokolova were honored as the winners of the London-based organization RAW in WAR's (Reach All Women in War) Anna Politkovskaya Award on October 6.

Gannushkina, chairwoman of the Moscow-based Civil Assistance rights group, has been involved in assisting Ukrainian refugees who had to leave their homes after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in late February and for those Russian citizens who are not part of the war in Ukraine.

The 80-year-old human rights activist was detained by police in Moscow in February during a protest against the war in Ukraine.

Sokolova continues to work in a maternity hospital in Mariupol despite constant shelling of the building by Russian armed forces. She said 27 children were born in the maternity hospital's basement in 45 days at the time.

WATCH: Tetyana Sokolova recalls not only working under fire, but also the everyday dramas of war: women breastfeeding other babies amid a milk formula shortage, and a heartbreaking stillbirth in the basement.

Birth Under Fire: Mariupol Midwife Recalls Daily Horrors Of Working Under Siege
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The award is named after Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya and was assassinated on October 7, 2006.

Iranian Digital Rights Activists Arrested For Protesting Nationwide Internet Shutdown

Iranian students remove their headscarves in support of protests following the death of Mahsa Amini.

Prominent digital rights and Internet freedom activists Amir (Jadi) Mirmirani and Milad Nouri have reportedly been arrested by security forces in Iran along with several other activists.

The arrests, reported on social media by friends and family members of those detained, come amid weeks-long nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death last month of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by Iran's morality police for "improperly" wearing the mandatory head scarf, or hijab.

As protests continue, the Iranian government has imposed a near-total Internet shutdown.

Mirmirani has informed the public many times about Iran's partner companies cutting off the Internet in recent years.

His arrest comes after he repeatedly accused Iranian IT companies SahabPardaz and ArvanCloud of being involved in cutting off Internet access in order to facilitate the suppression of protests.

Four other digital activists -- Arian Eghbal, Mohsen Tahmasbi, Adel Talebi, and Meysam Rajabi -- are among other digital rights activists who have reportedly been arrested for protesting the Internet shutdown in recent days.

Videos published on social media overnight on October 6 by other activists showed protests being held in at least five cities of Iran, including Tehran, Rasht, Islamshahr, Bokan, and Kermanshah.

A video obtained by Radio Farda purportedly shows security forces in Tehran attempting to detain a young man while what appear to be bystanders intervene and help him escape.

Another video, apparently shot in the northern Iranian city of Rasht on October 7, shows a group of schoolgirls coming into the street and chanting slogans against the Islamic republic.

International support for Iran’s protests continues, with prominent personalities taking a stance in favor of the protesters.

After French Oscar-winning actresses Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard posted videos of themselves cutting their hair in support of women in Iran, British author J.K. Rowling has once again voiced her backing of Iranian women protesters.

"We must see justice for #MahsaAmini, #NikaShakarami, and all Iranian women currently being killed, beaten, and raped for standing up for their human rights. This is femicide," Rowling tweeted.

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

Head Of Nobel-Winning Ukrainian Rights Group Calls For International Tribunal For Putin, Lukashenka

Ukrainian human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviychuk heads the rights group Ukraine's Center For Civil Liberties, which was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize on October 7.

The head of a Ukrainian human rights group that has won the Nobel Peace Prize says Russian President Vladimir Putin should face an international tribunal for launching his ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that has claimed thousands of lives.

Oleksandra Matviychuk, who leads Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), said hours after the group was named as a Nobel Peace Prize winner on October 7 that to "give the hundreds of thousands of victims of war crimes a chance to see is necessary to create an international tribunal and bring Putin, (Belarus ruler Alyaksandr) Lukashenka and other war criminals to justice."

"The UN and its member-states should conduct international peace and security reform to create guarantees for all countries and their citizens, regardless of their participation or non-participation in military blocs or military capacity. Russia should be excluded from the UN Security Council for systematic violations of the UN charter," Matviychuk added in a post on Facebook.

The CCL shared this year's Nobel with Russian human rights group Memorial and jailed Belarusian dissident Ales Byalyatski, who founded the rights group Vyasna.

Former Kazakh Security Council Official Gets Seven Years In Prison On Treason Charge

The former deputy secretary of Kazakhstan's Security Council, Marat Shaikhutdinov, has been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of high treason and espionage. (file photo)

ASTANA -- The former deputy secretary of Kazakhstan's Security Council, Marat Shaikhutdinov, has been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of high treason and espionage.

The Committee of National Security (UQK) said on October 7 that Shaikhutdinov's verdict and sentence had been announced on September 21.

The UQK added that two other men in the case, Leonid Skakovsky and Oleg Zhdan, had also been handed prison terms.

Skakovsky was sentenced to 11 years and three months on a high treason charge, while Zhdan got 11 years in prison after he was convicted of espionage.

The KNB statement did not give any other details.

The 63-year-old Shaikhutdinov had served as deputy secretary of Kazakhstan’s Security Council since 2009. In 2015 he was promoted to the post of first deputy secretary.

In late March this year, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev removed him from the post.


Iranian Forensic Report Denies Amini Died From Injuries, Blames 'Underlying Diseases'

Witnesses and Mahsa Amini's family maintain that the 22-year-old was beaten by the morality police after being arrested. She fell into a coma and died in a hospital three days later.

An Iranian coroner's report says Mahsa Amini's death was not caused by blows to the head or limbs but was instead linked to disease, disputing family objections that the 22-year-old was in good health when taken into custody for purportedly wearing a hijab improperly.

The state-controlled ISNA news agency said on October 7 that the Forensic Medicine Organization had determined "underlying diseases" were the cause of death while making no mention of whether she had suffered any injuries.

A report on state television added the forensic report showed Amini's death was related to "surgery for a brain tumor at the age of 8."

Amini was arrested on September 13 by Iran's morality police and died three days later.

Eyewitness accounts said Amini had been beaten during her arrest while her father has said she suffered bruises to her legs, and has held the police responsible for her death, which has sparked a wave of protests across the country over the treatment of women and poor living conditions in the country in general.

Meanwhile, the mother of a 16-year-old who was killed during a demonstration in support of Amini has rejected official claims that her daughter fell from a building, saying she died from blows to the head.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Nasreem Shakrami said she had come under pressure from the authorities to follow the government's narrative -- that her child fell from the upper floor of a building -- concerning her death.

Shakrami said the authorities kept her daughter Nika's death a secret for nine days and then snatched the body from a morgue to bury her in a remote area, against the family's wishes.

She said that a forensics report showed Nika's body was intact, but that some of her teeth, some bones in her face, and in the back of her skull were broken, leading her to believe he daughter was beaten.

"The damage was to her head," she said. "Her body was intact, arms and legs."

At least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest, according to a human rights group, with the government warning that the harsh crackdown by security forces against any dissent will continue.

However, the spontaneous protests have shown signs of broadening across the country and among different parts of society.

Goodwill Ambassador Says She Told UNICEF About Children Reportedly Killed In Iran Protests

Protests triggered by the death of a young Iranian woman after she was detained by the notorious morality police for not wearing the mandatory hijab properly have been violently suppressed by the government over the past three weeks.

Iranian actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mahtab Keramati said she has informed the UN Children's Fund about reports of children being killed during the ongoing protests in Iran.

Protests triggered by the death of a young Iranian woman after she was detained by the notorious morality police for not wearing the mandatory hijab properly have been violently suppressed by the government over the past three weeks.

At least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest, according to a human rights group.

"I have raised all these issues with UNICEF officials in Iran and will follow up on this matter," Keramati wrote on her Instagram account on October 6, adding that she condemned any violence, especially against women and children.

She had been widely criticized on social media for being silent about the suppression of children.

In response, she said her silence does not mean passivity or a lack of empathy.

"I am aware of the heartbreaking reports related to the killing, wounding, and arrest of a number of children and teenagers in protests and the use of children under the age of 18 to confront the protesters," Keramati wrote in an Instagram post.

However, her post was deleted from her Instagram account hours later.

Ashkan Pouyan, a neurosurgeon in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan, on October 5 published a picture on social media of a bullet that was removed from the body of a 13-year-old child who was shot in his back in the September 30 massacre in the city.

Pouyan was later reported on social media as missing, while his social network accounts were also disabled.

In recent days, images were posted on Twitter and Instagram of Tehran children appearing to be under the age of 18 wearing helmets and armed with batons which were used to suppress the protesters.

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

Co-Owner Of Siberian Mall Destroyed By Fire Handed Prison Term

Firefighters work to extinguish the fire that engulfed the Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping mall in Kemerovo, killing 60 people, in March 2018.

KEMEROVO, Russia -- The former director general and co-owner of a shopping mall that was destroyed by a fire in 2018, killing 60 people including 37 children, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

The central district court in the city of Kemerovo sentenced Vyacheslav Vishnevsky on October 7 after he pleaded guilty to bribing the former director of the regional construction control agency, Tanzilya Komkova, to obtain a permission to renovate the building of a factory in the city and turn it into the Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) mall.

The mall was destroyed by the March 2018 blaze, one of the deadliest in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The court also ordered Vishnevsky to pay a fine of 21 million rubles ($346,600).

Vyacheslav Vishnevsky, the co-owner of the Zimnyaya Vishnya mall, under interrogation in Kemerovo in April 2020
Vyacheslav Vishnevsky, the co-owner of the Zimnyaya Vishnya mall, under interrogation in Kemerovo in April 2020

Vishnevsky said he paid Komkova 7 million rubles ($115,500) and got permission for the renovation and documents allowing the renovated building to be used as a shopping mall.

Investigators concluded that the renovation of the building was made with violations of fire safety regulations that led to the tragedy. They said blocked fire exits, an alarm system that was turned off, and "glaring violations" of safety rules before the blaze started contributed to the high death toll.

Vishnevsky resided in the European Union from 2016. He was arrested in Poland in 2019 at Moscow's request and extradited to Russia in March 2020.

Komkova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on a charge of bribe-taking in December last year. Several other regional officials involved in the case were also sentenced to lengthy prison terms at the time.

In October 2021, managers and security officers of the mall were handed prison terms of between five and 14 years on charges of violating fire safety rules and negligence that led to loss of human lives.

A total of 16 people, including leaders of the regional Emergency Ministry, have been charged with crimes that investigators say led to or aggravated the tragedy.


Nobel Committee Champions Human Rights With 2022 Peace Prize

Ales Byalyatski, the founder of Belarus's Vyasna human rights group, was among the three recipients of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize announced on October 7. (file photo)

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights activists in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine against the backdrop of harsh crackdowns by Minsk and Moscow on dissent and the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.

The head of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said on October 7 that jailed Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian rights group Memorial, and Ukraine's Center For Civil Liberties, had been awarded the prize for 2022.

The committee said the laureates have made an outstanding effort to document "war crimes, human right abuses, and the abuse of power" while demonstrating "the significance of civil society for peace and democracy."

Despite the announcement coming on the 70th birthday of President Vladimir Putin, Norwegian Nobel Committee chief Berit Reiss-Andersen said that while the awarding of the prize to those critical of him and regimes like his was not a direct message to the Russian leader, it was a way to highlight the "way civil society and human rights advocates are being suppressed."

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the decision, calling the winners "unswerving defenders of human rights in Europe."

"Ales Byalyatski, the Memorial NGO in Russia and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine: the Nobel Peace Prize pays tribute to unswerving defenders of human rights in Europe. As peacemakers, they can count on France's support," Macron wrote on Twitter.

The 60-year-old Byalyatski, who founded the Vyasna (Spring) rights group in Belarus, is currently in prison on tax evasion charges his supporters have rejected as politically motivated.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, said she was proud that Byalyatski received the award and it will mean the world will pay more attention to Belarus and its political prisoners.

"Of course, I would like to hug him. I remember the last time when we met each other he said: 'Svyatlana, do what you do. Defend Belarus on the international stage. Talk about us. We, as human rights defenders, will do our job,'" she told RFE/RL's Belarus Service during a meeting of EU political leaders in Prague.

Tsikhanouskaya: Nobel Peace Prize Will 'Draw Attention To The Issue Of Political Prisoners' In Belarus
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She added that the award shows how important Belarus is the European context.

"I hope that this will give our political friends certain push to draw attention to Belarus even more, work more, put pressure on the regime so that all political prisoners, including Ales Byalyatski, will be released as soon as possible."

Since a 2020 presidential election handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in power despite opposition and international cries that the vote was rigged, thousands of people have been beaten, detained, and tortured by security forces for voicing dissent.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Hlaz said a number of decisions by the Nobel Committee in recent years had been "so politicized that…Alfred Nobel had to turn over in his coffin." He added in comments quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the Belarusian government "simply lost all interest in it at a certain stage."

Russia's Supreme Court shut Memorial, one of the country's most respected human rights organizations, last December saying the group had violated the controversial law on "foreign agents."

Memorial has since created a new group, Memorial, The Center To Defend Human Rights, which operates without the status of being a legal entity.

The prize was announced on the same day that a court in Moscow was holding a hearing on seizing Memorial's assets, the rights group noted.

"Putin has banned Memorial, but the world recognizes true heros," said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.

Lana Estemirova, the daughter of Natalya Estemirova, the slain head of the Memorial Human Rights Center's office in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, told RFE/RL that she "cried and was emotionally overwhelmed" when she heard that Memorial was named by the committee.

"Memorial is just an incredibly important organization for the Caucasus," she said, adding that winning the award will be a blow to the Kremlin-backed, authoritarian leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

"For [Kadyrov], Memorial and my mom were opponents whom he was ready to destroy. They criticized his activities openly and were not scared of him," Estemirova said.

Kadyrov has been accused by Memorial and other rights groups of overseeing abuses against perceived opponents, roundups and summary procedures by law enforcement, as well as numerous intimidation tactics since taking power with the Kremlin's backing in 2007.

Natalya Estemirova led Memorial's office in Chechnya and documented extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and other abuses by law enforcement officers in the region before she disappeared in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, on July 15, 2009.

Her body was found hours later in neighboring Ingushetia with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Nobody has been convicted of her killing.

The Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, founded in 2007, has worked to strengthen Ukraine's civil society while also pushing to further the rule of law and adherence to international law.

Its work documenting war crimes and human rights violations has gained importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"Proud to be awarded #NobelPeacePrize, this is a recognition of work of many human rights activists in Ukraine and not only in Ukraine," the group said in a tweet.

Leaders Of Armenia, Azerbaijan Agree To Civilian EU Mission Along Border

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, French President Emmanuel Macron, and EU Council President Charles Michel met in Prague on October 6.

The European Council says the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met on the sidelines of a summit in Prague and agreed to a civilian EU mission alongside their common border, where clashes last month killed more than 200 people in the worst flare-up of fighting between the two Caucasus neighbors since 2020.

The council said in a statement on October 7 that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in the presence of the EU Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the margins of the first gathering of the European Political Community.

Pashinian agreed to “facilitate a civilian EU mission alongside the border with Azerbaijan,” according to the statement released early on October 7.

Azerbaijan “agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned,” the statement said.

The civilian European Union mission will start later this month and will last for a maximum of two months, the statement said, adding that the next meeting of a border delimitation commission will take place in Brussels by the end of the month.

The statement said the two sides have reaffirmed the recognition of each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

"Armenia and Azerbaijan confirmed their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Alma Ata 1991 Declaration through which both recognize each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty," the statement said.

"The aim of this mission is to build confidence and, through its reports, to contribute to the border commissions," the council said.

Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

The two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russia-brokered cease-fire resulted in Armenia losing control over parts of the region, which is part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent districts.

Under the cease-fire Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

EU Leaders No Closer To Price Cap On Russian Gas After Informal Summit In Prague

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a meeting of the European Political Community at Prague Castle on October 6.

European Union leaders have agreed to give more financial and military aid to Ukraine, but they were no closer to deciding on whether or how to cap gas prices after holding an informal summit in Prague on October 7.

Most of the EU's 27 countries want a cap on gas prices to deal with soaring prices amid a decline in gas supplies from Russia. The EU has been discussing a price cap for weeks, but disagreements over details of how to do it have left it without a result.

Gas and electricity prices have skyrocketed because of Russia's turning off the taps in response to the EU slapping successive waves of sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a "road map" of measures to help ease the burden -- including a potential price cap.

Ideas include capping the price of Russian gas imports, reducing the price of other gas imports, limiting the price of gas used for electricity generation, and capping the price of gas transactions within the bloc.

"Everyone agrees we need to lower power prices but there is no agreement what instruments to use to that end exactly," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin also said that "lots of work needed to be done" still before an agreement emerges.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the bloc's executive later this month will present EU leaders with a broader package of short-term measures to lower prices and longer-term steps to redesign the electricity market.

As the meeting in Prague closed, France announced it has created a fund for Ukraine to directly buy weapons and other materiel directly from arms manufacturers.

"We are setting up this special, dedicated fund initially with 100 million euros to allow the acquisition of equipment that we have already delivered and that we will continue to do so in terms of weapons, meaning defensive ones," President Emmanuel Macron said.

He added that discussions were being held, particularly with Denmark, to deliver more highly accurate CAESAR truck-mounted cannons to Ukraine. This would be in addition to the 18 it has already given.

The bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said earlier during the summit that he wanted the bloc to earmark more money for military support for Ukraine, including for training, and that specific proposals on that could be approved later this month.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would make an important contribution to the European training mission.

On the gas price cap matter, Scholz said the meeting had helped clear "misunderstandings" about Berlin's plan to spend up to 200 billion euros ($196 billion) in subsidies to shield German consumers and businesses from soaring energy costs.

Morawiecki had criticized the plan as an attempt to use the crisis to gain a competitive advantage for German businesses. Scholz countered by saying that other EU countries, including France and the Netherlands, had their own support measures in place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the EU leaders virtually, calling for more air systems to defend Ukrainian energy infrastructure from Russian strikes.

"Russia brought war to our land...and only thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian people stopped this invasion by Russia, Russia cannot yet bring the same war to other parts of Europe, in particular, the Baltic countries, Poland, and Moldova," Zelenskiy said, according to a transcript on his website.

He also called for international pressure to remove Russian troops from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in occupied Ukraine, and for funds to rebuild Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

Biden Says Risk Of Nuclear 'Armageddon' High As Moscow Sustains More Ukraine Setbacks

U.S. President Joe Biden told U.S. media on October 6 that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "not joking" when he made thinly veiled threats to use his nuclear arsenal in Ukraine. (file photo)

Ukrainian forces pressed ahead with their counteroffensive to liberate Moscow-occupied territories, handing Russian forces a series of defeats that have prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to warn the threat of the Kremlin using nuclear weapons was the highest in six decades.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled threats to use his nuclear arsenal in Ukraine, and Biden told U.S. media on October 6 that Putin was "not joking."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [the time of U.S. President John F.] Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis" in 1962, Biden said in New York, adding that "we're trying to figure out what is Putin's off-ramp."

In 1962, the United States under Kennedy and the Soviet Union under its leader, Nikita Khrushchev, came close to using nuclear weapons over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Russia last week officially incorporated four Ukrainian regions that it only partially controls in a move that violated international law, and Putin, who marks his 70th birthday on October 7, said Moscow would see Ukrainian attacks on those regions as attacks on Russia itself and would use all means to defend them.

The move came amid rapid Ukrainian advances, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announcing on October 6 more wins in Kherson, one of the four regions claimed by Moscow.

"More than 500 square kilometers have been liberated from Russian occupiers in the Kherson region alone" since the start of the month, Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address.

The recaptured territory was home to dozens of towns and villages that had been occupied by Russian forces for months, southern army command spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said.

Kherson, a region with an estimated prewar population of around 1 million people, was captured early and easily by Moscow's troops after their invasion launched on February 24.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were also advancing in Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and voiced optimism about recapturing territory lost in the southeast in Zaporyzhzhya -- the fourth of the regions illegally declared by Moscow as part of the Russian Federation.

"There are successes in the east as well. The day will surely come when we will report on successes in the Zaporyzhzhya region as well, in those areas that the occupiers still control," the president said.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Russian forces, meanwhile, struck the city of Zaporyzhzhya again on October 6. A missile demolished an apartment block and killed 11 people in the city, the emergency services said.

In a separate video address to a new security and energy cooperation forum gathered in Prague, Zelenskiy accused Russia of deliberately targeting the same spot twice in succession.

"In Zaporyzhzhya, after the first rocket strike today, when people came to pick apart the rubble, Russia conducted a second rocket strike. Absolute vileness, absolute evil," he told the European Political Community.

Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians.

In the Kharkiv region in the northeast, a Ukrainian general said on October 6 that Kyiv's forces had advanced up to about 55 kilometers over the past two weeks.

In the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian troops had blown up a dam near the city of Slavyansk as they withdrew, inundating the nearby town of Rayhorodok.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

As Ukrainian forces continued to make advances into several of the four regions seized by Moscow, a senior Russian lawmaker called on military officials to tell the truth about developments on the ground.

"We need to stop lying," the chairman of the lower house of parliament's defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, told a journalist from state-run media.

"The reports of the Defense Ministry do not change. The people know. Our people are not stupid. This can lead to loss of credibility."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Russian Service

European Parliament President Says Citizens Must Know Sanctions Are Price Paid For Democracy

Roberta Metsola, who spoke with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the European Political Community on October 6 in Prague, said the impact of sanctions imposed thus far is starting to be felt and more could be drafted. (file photo)

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola hinted that the European Union could impose more sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying in an interview with RFE/RL that the bloc's citizens must understand "the price that is being paid for democracy has to continue to be paid."

Metsola, who spoke with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the European Political Community on October 6 in Prague, said the impact of sanctions imposed thus far is starting to be felt and more could be drafted.

"If you ask the European Parliament, there can always be more sanctions. There can always be more people put on the sanctions list," she said.

While saying the sanctions "have started to bite," she added: "Are they enough to bring [Russian President Vladimir] Putin down? Are there enough to make sure that the circle around Putin's regime actually feels them? I would say that we need to do more," she said.

The EU’s eighth sanctions package targeting Russia over its war in Ukraine was officially adopted on October 6 after gaining final approval the previous day.

The package, which was formalized in the absence of any objections from the 27 EU members, is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.

Metsola, a Maltese politician who has been president of the European Parliament since January, acknowledged there have been concerns over how much longer EU citizens be willing to take the toughest of measures amid soaring energy costs and inflation, but said it's important that "Ukraine fatigue" does not set in.

The recent "sham" referendums that Russia organized in four occupied territories combined with Putin's "panicked" military mobilization had the opposite effect, she said.

"I don't think that fatigue has set in yet," she added, noting that Europe welcomed 7 million Ukrainians who fled the war.

Metsola also expressed concern about "gaps" in the enforcement of sanctions particularly among some countries that would like to join the EU or are on the path to join.

But she said she would look at all countries in terms of enforcement, whether member states, EU member hopefuls, or EU neighboring countries.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak

European Leaders Hold Inaugural Meeting Of New Forum In Context Of War In Ukraine

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian arrives in Prague, where he said he will meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Leaders from more than 40 countries gathered for the inaugural summit of a new forum aiming to bring Europe together in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.

The stated aim of the 44-member European Political Community -- a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron -- is to improve cooperation between European Union countries and nonmembers such as Britain, Turkey, and the states of the Western Balkans and the Caucasus region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not invited, and the war in Ukraine loomed over the meeting as discussions focused on the economic and security turmoil sparked by Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion.

The summit on October 6 in Prague was billed as "a platform for political coordination," but there were few concrete outcomes, though Macron was upbeat.

"It sends first of all a message of unity," Macron said. "The objective is first of all to share a common reading of the situation affecting our Europe and also to build a common strategy."

Among those who attended at the historic Prague Castle on October 6 are the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Switzerland.

"If you just look at the attendance here, you see the importance," said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

"The whole European continent is here, except two countries: Belarus and Russia. So it shows how isolated those two countries are."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Europe to punish Moscow and up arms supplies in a video address.

"Here and now, I urge you to make a basic decision. A decision about purpose for this community of ours. For this format of ours," Zelenskiy said. "We, the leaders of Europe, can become the leaders of peace. Our European political community can become a European community of peace."

British Prime Minister Liz Truss stressed that the meeting was not an "EU construct" as she focused on unity and security.

"It is very important that we work with our neighbors and allies to face down Putin but also deal with the issues we face," she told U.K. broadcasters.

Among the important meetings on the sidelines of the summit was the first face-to-face meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev since deadly clashes between the foes last month in the worst violence since a 2020 war.

The sit-down with Macron and European Council President Charles Michel to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh came as the two sides look to draft the text of a future peace treaty.

"I hope [the] outcome of the meeting will be positive," Aliyev said prior to the meeting in response to a question from RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "Talks will advance and we’ll eventually sign a peace treaty."

The next meeting of the European Political Community will be held in Moldova at the suggestion of Michel. The proposal was met with approval from European leaders gathered in Prague, a spokesperson for Michel said.

Moldova, bordering Ukraine and one of the poorest countries in Europe, is not a member of the European Union but was granted candidate status for membership in June.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa,, and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Opposition In Bosnia's Republika Srpska Presses For Vote Recount Alleging Voter Fraud

Jelena Trivic addressing at protest of opposition parties in Banja Luka

Representatives of the opposition in Republika Srpska and their supporters gathered on October 6 in Banja Luka to protest the results of the election for president of Republika Srpska on October 2 and to press their demand for a recount.

The central streets of Banja Luka were blocked by the protest march, which police said drew about 2,500 people.

Organizers said the turnout was more than 30,000 people, who marched through Banja Luka without incident before gathering on the town's main square.

"Mile, thief!" and "Mile, go away!" they chanted in a reference to longtime nationalist leader Milorad Dodik.

The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the List for Justice and Order are demanding a recount of votes for president amid reports of dozens of election irregularities.

The opposition parties in Republika Srpska, one of two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, maintain the candidate they backed, Jelena Trivic (PDP), defeated Dodik.

"It is not me who was robbed, it is the popular will, it is the people of Republika Srpska, and I will never recognize that," Trivic -- a 39-year-old professor of economics -- told the crowd.

"They rob the people every day of the year, but on [election] day the people were robbed in a brutal and mafia-style way," she added.

According to the results counted so far by the Central Election Commission, Dodik of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) won about 281,000 votes. Trivic won around 252,000 votes, or around 30,000 fewer votes.

Dodik, who has denied the election fraud allegations, has been the most powerful politician in Republika Srpska for years. He has close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while the United States and Britain have sanctioned him for allegedly trying to undermine peace and stability in the country.

The opposition and Trivic said the protesters who marched on October 6 were "defending the constitutional order of the Republika Srpska."

Milan Radovic, deputy president of the SDS, said the protests "defend the will of the people and the votes. If you keep pushing, Banja Luka will be full of people, so let's show who won the elections."

Trivic and the opposition parties that support her claim that votes were stolen on election night in the cities of Prijedor, Zvornik, and Doboj.

"We want to open those famous bags and reveal the real truth," said Branislav Borenovic, leader of the PDP.

A coalition of civil organizations that monitored the elections recorded 83 serious election irregularities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina during the vote.

These include violations of the voting process, violations of rules pertaining to assistance in voting, and pressure on voters.

The Prosecutor-General's Office and the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) received 27 reports from citizens.

The election for the Republika Srpska presidency was one of several contests held on October 2 that saw a range of candidates run for posts in the Balkan country's two entities.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has been governed by an administrative system created by the Dayton peace accords in 1995 that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

With reporting by AFP and AP

U.S. Hits Hijab Compliance Officer, Other Iranians With Sanctions Over Crackdown On Protests

Among those targeted by the sanctions is Yadollah Javani, the police chief in Tehran who oversees much of the morality police’s activities to ensure hijab compliance in the capital. (file photo)

The United States has imposed sanctions on seven high-ranking Iranian officials over the shutdown of Internet access in the country and the “continued violence against peaceful protesters” following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the morality police.

Among those designated for sanctions on October 6 is Yadollah Javani, the lthe police chief in Tehran who oversees much of the morality police’s activities to ensure hijab compliance in the capital.

Amini was detained on September 13 by the morality police for improperly wearing a hijab, the head scarf women must wear in public under Iranian law.

The U.S. Treasury Department said that, in addition to Javani, the officials designated for sanctions include Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, Communications Minister Eisa Zarepour, and Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid, the head of the Iranian Cyberpolice.

The United States also targeted Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials Hossein Nejat, a commander who it said heads the security apparatus based in Tehran that is charged with quelling anti-government protests.

The designations together with the release of a license authorizing exports of additional tools to assist Iranians in accessing the Internet demonstrate U.S. commitment to free, peaceful assembly, and open communication, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in the statement that the United States condemns the Iranian government’s Internet shutdown and "continued violent suppression of peaceful protest and will not hesitate to target those who direct and support such actions."

The sanctions designation freezes any assets or property interests owned by the seven officials in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving them without special permission from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Since Amini's death on September 16, anti-government street protests have rocked the country, and the government has responded with a fierce crackdown.

Human Rights Watch said that at least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed over the past 18 days during the protests over Amini's death.

Amnesty International said on October 6 that at least 66 were killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in southeastern Iran during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on September 30.

Authorities have reported numerous deaths among the security forces and have accused foreign adversaries, including the United States and Israel, of meddling to destabilize Iran.

On September 22, the United States imposed sanctions on the morality police and other senior leaders of Iran’s security organizations over allegations concerning the abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Two Russians Apply For Asylum In U.S. State Of Alaska After Fleeing To Avoid Military Service

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski's office said it had been in communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection about the two Russians. (file photo)

Two Russians who said they fled their home country to avoid compulsory military service have requested asylum in the United States after landing on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski's office said on October 6.

A spokeswoman for Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) said Murkowski's office has been in communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about the two Russians.

"The Russian nationals reported that they fled one of the coastal communities on the east coast of Russia to avoid compulsory military service," said Karina Borger.

Murkowski and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (Republican-Alaska) issued a statement saying they were trying to determine who the individuals are.

"Given current heightened tensions with Russia, I called the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and spoke to him as well as another senior DHS official when I was first contacted about this situation on Tuesday morning by a senior community leader from the Bering Strait region,” Murkowski said in the statement.

She said since those calls, CBP has been “responding and going through the process to determine the admissibility of these individuals to enter the United States.”

The statement said the individuals landed at a beach near Gambell, an isolated community on St. Lawrence Island about 320 kilometers southwest of Nome and about 58 kilometers from the Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia.

A DHS statement quoted by the AP said the individuals arrived on a small boat on October 4. The statement did not provide details on where the individuals came from, their journey, or the asylum request.

They have been "transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then subsequently processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act," the statement said.

With reporting by AP

West Rebuked In UN Rights Council Vote To Debate China's Treatment Of Uyghur Muslims

It was only the second time in the Human Rights Council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected. (file photo)

In a rare defeat for Western nations at the UN Human Rights Council, developing nations voted down a motion to hold a debate over alleged human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region after a UN report found possible crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslims.

The motion, pushed for by the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, was defeated 19-17 with 11 abstentions as countries from Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East banded together.

Many developing countries in the 47-member council are thought to have avoided publicly defying Beijing for fear of jeopardizing Chinese investment.

It was only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected, prompting some analysts to characterize the failure as a setback to both accountability efforts and the West's moral authority.

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, noted extreme disappointment with the fact that Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and Qatar all voted down the motion.

"This is a disaster. This is really disappointing," Isa said.

The vote came about after then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a report describing China's "appalling treatment" of Uyghurs and other minorities.

Bachelet's report, which followed a trip to the region, came just minutes before she left her post on August 31.

China has been accused for years of detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region.

The UN Human Rights Office could not confirm how many people were affected by the centers but concluded that the system operated on a "wide scale" across the entire region.

Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Initial Probe Of Nord Stream Leaks Strengthens Sabotage Suspicions, Swedish Investigators Say

A photo taken from a Danish fighter jet on September 27 shows a gas leak from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

Sweden's security police and prosecutor's office say a preliminary investigation into leaks from two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea has strengthened suspicions of sabotage as the cause.

The Swedish Security Police said on October 6 that the probe confirmed that “detonations" caused “extensive damage” to the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last week.

The service didn't give details about its investigation, but a separate statement from the Swedish prosecutor who led the preliminary investigation said “seizures have been made at the crime scene and these will now be investigated.”

The prosecutor, Mats Ljungqvist, did not identify the seized evidence, but he said he had given “directives to temporarily block [the area] and carry out a crime scene investigation."

The governments of Denmark and Sweden previously said they suspected that several hundred pounds of explosives were involved in carrying out a deliberate act of sabotage.

The EU and NATO also called the explosions “sabotage,” with some EU officials accusing Russia of being behind the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and pointed the finger at the United States, an accusation that Washington immediately dismissed.

Leaks in four places along the pipelines in the Swedish and Danish exclusive economic zones in the Baltic Sea lasted about a week, discharging huge amounts of methane into the air.

The pipelines -- built to carry Russian natural gas supplied by Kremlin-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom to Germany -- were filled with Russian gas at the time of the explosions, but were not operational due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine and tensions with Russia.

Russia earlier this year slashed exports through Nord Stream 1, claiming Western sanctions on equipment and services impaired its ability to maintain the pipeline. Nord Stream 2, the newer pipeline, was never put into operation.

The Nord Stream operators, based in Switzerland, said this week that they were unable to inspect the damaged sections because of restrictions imposed by Danish and Swedish authorities who had cordoned off the area.

The statement from Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the area where gas spewed out was no longer cordoned off.

Russia said on October 6 that it had been informed through diplomatic channels that it was not able to join the investigation.

"As of now, there are no plans to ask the Russian side to join investigations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow replied it was not possible to conduct an objective investigation without its participation.

Sweden's justice minister said it was not possible to let others take part in a Swedish criminal investigation.

Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told Reuters on October 6 that his ministry had not told Russia to stay out of the investigation, but that a police-led taskforce comprising members from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany was in charge of the investigation.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

Three Jehovah's Witness Get Prison Terms In Russian-Annexed Crimea Amid Crackdown

Jehovah's Witnesses" Volodymyr Maladyka (left), Yevhen Zhukov (center), and Volodymyr Sakada were each sentenced to six years in prison on October 6.

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced three Jehovah's Witnesses to prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.

The Crimean Solidarity human rights group said on October 6 that the Nakhimov district court in the city of Sevastopol sentenced Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada to six years in prison each after finding them guilty of organizing activities for the group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017 but is legal in Ukraine.

The court also ruled that, after serving their prison terms, the three men will be placed under parole-like controls for one year. They were also banned from publicly expressing their views and from publishing articles in media and on the Internet for seven years after finishing their prison sentences.

The case against Zhukov, Maladyka, Sakada, and a fourth believer, Ihor Shmidt, was launched in October 2020 after their homes were searched.

Shmidt was tried separately and sentenced to six year in prison in late October last year.

Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.

The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were either convicted of extremism or are being held in pretrial detention.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who've been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

Russia Submits Preliminary Objection To Genocide Case Brought By Ukraine In UN Court

The Hague-based International Court of Justice is the supreme judicial institution of the United Nations. (file photo)

Russia has submitted a preliminary objection to a genocide case brought by Ukraine against Russia, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on October 6.

The UN’s highest court said on Twitter that it had received the filing, which has not been made public, on October 3.

Moscow argued in a letter to the court earlier this year that the court -- the UN’s highest for disputes between states -- did not have jurisdiction because the Genocide Convention does not regulate the use of force between states.

Parties can file preliminary objections with the ICJ if they believe the court does not have jurisdiction.

Ukraine filed the case shortly after Russia's invasion began on February 24, saying that Moscow's stated justification for the invasion -- that it was acting to prevent a genocide in eastern Ukraine -- was unfounded.

During hearings in March, Ukraine said there was no threat of genocide in eastern Ukraine, and that the UN's 1948 Genocide Convention, which both countries have signed, does not allow an invasion to prevent an invasion.

ICJ judges subsequently ordered Russia to stop the invasion as an emergency measure while it looked into the merits of Ukraine's claim.

The Kremlin rejected that order, saying both sides would have to agree to end the hostilities for the ruling to be implemented.

The next step in the case will be a hearing on the objection against the jurisdiction of the court. No date has been set.

The Hague-based ICJ resolves legal complaints submitted by states over alleged breaches of international law. It is the supreme judicial institution of the United Nations.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Amnesty Says Dozens Killed By Iranian Security Forces In Southeast Amid Protests

Iran has been rocked by protests since the death of a young woman in police custody last month.

Amnesty International said dozens have been killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province as unrest across Iran continues to build.

The rights group said in a report on October 6 that Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders, and worshippers during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 September in Zahedan.

Since then, another 16 people were killed in separate incidents in Zahedan amid an ongoing clampdown on protests that have broadened in recent weeks since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody after being detained for improperly wearing an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

“The Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in the report.

"The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lackluster response by the international community,” she added.

Since Amini's death on September 16, anti-government street protests have rocked the country.

Reports overnight on October 5 said demonstrations took place in the cities of Talesh, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Qom and Tehran.

In the northern Iranian city of Talesh, a group of young people blocked the streets by lighting fires, while in the western city of Kermanshah, a group of women rallied under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom." In a sign of support, passing cars continuously honked their horns.

In the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, many people gathered in the residential areas of the city and chanted "Don't be afraid; We are all together."

In Tehran, groups of girls took off their hijab while accompanied by boys, and then marched defiantly in the Tajrish neighborhood, while in another part of the city a group of protesters confronted security forces with the slogans "Shameless" and "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a video sent to RFERL’s Radio Farda, security forces on motorcycles can be seen firing tear gas at protesters' cars in Tehran's Parkway neighborhood.

Amnesty's death toll for Zahedan comes after Human Rights Watch said that at least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed over the past 18 days during the protests over Amini's death.

"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said on October 5.

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

Belarusian Strongman Lukashenka Bans Price Hikes To Curb Inflation

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarus' authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has banned price increases as he looks to tackle accelerating inflation in a country wracked by Western sanctions over his disputed election and support for Russia in Moscow's war against Ukraine.

Lukashenka announced the move on October 6 at a meeting with government officials.

"As of the 6th [of October], all price increases are banned. Banned! As of today. Not tomorrow, today. This is so no one can drive up prices in the next 24 hours. That is why price increases are banned as of today," Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka explained his decision by citing what he called an "outrageous" rise in food prices in recent months.

"Prices cannot go higher... But there are exclusions, and those exclusions are under the control of the [economy] minister and governors," Lukashenka added without providing further details.

Lukashenka said that for the January-September period, inflation was 13 percent, and could have quickened further to 19 percent by the end of the year if no measure had been undertaken.

He ordered the government and the central bank to take measures to slow inflation to 7-8 percent by January 2023.

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