Creditor Countries Cancel Afghanistan's Debt
The Paris Club is an informal grouping of 19 nations, plus the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who meet once a month in Paris to discuss whether to offer financial aid to developing countries, and whether to forgive existing loans.
In a statement, the Paris Club said the move was partially in response to Afghanistan's participation in a joint World Bank-International Monetary Fund program for a group of nations known as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). Some $440 million is being canceled as part of that initiative, and creditors have voluntarily agreed to cancel an additional $585 million.
In March 2009, the Paris Club estimated Afghanistan's total foreign debt at $2.1 billion, half of which was owed to its member nations.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the group made its decision based on the progress Afghanistan has made in strengthening its economy.
"Today's agreement represents a great achievement for Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, "and reflects the international community's acknowledgment of the great strides the country has made in strengthening its economy. Lifting the debt burden inherited by the Afghan government marks a crucial step on Afghanistan's road to economic sustainability."
With U.S. help, he said, Kabul was able to streamline its finances.
"The accord also recognized Afghanistan's performance under its IMF program and its progress on adopting and implementing economic reform in a tremendously challenging environment," Toner said. "Since 2002, [U.S.] Treasury technical advisers have worked closely with the Afghani Ministry of Finance to streamline the budget process, improve the payment system for government employees, restructure Afghanistan's debt, and establish a debt-management unit within the Ministry of Finance, which played a crucial role in today's negotiations."
Afghanistan has agreed to use the funds it would have spent paying its debt on poverty-reduction programs and initiatives to advance the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
written by Andrew F. Tully
Self-Exiled Buddhist Leader Of Russia's Kalmykia Resigns Over 'Foreign Agent' Label
The self-exiled supreme lama of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, who was the first religious leader in the country who publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, has announced his resignation.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni-Basan Ombadykov, issued a statement on January 29 saying that he was stepping down from the post of the Shajin-Lama, the leader of Kalmykia's Buddhists, after Russia added him to its registry of "foreign agents."
"In the situation that occurred, I consider it reasonable to pass on all the duties related to the position of the Shajin-Lama of the Republic of Kalmykia to the current leader of the centralized religious organization - the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery of Geden Sheddup Choi Korling -- Tendzin Choidak (Mutul Ovyanov) and the administrator Yonten Lodoi (Sergei Kirishov)," Telo Tulku Rinpoche's statement said.
The statement came two days after Russia's Justice Ministry added Telo Tulku Rinpoche to its list of "foreign agents."
Telo Tulku Rinpoche had led Kalmykia's Buddhists since the early 1990s.
The Buddhist monk, who represented the Dalai Lama in the Russian Federation and holds a U.S. passport, fled Russia for Mongolia last fall, where he is helping thousands of Kalmyks who left Russia after Moscow launched its war against Ukraine in late February, 2022.
In early October, he became the first religious leader in the Russian Federation to condemn Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion in Ukraine.
Kalmyks in Russia's southwest and Buryats in Siberia are mostly Buddhist, Mongol-speaking ethnic groups. Tyvans are another mostly Buddhist indigenous people in Siberia, whose language is Turkic.
More Russian Forces Moved To Kursk Region On Ukrainian Border, Says Governor
Russia has moved additional forces and equipment to the Kursk region on the border with Ukraine to protect the frontier and ensure security, regional Governor Roman Starovoit said on January 30, according to the Interfax news agency. Local authorities say that the region has repeatedly been subjected to Ukrainian shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago. Some of Russia's troops entered from the Kursk region, although the areas of northeastern Ukraine that they seized have since been retaken by Kyiv's forces. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Explosion In Residential Building Kills Five In Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan
An explosion in a residential building in Uzbekistan's autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan has killed at least five people. Uzbekistan's Emergency Ministry said on January 30 that the explosion, caused by a gas leak, occurred late in the afternoon of the previous day in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus. Rescue teams continue to search for survivors and casualties under the debris. Gas explosions occur with some frequency in Central Asia due to ageing pipelines and infrastructure, as well as lax safety standards. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Iran Summons Senior Ukraine Diplomat Over Comments On Drone Strike
Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran on January 30 over his country's comments about a drone strike on a military factory in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Slovenia Reportedly Detains Two Foreigners On Charge Of Spying For Russia
Media reports in Slovenia said over the weekend that the Intelligence and Security Service had detained two foreigners suspected of spying for Russia's military intelligence. According to the reports, the suspects detained in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, worked in the country under fake names. One of the suspects holds an Argentinian passport, the reports said. If convicted of spying and lying while crossing the border, the two face up to eight years in prison each. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
At Least 25 Dead, Dozens Wounded In Suicide Bombing At Pakistani Mosque
At least 25 worshippers have been killed and some 120 others wounded in an attack witnesses said was a suicide bombing inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Eyewitnesses told Radio Mashaal that suicide bombers standing in the first row behind the imam detonated explosive vests as worshippers, including many policemen and other officials, had gathered for afternoon prayers at the Police Line Mosque on January 30.
Dozens of the wounded were being transferred to nearby hospitals, a police officer said. Several of them were in critical condition, he added, raising fear that the death toll might rise further. One hospital official said 10 to 15 people were in critical condition.
The Associated Press quoted police officials as saying that at least 150 were attending the prayers when the blast occurred, though other sources put the number at about 260 people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has claimed similar attacks in the past. The radical group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and said “stern action" will be taken against those who were behind it. He ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment to the victims.
RFE/RL correspondents in the area said the mosque has been frequented by police officers and officials from the provincial government whose offices are located in the same area.
Police said rescue crews were working at the scene amid expectations that there are more casualties buried beneath the rubble as the two-storey building collapsed following the powerful blast.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the bombing, calling it a “terrorist suicide attack.”
“It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering [and] properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” Khan tweeted.
Peshawar is the capital of the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Kyiv Calls International Olympic Committee 'Promoter Of War'
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak on January 30 called the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a "promoter of war" after the sports body said it was considering ways for Russian athletes to compete. "[The] IOC is a promoter of war, murder, and destruction. The IOC watches with pleasure Russia destroying Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to promote genocide and encourages their further killings. Obviously Russian money that buys Olympic hypocrisy doesn't have a smell of Ukrainian blood," Podolyak said on Twitter.
Russian Business Offers Cash Bounties To Destroy Western Tanks In Ukraine
A Russian company said it will offer 5 million rubles (about $72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture Western-made tanks in Ukraine, after the Kremlin vowed Russian forces would wipe out any Western tanks shipped to Ukraine. The United States, Germany, and several other European countries are lining up to send Kyiv dozens of advanced combat tanks over the next few months to help boost Ukraine's military capacity. The decision has been criticized by the Kremlin as a dangerous escalation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Britain's Boris Johnson Says Putin Threatened Him With Missile Strike
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike during a phone call in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Johnson said Putin had asked him about the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO, to which he had responded it would not be "for the foreseeable future." "He threatened me at one point, and he said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute' or something like that," Johnson said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Says Nuclear Arms Treaty With U.S. May End After 2026
Russia's deputy foreign minister said in an interview published on January 30 that it was "quite possible" the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States would end after 2026. "This is quite a possible scenario," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA news agency. U.S.-Russia talks on resuming inspections under the treaty, which expires in February 2026, were called off at the last minute in November 2022. Neither side has agreed on a time frame for new talks. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Germany Won't Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine, Says Scholz
Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated on January 29 that Germany will not send fighter jets to Ukraine, as Kyiv steps up calls for more advanced weapons from the West to help repel Russia's invasion. Scholz only just agreed on January 25 to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other European countries to send theirs, after weeks of intense debate and mounting pressure from allies. "I can only advise against entering into a constant bidding war when it comes to weapons systems," Scholz said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper. To read the original story from AFP, click here.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Attacks Idea That Russia Could Compete In 2024 Olympics
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 29 that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris was tantamount to showing that "terror is somehow acceptable." "Attempts by the International Olympic Committee to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. He said Russia must not be allowed to "use [the Olympics] or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Turkey's Erdogan Signals Finland's NATO Bid May Be Considered Over Sweden
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled on January 29 that Ankara may agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm. "We may deliver Finland a different message [on their NATO application], and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did," Erdogan said in a televised speech. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and need the approval of all member countries to join. Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify the Nordic countries' membership. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Friends Mourn Volunteer Who Was Killed Helping Civilians In Ukraine
Friends and volunteers gathered on January 29 at Kyiv's St. Sophia’s Cathedral to say goodbye to Andrew Bagshaw, a New Zealand scientist who was killed in Ukraine with another volunteer while they were trying to evacuate people from a frontline town. Bagshaw, 48, a dual New Zealand-British citizen, and British volunteer Christopher Parry, 28, went missing this month while heading to the town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region, where heavy fighting was taking place. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Over 500 Dead Since Start Of Unrest In Iran, Activists Say
At least 527 people have been killed in Iran since the beginning of the anti-government demonstrations more than four months ago, said a report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency on January 29. Among them were 71 minors and 70 members of the police and other security forces, according to the group's tally. In total, nearly 20,000 people have been arrested. More than 100 of them are facing death sentences. Several demonstrators have already been executed. The Iranian authorities have not yet provided information on the total number of deaths and arrests.
Azerbaijan Evacuating Embassy In Iran After Fatal Shooting
Azerbaijan will evacuate embassy staff and family members from Iran on January 29, the Foreign Ministry said, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism." Police in Tehran have said they have arrested a suspect. Iranian authorities condemned the January 27 incident but said the gunman appeared to have had a personal, not a political, motive. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
At Least 12 Children Dead After Boat Capsizes In Northwestern Pakistan
Pakistani officials say at least 12 children were killed on January 29 after their boat overturned in Tanda Lake, a popular tourist destination in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for local emergency services, said at least five children were rescued but that they are in critical condition. Police said at least 25 children -- students of the Mirbaz Khel religious school -- were on the boat when it capsized. The death toll was expected to rise as rescue efforts continued. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
Ukrainian Tanks Crews Arrive In Britain For Training
Ukrainian tank crews have arrived in Britain to begin training for their continued fight against Russia, the British Defense Ministry said on January 29, just days after Britain and other NATO countries pledged more than 130 tanks to Ukraine.
"The UK will provide Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine alongside global partner nations -- demonstrating the strength of support for Ukraine, internationally," the ministry tweeted on January 29.
The United States and Germany agreed last week to send Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively, to Ukraine, while the United Kingdom earlier in January said it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany also allowed other countries, such as Norway and Poland, to send their German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Poland said it will provide 60 more tanks to Ukraine, in addition to the 14 it has already pledged.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that they need 300 tanks as they seek to drive Russian forces from their territory. Ukraine has lost more than half of its 850 tanks during the 11-month war, according to Oryx, a website that uses open-source tools to count destroyed equipment.
Russia has many more tanks than Ukraine, but its models are inferior in some key respects to Western models.
Both Russia and Ukraine are expected to launch offensives in the coming weeks, with tanks expected to play a vital role in those battles, experts said.
Ukraine needs new weapons and faster deliveries to confront a "very tough" situation of constant attacks by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk region, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 29.
"The situation is very tough. In Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region, there are constant Russian attacks. There are constant attempts to break through our defenses," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
"Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies, and open up new weapons options for Ukraine."
Shortly after Zelenskiy spoke reports emerged of a Russian military strike on an apartment building in the eastern city of Kharkiv, triggering a blaze.
The town's mayor Ihor Terekhov indicated there had been casualties.
Earlier, on the ground in Ukraine, Russian invading forces continued to launch attacks on January 29.
Three people were reported killed and six wounded by Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said.
Kherson was occupied by Russian troops from the early days of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine until its recapture by Kyiv's forces in November. Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnieper River.
Meanwhile, the fighting on the front line remains intense, especially in the eastern Donetsk region, with major battles under way for Vuhledar and Bakhmut, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
The head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on January 29 that four people were killed and 17 others wounded in Russian strikes on Bakhmut and Kostyantynivka the previous day.
There were no casualties among the civilian populations as the district’s administrative center, Beryslav, and the villages of Mylove and Tyahynka came under the Russian attack, the district chief, Volodymyr Litvinov, said on Telegram on January 29.
Elsewhere, Ukraine's military said its forces repelled an attack in the area of Blahodatne in the eastern part of the Donetsk region, while Russia's Vagner mercenary group claimed it had taken control of the village.
With reporting by Reuters
Pakistani Government Lifts Price Caps On Gasoline, Diesel Fuel
Pakistan's Finance Ministry announced on January 29 that gasoline and diesel prices would rise by $0.14 a liter after the country's currency plummeted in value this week when price caps were removed. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said he hoped the announcement would dispel speculation on social media of a higher price hike or that gasoline supplies would run dry. He said the hike was recommended by oil and gas authorities due to the higher cost of buying energy in the global market. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Earthquake Strikes Northwestern Iran, Killing At Least Three
A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Iran near the border with Turkey late on January 28, killing at least three people and injuring 816, state media said. The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy in West Azerbaijan Province at 9:44 p.m., the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran said. Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Russia Rules Out Talks With Japan On Fishing Near Disputed Islands
Russia said on January 29 that it will not hold annual talks with Japan on renewing a pact that allows Japanese fishermen to operate near disputed islands, saying Japan has taken anti-Russian measures. The islands are known in Russia as the Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories and have been at the core of decades of tension between the neighbors. Japan imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals and organizations soon after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
At Least 40 Killed In Fiery Bus Crash In Southwest Pakistan
At least 40 people died when a bus plunged off a bridge in southwestern Pakistan and burst into flames, a government official said on January 29. Hamza Anjum, a senior official of the Lasbela district in Balochistan Province, said at the accident site that three survivors had been rescued. The bus was reportedly carrying 48 passengers when it hit a pillar on the bridge and careened off course. Ramshackle highways, lax safety measures, and reckless driving contribute to Pakistan's dire road safety record. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Armed Drones Attack Iranian Defense Factory; Tehran Says Only Limited Damage
Drones equipped with explosives targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, the Iranian Defense Ministry announced on January 29, causing some damage at the facility.
The Iranian Defense Ministry released few details on the attack and did not say who it suspected was behind it.
Iran has been targeted in the past by suspected Israeli drone strikes. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack in Isfahan.
The Wall Street Journal later quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out the strike.
"This cowardly act was carried out today as part of the efforts made by enemies of the Iranian nation in recent months to make the Islamic republic insecure," Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.
In a statement, the Iranian Defense Ministry said three drones had reportedly targeted the facility, with two of them shot down.
A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.
Video footage downloaded on social media showed what appeared to be the moment the drone struck along the Imam Khomeini Expressway that heads northwest out of Isfahan.
The Iranian Defense Ministry described the site as a “workshop” but did not elaborate on what type of work it was engaged in.
Isfahan is located some 350 kilometers south of Tehran. It is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.
Separately, Iran’s state TV said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It said the cause was not yet known, as it showed footage of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.
The attack comes after Iran's Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot that it said was aiming to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.
Iranian state TV in October broadcast what it claimed to be confessions by alleged members of Komala --a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now operates out of Iraq -- that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel's Mossad intelligence service.
The incident at Isfahan is the latest attack on Iranian military or nuclear facilities.
Last year, Iran said an engineer was killed and another employee was wounded in an unexplained incident at the Parchin military and weapons development base east of the capital, Tehran. The ministry called it an accident, without providing further details.
Parchin is home to a military base where the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it suspected Iran conducted tests of explosive triggers that could be used in nuclear weapons.
The attack comes with Tehran facing challenges at home and abroad.
The country has witnessed nationwide protests since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country's morality police. Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the U.S. dollar.
International talks on reviving an accord with world powers have broken down, and now Tehran is reported to have enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to arm Russia with the bomb-carrying drones that Moscow uses in attacks in Ukraine on power plants and civilian targets.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Poland Recruits Record Number Of Soldiers Following Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
Poland's armed forces have recruited the largest number of soldiers since it ended conscription in 2008 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked greater interest in defending the homeland. Poland recruited more than 13,500 professional soldiers last year, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on January 28. The number is equivalent to about 8 percent of Poland’s total armed forces of 164,000. Poland, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, intends to increase its armed forces to 300,000 professional soldiers in the coming years.
Five Russian Men Who Fled Mobilization Stranded At Seoul Airport As They Await Asylum Hearing
Five Russian men who fled their country after President Vladimir Putin announced a military mobilization have been stranded for months at an airport in South Korea. Seoul denied the men’s request for asylum upon their arrival in October and November. They have been living at their airport since then as they wait for their appeal to be heard. Russian nationals are allowed visa-free entry to South Korea, but immigration officials can deny permission to enter the country. The five men, whose identities are unknown, were among hundreds of thousands who fled Russia after the draft was announced. To read the original story by CNN, click here.
Interview: For Putin, The War In Ukraine Is Hard To Win And Even Harder To End2
Kyiv Says Forces Outnumbered, Battling 'Intensifying' Russian Attacks Near Bakhmut3
Punished By Western Sanctions, Russia's Airlines Are Showing More Cracks And More Problems4
Amid Worries Over Russian Forces In Belarus, Former Security Officer Says Belarusian Conscripts Won't Fight5
Romance And Realism: The Former Banker Photographing Rural Romania6
Leader Of Group Of Mothers And Wives Of Russian Soldiers Detained En Route To Moscow7
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official8
Romania's Traditional Clothing Makers Call For Action After UNESCO Listing9
Ukrainian Army Drone Footage Shows Purported Russian Sneak Attack10
'Not Everyone Supports This Crazy War': Life In Russia's Embattled Belgorod Region