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British Election May Lead To Shattering Of Traditional Two-Party System

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, waves from his campaign bus as he leaves a rally in London.
Britain's parliamentary elections on May 6 may mark the beginning of the end of the two-party electoral system that has long been the norm in British politics.

For the last 80 years, power has been customarily held by either the Labour or the Conservative parties, with any third or further parties competing for votes condemned to the margins. But that may change, with opinion polls placing the small Liberal Democrats on an equal footing with the big two.

The Liberal Democrats' fresh-faced leader, Nick Clegg, appears to have transformed the fortunes of his centrist party. He's done this through impressing the voting public in a series of televised debates with Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour's Gordon Brown, the present prime minister.

Engaging in face-to-face debating between candidates is an established feature of presidential elections in the United States, but it has not been tried before in Britain.

The result of this innovation has been electrifying. Watched by millions of Britons, the encounters revealed Clegg as a level-headed, intelligent politician with promise of sound leadership qualities. Above all, he came across as a viable alternative as prime minister to either Brown or Cameron.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
In this campaign, Brown, never popular with the British public since he took over the leadership of Labour from Tony Blair in 2007, has presented an image of a gruff, exhausted man who is merely hanging onto office through stubbornness. His party is seen as tired after 13 years in office.

Cameron, not charismatic at the best of times, has failed to impress his personality on the Conservatives. He has been unable to hold on to the big lead in opinion polls that his party enjoyed for many months because of popular disaffection with Labour.

And there is broad disgust across the voter spectrum for the two major parties, which have been embroiled in various scandals and venal episodes.

The net result of all this is that preelection public-opinion polls show the Liberal Democrats on a par in popularity with the big parties -- behind the first-place Conservatives but around level with Labour.

'There Is An Alternative'

In one of the televised debates, Clegg offered the Liberal Democrats as a fresh alternative to two tired old parties. "I believe the way things are is not the way things have to be," he said. "Now you are going to be told tonight by these two that the only choice you can make is between two old parties who have been running things for years. I'm here to persuade you there is an alternative."

Michael White, political commentator for "The Guardian," says Clegg has also benefited from the popularity of his party's finance spokesman, Vince Cable, who won public acclaim for his prescriptions for tackling the economic crisis.

"[Clegg] has had one particular piece of luck, about which he has been very grown-up, in his treasury spokesman, Dr. Vince Cable, former chief economist for Shell," White told Reuters. "He's got a real economist whom the markets respect and whom the voters respect."

Not that the surge in popularity will lead Clegg to 10 Downing Street as the next prime minister. That's because of Britain's "first-past-the-post" electoral system, which tends to squeeze out all but the two major parties. Under this system, even if the Liberal Democrats took 30 percent of the national vote, they would only end up with some 100 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons.

Conservative Party leader David Cameron talks to supporters at a rally in East Renfrewshire.
But if the actual voting follows the direction indicated by the opinion polls, it does point to a "hung" parliament -- a parliament in which no party has a majority of seats.

That's something that is frequent in most democratic countries, where coalition-building takes place to put together a ruling majority. But in Britain, where the "first-past-the-post" system normally produces one clear winner, a hung parliament is a situation viewed with some alarm. The last time it happened was 36 years ago.

Clegg has blamed the simplistic electoral system for giving the two main parties expectations of automatically alternating in power. He also has taken a swipe at what he sees as Cameron's arrogance.

"David Cameron is already measuring the curtains in No. 10. He thinks it's his birthright to rule," Clegg said. "He thinks he's entitled to just waft into No. 10 and, as he said in the papers this morning, he doesn't care what [voters] say. He thinks that the Conservatives, it's their turn. I've a message for you, David Cameron. In our country you don't inherit power, you earn it."

Negotiate A Deal

A hung parliament would present unpalatable alternatives for the two established parties.

Given that neither Labour nor the Conservatives would likely cooperate with one another in sharing power, they must either bargain with the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition or try to govern as a minority government with the informal support of Clegg's party.

Clegg has already said the Liberal Democrats would be willing to negotiate a deal with the party winning the largest popular vote and the most seats. But he has also suggested that he would not be willing to enter a coalition or support a pact with Labour if Brown remains its leader.

Brown has already said he will stay at the helm of Labour even if he loses the election. But he would come under massive pressure from many in the parliamentary branch of the party who want him out as an electoral liability.

In addition, Clegg would be in a good position to demand that the big parties agree to change the electoral system, scrapping "first past the post" in favor of proportional representation. That's a priority for the Liberal Democrats.

And although it would make for a more complicated electoral scene in Britain, Clegg and company say it would be a step forward into modern democratic practice.

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Belarusian Nobel Prize Winner Byalyatski Could Face Up To 12 Years In Prison

Ales Byalyatski receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at the digital award ceremony in Stockholm in December 2020.

The case of jailed 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Byalyatski has been sent to a Belarusian court, with the rights activist and three of his colleagues from Vyasna facing up to 12 years in prison on smuggling and tax-evasion charges that his supporters dismiss as politically motivated retribution on the part of longtime authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"The 'Vyasna' case was sent to court. Political prisoners of human rights defenders may soon be put on trial," the group said on Twitter on November 28.

The 60-year-old Byalyatski, who has been in custody for more than 16 months, is charged along with Valyantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimer Labkovich, and Zmytser Soloviev for allegedly bringing money into the country for "illegal activities and financing Vyasna," the largest rights body in the former Soviet country and one of the main sources of information on political detentions and arrests.

"They face between 7 and 12 years," Vyasna added in the tweet.

Byalyatski, who has been fighting for democracy and human rights in his beleaguered homeland his entire life, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize along with the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties and the embattled Russian group Memorial.

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.

He founded the Vyasna Human Rights Center, originally a Minsk-based organization with the name Vyasna-96. In 1999, it was reborn as a national nongovernmental rights organization.

The NGO was outlawed by the Belarusian Supreme Court in October 2003 for its role monitoring the country's 2001 presidential election. It has continued its work, however, as an unregistered NGO.

The main work of the organization has been defending and supporting political prisoners. The group -- and Byalyatski personally -- has regularly been harassed and persecuted by Lukashenka's government since its founding.

Belarusian authorities have moved to shut down critical and nonstate media and human rights bodies in the wake of mass protests that erupted in August 2020 after a presidential election the opposition says was rigged.

The opposition and Western governments say Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was driven into exile, won the vote, which has not been recognized by the United States, the European Union, and several other countries.

Thousands have been detained since the vote and there have been credible reports of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Russia 'Unilaterally Postponed' Talks With U.S. On Nuclear-Weapons Inspections

An intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Russia's Plesetsk State Test Cosmodrome in 2020.

Russia "unilaterally postponed" talks with the United States aimed at resuming nuclear-weapons inspections that were set to take place in Cairo, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on November 28. The spokesperson said Washington was ready to reschedule at the earliest possible date the meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty that was scheduled to begin on November 29. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Kazakhstan's Toqaev Tells Putin Russia Strategic Partner Despite Ukraine War

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks in Moscow on November 28.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Moscow remains Kazakhstan's main strategic partner despite public disagreements over the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

Toqaev, who last week at a summit of the Moscow-led CSTO security bloc in Armenia called for "a formula for peace," has allowed tens of thousands of Russians fleeing a military mobilization in Russia into Kazakhstan.

He also declined this summer to recognize the Kremlin's declaration of four partially controlled Ukrainian regions as sovereign states.

But Toqaev said at the start of his meeting with Putin on November 28, the Kazakh president's first trip abroad since being reelected earlier this month, that his choice to visit Moscow was symbolic and the ties between the two countries remained as strong as ever.

"Indeed, my first foreign visit [after being reelected] takes place here, in the Russian Federation, and that in itself has political significance and, of course, a certain symbolism," Toqaev said, sitting next to Putin.

"For Kazakhstan, Russia is and always has been a strategic partner."

Putin told Toqaev that relations between Moscow and Astana had a "special character."

He called for a strengthening of economic ties, saying this was "especially timely now, when international trade is in crisis."

Putin said Russia and Kazakhstan have a "joint desire to develop our relations precisely in the capacity in which they have developed and will, of course, develop in the future."

Russia is Kazakhstan's largest trading partner and Astana has voiced its desire to boost its transit role in the so-called North-South corridor between Russia and Iran.

Kazakhstan and Russia share a 7,600-kilometer border.

Toqaev was reelected for a second term earlier this month, winning by a large margin after facing no real opposition candidates.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Iranian Hard-Liners Propose Punishment For Cooperation With 'Hostile' Countries

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in mid-September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have proposed a plan to enact harsher punishments against protesters who they say are cooperating with "hostile" foreign countries.

According to the plan, any interaction with any Western institutions and media, including social media, will be considered cooperation and criminalized under the title of "corruption on earth" a charge -- often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow the government -- that is punishable by death.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In recent months and especially amid the latest weeks of protests, Iranian legislators have repeatedly tried to facilitate the suppression of protesters by passing harsher and harsher laws while accusing Western countries of being directly involved in fomenting the unrest, despite giving no evidence to back up their claims.

Last month, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-liner-led parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters arrested amid the recent wave of demonstrations.

They also proposed banning student protesters -- who along with women have formed the backbone of the demonstrations demanding more freedoms -- from traveling abroad for 10 years as the Islamic republic struggles to suppress the biggest show of dissent in years.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Tech Giant Yandex, Battered By Wartime Censorship, Reorganizes, Moves To Leave Russia

Yandex's parent company, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, will lose ownership and control of all businesses of the Yandex Group.

Russian tech giant Yandex has said it is reorganizing its operations, moving to cut its ties with Russia in a restructuring that solidifies government control over a company once seen as a bellwether for the country's digital economy.

The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of the two of the company's best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges.

"These are exceptionally challenging times," John Boynton, chairman of Yandex's board of directors, said in a statement released late on November 25.

According to the online news site The Bell, which was first to report on the reorganization, Yandex's parent company, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, will lose ownership and control of all businesses of the Yandex Group.

A new, Russian-incorporated company will take over those operations, with a new board headed by Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime confidant of President Vladimir Putin who currently heads the Audit Chamber, a government fiscal watchdog.

The Bell said Kudrin met with Putin November 25, and that Kudrin would receive 5 percent of shares in the newly reorganized entity. On November 25, hours before the company statement, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Kudrin intended to leave the Audit Chamber before year's end, and join Yandex.

The deal also called for Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire oligarch whose fortune comes from ownership of metals giant Norilsk Nickel, to take a minority position, The Bell said.

In its statement, Yandex said it had "commenced a strategic process to review options to restructure the group's ownership and governance in light of the current geopolitical environment."

"The board anticipates that Yandex N.V. will in due course be renamed, with the business to be divested retaining exclusive rights for the use of the Yandex brand," it said, adding that shareholders must approve any corporate changes.

Under the reorganization, founder Arkady Volozh, who left Russia after the invasion and now lives in Israel, will retain some licensing rights to develop Yandex-originated ventures outside of Russia.

A combination of Google, Uber, PayPal, Bolt, Amazon, and myriad other online businesses, Yandex was the dominant tech company in Russia, employing thousands of engineers, programmers, and designers across its sprawling divisions.

The company, whose U.S.-traded shares were held by major U.S. mutual funds and investment companies, had been under pressure since at least 2019, when it was forced to give state bank Sberbank a veto over major management decisions. The voting power was later transferred to a Russian foundation.

But it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its 10th month, and the Kremlin's censorship of news and debate about the war-- and the rampant problems that Russians forces have faced on the battlefield -- that forced the final, sweeping decision.

Shortly after the February 24 invasion, the Kremlin pushed through legislation that criminalized "discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation" -- a catch-all measure that has allowed the authorities to go after Russians who protest the war, question its motivations, or even criticize the civilian or military leadership. Russian media are barred from calling the conflict a "war," instead using the phrase "special military operation."

Parliament has since tightened those restrictions further.

Yandex's search engine, and its main news page, Yandex News, were the dominant portals used by Russians to search for news, including about the war. But the company began tweaking its algorithms to direct searches toward state-run media around the time of the invasion.

On March 7, two board members quit in protest. A week later, the deputy executive director resigned, after he was hit with European Union sanctions. Volozh resigned in June after he was hit with EU sanctions.

In August, the company announced the sale of Yandex News and another entertainment portal called Yandex Zen to VK, Russia's dominant social-media company, whose control was sold to a Putin ally in late 2021.

Seven Nordic, Baltic Foreign Ministers In Kyiv Despite Russian Air Attacks

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (file photo)

Foreign ministers from seven Baltic and Nordic countries were in Kyiv on November 28 in a show of support for Ukraine amid a barrage of Russian air and missile strikes that have crippled much of the country's energy infrastructure. "We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, are in Kyiv today in full solidarity with Ukraine," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on Twitter. "Despite Russia's bomb rains and barbaric brutality Ukraine will win!" he added. (RFE/RL)

To read the original tweet from the Lithuanian foreign minister, click here.

Trial Of Anti-Regime Protesters Opens in Uzbekistan

The trial stems from anti-government protests in Nukus in July.

The trial of 22 people accused of undermining Uzbekistan's constitutional order for taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests earlier this year has opened in the southwestern city of Bukhara.

Uzbek authorities said 21 people died in Uzbekistan’s Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.

The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, 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.

Aziz Obidov, a spokesman for the Uzbek Supreme Court, wrote on Telegram that "22 people" were in the dock, of whom 20 were in custody, with one under house arrest and one out on bail.

They are accused of several offenses, out of which the most serious one, "undermining constitutional order," carries a 20-year jail sentence.

The trial was only announced on November 27 in the evening and takes place in Bukhara, around 600 kilometers from both Nukus and the capital, Tashkent. Journalists are allowed to attend.

Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.

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.

Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people, out of a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.

The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.

With reporting by AFP

Kazakh Central Election Commission Sets Schedule For January 14 Senate Elections

Candidates for Kazakhstan's upper house must be registered by December 24, when the election campaign kicks off. (file photo)

Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission has approved the election schedule for Senate elections, which will be held on January 14. The commission said on November 28 that nominations for Senate candidates can be submitted between November 29 and December 14. Candidates must be registered by December 24, when the election campaign kicks off. Campaigning ends on January 13, the commission said. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev set the election date last week after his inauguration, saying it was part of a "systematic process of political modernization" for the Central Asian country. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Russia's Gazprom Says It Won't Reduce Gas Supplies To Moldova, But Reserves The Right To

Gazprom accused Ukraine of withholding gas supplies that pass through the country on the way to Moldova -- something Kyiv denied. (file photo)

Russian state gas producer Gazprom withdrew a threat to reduce gas supplies to Moldova starting November 28 but said it reserves the right to lower or halt flows in the future if Moldova fails to make agreed payments. Last week, Gazprom accused Ukraine of withholding gas supplies that pass through the country on the way to Moldova -- something Kyiv denied -- and said it could start reducing those flows from November 28. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.

Pentagon Mulling Cheap, Precision Strike Weapon For Ukraine As Arms Makers Wrestle With Demand

The West has struggled to meet Ukraine's demand for more arms. (file photo)

The Pentagon is considering a Boeing proposal to supply Ukraine with cheap, small precision bombs fitted onto abundantly available rockets, allowing Kyiv to strike far behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more arms. Boeing's proposed system, dubbed Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), is one of about a half-dozen plans for getting new munitions into production for Ukraine and other Eastern European allies, industry sources said. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.


Russia Denies Planning To Leave Nuclear Plant; Zelenskiy Warns Of 'New Russian Strikes' On Power Grid

A service member stands guard near the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhiya nuclear power plant (file photo)

Ukraine said Russia was "planning new strikes" on the country's power grid, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling on Ukrainians to be prepared to endure more electricity shortages amid plunging temperatures.

"We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down."

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, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The head of the joint coordination press center of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine, Natalya Humenyuk, said a Russian warship capable of firing cruise missiles had recently deployed to the Black Sea with Kalibr-type missiles on board.

"This indicates that preparations were under way," Humenyuk said on November 28.

"It's quite likely that the beginning of the week will be marked by such an attack," she added.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, denied that Russian forces were preparing to leave the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, saying on November 28 that the plant was and would remain under Russian control.

"There's no need to look for signs where there are none and cannot be any," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing on November 28.

Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe

Meawhile, in Kyiv, where snow fell and temperatures dropped, people continued to struggle with disruptions to the electricity supply and central heating caused by the waves of Russian air strikes.

City authorities said work was almost completed to restore electricity, water, and heat after waves of Russian strikes, but warned that high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed.

Zelenskiy on November 27 criticized Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko rejected the criticism, saying it was out of place amid Russia's military campaign.

In the south, much of the city of Kherson -- recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces from Russian occupiers -- remained without electrical power as authorities worked to get the grid operational again.

Officials said only about 5 percent of the population has been reconnected and was receiving electricity.

The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on November 28 that Kherson continues to suffer daily bombardments by Russian artillery.

"The city is vulnerable because it remains in range of most of Russia’s artillery systems, now firing from the east bank of the Dnieper River, from the rear of newly consolidated defensive lines," British intelligence said.

Ukrainian officials said Russian forces continued to shell civilian areas across the country, hitting a dozen settlements in Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, and several villages in the Nikopol district of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.

The General Staff accused Russian troops of shelling civilian areas and then attempting to shift responsibility to Kyiv's military.

On the battlefield in the east, Ukrainian forces fought pitched battles, repelling 10 Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said on November 28.

Russian forces had launched several failed attacks on the town of Soledar, near Bakhmut, and had taken heavy losses in a separate push towards Avdiyivka, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told Reuters.

The claim could not be independently verified.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Twenty-Five Ukrainian Soldiers Hospitalized After Bus Crash In Latvia

Twenty-five Ukrainian soldiers and an Estonian soldier were hospitalized after their bus collided with a truck in Latvia, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported on November 27. The coach, which was traveling from Tallinn to Riga, was chartered by the Estonian Army, and its driver was killed in the crash, which occurred late on November 26, ERR said. It did not say why the Ukrainian soldiers were in Latvia. The crash was one of several that occurred along the road as ice and snow made driving hazardous. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Kremlin Defends Russian-Led Security Alliance After Criticism By Armenia

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a CSTO summit in Yerevan on November 23.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on November 27 said attempts to break up a Russia-led security alliance had always existed and would continue, but he insisted the alliance remained in high demand following criticism this week from Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who questioned the effectiveness of the six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Armenia requested the organization's assistance in September but received only a promise to send observers. Pashinian contrasted that with the alliance's decision in January to send troops to CSTO member Kazakhstan to help President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev survive a wave of unrest. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Somalia Questions Iranian, Pakistani 'Hostages' Found Near Al-Shabaab Territory

Al-Shabaab militants (file photo)

Somali police on November 27 launched an investigation after 20 foreigners, who were claiming to be fishermen who had been held hostage for years, were discovered near territory controlled by the Al-Shabaab militant group. Police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said the men -- 14 Iranians and six Pakistanis -- were apprehended for questioning after they wandered from a part of Galmudug state under militant control. "Some of these people were kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in 2014, while others were abducted on the Harardhere coast, near Qosol-tire, in southern Somalia in mid-2019," Dudishe said.

Prominent Iranian Actress Reportedly Released After Arrest For Supporting Protests

Hengameh Ghaziani was arrested by security forces on November 20. (file photo)

Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last week after expressing support for anti-government protesters, has been released from custody, state news agency ISNA reported on November 27.

Ghaziani, a film and theater actress, was arrested by security forces on November 20 along with fellow actress Katayoun Riahi after they removed their head scarves in public in an apparent act of defiance against the regime.

ISNA did not give details of Ghaziani's release or mention Riahi’s status in its report.

Reports by human rights organizations indicate that more than 15,000 people have been detained during protests that have swept the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf.

Authorities have said Amini died from a sudden heart attack while denying claims by activists that she was beaten.

Riahi was one of the first Iranian celebrities to remove her hijab in protest of Amini's death, while Ghaziani published pictures of herself standing on a Tehran street without a hijab and tying her hair in a ponytail. Tying one's hair in a ponytail in public has become an act of defiance in Iran in recent weeks.

Ghaziani and Riahi were detained after being summoned by prosecutors in a probe into their "provocative" social media posts and media activity, the state-run IRNA news agency said at the time.

The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.

Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."

Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."

Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.

Prior to the recent wave of nationwide protests, three prominent Iranian cinematographers -- Mostafa al-Ahmad, Mohammad Rasulof, and Jafar Panahi -- were arrested after they joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following a building collapse in May in the city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran on October 3 announced a sentence of six years against Ahmad.

Panahi and Rasoulov reportedly have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for several months.

Ukraine's Nuclear Chief Says He Sees Signs Russia May Be Leaving Occupied Nuclear Plant

Petro Kotin, the head of the Ukraine's state nuclear power company (file photo)

Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the vast Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Such a move would be a major battlefield change in the partially occupied southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, where the front line has hardly shifted for months. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iran Arrests Khamenei's Niece After She Condemns 'Murderous Regime'

Farideh Moradkhani (file photo)

Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a "murderous and child-killing regime.” Farideh Moradkhani comes from a branch of the family that has a record of opposition to Iran's clerical leadership and has herself been jailed previously in the country. Her brother, Mahmoud Moradkhani, wrote on Twitter that she was arrested on November 23 after going to the office of the prosecutor following a summons. Then, on November 27, her brother posted a video on YouTube in which she condemned the "clear and obvious oppression" Iranians have been subjected to.

Iran Charges Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi With Spreading 'Corruption On Earth'

A U.S.-based rights group said Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.” (file photo)

Iran’s judiciary has charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading “corruption on Earth,” a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic.

Isfahan’s judicial chief, Asadollah Jafari, was quoted on November 27 as saying that Salehi faces other charges, including “propaganda activity against the establishment, forming an illegal group with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, cooperating with hostile governments, and spreading lies and inciting others to commit violence.”

A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.”

But Jafari said no court session has been held so far for Salehi, who was arrested in late October after denouncing the clerical establishment and expressing support for the protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

His detention came shortly after he told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation: "You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire order to keep its power, money and weapons."

State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded and apologizing for his words. Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.

Family members have expressed concern about Salehi’s health and the charges against him. Earlier this month, over 100 musicians, poets, artists, and activists called for his release.

Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.

Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.

Salehi is among thousands, including protesters as well as journalists, lawyers, artists, athletes, activists and others arrested in Iran’s ongoing state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months. Iran's judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.

With reporting by AFP

At World Cup, U.S. Soccer Scrubs Islamic Emblem From Iranian Flag

An Iranian fans hold a "Woman. Life. Freedom" flag and a shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini before the Iran-Wales match on November 25.

The U.S. soccer federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match on November 29. Iran's government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. The decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies. To read the original story from AP, click here.

Russia Not Critically Weakened By War So Far, Estonian Minister Says

Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (file photo)

Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur does not believe that Russia has been critically weakened, even after nine months of war in Ukraine. "We have to be honest and clear: The Russian Navy and Air Force are more or less as big as they were before the war," Pevkur told dpa during a visit to Berlin. Although the Russian land forces had lost considerable strength, they would "sooner rather than later" have the size they had before February 24 when they launched their offensive -- or even larger. Russia will also learn from its military experience in Ukraine, he argued: "We have no reason to believe that the threat from Russia is somehow reduced or that the threat to NATO is reduced."

Iran Bank Manager Reportedly Fired For Serving Unveiled Woman

Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. (file photo)

An Iranian bank manager who served an unveiled woman has been fired, local media reported on November 27, as demonstrations triggered by the mandatory head-covering rule shake the Islamic republic. Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the dress code rules sparked nationwide demonstrations, which authorities call "riots.” Mehr news agency reported that the bank manager in Qom Province, near the capital, Tehran, "had provided bank services on November 24 to an unveiled woman.” To read the story from AFP, click here.


Ukrainian Authorities Work To Restore Services Amid Russian Strikes, As Both Sides Prepare For Winter Fighting

A woman walks past the debris of the destroyed house after a recent Russian air strike in Chasiv Yar on November 27. Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine as utility crews continued a scramble to restore power, water, and heating.

Ukrainian authorities struggled to resume essential services throughout the country after the latest barrage of Russian strikes on infrastructure sites as both sides prepared for the upcoming winter season, with some troops and materiel bogged down in muddy fields in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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Much of the city of Kherson -- recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces from Russian occupiers -- remained without electrical power on November 27 as authorities worked to get the grid operational again. Officials said only about 5 percent of the population has been reconnected and was receiving electricity.

Meanwhile, in Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko -- who has come in for criticism from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for being slow to restore services -- told the November 27 edition of Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper that work was proceeding at "record pace" in the capital.

Earlier, Serhiy Kovalenko, chief operating officer of YASNO, which provides energy to Kyiv, said the situation in the city had improved but still remained "quite difficult." He indicated that residents in the capital should have at least four hours of power per day.

Following overnight strikes, shelling by Russian forces continued on November 27 in several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Officials said both sides appear to be slowed by the rain and muddy conditions but that the approaching colder temperatures could set the stage for renewed action.

The Institute for the Study of War, an influential think tank that has closely monitored Ukraine war developments, said reporting from “critical frontline areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, including Svatove, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, indicates that operations on both sides are currently bogged down by heavy rain and resulting heavy mud.”

“Temperatures are forecasted to drop throughout Ukraine over the next week, which will likely freeze the ground and expedite the pace of fighting as mobility increases for both sides,” it said in its update.

“It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counteroffensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting.”

The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said on November 27 on his Telegram channel that Russian forces shelled the southern Ukrainian region more than 50 times this weekend. Yanushevych accused Russia of terrorism and of targeting civilians, reporting that one person had died and two had been injured in the shelling.

Much of the city of Kherson remains under difficult conditions, with UN resident coordinator Denise Brown telling AP that civilians continued to leave the area in large numbers.

“The level of destruction, the scope of the destruction, what’s required in the city and in the oblast -- it’s massive,” she said, adding that UN teams were bringing in food, water, medicines, blankets, and mattresses to the area.

“Time is of the essence, of course, before it becomes an absolute catastrophe,” Brown was quoted as saying.

In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. Overnight shelling was reported by regional officials in the Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

Russia To Bar Foreigners From Using Its Surrogate Mothers

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament. (file photo)

Russia will soon adopt a law barring foreigners from using Russian surrogate mothers, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said on November 27, the nation's Mother's Day. Paid surrogacy is legal in Russia, but the practice has been criticized by religious groups as commercializing the birth of children. "Everything must be done to protect children by prohibiting foreigners from using the surrogacy service," Volodin said on Telegram. "We will make this decision at the beginning of December." He said some 45,000 babies born by surrogate mothers have been taken abroad in the past few years. "Child trafficking is unacceptable," he added. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Queiroz Tells Klinsmann To Quit FIFA Role Over 'Outrageous' Iran Rebuke

Iranian players celebrate with coach Carlos Queiroz after the match against Wales on November 25.

Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted German soccer icon Juergen Klinsmann for criticizing his team's World Cup conduct, calling his remarks a "disgrace to football" and urging him to resign from his role with world governing body FIFA. In comments as an analyst with broadcaster BBC, 1990 World Cup winner Klinsmann accused Iran of systematic gamesmanship during their stunning 2-0 stoppage time win over Wales on November 25 and said Queiroz's record with other national teams made him the right match for Iran. "That's their culture and that's their way of doing it and that's why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well in the Iranian national team," said Klinsmann, a former United States coach. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranian Activist Hossein Ronaghi Released On Bail, Transferred To Hospital

Hossein Ronaghi has been transferred to a hospital after refusing to eat for 64 days, his father said.

Iranian authorities on November 26 released activist Hossein Ronaghi on bail, his brother said. Ronaghi was among thousands arrested in the crackdown on protests rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a head scarf. Concern had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. "Hossein was released tonight on bail to undergo treatment," Hossein Ronaghi's brother Hassan said on Twitter. Their father, Ahmad, said Ronaghi had been transferred to a hospital after refusing to eat for 64 days. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.

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