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Civilian Deaths In Iraq Top 98,000 Since 2003, Rights Group Finds

The study found that 25 civilians died each day in attacks in Iraq in 2008.
The study found that 25 civilians died each day in attacks in Iraq in 2008.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Sectarian bloodshed has dropped sharply in Iraq from the high levels of 2006-07, but attacks against U.S. and government forces continue, claiming the lives of Iraqi civilians in step, a new study has found.

Between at least 8,300 and 9,000 civilians were killed in Iraq in 2008, bringing the total of civilian deaths since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to at least 98,400, human rights group Iraq Body Count said in a new report.

Twenty-five civilians died a day in 2008, the study found. While far below 2006-2007, when at least 48,000 civilians were killed, it is comparable to violence during 2003-2004.

"The first thing is that there has been a very, very significant decrease in violent deaths in the last year, and this decrease has been most prevalent in Baghdad," said John Sloboda, the group's co-founder and spokesman.

Still, "no one was saying in 2004 that levels of violence were acceptable. People were talking about a country in terrible decline. It's only an improvement ... from the appalling peak in violence in 2006 and 2007," he said.

The group, which collates deaths reported by media and from other sources, acknowledges the true toll of more than five years of violence in Iraq may be far higher.

Sloboda said the drop in violence in 2008 reflected a slowing of "intercommunal," or sectarian deaths, which soared between minority Sunni Arabs and majority Shi'ites following the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in February 2006.

In order to staunch violence, the United States sent tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq in 2007, which the Bush administration has largely credited for improving security.

Others argue that the newfound assistance of Sunni tribal leaders helped, or assert that violence subsided after Baghdad's reorganization to a larger degree along sectarian lines.

Sloboda said that attacks continue against U.S. and other foreign forces, Iraqi police and soldiers, government officials, and members of "Awakening Councils," local patrol units often made up of former insurgents.

"Because this violence is actually against the occupation, it is unlikely to drop while the occupation continues," he said.

The grim estimates come as the United States prepares to draw down its troops in Iraq from around 143,000 today and restrict operations ahead of a 2012 deadline for withdrawal.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has planned to remove troops within 16 months.

Since 2003, more than 4,200 U.S. soldiers and more than 175 British soldiers have died in Iraq.

The study found that Iraqi civilian deaths involving foreign forces reached 584 in 2008, compared to 1,359 in 2007.

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Czech Official Says Letter To EU's Borrell Asks To Curb Moves Of Russian Diplomats

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. (file photo)
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. (file photo)

PRAGUE -- Foreign ministers from eight EU countries have sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell asking him to curb Russian diplomats' movement in the Schengen area over their concern that the free movement of the diplomats facilitates "malign activities."

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky confirmed in an interview on June 13 with RFE/RL that the letter was sent to Borrell. He said the measure was needed because the movement of Russian diplomats and their family members in the Schengen zone "creates the infrastructure" for illicit activities.

The letter says that "intelligence, propaganda, or even preparation of sabotage acts are the main workload for a large number of Russian 'diplomats' in the EU," according to AFP, which obtained a copy of the letter.

It calls on Borrell to urgently propose restrictive measures, AFP reported on June 13.

In his interview with RFE/RL, a full version of which will be published on June 14, Lipavsky said the movement of Russian diplomats lays the groundwork for threats in cyberspace and other "sabotages and subterfuges" amid concern over Moscow’s attempts to sow divisions within the EU. He said these hybrid threats were increasing and the European Union needs to show Russia that this won’t be tolerated.

He cited the Voice of Europe, a Prague-based news website that the Czech Republic in March added to its sanctions list after it was determined that it trying to carry out influence operations to Moscow’s benefit on Czech territory. Since then, more and more disinformation operations have been discovered, he said.

The letter sent to Borrell was “gladly signed” by the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, Lipavsky said.

The letter, dated June 11, calls for a measure that "will significantly narrow operational space for Russian agents." It said the European Union should restrict the movement of Russian diplomats and their family members to the territory of the state of their accreditation.

“We are providing Russian diplomats…[the] possibility to travel…all over the Europe. I don't understand why,” Lipavsky told RFE/RL. Russia limits the travel of EU diplomats, “so we should remove this asymmetry for the sake of our national security,” he added.

The Czech Republic and Poland recently arrested arson suspects who claimed their crimes had been incited by Russia. Lithuania in turn is grappling with Russia's drive to unilaterally expand its maritime border at its expense.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on June 13 that Russia will respond to any restrictions imposed by European countries on the movement of its diplomats.

Zakharova told reporters the West was infected by Russophobia and Moscow would take retaliatory measures if any limits were introduced.

EU countries have dramatically reduced the number of Russian diplomats allowed to remain in their countries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022. Moscow has responded by expelling diplomats from Russia.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Iranian Dissident Sepehri Sentenced To Further 18 1/2 Years For Comments About Israel

Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)
Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent critic of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been sentenced to an additional 18 1/2 years in prison for "supporting Israel," a thinly veiled reference to her condemnation of an October 7 attack by Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU -- on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

Asghar Sepehri, the dissident's brother, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad convicted Fatemeh Sepehri on multiple counts: seven years for supporting Israel, seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting the supreme leader, and one year and six months for propaganda activities against the regime.

He said that with the new sentences, Fatemeh Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, now faces a cumulative punishment of 37 1/2 years.

Sepehri was originally arrested in September 2022 as protests erupted across the country over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was taken into custody by the morality police for allegedly violating the country's hijab law and died while in detention.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Asghar Sepehri denounced the new charges and sentences against his sister as baseless, arguing that her imprisonment invalidated the claims of conspiracy and assembly.

He further noted that the accusation of insulting Khamenei lacks substance, given that her communications are heavily monitored, restricting even basic contact with family.

The crackdown on the Sepehri family extends beyond Fatemeh, as her brothers Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein Sepehri also received prison sentences on similar charges.

Mohammad-Hossein was handed eight years for conspiracy, assembly, and insulting the supreme leader, while Hossein faces a total of two years and 11 months for related offenses.

The Sepehri siblings' previous attorney, Khosrow Alikordi, has also been imprisoned, leading to the appointment of Javad Alikordi as their new legal representative.

However, the court has refused to recognize him, insisting that only attorneys approved by the judiciary are eligible to defend such cases, a condition the Sepehri family has not accepted.

Concerns about Fatemeh Sepehri's health were highlighted by her brother, who told Radio Farda that she was not physically capable of enduring further imprisonment due to multiple health issues.

He called on the authorities to immediately release her.

Fatemeh Sepehri is one of 14 activists in Iran who have publicly called for Khamenei to step down. She has been arrested and interrogated several times in recent years.

Sepehri and the other activists have also called for a new political system within the framework of a new constitution that would secure dignity and equal rights for women.

Criticism of Khamenei, who has the final say on almost every decision in the country, is considered a red line in Iran, and his critics often land in prison, where political prisoners are routinely held in solitary confinement and subjected to various forms of torture.

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

Imprisoned Russian Blogger Gets Additional Term Shortly Before Release

Russian blogger Vladislav Sinitsa (file photo)
Russian blogger Vladislav Sinitsa (file photo)

A Russian court on June 13 sentenced blogger Vladislav Sinitsa to an additional 2 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges just ahead of his scheduled release on July 1. Investigators say Sinitsa, who was serving a five-year prison term he was handed in 2019 on charges of inciting violence against children of National Guard officers online, opened an account on the X social media platform while in prison and used it to condemn Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Sinitsa denied any relation to the X account in question. The Memorial rights group has recognized Sinitsa as a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kara-Murza Appeal Hearing Postponed, Kremlin Critic's Whereabouts Unknown

Vladimir Kara-Murza
Vladimir Kara-Murza

A Moscow court on June 13 postponed until July 1 a hearing into imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza's appeal after the administration of a correctional colony in Siberia said he is no longer at the penitentiary. He was appealing against police inaction in the investigation of his alleged poisonings in 2015 and 2017. Kara-Murza's current whereabouts are unknown. His lawyer, Maria Eismont, says she has not been informed about a move for her client to another prison. Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023 on charges of high treason and discrediting Russia's military. He and his supporters reject the charges as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


U.S. Journalist Gershkovich Held In Russia Officially Charged With Espionage

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, looks out from a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on February 20.
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, looks out from a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on February 20.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed on June 13 a final charge of espionage against U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich and sent his case to the Sverdlovsk regional court for trial.

"Investigators revealed and confirmed by documents that the U.S. journalist of the Wall Street Journal newspaper, at the request of the CIA, in March 2023 collected classified information related to the operations of the Uralvagonzavod industrial facility producing and repairing military equipment," the office said in a statement, adding that Gershkovich "conducted the illegal actions under thorough disguise measures."

The 32-year-old U.S. citizen was arrested in late March 2023 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip.

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected. They say Gershkovich was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour and Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Emma Tucker said in a statement on June 13 that Russia's latest move toward a "sham trial" is "deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous."

Gershkovich is facing a "false and baseless charge," they said, adding that he had spent 441 days in a Russian prison for simply doing his job.

"Evan is a journalist. The Russian regime's smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting, and based on calculated and transparent lies," the statement said. It added that the newspaper continues to demand his immediate release and now expects the U.S. government to redouble efforts to get him released.

The U.S. State Department said in December that Moscow rejected a significant offer it made to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Another U.S. citizen currently held by Russian authorities is Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist who was arrested in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" and spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

Prior to her arrest, Kurmasheva, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, had her passport confiscated following a visit to care for her mother. RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges against her are reprisals for her work.

Russian Court Again Extends Detention Of RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
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Russian officials have kept mum about any talks to win the release of the Americans. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly said that while "certain contacts" on swaps continue, "they must be carried out in absolute silence."

Many analysts and officials say it appears as though Russia is targeting American citizens to detain for potential use in prisoner exchanges or for other geopolitical purposes.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

Belgrade's Higher Court Upholds Ruling to Extradite Belarusian Journalist

Andrey Hnyot after release from detention center. June 6, 2024
Andrey Hnyot after release from detention center. June 6, 2024

Belgrade's Higher Court on June 13 upheld a lower court ruling to extradite Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Andrey Hnyot, a decision that can be appealed. Hnyot was detained at the Serbian capital's airport at the request of Belarus last October. Last week, he was transferred to house arrest. Minsk has accused Hnyot of tax evasion, which he denies. The Higher Court told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service that Hnyot met the requirements for extradition. Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has warned that Hnyot could face "torture" if extradited. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Court Says 'Threats' Forced Closed-Door Trial Of Moscow Theater Director, Playwright

Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and Yevgenia Berkovich in a Moscow courtroom last year. (file photo)
Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and Yevgenia Berkovich in a Moscow courtroom last year. (file photo)

A Moscow court ruled on June 13 that the trial of theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk, who are charged with justifying terrorism, must continue behind closed doors due to unspecified "threats" received by a prosecution witness. Lawyers for the defendants protested the move, saying that only defense witnesses are left to testify in the trial. Berkovich and Petriichuk have maintained their innocence in the trial, which began last month. They were arrested last year following a production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The play is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine Calls For Ban On 4 Russian, Belarusian Wrestlers From Paris Olympics

A protest in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2023 against allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in the 2024 Olympics in Paris
A protest in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2023 against allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in the 2024 Olympics in Paris

Ukraine's National Olympic Committee has called on the International Olympic Committee to ban the participation of three female wrestlers from Russia and one from Belarus in the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris for their support of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Last month, Russian wrestler Dinara Kudayeva posted on the Internet a photo of her father, who joined Russia's armed forces and was killed while fighting against Ukrainian troops. Kudayeva called her father "my hero" and asked Internet users to commemorate him. Two other Russian wrestlers -- Natalya Malysheva and Olga Khoroshavtseva, as well Belarusian wrestler Iryna Kurachkina -- liked the post. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Iranian Cartoonist Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison For Activism

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani
Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to six years in prison by the country's Islamic Revolutionary Court, her attorney said.

Mohammad Moqimi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Farghadani received five years for "insulting sacred beliefs" and an additional year for "propaganda" against the Islamic republic for her activism.

The sentences were officially communicated to the artist on June 10 following her conviction by Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Moqimi said.

He highlighted that the court imposed the harshest penalties available under the charges, citing the number of infractions she was alleged to have committed.

It isn't Farghadani's first encounter with the Iranian justice system.

Last year, she was taken into custody after visiting the Evin prosecutor's office and was detained by security forces.

She has already served 18 months for charges including "assembly and collusion," "propaganda activities against the state," and "insulting the leadership and the president."

Farghadani's latest arrest occurred on April 14, after which Moqimi reported that she was severely beaten, leaving an interrogation with visible injuries on her face.

Refusing to accept the bail set for her detention, which she said was "arbitrary," Farghadani was transferred to Qarchak prison near Tehran, known for its harsh conditions.

An art graduate from Alzahra University, Farghadani was recognized internationally when the Cartoonists Rights Network International awarded her its Courage In Cartooning Award in August 2015.

The sentence is part of a broad campaign of suppression in response to the Women, Life, Freedom protests in 2022, during which many artists and popular cultural activists have been similarly targeted.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, concluded in a report in March that the actions of the Iranian authorities since the 2022 protests pointed to "the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution."

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

Victims Of 2010 Ethnic Clashes Commemorated In Kyrgyzstan

People in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region attend a commemoration on June 13 for victims of ethnic clashes in 2010.
People in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region attend a commemoration on June 13 for victims of ethnic clashes in 2010.

Local residents and officials in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-Abad region have commemorated victims of deadly clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010. The commemoration event was held on June 13 at a memorial complex in the Suzak district, where the region's Deputy Governor Maksat Sydykov called on local residents to "preserve inter-ethnic concord." The ethnic clashes started on June 10, 2010, in Jalal-Abad and another southern region, Osh, and lasted for several days. At least 446 people were killed and thousands more were injured or displaced during the violence. Dozens more went missing. Most victims were ethnic Uzbeks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Commander Of Georgian Legion Fighting For Ukraine Says He Was Poisoned

Mamuka Mamulashvili (file photo)
Mamuka Mamulashvili (file photo)

The commander of the Georgian Legion that is fighting alongside Ukraine against Russian troops told RFE/RL on June 12 that he was poisoned several months ago. Mamuka Mamulashvili said that blood and tissue samples were sent to a lab in Germany after he started feeling acute pains in his stomach. It discovered that they contained high levels of arsenic, mercury, and tin, which he likely ingested in food he was served. Mamulashvili said it was the third time someone tried to poison him and that Russian news outlets have reported his death several times. Mamulashvili and other members of the Georgian Legion are wanted in Russia on charges of illegally recruiting mercenaries and participating in the war in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

European Rights Court Rules In Favor Of RFE/RL Against Baku

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (file photo)
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled on June 13 that a decision by the government of Azerbaijan to block access to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service was a violation of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Azadliq, was blocked in 2017 after a ruling by a Baku court, which alleged the website had posted content that “promoted violence and religious extremism and called for, among other things, mass riots.”

Four other media outlets --,,, and -- had joined RFE/RL’s case against Azerbaijan.

The four outlets were accused of publishing “false, misleading, and libelous information.”

RFE/RL and other plaintiffs insisted in their lawsuit that the decision for the wholesale blocking of their websites was “extreme.”

They argued that the main reason they were banned was because of their criticism of the government and reporting on corruption.

The move to block RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service came after it published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev's family and his inner circle.

The reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

RFE/RL condemned the ruling in 2017, accusing the government of “another blatant attempt" to "silence our reporting in Azerbaijan.”

In its ruling, the ECHR said the government of Azerbaijan needs to pay each applicant a total of 6,000 euros ($6,500) for damages and other expenses.

Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic since shortly before the death of his long-ruling father, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.

He has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.


Moscow Exchange Stops Dollar, Euro Trades Over New Sanctions

Russia's Central Bank said all deals in dollars and euros will now be made without the involvement of the Moscow Exchange. (file photo)
Russia's Central Bank said all deals in dollars and euros will now be made without the involvement of the Moscow Exchange. (file photo)

Russia's main stock exchange on June 13 halted dollar and euro trades after the United States hit Moscow with a new package of sanctions over its military offensive in Ukraine.

The new U.S. sanctions, announced on June 12, target the Moscow Exchange, also known as MOEX, which operates Russia's largest public trading markets for equity, fixed income, derivative, foreign exchange, and money market products. The exchange also operates Russia’s central securities depository and is the country’s largest clearing house for foreign currency transactions.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it took the step after Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a series of measures to further attract capital through the Moscow Exchange from individuals and from "friendly countries."

The department said this expanded opportunities for both Russians and non-Russians "to profit from the Kremlin's war machine by making investments in Russian sovereign debt, Russian corporations, and leading Russian defense entities," including many already designated by the United States for sanctions.

Britain on June 13 followed the U.S. lead and announced its own sanctions targeting MOEX, saying the action was taken in coordination with the United States.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the goal was to ramp up economic pressure "to bear down on Russia's ability to fund its war machine." Putin "must lose, and cutting off his ability to fund a prolonged conflict is absolutely vital," Sunak said in a statement issued as Group of Seven (G7) leaders convene for a summit in Italy.

London said the 50 new curbs were part of "coordinated action with G7 partners" and will hit the Russian financial system and suppliers supporting its military production.

Russia announced its decision to suspend “exchange trading and settlement of instruments in U.S. dollars and euros" late on June 12 after the U.S. Treasury decision.

Measures that target Russians' ability to buy and trade foreign currency typically provoke a strong reaction throughout Russia, where many people prefer to save in Western currencies.

The Russian central bank sought to calm nerves by saying in its statement that companies and individuals may continue to buy and sell U.S. dollars and euros through Russian banks and ensuring Russians that all funds held in U.S. dollars in accounts "remain safe."

In addition, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by state media on June 13 as saying the regulator was "ensuring stability in all markets.”

Many Russian companies and banks had already reduced their reliance on Western currencies in the two years since Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine, with the Chinese yuan accounting for the majority of foreign currency trades on the Moscow Exchange.

Russia's central bank had fixed the exchange rate at 89 rubles to the dollar just before the sanctions were announced. A few banks immediately hiked their exchange rates to as high as 200 rubles per dollar after the sanctions were introduced.

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Journalist Tatyana Lazareva To Wanted List

Tatyana Lazareva
Tatyana Lazareva

Russia's Interior Ministry has added self-exiled television journalist Tatyana Lazareva to its wanted list on unspecified charges. In July 2022, Lazareva, who openly condemned Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents." Lazareva and her ex-husband, journalist Mikhail Shats, fled Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Shats was also labeled as a "foreign agent." In June 2023, a Moscow court fined Lazareva in absentia for failing to mark her online reports as made by "a foreign agent." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Pressure On Pashinian Grows As Armenians Continue Protests

Police officers protecting the parliament faced away from protesters in Yerevan on June 13.
Police officers protecting the parliament faced away from protesters in Yerevan on June 13.

A day after clashes with police, anti-government protesters are again gathering, this time outside the Armenian government building, as pressure continues to mount grows on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to step down as his country nears a controversial peace deal with Azerbaijan.

Pashinian was scheduled to chair a weekly cabinet session on June 13, but it was postponed to June 14 due to scheduled discussions in parliament on the budget.

The prime minister also announced that no Armenian officials would be allowed to visit Belarus while the Foreign Ministry recalled Armenia's ambassador to Minsk for consultations after Pashinian accused members of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Belarus, of having planned a war against his country with Azerbaijan.

Pashinian said officials would not travel to Belarus as long as authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was in power, and that the "next logical step would be our withdrawal from the organization" depending on questions Yerevan has for the CSTO.

He did not specify what those questions were, but said that Armenia will "decide when it (leaving the CSTO) happens."

"It could be a month, a year, or three years from now," he said in parliament on June 13, clarifying comments from a day earlier that many interpreted as him saying Armenia was leaving the CSTO.

Pashinian also said that, if Belarus left the CSTO, he would consider changing his mind on Armenia's participation in the grouping.

Meanwhile, demonstrators led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian descended on the government offices, where police officers had formed a line at the entrance to the building.

Images showed that security forces had turned their backs to the protesters and were facing the government building.

Criticizing the prime minister and lawmakers, Galastanian charged that “they have no identity and hide behind the police.”

During a rally on June 12, nearly 100 people were injured in clashes with the police outside the legislature, in the latest protest over his government’s security policy and for its decision to turn over four border villages to Azerbaijan as part of an effort to negotiate a peace agreement with its longtime adversary.

Speaking in parliament on June 13, Pashinian again defended the police action, describing it as “legitimate and professional.”

Police "justly used" a stun grenade after the leader of the protest, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, "directed people to attack the police," said parliament speaker Alen Simonian.

Video from the protest showed several people with small wounds on their legs and backs. It was unclear what caused the injuries, or whether police used any type of rubber bullets or pellets to disperse the crowd away.

Police In Armenia Use Stun Grenades On Anti-Government Protesters
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Galstanian announced early on June 13 that he would again rally his supporters outside the parliament building later in the evening.

Galstanian, the outspoken 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, has led protests against Pashinian for months over plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

Addressing protesters on June 12, the archbishop said he wanted to see Pashinian discuss “the terms of his peaceful departure.”

Galstanian has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators with his Tavush for the Motherland movement in an unprecedented challenge to Pashinian's six-year leadership.

Speaking to lawmakers on June 12, Pashinian denounced the CSTO for its failure to offer protection to Armenia and alleged that some of its members sided with Azerbaijan.

“It turned out that its members failed to fulfill their obligations under the treaty and planned the war against us alongside Azerbaijan,” he said, without elaborating.

Armenian opposition groups have said that an exit from the CSTO and a breakup of Armenia’s broader military alliance with Russia would create a dangerous security vacuum that cannot be filled by Western powers and would only encourage Azerbaijan to launch new attacks.

Rights Groups Demand Release Of Kyrgyz Protesters As Prosecutors Seek Lengthy Sentences

Protesters demand the immediate release of the Kempir-Abad group in December 2023.
Protesters demand the immediate release of the Kempir-Abad group in December 2023.

Several international rights groups on June 12 demanded the immediate release of over two dozen Kyrgyz activists who could be facing 20 years in prison for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan.

Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan asked a court in Bishkek on June 10 to hand down lengthy sentences to 27 members of a Kyrgyz group who protested a deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan.

The 27 were arrested in 2022 and charged with organizing mass unrest and plotting to seize power. Their trial started in June 2023 and is expected to conclude on June 13.

In their statement, the rights groups said the request for lengthy sentences for each activist “compounds an already shocking miscarriage of justice.”

The groups include the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, People in Need, Civil Rights Defenders, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Freedom Now, and the International Federation for Human Rights.

They said the activists were “peacefully campaigning” and called on the authorities to drop all charges against them.

The trial is being held behind closed doors as case materials were designated classified. The rights groups said this “violates the defendants’ right to a fair and public hearing” under international law.

“While independent trial monitors have not had access to the trial, information from the defendants and their lawyers indicates that the proceedings have been marred by serious violations of due process and fair trial guarantees,” the groups said.

They charged that the prosecution had presented “no credible evidence to support the charges.

“Judicial and law enforcement authorities have also allegedly intimidated and harassed lawyers for representing their clients in this case,” they added.

The groups called on Kyrgyzstan’s international partners to support their call for the “unconditional release of the defendants” and demand “accountability for those responsible for violations of their rights.”

“Kyrgyzstan’s authorities should end their crackdown on free speech and other fundamental freedoms in the country and put in place meaningful measures to safeguard human rights in line with Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations,” the groups said.


Ahead Of Summit, G7 Leaders Agree On Ukraine Funding Plan Backed By Frozen Russian Assets

G7 leaders pose for photos ahead of a summit in Puglia, Italy, on June 13.
G7 leaders pose for photos ahead of a summit in Puglia, Italy, on June 13.

The Group of Seven (G7) leaders have agreed on a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using frozen Russian assets as collateral, as Britain and Canada also separately announced new financial and military support for Kyiv.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Diplomats confirmed to the Associated Press that an agreement had been reached on the deal before the leaders even landed in southern Italy on June 13 for a highly anticipated three-day summit.

Separately, G7 member Canada announced on June 13 that it was sending its first delivery of new armored vehicles to Ukraine. Defense Minister Bill Blair said Ukrainian troops would be trained to use them over the summer.

Additionally, Britain said it would announce 242 million pounds ($309.5 million) in humanitarian aid for Ukraine during the summit, which brings together the leaders of seven of the world's wealthiest countries.

Earlier on June 12, U.S. officials were quoted as saying Washington will provide another Patriot missile system in response to Ukraine's pleas for more air defenses as devastating Russian strikes keep the country on edge and decimate its energy grid, forcing Kyiv to import record amounts of power.

Germany on June 11 also pledged to send a Patriot system, along with Gepard self-propelled antiaircraft guns and an IRIS-T air-defense system.

The G7 summit kicks off a day after Russia killed at least nine people in a deadly attack on the Ukrainian city of Kryviy Rih.

A major city in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Kryviy Rih is President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hometown and has been the target of Russian air attacks multiple times in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government on June 13 said G7 nations had separately agreed to provide more than $1 billion to support Ukraine’s energy sector.

Ukraine's Energy Ministry said in a statement the country would import 29,796 megawatt hours on June 12, exceeding the previous record of up to 28,000 MWh set earlier this month.

With reporting by AP

Iran Frees Imprisoned French Citizen, Macron Says

Louis Arnaud (file photo)
Louis Arnaud (file photo)

Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on June 12, urging Tehran to free three other French nationals "without delay." "Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran," Macron said on X, thanking Oman for helping to secure "this happy outcome." Arnaud, a banking consultant, was sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges. His arrest in 2022 came as protests roiled Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress rules. Arnaud's family said he had "kept a distance from the social movements that were starting" at the time and never acted "with political intentions or carelessness."

Microsoft Says Russia 'More Aggressive' In Cyberspace

Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)
Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. tech giant Microsoft said Russian cyberattacks are becoming even “more aggressive” and warned that Moscow could deepen collaboration with U.S. adversaries in cyberspace, making it much harder to prevent intrusions.

Hackers from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Agency (SVR) are no longer disengaging from a computer environment once they are discovered but are doubling down, leading to the equivalent of “hand-to-hand combat” in cyberspace, according to Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft, who is scheduled to testify on June 13 to the House of Representatives' Committee on Homeland Security.

The committee made a transcript of Smith’s statement to the committee available on June 12.

Smith said in the statement that Microsoft believes the SVR is now allowing its top engineers to use what they learn during the day in criminal ransomware operations they work on during their free time for financial gain as a way to retain them.

“This is creating a vicious cycle reinforcing nation-state and ransomware activity,” Smith wrote in the statement.

Smith will address the committee on Microsoft’s plans to boost security following successful intrusions by Russian and Chinese state actors. He said closer cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran on the geopolitical stage could be replicated in cyberspace.

“This is grave at multiple levels. It’s one thing to engage in cyber combat with four separate nation-state adversaries, but quite another scenario if two or all four of these countries work in tandem,” he wrote in his testimony.

He said each of those nations has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cyber capabilities, and through cooperation they could enhance each others' effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, this is where the future is likely going,” he wrote.

Smith painted a grave picture of current cyberspace, saying “lawless and aggressive cyber activity has reached an extraordinary level” and that state actors are more sophisticated and better resourced than ever. He said Microsoft detects almost 4,000 password-based attacks against its customers every second.

He called for tougher responses to such countries, saying they suffer few consequences for their actions.

“Deter nation-state threat actors by imposing appropriate punishment so that the actions of nation-state actors are not without a cost,” he wrote in his testimony.

U.S. Aware Of Reports Russia Is Listing Ukrainian Children For Adoption

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is aware of “new and credible reports” that Russia has listed abducted Ukrainian children on Russian adoption websites. Sullivan described the development as "despicable and appalling" in a statement on June 12. He acknowledged that since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, “including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.” He stressed that these children belong with their families, adding that Russia is “waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military but against the Ukrainian people” and is “committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.” To read the full statement from the White House, click here.

Austria Says Security Concern Was Behind Decision To Pull TASS Accreditation

The Russian Embassy in Vienna
The Russian Embassy in Vienna

Austria annulled the accreditation of two correspondents working for Russia's TASS news agency in April "due to a negative security assessment by the security authorities," the Interior Ministry said.

The Interior Ministry's statement, quoted by dpa on June 11, came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had canceled the accreditation of a correspondent for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Maria Knips-Witting, and told her to leave the country in response to Austria's expulsion of Ivan Popov, a journalist for TASS, in late April.

Though the Russian Foreign Ministry only cited the expulsion of Popov, the Austrian Interior Ministry statement referred to two journalists for TASS, both expelled in April.

ORF said it could not understand Russia's move to cancel Knips-Witting's accreditation, while the Austrian Foreign Ministry called it "completely unjustified."

A report in March in the Vienna-based Falter weekly wrote about suspected Russian intelligence activities in the Austrian capital in a story that mentioned TASS.

In addition, the Austrian Interior Ministry's latest intelligence report says foreign intelligence services are active in the country under the cover of news agencies.

Knips-Witting joined a long list of journalists expelled by Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In August 2023, Eva Hartog, a Dutch journalist working for Politico -- a U.S. based politics-focused digital newspaper -- was denied a renewal of her Russian visa.

Russian authorities in March refused to extend a visa for Xavier Colas, a reporter for Spanish newspaper El Mundo and ordered him to leave Russia.

Moscow also has arrested and charged foreign journalists with crimes.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been under pretrial arrest since late March 2023 on charges of espionage that he, his employer, and U.S. officials reject as unfounded.

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S.-Russian citizen, has been in Russian custody since October on a charge of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Kurmasheva and RFE/RL maintain her innocence.

With reporting by dpa, Deutsche Welle, and VOA

U.S. Treasury Widens Sanctions To Curb Russia's War Production

The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)
The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)

The U.S. Treasury Department on June 12 announced new sanctions on over 300 entities suspected of providing Russia with products and services needed to sustain military production for its war in Ukraine. U.S. officials expressed concern over Russia's ability to procure advanced semiconductors, optical equipment, and other goods needed to produce advanced weapons systems, despite prior sanctions. The latest sanctions primarily target Belarusian and Chinese entities suspected of aiding Russia’s defense and energy sectors. The sanctions come on the eve of the June 13-15 G7 summit in Italy. To read the full statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, click here.

Russian Warships Enter Havana Harbor Following Military Exercises

The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)
The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)

A Russian navy frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine docked on June 12 in Havana harbor, a stopover the United States and Cuba said posed no threat but which was widely seen as a Russian show of force as tensions rise over the Ukraine war. The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan were accompanied by a tugboat and fuel ship that arrived earlier in the morning. The four vessels sailed to Cuba after conducting "high-precision missile weapons" training in the Atlantic Ocean, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry said the submarine and frigate carry Zircon hypersonic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles, and Onyx anti-ship missiles.

Ukraine Peace Summit Draft Calls On 'All Parties' To Work On Future Talks

This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.
This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.

A draft of a communiqué being worked on for the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland this weekend says future peace negotiations should involve "representatives of all parties" in the conflict and follow agreements on nuclear security, food security, the return of prisoners of war and kidnapped children.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The draft, which is not final and subject to change, was seen by RFE/RL on June 12, three days before the summit is set to begin in the Swiss town of Burgenstock.

Some 160 heads of state, government leaders, and international organizations have been invited to the summit, with Swiss officials saying on June 10 that just over 90 have so far indicated their participation.

However, European Union diplomats told RFE/RL that the number has fallen to 78. While they did not name the countries that reportedly dropped out, one of the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the list could still grow as countries make last-minute decisions on participating. A final list of participants is expected by June 14.

In the current version of the communiqué, the draft specifically refers to the "aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine," while saying that the summit builds on previous discussions "that have taken place based on Ukraine's Peace Formula and other peace proposals which are in line with international law, including the United Nations Charter."

"We believe that achieving peace requires the participation and dialogue of all parties. Therefore, we have decided to take concrete steps in the aforementioned areas with further involvement of representatives of all parties. The Charter of the United Nations, particularly the principles of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, can and will serve as the foundation for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine," it says.

Ukraine hopes to win broad international backing for its vision of the terms needed to end the war with Russia, which broke out after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

The United States will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and national-security adviser Jake Sullivan, while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will also attend the summit.

Beijing, which has close ties with Moscow, has so far said it will stay away from the June 15-16 summit, saying the attendance of both sides is a prerequisite for any substantive peace conference.

Russia has not been invited.

South Korean Leader Signs Deals As Central Asian Tour Hits Kazakhstan

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, on a tour of Central Asia, signed agreements on energy, oil, and chemical industry cooperation with Kazakhstan after meeting with President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12. The two leaders also took part in the Kazakh-Korean business forum in Astana. Yoon is expected to meet representatives of the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan, who are the successors of Koreans deported by Josef Stalin's regime from Russia's Far East in the 1940s. Before visiting Astana, Yoon held talks with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov and is expected to visit Uzbekistan after finishing his trip to Kazakhstan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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