Georgian Exit Polls Show Incumbent Ugulava Winning Reelection As Tbilisi Mayor
Georgians cast ballots to elect 64 new municipal councils for four-year terms in voting that's seen as the first test of the strength Saakashvili's government since the disastrous August 2008 war with Russia.
The most crucial test, however, is in the capital, Tbilisi, which, in addition to choosing a city council, is also directly electing its mayor for the first time.
That race, observers say, will largely set the political landscape for parliamentary elections in 2012 and a presidential poll in 2013, when Saakashvili's second and final term as president expires.
Two exit polls showed incumbent Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, a member of Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement and a close ally of the president, with a commanding lead.
One poll, conducted by Edison Research for Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV, gives Ugulava 61 percent, with Irakli Alasania, leader of the opposition Alliance For Georgia, coming in a distant second with 17 percent. Another exit poll conducted by GfK and commissioned by the Georgian Public Broadcaster gave Ugulava 60 percent and Alasania 18 percent.
Both Ugulava and Alasania are widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions.
Final results from the May 30 voting are not expected until at least midnight tonight local time.
Giga Bokeria, Georgia's deputy foreign minister and a member of a newly formed task force for free and fair elections, says that in contrast to previous polls, this round of elections has focused largely on bread-and-butter issues of local governance and has been surprisingly free of political grandstanding.
"I would say that these elections are the first in my short memory where a critical mass, an overwhelming majority, of political parties -- not just the ruling party but the opposition parties, as well -- have run an issues-based campaign," Bokeria told RFE/RL on the eve of the vote.
"We didn't have that before. That was one of the problems of the political culture in Georgia. So I think that is one very important step forward."
Julie Giorgadze, a spokeswoman for the Central Election Commission, said voting proceeded “without obstacles.”
Turnout appeared to be brisk in Tbilisi, with long lines forming at polling stations throughout the morning. By 5 p.m. local time, three hours before polls closed, the Electoral Commission said turnout had reached approximately 40 percent, both in the capital and nationwide.
Speaking briefly to reporters after voting in the morning, Ugulava called the elections “historic” and praised his opponents for what he called a hard-fought but “businesslike” campaign.
"I am sure there will be high turnout because it is the first time the residents of Tbilisi will elect a mayor," Ugulava said. "I want to thank all the candidates because it has been a really interesting campaign. All the candidates tried to express their views on how to improve the city.
"I hope and believe that the election will be transparent and fair. It will be one more step toward democracy. We need democracy to foster greater stability."
Ugulava, who analysts consider the leading presidential contender for 2013, has been aided by Saakashvili's strong public support and by a wave of frantic construction and urban renewal projects in the capital, which the opposition considers an unfair political use of his "administrative resources" as mayor.
'Voted For Change'
Alasania, Georgia's former ambassador to the United Nations, who leads a newly formed opposition coalition called The Alliance For Georgia, cautioned against trusting the exit polls in remarks to reporters.
“Exit polls do not give a real picture. Only the actual vote tabulation will give us a real picture. We will make an assessment only afterwards,” Alasania said.
Alasania smiled broadly and gave his trademark thumbs-up to reporters after casting his ballot.
"I feel great," he said. "The weather is beautiful and I am sure turnout will be high. I am certain the elections will proceed normally. I voted for change."
The soft-spoken Alasania, who won plaudits in Western capitals for his calming presence during the war with Russia, quit his UN post in December 2008 over opposition to Saakashvili's policies. Since then he has sought to establish himself as a mainstream alternative to both Saakashvili and Georgia’s noisy and often rambunctious opposition.
He is widely expected to run for president in 2013.
Prior to the vote, public opinion polls showed a clear advantage for Ugulava in Tbilisi and for the ruling United National Movement across the country.
Speaking to RFE/RL on the eve of the vote, Alasania called the election "a test for democracy in Georgia." Alasania said he was not concerned by his weak showing in public opinion polls. He added that there were "a lot of silent voters" -- particularly young first-time voters -- who would come to the polls to support him.
WATCH: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili casts his ballot, praises the vote, and predicts victory for the ruling United National Movement:
"I'm confident and I am very optimistic. Throughout all the meetings I had [with voters] over the past month and a half, I feel that we defeated the pessimism that was in society ahead of these elections," he said.
"More people now are saying they will come out to vote and participate. More people understand how important these elections are to begin changes here on the local level and then on the central level."
'Back On Track'
Speaking to reporters after voting in the afternoon, Saakashvili called the elections "the best since independence" and confidently predicted victory for the United National Movement.
"Georgia is back on the European track. Georgia is back on the economic development track," he said. "We have performed almost miracles in this area. We have the freest electoral system and democracy in this part of the world, and we are very proud."
The vote was closely watched, with hundreds of international observers from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring the polls.
The Election Media Center, a monitoring group set up by three local watchdogs – Transparency International, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and the International Society for Fair Elections – released a statement ahead of the poll saying that there were "fewer violations" in terms of voter intimidation in the run-up to the vote than in previous elections.
The report said the Georgian authorities were striving to “gain a positive assessment from the international community” but noted that reports of voter and candidate intimidation were more frequent in the regions than in Tbilisi.
Opposition candidates in the Tbilisi mayoral race have complained that the threshold for winning the election outright in the first round -- avoiding a runoff -- was set by authorities at just 30 percent – a move they say clearly favors the incumbent.
The ruling United National Movement and the Christian Democrats, a self-styled opposition party that often supports the government, announced on May 29 that they had hired buses to bring their supporters to polling stations.
A similar practice during parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008 led to allegations of so-called “merry-go-round voting,” in which voters were ferried to cast several ballots at various polling stations. Representatives of the ruling party deny the allegation and insist that the process will be transparent.
Kherson Regional Governor Says Further Rising Of Water Level Expected Downstream Of Breached Dam
Oleksandr Prokudin, the governor of Ukraine's Kherson region, says that water levels will continue to rise downstream of the breach in the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper, despite a reduction in the intensity of the flooding. "According to our forecasts, the water level will increase by another meter in the next 20 hours," Prokudin said in a video message. He said that more than 1,450 people have been evacuated from the right bank of the Dnieper, where some 1,850 houses have been flooded. Ihor Syrota, the head of Ukrhydroenerho, Ukraine's hydroelectric power authority, said the water was expected to peak early on June 7. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Ukrainian Forces Advance In Bakhmut Area, Zelenskiy Says, As Fighting In East Sees Uptick
Ukrainian troops fought off more than a dozen Russian assaults in Donetsk, the military said early on June 7, as fighting appears to be intensifying in eastern Ukraine amid expectations of a long-planned Ukrainian counteroffensive, while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy commended his forces for what he said were advances around Bakhmut, the focal point of the monthslong clash in the Donbas. "Our defenders repelled all 13 enemy attacks around the town of Maryinka," the military said. Zelenskiy, in an evening video message, said, "I want to celebrate today our heroes on the Bakhmut front.... Well done, soldiers...thank you! Thanks for moving forward!" To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Finland To Expel Nine Russian Embassy Employees Over 'Intelligence' Activities
Finland will expel nine diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Helsinki for "acting in an intelligence capacity," the Finnish president's office said on June 6. "Their actions are contrary to the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations," the president's office said in a statement, adding that it would inform the Russian ambassador of the expulsions. The decision was made at a meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and the country's ministerial committee on foreign and security policy. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Students Say Authorities Ratcheting Up Pressure On Campus Over Dress Code
Iranian student organizations have reported a significant wave of summonses at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran in a continued tightening of supervision of the dress code after months of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
The country's Student Guild Councils reported on June 5 that, during the past week, a significant number of students from the University of Science and Technology were summoned to the Disciplinary Committee, as well as at least 11 professors. The reasons cited for these summonses ranged from a refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules to what university authorities have termed "inappropriate dress".
In addition to the summoning of students to the Disciplinary Committee, patrolling security forces have reportedly harassed students under the pretext of the dress code while they are walking on the university campus.
The Student Guild Councils said the intrusion into the lives of students has even extended to the dormitories, where curfew infractions have been cited.
In addition to students, at least 11 professors at the University of Science and Technology have also been summoned by the Faculty Disciplinary Board in recent days. They said they were summoned for signing a statement protesting against "the attacks carried out on schools and female students."
Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.
There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.
According to a report by the "Committee for Following Up on the Situation of Detainees," since the beginning of the nationwide protests in September 2022, more than 720 students have been arrested, some of whom are still under arrest.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iranian Embassy Reopens In Saudi Capital
Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 6, Saudi media reported, months after the two regional rivals agreed to end a diplomatic rift under a China-mediated deal. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to reestablish relations following years of hostility that has endangered stability in the Middle East and fueled regional conflicts including in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The deal was struck seven years after Sunni Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shi'ite Iran following the storming of its embassy in Tehran during a dispute over the execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
- By Current Time
Russian Anti-War Activist Deported From Kyrgyzstan Charged With Arson Attack
Russian anti-war activist and anarchist Aleksei Rozhkov was deported from Kyrgyzstan in late May and is currently in pretrial detention in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg for allegedly setting the building of a military recruitment center in the town of Beryozovsky on fire in March 2022, the Zona Solidarnosti (Solidarity Zone) rights project said on June 6. Rozhkov left Russia for Kyrgyzstan in December after Russian authorities equated arson attacks targeting military recruitment centers to terrorism amid a sharp rise in such incidents after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Sabalenka Says She Does Not Support War, Lukashenka After Defeating Ukrainian At French Open
Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka says she does not want her country to be in any conflict and she does not support the war in Ukraine or its authoritarian ruler. "I don't support war, meaning I don't support Alyaksandr Lukashenka," Sabalenka told a press conference on June 6 after her quarterfinal victory against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine at the French Open. Sabalenka opted out of press conferences last week, citing mental health reasons after being grilled about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Belarus being used as a staging ground for Russian troops. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Belarusian Prosecutors Seek 25 Years In Prison For Self-Exiled Activist
Prosecutors have asked the Minsk City Court to sentence self-exiled opposition activist Vadzim Prakopyeu to 25 years in prison on multiple charges, including coordinating an attempted arson attack at the house of a pro-government lawmaker, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, Aleh Haydukevich, in June 2021.
Prosecutor Maksim Chuprys asked Judge Syarhey Khrypach on June 6 to convict Prakopyeu on 14 charges related to terrorism and the illegal possession of firearms.
Prakopyeu and two former law enforcement officers, Ihar Chamyakin and Dzyanis Khamitsevich, are being tried separately in absentia after they fled the country and whose current whereabouts are unknown.
Fifteen other defendants in the case are involved in a separate trial that started on March 6.
Also on June 6, the @MAYDAYMog human rights group said that police in the city of Barysau near Minsk had arrested noted rights defender Aleh Matskevich on unspecified charges last week.
Separately, the Belarusian Interior Ministry published a video on June 6 which shows the leader of the People's Student Chorus at the Belarusian State University, Volha Minyankova, offering an apology for her refusal to bring her chorus to parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region controlled by Russian troops.
It is not clear whether Minyankova's "repentance" video statement was recorded under duress, or if she is currently in custody.
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election where Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner.
Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
U.S. Levies Sanctions On Iranian, Chinese Companies Over Ballistic Missile Programs
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States has sanctioned seven individuals and six entities from Iran, China, and Hong Kong who the U.S. Treasury Department says have helped Tehran get key technology for ballistic missile development.
In a statement on June 6, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), accused the individuals and entities of conducting financial transactions facilitating the network to procure parts needed for missile development.
The statement said the six companies sold sensitive centrifuges, metals, and radar materials to key actors in the previously sanctioned Iranian Defense Ministry and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) agency.
The sanctions come as Washington steadily increases pressure on Iran to stop expanding its missile program.
“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller has called Iran’s development and proliferation of these missiles “a serious threat to regional and international security.”
He told reporters at a briefing late last month that the United States will continue to use a variety of tools, including sanctions, “to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others."
Included in the sanctions are Chinese companies Zhejiang Qingji and Lingoe Process Engineering. Additionally, the director of Zhejiang Qingji and an employee of the company have been personally designated for financial dealings and acting as transport for MODAFL in Iran.
Two other companies, Hong Kong Ke.Do International Trade and the Chinese based Qingdao Zhongrongtong Trade Development, which the Treasury Department said collaborated to sell tens of millions of dollars’ worth of metals for Iranian missile system development.
The Chinese based Beijing Shiny Nights Technology Development Company was also hit with sanctions for acting as a front company for MODAFL to procure electronics for Iranian end-users. The same accusation is levied against Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani.
The sanctions freeze all U.S. assets held in any entity’s possession, including U.S. dollar bank accounts at foreign institutions, and bar people in the United States from dealing with the individuals and companies.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Jailed Kazakh Journalist's Father Joins Son's Hunger Strike
Jailed Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim's father, Almaz Tilepov, has joined his son's hunger strike to demand his immediate release. Tilepov started his hunger strike on June 6 in front of a district prosecutor’s office in Almaty. Mukhammedkarim launched his hunger strike on May 28 after he was handed a 25-day jail term over a video he posted online that called on Kazakhs to defend their rights. Just two days before that, Mukhammedkarim finished serving a similar sentence over his online calls for Almaty residents to rally against the government's move to introduce visa-free entry to Kazakhstan for Chinese citizens. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Russian Member Of Kazakh Team Suspended For Backing War In Ukraine
The International Cycling Union (ICU) has suspended Savely Laptev, a member of Kazakhstan's Astana Qazaqstan DT cycling team, over his online support of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Laptev, who is Russian, was suspended last week from participating in UCI's tournament. His father said on June 5 that the decision was "a misunderstanding" and claimed that his son's social network account had been hacked. The UCI ruled earlier that Russian and Belarusian riders can resume their participation in its events as neutral athletes on condition that they stay away from supporting Russia's aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here. https://www.azattyq.org/a/32445513.html
Kazakhstan Hands Prison Term To Woman Who Called For Region To Join Russia
A Kazakh court has sentenced a woman to three years in prison for saying online that Russia should "take over North Kazakhstan and its capital, Petropavl, like it took Crimea" from Ukraine in 2014. Media reports in Petropavl said on June 6 that the woman, identified as Tatyana, was sentenced last week. The charge stemmed from the woman’s statement she made in a Chatroulette messenger chat in September 2021. In April, three members of a group called the People's Council in Petropavl were arrested on separatism charges and face up to seven years in prison if convicted. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Bulgarian Parliament Approves Coalition Government After Five Elections In Two Years
Bulgaria's parliament on June 6 approved a coalition government led by Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, giving the Balkan member of the EU and NATO a new government after five elections within two years.
The government has the backing of the parliament's two biggest political groups -- the center-right GERB and Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB).
Lawmakers held three separate votes, one to approve Denkov for the position of prime minister, one to establish the composition of the cabinet, and one to nominally approve each member of the cabinet.
Last week, the GERB-PP-DB coalition announced it had reached an agreement on the composition of the government.
According to the agreement, Denkov, from the PP-DB, will be premier for the first nine months and then the position will be taken over by Maria Gabriel from GERB, who until then will be deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
A total of 132 lawmakers supported the government -- all from the PP-DB coalition, all but one from GERB, and two MPs from DPS - while 69 people's representatives voted against.
The cabinet was chosen after negotiations that lasted more than two months following the fifth consecutive parliamentary elections on April 2, in which former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's GERB came first but it failed to gather support to form a one-party government.
According to the agreement, the coalition government will have a pro-European Union agenda, with obtaining membership in the Schengen passport-free area and the euro monetary union as top priorities along with fighting Russian influence in Bulgaria's security sector.
Bulgaria has been governed mainly by caretaker governments appointed by President Rumen Radev since public anger over years of corruption boiled over into massive protests in 2020. In February, Radev dissolved parliament and announced the April 2 vote.
Last year in June, the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov fell after a no-confidence vote in parliament after only six months in power.
Petkov and his fragile coalition took over in December 2021 following eight months of political impasse and two interim administrations after protests against high-level corruption ended the decade-long rule of Borisov -- the head of GERB.
The political crisis has prompted Bulgaria to postpone adopting the euro by one year to 2025. In December, Austrian and Dutch opposition blocked Bulgaria and neighboring Romania from being admitted in the Schengen area.
European Rights Court Slams Russia's Failure To Adequately Investigate Navalny Poisoning
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russian authorities failed to adequately investigate the poisoning in 2020 of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, thus violating his right to life and a proper investigation under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Navalny fell violently ill during a flight in Siberia in August 2020 and was then urgently flown to Germany where he was treated and survived what Western laboratories later established had been an attempted poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent.
The findings led the European Union to impose sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.
Russian doctors claimed that tests performed in their laboratories before Navalny was flown to Germany had found no trace of a poisonous substance in his blood and refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.
Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
The ECHR said in its June 6 ruling that it "found in particular that the inquiry conducted by the Russian authorities had not been open to scrutiny and had made no allowance for the victim’s right to participate in the proceedings."
The Russian authorities' measures "had not been capable of leading to the establishment of the relevant facts and the identification and, if appropriate, punishment of those responsible," the ruling said, adding, that "it therefore could not be considered adequate."
Navalny recovered and voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested upon arrival and sent to prison for charges that he and his supporters say are politically motivated.
"As evidence obtained with the assistance of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) indicated that Mr Navalniy had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the [internationally banned] Novichok group, Russia, as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, had been under an obligation to open a criminal investigation into any activities breaching the prohibition of chemical weapons," the ECHR said in its ruling.
The EHCR ordered the Russian state to pay Navalny 40,000 euros ($42,800) in damages.
Putin in June last year signed a law under which Russia will not follow ECHR's rulings made after March 15, 2022.
However, since Russia was a member of the Court and the Council of Europe at the time of the alleged poisoning, the judgment must be enforced, an ECHR spokeswoman told Reuters.
With reporting by Reuters
Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody
A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.
Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.
The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".
But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.
Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.
Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."
This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.
The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.
An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.
"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.
Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Turkmen Students Forced To Buy Theater Tickets
Students at the Turkmen Cultural Institute in Ashgabat have been forced by their teachers to go to theaters at least once a week. Some students told RFE/RL that they have been forced to buy tickets to the theaters distributed by their teachers. According to the students, they have neither the money to buy the tickets that cost between 10-30 manats ($2.8-$8.5) nor the time. The administration of the Cultural Institute was not available for immediate comment. Theaters, schools, and other public institutions are under the government's full supervision in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, click here.
- By AP
Ukraine Brands Russia 'Terrorist State' To Open Hearings In Case At Top UN Court
A top Ukrainian diplomat called Russia a "terrorist state" on June 6 as he opened his country's case against Moscow at the United Nations' highest court, and lawyers argued that Russia bankrolled a "campaign of intimidation and terror" by separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Anton Korynevych was addressing judges at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Poisonous Cider Death Toll In Russia Rises To 30
Russian authorities said on June 6 the number of people killed by tainted cider in the regions of Ulyanovsk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, and Udmurtia had risen to 30. Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia as people look to save money on cheaper drinks. In 2021, 34 people were killed by surrogate alcohol in the Urals region of Orenburg. In December 2016, 78 people died in the Siberian region of Irkutsk after drinking a scented herbal bath oil, which contained methanol, a highly poisonous type of industrial alcohol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Ukrainian Activist From Crimea Jailed By Russia For 15 Years On Terror Charges
A Russian court on June 6 sentenced Ukrainian activist Bohdan Zyza from Russian-occupied Crimea to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges. Zyza was arrested in May 2022 after he splashed yellow and blue paint -- the colors of the Ukrainian flag -- on a building of the Moscow-imposed administration in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. He also threw a Molotov cocktail at it. At his trial, Zyza said he will go on hunger strike from July 10, demanding the Russian citizenship forcibly imposed on him by occupying Russian authorities be annulled and all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia or territories it controls be released. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.
Journalists Not Allowed To Attend Navalny's New Trial Inside Russian Prison
The administration of a prison in Russia's Vladimir region has barred journalists from entering the facility, where the preliminary hearing into a new criminal case against already jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is set to start on June 6.
Navalny's press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on Twitter that journalists were barred from entering the penitentiary's territory hours before the hearing.
"They are doing this because there is no evidence in the case. And the only way for them to save face (as they think) is to fully classify [the case]," Yarmysh tweeted.
Navalny faces charges of creating an "extremist" group, making calls for "extremism," creating a nonprofit organization that violates citizens' rights, financing of "extremism," involving a minor in criminal activities, and rehabilitating Nazism.
When first making public the new case in April, Navalny called the charges "absurd."
Navalny also said another case charging him with propagating terrorism and Nazism was launched in October over his self-exiled associates' statements on the Popular Politics YouTube channel. The comments criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government and condemned Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed in April that Navalny's associates, along with Ukraine's secret services, were involved in the assassination of pro-Kremlin journalist and propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg.
Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 after he was arrested a month earlier upon his return to Russia from Germany -- where he had been undergoing treatment for a near-fatal poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent that he says was ordered by Putin.
The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning, even though experts say only state actors have access to such a nerve agent.
On June 6, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ordered Russia to pay 40,000 euros ($42,800) to Navalny for refusing to investigate his poisoning.
Uzbek Supreme Court Denies Appeals Of Karakalpak Journalists
TASHKENT -- The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has rejected appeals by Karakalpak journalists Dauletmurat Tajimuratov and Lolagul Kallykhanova against the lengthy prison terms they were handed over mass anti-government protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic last year.
According to Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, the Supreme Court, which looked into the appeals of 18 men and women sentenced in the high-profile case, also ruled on June 5 that the prison sentences of eight defendants must be changed to parole-like sentences, while six more had their prison terms shortened.
Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At People's Service) newspaper, where he previously was the chief editor, was sentenced on January 31 by the Bukhara regional court along with the other defendants. His 16-year prison sentence was upheld.
Kallykhanova, a founder of the Makan.uz website, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her sentence was also left unchanged.
In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus, were convicted, with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years, while 11 were handed parole-like sentences.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died during the protests in early July 2022, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
The violence forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
Kyrgyz Group Suspected Of Planning To Seize Power Apprehended, Officials Say
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 6 that a group of men and women suspected of plotting to seize power had been apprehended. According to the UKMK, the group was led by the leader of the Eldik Kenesh (People's Council) political party, who, along with four associates, confessed to the charge. The statement gave only the initials of some of the suspects. the Eldik Kenesh party is led by Roza Nurmatova. The UKMK statement came a day after local media reported mass arrests. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Belarusian Activist Gets 12 Years In Prison On Charges Called 'Politically Motivated'
Belarusian rights activist Yana Pinchuk, who was extradited to Minsk from Russia in August 2022, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges rights groups say are politically motivated.
Judge Tatsyana Falkouskaya of the Minsk City Court sentenced Pinchuk on June 6 after finding her guilty of inciting social hatred, creating an extremist group, involvement in the creation of a terrorist group, calling for the disruption of the constitutional order, and harming national security.
Rights watchdogs insist that the charges are politically motivated to punish Pinchuk for joining protests after Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was declared the winner of an August 2020 presidential election despite allegations of widespread voter fraud that triggered Western sanctions.
Police in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, arrested Pinchuk in early November 2021 at the request of Minsk. She was later extradited to Belarus and went on trial on April 10.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which was critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as "extremist" in Belarus.
Pinchuk has rejected all of the charges, saying she immediately closed the Telegram channel after it was officially designated extremist.
She is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests following Lukashenka's contested reelection.
Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Belarusian authorities have also shut down several NGOs and independent media outlets.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.
The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.
The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.
"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.
Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.
Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.
Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.
Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.
Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.
In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.
Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
EU, U.S. Diplomats Urge Kosovo To Hold New Elections Amid Tensions In North
The European Union envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak, and the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, have told Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti he needs to calm the situation in the north of Kosovo, hold new municipal elections, and return to dialogue with Serbia on normalizing relations. The two diplomats met with Kurti late on June 5 in Pristina. Tensions over the seating of ethnic Albanian mayors sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers last week, leaving dozens injured. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
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