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Clinton Urges Transparent Chinese Probe Of Google Case

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech on Internet freedom at the Newseum in Washington on January 21.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech on Internet freedom at the Newseum in Washington on January 21.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded that China conduct a scrupulous and open investigation of electronic intrusions that led Google to threaten to stop doing business in that country.

"The most recent situation, involving Google, has attracted a great deal of interest, and we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyberintrusions that led Google to make its announcement," Clinton told an audience at the Newseum in Washington. "And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent."

Google says it has been hacked by people working from computers in China, although there is no hard evidence that the Beijing government was behind the intrusions. In the meantime, Google says it is weighing whether to end operations in China, citing the country's strict censorship laws.

Clinton made her comments just hours after China tried to downplay the significance of the threat by Google, the U.S.-based Internet giant.

In Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei, quoted by the official Xinhua news agency, said today that his government's differences with Google merely involve issues of government policy: Google resists censorship, while China says Google must obey its laws. He said the trouble has nothing to do with relations between China and the United States.

Nevertheless, the State Department said it soon plans to lodge a formal complaint with China over the Google matter.

In her remarks, Clinton said there have been growing efforts to censor the Internet in such countries as Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Egypt, and Vietnam, as well as in China. Yet the leaders of their governments -- particularly China's leaders -- should understand that they're being hurt by their own efforts at self-preservation, she said.

"The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous," Clinton said. "There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century."

China was only one part of Clinton's speech, which was streamed live over the Internet via the State Department's website. She spoke more broadly about the importance of an open Internet to advocate human rights, even as some use it for less noble purposes.

"Modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill," Clinton said. "The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable Al-Qaeda to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments, to crush dissent and deny human rights."

China's Internet law is open about what it forbids, including Internet searches for information about such topics as the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations or the call for more autonomy in Tibet.

But as transparent as they are, Clinton said, the laws run afoul of the International Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for untrammeled gathering, distribution, and receipt of news and other information worldwide.

Clinton said such practices are causing what she called an "information curtain" to close around countries that practice such censorship, making blog posting and other supposedly inappropriate Internet material the "samizdat" of the 21st century.

In her speech, she also referred to the inventive and effective use of the Internet by Iranians protesting the presidential election of last June, and the Iranian government's bloody response in a country where foreign journalists have been forbidden to report.

"In the demonstrations that followed Iran's presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman's bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government's brutality," Clinton said. "We've seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation's leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country."

Clinton also said the Internet's inherent freedom leads some to use it as a way to anonymously recruit terrorists or to steal intellectual property. But while those practices pose grave political and economic threats, she said, they should not be seen as an excuse to limit the online experience or to invade privacy.

The time has come, Clinton said, to recognize the intrinsic value of the Internet, making it a source of valuable information to all.

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Zelenskiy Signs New Law On Military Mobilization In Ukraine

Newly recruited soldiers celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv on September 25, 2023.
Newly recruited soldiers celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv on September 25, 2023.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on April 16 signed into law legislation on mobilization is expected to address a shortfall in troops that by requiring men to update their draft data with the authorities. The legislation also increases payments to volunteers and has provisions to allow some convicts to serve. Though lawmakers watered down some amendments to draft dodging, the law does allow for punishment of those convicted of avoiding service. Since a major Ukrainian counteroffensive last year failed to make significant gains, Russia has used its significant advantage in manpower and equipment to erode those gains in the east. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Top Montenegro Law Enforcement Officials In Pretrial Detention For Alleged Ties To Organized Crime

Police escort former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic in detention on April 14.
Police escort former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic in detention on April 14.

A Montenegro court has ordered the pretrial detention for up to 30 days of former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic and former deputy police director Zoran Lazovic, who were arrested on April 14 in a corruption scandal with links to the organized crime that has shaken the tiny Adriatic republic.

"Their detention was ordered due to the risk of their escape and possible influence on the witnesses," Marija Rakovic, a spokeswoman for the High Court in Podgorica, told RFE/RL on April 16.

The Special State Prosecutor's Office said the two are charged with forming and participating in a criminal organization and abuse of office.

Lazovic is accused of creating the criminal organization whose members are alleged to have been Katnic, who was Montenegro's chief special prosecutor from 2015 until February 2022, ex-special prosecutor Sasa Cadjenovic, and Lazovic's son, ex-National Security Agency (ANB) agent Petar Lazovic.

Zoran Piperovic, Lazovic's lawyer, said his client was accused of lifting a ban on entry into Montenegro in 2021 of two Serbian members of Montenegro's notorious Kavac crime clan, Veljko Belivuk and Marko Miljkovic. Katnic allegedly aided Lazovic.

After a 10-day stay in Montenegro, Belivuk and Miljkovic were arrested in February 2021 upon their return to Serbia, where they are currently on trial for several murders they apparently boasted about to members of their criminal group.

In Montenegro, the two clan members are suspected of kidnapping a member of a rival clan in October 2020, who they then handed over to other members of the Kavac group.

The kidnapped man, Mileta Radulovic, a member of the Skaljari clan, was found dead after two months of torture.

Caidenovic was arrested in December 2022 for alleged links to the Kavac clan.

Petar Lazovic was an ANB agent until July 2022, when he was arrested on charges of drug smuggling.

Cadjenovic and the younger Lazovic have been in custody since their arrest.

The Special State Prosecutor’s Office on April 14 said the investigation against Lazovic and Katnic had gone on for several months in cooperation with the Europol, The EU agency for law enforcement.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milojko Spajic hailed the arrests, saying he backed the fight against corruption and organized crime -- two issues that have long plagued Montenegro.

President Jakov Milatovic said the arrests marked a step on the road of improving the rule of law in Montenegro.

Former Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic who, while in office had accused Katnic and Lazovic of being “at the top of the criminal pyramid in Montenegro,” also welcomed the arrests.

With reporting by Balkan Insight

Israeli War Cabinet To Meet For Third Time On Response To Iran's Attack

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) attends a war cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv on April 14.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) attends a war cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv on April 14.

Israel's war cabinet was set to meet for the third time in three days on April 16, an official said, to decide on a response to Iran's first-ever direct attack, amid international pressure to avoid further escalating conflict in the Middle East. Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised that Saturday night's launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones from Iran into Israeli territory "will be met with a response," but gave no details. While the attack caused no deaths and little damage, it has increased concerns that violence rooted in the Gaza war is spreading.

Wave Of Complaints Follows Police Hijab Crackdown In Tehran

Iranian women walk on a Tehran street without wearing the mandatory head scarves.
Iranian women walk on a Tehran street without wearing the mandatory head scarves.

The stricter enforcement of the mandatory hijab law by Tehran police has prompted a wave of complaints from Iranians who say police are using aggressive and sometimes violent tactics in their treatment of alleged violators.

Tehran Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced a ratcheting up of enforcement of the new "hijab and chastity" bill from April 13 even though the legislation had yet to be approved by the country's Guardian Council.

According to reports, some citizens said their car windows were smashed by baton-wielding officers as they sought violators, while others recounted aggressive confrontations with state motorcycle patrols.

It was also reported that Nafiseh Latifian and Negar Abedzadeh, the wife and daughter of legendary soccer goalkeeper Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, were among those detained on Tehran's Fereshteh Street for allegedly violating hijab regulations.

"The two were detained for causing tensions and clashing with officers," the Fars News Agency, which is aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported.

Even though the Guardian Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step in it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardian Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Ahmadreza Radan, a senior police official, discussed the stepped-up measures, telling the Mehr news agency that in cases involving vehicles, a warning is issued on the first offense.

"On the second, the vehicle is detained on site and then impounded," he added.

Radan also spoke about the Noor Plan, which targets businesses and individuals accused of failing to adhere to hijab norms. He described it as a response to demands from "devout citizens," with businesses facing closure for repeated violations.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the headscarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

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

Organizer Of 'Nearly Naked' Party Charged With Discrediting Russia's Armed Forces

Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)
Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)

The organizer of the so-called "Nearly Naked" party, Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva, has been charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces and will face a hearing on April 25 at Moscow's Tver district court. It was not immediately clear how Ivleyeva broke the law. Ivleyeva was an organizer of the party at the Mutabor night club in December, which sparked outrage among lawmakers and pro-Kremlin groups. The Lefortovo district court in Moscow did not charge Ivleyeva but ruled in January that the party had "propagated nontraditional sexual relations." Propagating gay relations is a crime in Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukrainian Nuclear Plant 'Dangerously Close' To Accident, Atomic Watchdog Chief Warns

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)

Recent drone attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine have raised the risk of a nuclear accident to a new level, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency warned on April 15, calling on the UN Security Council to do everything in its power to minimize the risk.

"We are getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident. We must not allow complacency to let a roll of the dice decide what happens tomorrow," Rafael Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the council.

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 plant has come under a series of drone attacks since April 7 for which Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other. A team of international specialists at the plant confirmed that attacks took place on April 7, and said one of the attacks hit the containment dome of the Unit 6 reactor building.

Damage to the structure was superficial, but the attack “sets a very dangerous precedent of the successful targeting of the reactor containment,” Grossi said.

The other two attacks on April 7 were in close proximity to the main reactor buildings and resulted in at least one casualty, Grossi added.

In addition, experts at the site have been informed by the plant’s operators of a drone strike on the site’s oxygen and nitrogen production facility, two attacks on a training center located just outside the site's perimeter, and reports of a drone shot down above the turbine hall of Unit 6, he said without specifying when those attacks occurred.

The attacks have not led to a radiological incident, but “they significantly increase the risk at Zaporizhzhya [nuclear power plant], where nuclear safety is already compromised,” Grossi said, according to a transcript of his comments posted at the IAEA’s website.

"These reckless attacks must cease immediately," Grossi said.

The power plant has been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after their invasion started in February 2022, and the IAEA has deployed technicians at the facility. It has been shut down but still requires electricity to power its safety and cooling systems.

The plant is currently relying on just two lines of external power, and in the past year there have been at least four occasions when the plant has had only one line of external power supply, Grossi said.

Grossi is also concerned about an increase in isolated drone incursions in the vicinity of the facility and in the nearby town of Enerhodar and other areas of nuclear safety degradation.

John Bolton Says Growing U.S. Isolationism Threatens Ukraine's War Effort

Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.
Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.

Ukraine faces "danger" if the United States does not quickly pass much-needed military aid, former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton told Current Time, as Russia's advantages in troops and weaponry help the Kremlin edge deeper into its neighbor more than two years into the war.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Bolton noted that Russia is currently firing five or six artillery shells for each one fired by Ukraine, a rate he said is "not sustainable over a long period of time."

"I think the best we can hope for until the [November U.S. presidential election] is a stalemate," Bolton added, highlighting the growing isolationism inside the U.S. Republican Party "due to the effect of Donald Trump," the party's presumptive nominee for the upcoming vote.

'Putin Is Waiting For Trump': Ex-U.S. National-Security Adviser Voices Fears Over Ukraine, NATO
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That isolationism, he said, was paralyzing efforts to counter threats from Iran, Russia, and China. The recent Iranian air strikes against Israel, though, might serve as "shock therapy" to many Republicans in Congress, he added.

"Ukraine needs aid; Taiwan needs aid," he said. "It is all part of the same endeavor. I'm hoping this week there might be real movement on all these fronts, but particularly on Ukraine aid."

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, an ally of Trump, appeared on April 15 to be making a push toward adopting measures this week on $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan through an elaborate plan that would break the package -- of which $65 billion is earmarked for Kyiv -- into separate votes.

Bolton, who spoke with Current Time from Washington, served as Trump's third national-security adviser in 2018-19 before being asked to resign after months of division over policy. He was also the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush and an outspoken advocate of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.

If Trump, as expected, is the Republican candidate in November and if he wins the election, Bolton warned he thinks Trump "will try to withdraw from NATO."

"It would be a catastrophic mistake for the United States all around the world if he did," he said.

"The withdrawal of the United States would render NATO essentially ineffective, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire alliance."

Russia under President Vladimir Putin "remains a threat, particularly as its axis with China grows, and I think it will grow," Bolton said.

"It's a threat until somehow the Putin regime is removed from power and Russia and democracy get another chance," he told Current Time. "I don't know when that's going to occur. I'm not optimistic."

Bolton argued that no mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of power exist in Russia, where Putin has been in power for a quarter-century and elections are "clearly rigged."

"It's going to be a very dangerous period for Russia," Bolton said. "And the chances of becoming part of the West again are far more limited now...than they were before."

Russian Radar Destroyed By Ukranian Drones, Says Kyiv

The Nebo-SVU radar that has reportedly been destroyed could monitor the skies hundreds of kilometers inside Ukraine. (file photo)
The Nebo-SVU radar that has reportedly been destroyed could monitor the skies hundreds of kilometers inside Ukraine. (file photo)

Drones belonging to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) have destroyed a military radar installation in Russia's Bryansk region, according to an SBU source, in what would be another blow to Russia's ability to monitor activities deep inside Ukraine.

The Nebo-SVU radar complex monitored the skies some 700 kilometers into Ukraine, offering Russian troops better control during attacks and supporting bombers that were targeting Ukraine's territory.

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.

"Radars worth $100 million were struck by seven kamikaze drones," a source, speaking on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL, adding that it had confirmation that the Nebo-SVU complex was no longer functional and "probably turned into a colander."

The source did not specify when the alleged attack had taken place and the information could not be independently confirmed immediately. Russia has not mentioned any attempted Ukrainian strikes on Bryansk recently.

On April 16, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its forces had "prevented an attempted Ukrainian drone attack," shooting down three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region.

Confronted with a worsening lack of air defenses, weapons, and ammunition as Western aid is drying out, the Ukrainian military has increasingly resorted to air and naval drone strikes deep inside Russian territory, targeting both military installations and critical oil-refining capabilities.

On April 9, the Ukrainian military intelligence said it had hit an aviation training center in Russia's southwestern Voronezh region.

On April 8, Ukrainian intelligence reportedly carried out a special operation that damaged Russia's Serpukhov missile corvette docked off the exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

Last month, it said Ukrainian sea drones struck and "sunk" the Russian patrol vessel Sergei Kotov off the coast of occupied Crimea.

In February, Ukraine's military said it had destroyed the Tsezar Kunikov, one of the largest Russian landing ships, also off the Crimean coast, and had sunk the missile-armed corvette Ivanovets in the Black Sea using naval drones.

Russia has not commented on the Ukrainian claims.

More Evacuations Ordered in Russia Amid 'Colossal' Flooding

A woman and her pet are evacuated from a flooded street ride in the Russian city of Orenburg earlier this week.
A woman and her pet are evacuated from a flooded street ride in the Russian city of Orenburg earlier this week.

Russian officials continued to order the evacuation of areas in Siberia and parts of the south as massive floods sparked by heavy rains and a rapid snowmelt show few signs of letting up.

With thousands already forced from their homes, officials in the Tyumen region of western Siberia and Kurgan in the south near the border with Kazakhstan on April 16 ordered more to leave as the Ishim and Tobol rivers continue to swell.

"Pack your valuables. Leave now for a safe place, to relatives or to a temporary accommodation center," said Aleksander Moor, governor of the Tyumen region, adding that those who didn't abide by the "urgent" evacuation notice could be fined.

Emergency officials said the Ishim River had reached a "critical" level after rising above 8 meters in some parts.

In Russia's Kurgan region straddling the Tobol River near the border with Kazakhstan, the region's governor, Vadim Shumkov, warned of a "colossal" amount of water heading toward the city of Kurgan, which has already experienced power cuts and evacuations.

Shmukov said the Tobol River that runs through the region could see water levels rise to 11 meters, double the level where it breaks its banks in some places along its course.

More than 125,000 people have been evacuated from areas hit by massive floods in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan in recent weeks.

Following massive snowfalls in winter, unusually warm weather triggered the sudden melting of snow that in turn lead to the rapid swelling of rivers in what specialists say may be an effect of global climate change.

Residents Scramble To Evacuate As Floodwaters Engulf Kazakh City
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In northern Kazakhstan, where more than 111,000 people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas since the start of this month, some residents of Petropavl, a city of around 20,000 people near the Ishim River, have started to return to badly damaged houses.

Dozens lined up on April 16 demanding compensation from government offices as they look to starting piecing their lives back together.

The first to be affected by the massive floods was the city of Orsk, followed by Orenburg, both on the Ural. Now floods have reached the Kemerovo and Tomsk regions in western Siberia.

In the Kemerovo region, the Mrassu River overflowed its banks.

Rights Watchdog Calls On EU States, Turkey Not To Return Tajik Dissidents

Self-exiled Tajik oppositionist Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention in Lithuania earlier this month. (file photo)
Self-exiled Tajik oppositionist Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention in Lithuania earlier this month. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on several EU countries and Turkey to refrain from sending Tajik dissidents taking shelter in their countries back to Tajikistan.

Several individuals linked to the banned Tajik opposition movement Group 24 who were residing in EU members Lithuania and Poland as well as Turkey have disappeared or been threatened with being extradited back to Tajikistan over the past several months.

On April 8, self-exiled Tajik opposition activist and ex-member of Group 24 Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention for two months by a court in Lithuania on a charge related to an alleged violation of the Baltic nation's national security.

The 40-year-old Davlatov, who has lived in Lithuania for nine years, is known for his online criticism of Tajik authorities. In 2015, the former member of Group 24 and the Congress of Constructive Forces opposition movements, was detained in Finland at the request of Tajik authorities, but later released.

Komron Khudoydodov, a brother of former Group 24 activist Shabnam Khudoydodova, was ordered by a Warsaw court to leave Poland, where he has been living since 2018 on a humanitarian visa, after his asylum request was rejected. His sister was charged with extremism and placed by Tajik authorities on Interpol's red-notices list in 2015.

Nasimjon Sharifov and Suhrob Zafar, two senior members of Group 24, disappeared in Turkey in February and last month respectively. Zafar has resided in Turkey since 2014, where he received multiple threats that he would be abducted and sent back to Tajikistan. Sharifov and Zafar had previously been detained in 2018 by the Turkish authorities at the request of Dushanbe but were eventually released.

In March 2015, Group 24's founder, businessman Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul. The group, which has been promoting democratic reforms in Tajikistan, was banned by the Tajik government and designated a terrorist organization in 2014.

“Tajikistan should unequivocally end its decade-long hunt of perceived critics abroad, especially those related to Group 24 and other banned groups,” said HRW's Syinat Sultanalieva.

“The EU and Turkey should protect opposition activists and refrain from returning them to Tajikistan, a country known for engaging in transnational repression, where they risk being tortured.”

The two EU member states and Turkey "should denounce cases of transnational repression and review any cooperation agreements with states engaged in targeting critics abroad,” the New York-based rights watchdog said.

Rain-Related Incidents Kill 39 In Pakistan, Officials Say

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of Pakistan's provinces that has been hardest hit by the flooding.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of Pakistan's provinces that has been hardest hit by the flooding.

Heavy rains and thunderstorms that hit several parts of Pakistan have killed 39 people and injured dozens more over the past few days, local officials said. The most affected provinces were Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest, Punjab in the east, and Balochistan in the southwest. Balochistan's capital, Quetta, has instituted an "urban flooding emergency" due to the risk of floods in the city, Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Several Arrested As Georgians Protest 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.
Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.

Thousands of Georgians protested a controversial "foreign agents" bill that has roiled the Caucasus nation as lawmakers from the ruling party gave it an initial green light despite scuffles in parliament.

An estimated 5,000 people gathered outside the parliament building late on April 15 urging authorities to scrap the bill that would force foreign-funded entities to register as foreign agents -- a move many have likened to similar legislation enforced in Russia that has been used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Some of the protesters clashed with riot police deployed outside the parliament building late on April 15, the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that 14 demonstrators were arrested and one police officer was injured "as a result of the protesters' violent actions."

Earlier, scuffles broke out in parliament after opposition lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present the bill.

Elisashvili punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to calm down.

Thousands Protest, And Lawmakers Brawl, As Georgian 'Foreign Agents' Bill Reappears In Parliament
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Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

Earlier this month Mdinaradze said the Georgian Dream party plans to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also give wide oversight powers to the authorities and introduce potential sanctions for undefined criminal offences.

This new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: the term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutious "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Georgia's opposition has called it the "Russian law," while the ruling party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation.

And its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Once approved by the legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its coalition allies, the bill will proceed to a first reading in parliament.

Most protesters dispersed on the evening on April 15 after activists urged them to return on April 16 for the next parliamentary meeting.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine Downs 9 Drones Launched By Russia

Ukrainian forces are running out of air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in Congress. (file photo)
Ukrainian forces are running out of air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in Congress. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defense systems shot down all nine drones launched by Russia at Ukraine's territory early on April 16, the country's air force said in a statement. The drones were destroyed above the Kherson, Mykolayiv, Khmelnytskiy, Poltava, Cherkasy, and Dnipropetrovsk regions, the air force said. In recent weeks, Russia has drastically stepped up its attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as Ukrainian forces are running out of sufficient air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in the House of Representatives due to Republican opposition. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

Biden Hosts Czech PM As He Promotes Passage Of Ukraine Aid Stalled In Congress

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office in Washington on April 15.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office in Washington on April 15.

President Joe Biden urged the U.S. House to immediately take up Senate-passed supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel on April 15 as he hosted Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office.

The visit came as Biden aimed to highlight the efforts other nations are making to support Ukraine.

Biden appealed to Congress to pass the funding bill so that the U.S. could do its part to help Ukraine, saying, “As the Czech Republic remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine.”

Fiala praised the U.S. president for his leadership in support of Ukraine, adding, “We are also doing our best.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Johnson is pushing toward action this week on U.S. aid for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, unveiling an elaborate plan on April 15 to break the package into separate votes to squeeze through the House's political divides on foreign policy.

Facing an outright rebellion from conservatives fiercely opposed to aiding Ukraine, the Republican speaker's move on the foreign aid package is a potentially watershed moment, the first significant action on the bill after more than two months of delay.

Former U.S. National-Security Adviser Says Strong Israeli Response To Iran Attack Would Be Justified

John Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said Israel can't be sure the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads.
John Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said Israel can't be sure the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads.

PRAGUE -- Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says Israel is entitled to retaliate against Iran for its weekend attack, including destroying its nuclear weapons program, and stands by his comment that President Joe Biden is "an embarrassment" for urging Israel not to respond.

In an interview with Current Time, Bolton said if Iran targeted the United States using hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones as it did on April 13 against Israel, Washington would retaliate at a minimum by destroying the bases and facilities from which the attacks were launched.

"I am firmly of the belief that if the U.S. faced that kind of attack, there's no doubt [what] we would do. Why should we deny the Israelis the right to…react the same way we would?"

John Bolton: Israel Has Right To Respond To Iranian Attack
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Bolton spoke with Current Time from Washington as Israel weighs its response to Iran's attack, which Iran said was in response to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, last month that killed two brigadier generals.

Almost all of the missiles and drones were shot down by Israeli defense systems or intercepted by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Biden has said he wants to prevent the conflict in the Middle East from spreading and urged caution, telling Israel to "think carefully and strategically" before launching a response against Iran that could trigger a wider war.

But Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said that because Israel can't be sure that the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads, it is in Israel's long-term interests to consider responding by destroying Iran's nuclear weapons program. And if Israel decided to do so, the United States should support the move, he said.

The April 13 attack has raised fears of another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, and the risks are high because "we're in uncharted territory," said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based Le Beck International consultancy.

A full-scale war is the nightmare scenario that could be triggered by an Israeli attack on nuclear sites in Iran, Horowitz said in an interview with RFE/RL on April 15.

"If we reach this point, we may see weeks of Israeli strikes in Iran, the full-scale engagement of Hizballah in an attack against Israel, an Israeli ground incursion in Lebanon, and Iranian attempts to close the Persian Gulf," Horowitz said.

The region is now "closer to such a scenario than we were before," and even if there is no specific trigger, a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between Iran and Israel "could get us there if outside parties don't act as they did so far to de-escalate tensions."

Bolton wrote the book Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America At The United Nations after serving as U.S. ambassador to the UN from August 2005 until December 2006. As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005, he advocated tough measures against the nuclear weapons programs of both Iran and North Korea.

In his interview with Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Bolton said Israel is already engaged in a war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU, and has been attacked by Hizballah militants from the north.

In addition, he noted that Huthi rebels in Yemen backed by Iran have targeted international shipping in the Red Sea and there have been attacks by Iran-aligned militant groups in Iraq and Syria.

Bolton accused the Biden administration of refusing to look at the conflict in the Middle East in a strategic sense. He also said that all the terrorist groups operating in the region are armed, equipped, trained, and financed by Iran, thus as strong response is justified.

"Iran is the puppet master here. That's the wider war we're already in," he told Current Time. "This is not separate battles between Israel and Hamas and Gaza, or the Huthis trying to close the Red Sea in the Suez Canal to international commercial traffic. This is all controlled by Iran," he added.

He defended his criticism of Biden as "an embarrassment," saying the wider war that the U.S. administration and others say they fear already began on October 7, the day that Hamas militants attacked Israeli towns, taking around 250 hostages and killing more than 1,100 people. More than 100 hostages are still in captivity.

Bolton, who spent 17 months as an adviser to former President Donald Trump, said he could not predict what Israel's response will be nor the outcome of an Israeli war cabinet meeting on April 15, but said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows the Iran nuclear threat "better than anyone else in Israel or, frankly, in the United States."

If forced to predict, he said, he would say the response would be "lower level" and would come within a few days.

Bolton, Trump's third national-security adviser, was asked for his resignation in September 2019 after months of division over the direction of foreign and national-security policy.

Bolton wrote a book the following year about his time serving in the White House. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir angered Trump for portraying him as ignorant of basic geopolitical facts. The White House tried to stop the book's release, but a judge denied its request. Trump reacted to the publication by calling Bolton "incompetent" and "a boring fool."

With reporting by Kian Sharifi

U.S. Sanctions Belarus Entities Over Support For Russian War On Ukraine

A poster depicts Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the words "War Criminals" at a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London in March 2022.
A poster depicts Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the words "War Criminals" at a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London in March 2022.

The United States on April 15 imposed sanctions on 12 Belarus entities and 10 individuals over their alleged support for Russia's war on Ukraine, the Treasury Department said in a statement. Among the entities targeted are a machine tool building firm, a company that sells control systems for the Belarusian armed forces, and a company that produces radio communication equipment. The department said its action “builds on U.S. sanctions imposed in response to Belarus’s fraudulent August 2020 election, as well as President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s support for Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

Srebrenica To Rename Its Streets…Without Any Mention Of The Genocide

Members of the municipal council in Srebrenica vote on the proposal to rename the city streets.
Members of the municipal council in Srebrenica vote on the proposal to rename the city streets.

SARAJEVO -- Ethnic Serb members of the municipal council in Srebrenica have voted to rename many of the city's streets to commemorate Serb war victims while ignoring the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.

Despite international appeals to rethink the plan and a boycott by Bosniak members of the council, the proposal to rename 25 streets in Srebrenica and the neighboring village of Skelani was approved on April 15 in a move that critics have said is a further attempt to wipe the historical record of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Under the plan, a square and a part of a street has been renamed "Republika Srpska," after Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity. Another street will be named after a controversial World War I Serb commander.

The July 1995 massacre, which was carried out by Bosnian Serb forces, has been ruled an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

Radovan Karadzic, the first president (1992-1995) of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by the ICTY for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander, was also sentenced to life by the same court for the part he played in the genocide.

The controversial proposal was approved despite appeals by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which instead called for an "inclusive and transparent solution" for street names in the city.

Last month, the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed the Streets for Peace Project, an initiative by young people in the city to rename the streets using neutral, inclusive names such as Street of the Future, Street of Tolerance, and Children of Srebrenica.

Around 8,000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 massacre. (file photo)
Around 8,000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 massacre. (file photo)

The move also comes as the UN General Assembly is scheduled on April 17 to debate a draft UN resolution that declares July 11 "The International Day of Reflection and Remembrance of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide" ahead of an expected vote on May 2.

Partially modelled on a similar resolution for the Rwandan genocide, where up to 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the document is being developed by a group of countries including Rwanda, Germany, France, and the United States.

The resolution has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Republika Srpska, who threatened that, if it was adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and the United Kingdom over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's war in 1995, has reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file phto)
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file phto)

Under the new plan, Srebrenica City Park will be renamed the Park of Major Kosta Todorovic after a World War I Chetnik commander.

Chetniks were originally Serbian paramilitary groups fighting against the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and World War I.

During World War II, Chetnik forces committed war crimes in Bosnia, including mass killings and forced expulsions. Their leader, Draza Mihailovic, was sentenced to death by Yugoslav authorities in 1946, but Serbian authorities rehabilitated him 70 years later, in 2015.

Some Serb military and paramilitary formations called themselves Chetniks during the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Also as a result of the April 15 decision, a part of Marshal Tito Street was renamed Republika Srpska Street.

Josip Broz Tito was the leader of the partisan movement and the president of communist Yugoslavia from World War II until his death in 1980. His name adorned hundreds of streets and squares in the former Yugoslavia.

Mostar-Belgrade Air Route Reopens After More Than 3 Decades

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) arrived at Mostar airport welcomed by Borjana Kristo, chairwomen of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, and Dragan Covic (right), deputy chairmen of the House of Peoples of the Bosnian parliament.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) arrived at Mostar airport welcomed by Borjana Kristo, chairwomen of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, and Dragan Covic (right), deputy chairmen of the House of Peoples of the Bosnian parliament.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic landed at the Mostar airport in the southern Bosnia-Herzegovina on April 15 in an official reopening of the direct air link between Belgrade and Mostar after more than three decades. Vucic landed to meet a delegation of Bosnian officials at the airport on April 15, reopening a route that was closed in November 1991 as war began to tear through Yugoslavia during its bloody breakup. Air Serbia will operate the flights three times a week. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Iran Takes Legal Action Against Analyst, Newspaper Over Criticism Of Israel Attack

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.

Iran's judiciary has initiated legal proceedings against the Tehran-based Etemad newspaper and political analyst Abbas Abdi over comments related to the Islamic republic's interactions with Israel, according to the Mizan News Agency.

Mizan, which is linked to the judiciary, reported on April 14 that the action is aimed at countering those “disrupting societal psychological security.”

Abdi, an analyst considered close to Iranian reformists, commented on Iran's strike on Israel over the weekend in an article published in Etemad saying Israel's recent actions were a reaction, not an act of aggression, and that Tehran did not need to respond.

He also criticized the Islamic republic's strategy of deterrence, saying the use of conventional weapons against a nation whose existence Iran does not recognize or seeks to annihilate is futile and has a disproportionate cost compared to any potential benefits.

Iranians Voice Concern Following Attack On Israel
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Mizan also reported legal actions against the economic newspaper Jahan Sanat and an unnamed economic journalist following their evaluations of the IRGC's missile and drone attacks on Israel and their repercussions on financial markets.

Legal scholar Mohsen Barhani criticized the charges as unfounded, saying the criminal articles used against the publication and author don't exist under current Iranian law.

In a related development, the IRGC's Intelligence Organization issued a warning on social media platforms cautioning users against expressing support for Israel, underscoring ongoing surveillance and potential consequences for users aligning with or endorsing Iran's sworn enemy. The organization also encouraged individuals to report any pro-Israeli activities among their peers.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Iran launched over 300 drones and missiles late on April 13. The "vast majority" were largely intercepted by Israel's air-defense systems and those of its allies.

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

Belarusian Journalist Sentenced To 15 Days For Sending Links Court Says Were 'Extremist'

Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)
Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)

Dzianis Nosav, a journalist for the Vecherny Babruysk newspaper, was sentenced to 15 days in jail by a court in Belarus for sending links to "extremist resources" to his friends. According to human rights defenders Vyasna, Nosav was detained in the city of Babruysk, about 135 kilometesr southeast of Minsk, last week. The group, which disclosed news of the sentence on April 15, gave no further details. Nosav was previously detained in September 2022 after a search of his house by security officials. Many Belarusian journalists have been detained in the country since unrest broke over an August 2020 presidential election claimed by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Georgian Deputy Punches Lawmaker Over 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Thousands Protest, And Lawmakers Brawl, As Georgian 'Foreign Agents' Bill Reappears In Parliament
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A Georgian opposition lawmaker attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present a controversial "foreign agents" bill in parliament that has roiled the Caucasus nation because of its similarities to legislation in Russia used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Aleko Elisashvili rushed the podium on the parliamentary floor on April 15 and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to quell.

"Your Russian mother is a motherf***er," Elisashvili could be heard yelling as he lunged at Mdinaradze to strike him in the head.

Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

"I don't respond to threats with street methods. We will give a proper response," Mdinaradze said.

Earlier this month Mdinaradze said the Georgian Dream party plans to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets receiving foreign funding and engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

Georgians March Against Russian-Style 'Foreign Agents' Law
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The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offenses.

As the scuffle took place inside parliament, several hundred protesters were gathered outside to express their anger over the reintroduction of the law. There were no reports of violence.

This new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: The term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutory "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

The party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation and does not imitate Russia's "foreign agents" law, but the newly resurrected On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill is seen as a product of Georgia's homegrown struggle for political power.

Its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Once approved by the legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its coalition allies, the bill will proceed to a first reading in parliament.

4 Civilians Killed As Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pleads For Patriot Systems

A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.
A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on April 15 again called for Kyiv's Western allies to "urgently" deliver desperately needed additional air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Russian artillery and missiles continued to wreak havoc among civilians and destroy critical infrastructure.

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Four people were killed in Siversk in the eastern region of Donetsk, the head of the region's administration, Vadym Filashkin, said on April 14.

"Four men aged between 36 and 86 died as a result of the shelling," Filashkin said. "The Russians are trying to kill as many of our people as possible, and the only way to protect themselves is to evacuate to safer regions of Ukraine."

Kuleba, in a video address to the Second Black Sea Security Conference jointly co-hosted by Ukraine and Bulgaria in Sofia, said Ukraine's air defense was critical for the protection of its neighbors as well and urged faster moves to supply its forces with defensive systems such as the U.S.-made Patriot.

"Ukrainian air defense is now protecting not only Ukrainian skies from Russian air terror, it also shields neighboring Moldova, Romania, and Poland from the immediate threat of missiles and drones entering their airspace," Kuleba said.

"We urgently require additional Patriot and other modern air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition," Kuleba said. "I take this opportunity to once again urge all our partners to take extraordinary and bold steps."

On April 14, Kuleba told Ukrainian television that negotiations were under way for the delivery of more Patriots, but voiced disappointment that the process was too slow.

"With all my due respect and gratitude to the United States of America, do you believe that the U.S. Army does not have one spare Patriot battery that it can transfer to Ukraine?" he said.

Meanwhile, on April 15, traffic was halted on the bridge that links Moscow-occupied Crimea with Russia, as the Russia-appointed chief of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, announced an air-raid alert in the city.

Social media reports said explosions caused by the work of Russian air-defense systems could be heard in the area, but the information could not be independently verified.

With reporting by Reuters

Heavy Rains, Lightning Kill 36 In Pakistan

A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.
A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.

Lightning and heavy rains have killed at least 36 people, mostly farmers, across Pakistan in the past three days, officials said on April 15, as authorities in the country's southwest declared a state of emergency. Most deaths occurred when lightning struck farmers harvesting wheat and rains caused houses to collapse in eastern Punjab Province, said Arfan Kathia, a spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority. He said more rains were expected this week. Rains, which also lashed the capital, Islamabad, killed seven people in southwestern Balochistan Province over the weekend, and eight died in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan.

Updated

'On The Brink': Leaders Call For Restraint As World Awaits Israeli Response To Iran Attack

Billboards across Tehran on April 15 blasted Israel and praised Iran's capabilities as world leaders urged a de-escalation of tensions between the archenemies.
Billboards across Tehran on April 15 blasted Israel and praised Iran's capabilities as world leaders urged a de-escalation of tensions between the archenemies.

Leading diplomats and politicians across the globe, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, urged restraint as the world waited for Israel's response after it endured an unprecedented air attack by Iran over the weekend.

Tehran fired more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel late on April 13, almost all of which were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Only a few missiles reached Israeli territory, causing modest damage to an air base and critically wounding a 7-year-old girl.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

The Israeli war cabinet met on April 15 as some hard-liners within the right-wing government were said to be advocating a harsh response, while others were pushing for a more moderate decision.

The Israeli military's chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, said the country would respond but provided no details.

"This launch of so many missiles, cruise missiles, and drones into Israeli territory will be met with a response," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory, while an influential member of the war cabinet said the country will retaliate in the "fashion and time" of its choosing.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed alarm over the situation.

"We're on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it," said Borrell. "We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear."

The United States reiterated its "ironclad commitment" to the security of Israel but reportedly told the Jewish state it will not take part in any retaliatory action.

When asked about Joe Biden's call with Netanyahu over the weekend, White House national-security spokesman John Kirby declined to say whether the U.S. president had urged the Israeli leader to exercise restraint in responding to the attack.

"We don't want to see a war with Iran. We don't want to see a regional conflict," Kirby said, adding that it was up to Israel to decide "whether and how they'll respond."

Countries including France, Belgium, and Germany summoned the Iranian ambassadors. The French Foreign Ministry said France was working with its partners to de-escalate the situation.

While Russia, seen as close to Tehran, has stopped short of publicly criticizing Iran for the attack on Israel, the Kremlin said on April 15 that "further escalation is in no one's interests" and called on finding a solution through "political and diplomatic methods."

Iran, which said it was responding to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus early last month that killed two brigadier generals, called on Western nations to "appreciate" the restraint it had showed since the embassy attack and warned it will act more "resolutely" if "Israel crosses red lines."

Speaking late on April 14 at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "maximum restraint" amid fears that Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel could turn into a larger regional war.

“The Middle East is on the brink.... Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate,” Guterres said.

After the meeting ended without any resolution, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said "there has to be a Security Council response to what happened.”

U.S. officials said Washington had been in indirect contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries before and after the attack, without providing details, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani cautioned on April 15 that no prearranged deal was made with any country regarding how Tehran would approach its military response to Israel.

WATCH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that his country would emerge victorious following an unprecedented attack from Iran. According to the Israeli military, over 300 drones and missiles were intercepted during the aerial assault by Iran, its first-ever direct attack on Israel.

Israel Promises Victory After Iranian Attack Risks Broader Middle East Conflict
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Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by an October 7 raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. The raid left more than 1,100 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war in Gaza began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters
Updated

Nearly 125,000 Evacuated Due To Floods In Kazakhstan, Russia

An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11
An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11

Almost 125,000 people have been evacuated from areas hit by massive floods in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan where water levels continue to rise in several regions.

Following massive snowfalls in winter, unusually warm weather triggered the sudden melting of snow that in turn lead to the rapid swelling of rivers such at the Ural and the Tobol, in what specialists say may be the effect of global climate change.

In northern Kazakhstan, where more than 111,000 people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas since the start of this month, some 4,500 people were evacuated on April 14 alone from Petropavl, a city of some 20,000 people, near the Ishim River.

Residents Scramble To Evacuate As Floodwaters Engulf Kazakh City
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The village of Bolshaya Malyshka, some 30 kilometers north of Petropavl, was also hit hard, with rescuers evacuating almost 900 residents early on April 15, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry of Kazakhstan.

A resident of the village of Podgora, near Petropavl, told RFE/RL that he had "never seen such a flood before." Residents were concerned by the lack of drinking water, despite reassurance by Mayor Serik Mukhamediev that the water "should come soon."

In neighboring southern Russia, nearly 13,000 people have been evacuated from areas threatened by flooding in Russia's southern region of Kurgan as water levels continued to rise, with the Tobol River near the capital city of Kurgan reaching 6.73 meters, the regional government reported early on April 15.

A state of emergency was declared on April 8 in Kurgan, a city of some 300,000. The ministry said that 62 settlements with some 19,000 people across the region are at risk of flooding.

Water continued to rise in the region's Ketovsky district, it said. The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that in the Kurgan region, 880 residential buildings had already been flooded.

The first to be affected by the massive floods was the city of Orsk, followed by Orenburg, both on the Ural, and now floods have reached the Kemerovo and Tomsk regions in western Siberia.

In the Kemerovo region, the Mrassu River overflowed its banks.

Residents of villages told Current Time that their household belongings and animals had been washed away and nobody has come to their aid, despite the ministry reporting that the flood situation in the region is under control.

In the Tomsk region, 143 houses and 93 household plots were flooded, said the regional head Vyacheslav Chernous.

A total of 84 people, including eight children, were evacuated, Chernous said on Telegram.

The water level in the Tom River near the center of Tomsk city reached 7.64 m -- 14 centimeters above dangerous levels.

The water level in the Ob River in the Tomsk region also exceeded dangerous levels, and authorities in the Tyumen region are thinking about ordering a mandatory evacuation.

In the Ivolginsky district of Buryatia, 11 houses were flooded, said Governor Alexey Tsydenov. Authorities evacuated 22 people, including six children, from the flooded area.

Tsydenov said the flood was caused by an ice blockage on the Selenga River.

"Today, according to the plan, the blockage will be blown up by sappers from the Eastern Military District and the Emergency Situations Ministry," Tsydenov wrote.

The authorities will allocate money for rent for three months to residents of the Orenburg region affected by floods, the press service of the regional government reported on April 15, saying in a statement that the allocation would include “10,000 rubles ($107) for a citizen living alone and 20,000 rubles for a family of two or more people."

Those who live in an apartment on the second floor of an apartment building or higher will be provided with payment for only one month, while citizens who live outside the emergency zone will not receive any compensation, the statement said.

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