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Four Confirmed Dead In Armenia Factory Blast

YEREVAN (Reuters) -- A fourth person has been found dead after an explosion tore through a rubber factory in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the Emergencies Ministry in the former Soviet republic said.

The explosion happened on May 14 at the Nairit factory in a suburb of Yerevan, causing a blaze that sent thick black smoke pouring into the sky. Three bodies were removed after the blast.

"The emergency services have found a fourth dead person," Nikolai Grigoryan, adviser to the director of rescue services at the Armenian Emergencies Ministry, said on May 15.

The fire was extinguished, but Grigoryan said emergency services would remain at the scene "for as long as necessary" to make sure the site was safe.

Seventeen firefighters were injured trying to bring the blaze under control. The cause is not yet known, though Armenian television said a gas explosion was responsible.

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Hungarian PM Raids 'Extra Profits' From Oil After Scrapping Fuel Price Cap

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (file photo)

Hungary's government will siphon off nearly all profits earned on cheaper crude oil imported from Russia as of December 8, it said in a decree, a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's cabinet scrapped a retail fuel price cap amid a shortage of supplies. Lower crude imports from the Druzhba oil pipeline, extended maintenance work at oil group MOL's Danube refinery, and surging demand forced Orban to abandon the year-long cap. Orban, a vocal critic of Brussels, blamed the situation on EU sanctions on Russian crude. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Putin Says Fight In Ukraine Could Be Long; Zelenskiy Vows Not To Leave Any Ukrainian Under Russian Occupation

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has not ruled out that the fighting in Ukraine could turn into a "lengthy process," while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukraine will not leave any of its citizens under Russian occupation.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The two presidents made the comments on December 7 as they addressed separate human rights organizations.

Putin, who met in a televised meeting of his Human Rights Council, said the "special military operation" could go on for a long time, and called Russia's annexation of part of the territories of Ukraine a major achievement of the operation.

“Of course, it could be a lengthy process,” Putin said roughly nine and a half months after ordering the invasion.

Putin vowed to “consistently fight for our interests" and to “protect ourselves using all means available” and reiterated his claim that he had no choice but to send troops into Ukraine.

Putin described the land gains as “a significant result for Russia,” noting that the Sea of Azov "has become Russia’s internal sea” and recalled how Tsar Peter the Great fought to get access to it.

Russia captured the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol in May after a nearly three-month siege of the city. In September, Putin illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Luhansk -- even though his forces did not completely control them. Russia illegally seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine has managed to recapture some territories, including Kherson city and the entire right bank of the Kherson region after the withdrawal of Russian forces last month.

Zelenskiy, who addressed the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, said Ukrainian forces have liberated 1,888 settlements from Russian occupation so far in the fighting.

The war has turned into a war for survival, he said.

“Hundreds of our cities and villages were simply burned to the ground due to Russian strikes,” he said. “We have already managed to free 1,888 settlements from occupation. But almost as many Ukrainian towns and villages remain under occupation. And this means that now the fate of millions of people is being decided on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

He stressed that Ukraine will not leave "any of our people under Russian occupation," in Russian camps, "where thousands have already disappeared," or on Russian territory, "where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were forcibly deported."

The subject of nuclear weapons was also discussed during Putin’s meeting with the Human Rights Council, whose members are mostly people who fully support the Kremlin's policy. Asked by a member of the council to pledge that Russia would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, Putin refused to give guarantees.

Russia's military strategy, he said, envisions the use of weapons of mass destruction in response to an attack.

Russia intends to protect "national interests" -- first by "peaceful means" and if this does not help, then by "all available,” Putin said.

"That means if a strike is launched against us, we will strike back in response," Putin said.

Putin has raised alarm in Western countries by making veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons. These have raised fears that the Russian military could use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine in order to achieve results more quickly.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about Putin's remarks, declined to reply directly but said, "We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible."

Putin also said it made no sense to talk about another mobilization because there is no need for it "to date."

About half of the 300,000 conscripts recently mobilized are in the "special operations" zone, but only 70,000 are directly at the front, he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

British Tennis Chiefs Slam ATP Over $1 Million Fine For Russian Player Ban

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.

British tennis chiefs said on December 7 that they were "disappointed" at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from their events. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban. Russian and Belarusian players were eventually barred from all five ATP tournaments staged by the LTA. The All England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, also banned them from competing at that tournament.

Romania Rejects Austrian Objections To Its Entry Into Schengen Zone

Romania Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca (file photo)

Romania had a legitimate expectation to join Europe's open-borders Schengen area, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said on December 7, rejecting Austrian claims that it is a gateway for illegal migrants as unjustified. European Union interior ministers are expected to vote on December 8 on whether to admit Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia into Schengen, a decision that requires unanimity. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Sister Of Iran's Supreme Leader Pens Open Letter Hoping For End To 'Tyranny' Of Brother's Rule

Badri Hosseini Khamenei (second from left)

Badri Hosseini Khamenei, the estranged sister of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has criticized her brother and his "despotic caliphate" in an open letter in which she also says she hopes to see him overthrown.

Badri Khamenei’s letter, published on her son's Twitter account on December 6, expressed sympathy to the mothers who lost their loved ones because of their opposition to the Islamic republic in the last four decades and declared that she opposes the actions of her brother.

Badri Hosseini Khamenei
Badri Hosseini Khamenei

“The regime of the Islamic Republic of Khomeini and Ali Khamenei has brought nothing but suffering and oppression to Iran and Iranians,” she added, referring to Ayatollah Khomeini, who served as the first supreme leader of Iran from 1979 until his death in 1989. “I hope to see the victory of the people and the overthrow of this tyranny ruling Iran soon.”

Khamenei's sister, who lives in Iran, wrote that her brother “does not listen to the voice of the people of Iran and wrongly considers the voice of his mercenaries and money-grubbers to be the voice of the Iranian people."

In recent years, as a humanitarian duty, she said she has tried to raise the voice of the Iranian people to her brother's ears but was disappointed and cut off contact with him.

Badri Khamenei also used the letter to address the violent arrest of her daughter, saying that if her daughter is arrested in this way, “it is clear that they will inflict thousands of times more violence on the oppressed sons and daughters of others."

Badri Khamenei’s daughter, Farideh Moradkhani, who is the supreme leader’s niece, was arrested a week ago after being summoned to Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office. In the last video she recorded before her arrest, she called on the international community to cut ties with the Iranian government.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Amini died while in police custody after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab. Her parents and friends say she was beaten. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest. The figure includes 64 minors.

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

Alleged Russian Agent Violated U.S. Sanctions By Concealing Purchase Of Luxury Condos, U.S. Says

Andriy Derkach in Kyiv in October 2019.

A Ukrainian lawmaker who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government has now been charged with violating the sanctions when he purchased two luxury properties in California.

The seven-count indictment against Andriy Derkach, unsealed on December 7 in New York City, also charges him with money laundering and bank fraud conspiracy in the purchase and maintenance of the two properties in upscale Beverly Hills, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Derkach purchased the properties in violation of U.S. sanctions and concealed his interest in the transactions from U.S. banks, prosecutors said.

Derkach, 55, was sanctioned for his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election on behalf of the Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Treasury Department alleged at the time that Derkach -- a member of the Ukrainian parliament who studied at the KGB school in Moscow -- had been "an active Russian agent for over a decade."

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in the Justice Department's statement on December 7 that Derkach’s conduct has shown that “he is ready, willing, and capable of exploiting [the] banking system in order to advance his illicit goals.”

The indictment alleges that, beginning in 2013, Derkach and a co-conspirator devised a scheme to purchase and maintain the two luxury condominiums while concealing his ownership and participation in the purchase. Derkach used the services of a corporate nominee, a multitiered structure of California-based shell companies, and numerous bank and brokerage accounts to purchase the properties, the Justice Department said.

Derkach used the network to wire approximately $3.92 million to the corporate nominee from overseas accounts in Latvia and Switzerland belonging to companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, the Justice Department said. The money was then used to pay $3.2 million in cash in the name of a corporate entity set up by the nominee, with Derkach having no visible affiliation with the purchase.

The remaining $800,000 was invested in a brokerage account and used to pay expenses on the condominiums, including taxes, homeowners’ fees, and utilities.

A parallel civil forfeiture action has been initiated to seize the condominiums and the remaining funds in the U.S. accounts, the department said. If convicted, Derkach, whose whereabouts are unknown, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Ukrainian authorities in June said they had uncovered a Russian spy network involving Derkach. The State Security Service (SBU) on June 24 alleged that Derkach set up a network of private security firms to help facilitate the entry of Russian units into cities during Moscow's February 24 invasion.

Derkach has previously denied wrongdoing, claiming he was being targeted for exposing corruption.

Russian Court Rejects Journalist Ivan Safronov's Appeal, Will Serve 22 Years In Penal Colony

Ivan Safronov in a Moscow courtroom in August.

MOSCOW -- A court of appeals in Moscow has rejected an appeal filed by Ivan Safronov, a prominent former journalist, against his conviction in a high-profile treason case that highlighted the Kremlin's crackdown on the media in September.

Safronov's conviction and sentence were upheld on December 7, and he is now expected to be transferred to a penal colony in the near future.

The Moscow City Court sentenced Safronov to 22 years in prison in early September after finding him guilty of handing secret materials to foreign agents in a case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.

Safronov has repeatedly denied accusations that he passed documents to Czech secret service agent Martin Laris in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East. He also denies handing unspecified classified information to German secret service agent Demuri Voronin.

Safronov's supporters have held pickets in Moscow and other cities demanding his release.

Safronov, who was arrested in July 2020, went on trial behind closed doors in early April.

The 32-year-old journalist, who covered the defense industry for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, is also a former adviser to the former head of Russia's space agency, Roskosmos. Russian President Vladimir Putin has twice publicly stated that the charges are related to Safronov's work at Roskosmos.

Human rights organizations have issued statements demanding Safronov’s release and expressing concerns over an intensifying crackdown on dissent in Russia. The Russian human rights organization Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Investigators deny that Safronov's prosecution is related to his work, but they previously offered him a pretrial agreement in exchange for disclosing journalistic sources.

Iran Sentences Five Protesters To Death Over Alleged Involvement In Basij Officer's Death

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital. He is seen here with this wife, Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, who was sentenced to 25 years. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has sentenced to death five people -- including one who is in the hospital recovering after reportedly being tortured -- over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests.

The judiciary said on December 6 that it had also sentenced 11 others to prison sentences for their alleged roles in the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, who was part of the Basij, a volunteer branch under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital as a result.

The three others sentenced to death were not named. Of the 11 people sentenced, three were minors, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences can be appealed.

Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, Hamid Qarahasanlou's wife, was sentenced to 25 years and exiled to a prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Both of the Qarahasanlous denied any wrongdoing in court and said they were merely participants in protests over the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who died while in custody over allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Several of the defendants were charged with "corruption on Earth," which is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

The cases were decided within six days and after three court hearings.

Prosecutors said the 27-year-old Ajamian was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking the 40th day since her death.

Human rights organizations have strongly objected to the death sentences being issued against protesters in Iran after "sham trials."

Amnesty International wrote in a statement that, according to informed sources, the Iranian authorities tortured Qarahasanlou and forced Farzaneh Qarahasanlou to accuse her husband of wrongdoing.

"On 1 December, [Hamid Qarahasanlou] was removed from hospital, where he had undergone surgery for internal bleeding, and taken to court for trial while he was heavily sedated and recovering from surgery and then returned to hospital afterwards," Amnesty said in the statement.

"The couple’s first two lawyers dropped their case after intelligence and security agents threatened them," it added.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that, during the interrogations, Farzaneh was hit on the head with a baton so many times that, to save herself, she said that her husband may have kicked the victim. She later recanted the statement.

Iran is currently in the throes of unrest as people take to the streets across the country to protest Amini's death on September 16.

Police have met the unrest with deadly force.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeds 500 this year.

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

Uzbek Household Cooked Food For Nearly 30 Years In Cauldron More Than 2,000 Years Old

Experts assessed that the cauldron belonged to the ancient nomadic Saka people.

An ancient bronze cauldron estimated to be more than 2,000 years old was used for almost 30 years by a household in Uzbekistan to cook food before it was recognized for its cultural value and turned over to a museum. Uzbekistan's Agency of Cultural Heritage said on December 6 that a school director in the Samarkand region found the cauldron in 1993 when digging a canal and did not know its cultural value. Experts assessed that the cauldron belonged to the ancient nomadic Saka people. It has now been acquired by a state museum in Samarkand. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Russian Woman Among Alleged Members Of Extremist Group Arrested In Germany

German police secure the area after 25 suspected members and supporters of a far-right group were detained during raids across Germany, in Berlin on December 7.

A Russian woman was among more than two dozen suspects detained in Germany on December 7 during nationwide raids on an extremist group linked to the Reichsbuerger movement that allegedly aimed to overthrow the government. According to German prosecutors, the detained Russian citizen is suspected of facilitating unsuccessful attempts to make contact between a would-be group leader and Russian officials. The Russian Embassy in Berlin has denied any links with the group, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the arrests an internal issue for Germany. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Students Say They Were Beaten Back Ahead Of Speech By Raisi At Tehran University

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a ceremony marking Student Day at Tehran University on December 7.

Students at Tehran University say they were beaten back by security forces as they tried to hold a protest as President Ebrahim Raisi arrived to deliver a speech amid anti-government unrest that has rocked the country since the September death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The Students' Union Council Telegram channel on December 7 said several students were injured and left bloodied by the attacking security forces.

Each year on December 7, which is Student Day in Iran, demonstrations are organized by many universities at which students put forward democratic demands.

WATCH: General strikes have been held for a third day in Iran, with shops and factories closed across the country. Meanwhile, students at Tehran University said they were beaten by security forces ahead of a speech on campus by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranians Strike For Third Day Amid Nationwide Protests Against Government
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Besides such issues as academic rights, freedom of speech, and academic independence from the government, the demands also often reflect broader democratic movements in Iran, including this year's protest movement that has built up across the country since Mahsa Amini died in Tehran on September 16.

Students have been one of the main forces behind the unrest, which has been met by security officials with a brutal, and often deadly, crackdown.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative leader, arrived at the school and in a speech held in front of a selected group of pro-government students said that "protest is different from rioting" and that it was rioters who were "unjustly killing our loved ones."

While Raisi spoke, many students gathered in different parts of the university and chanted slogans against the government, as well as the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom."

Reports from other universities, including AmirKabir University in Tehran, and other universities in Mashhad said students were severely beaten there as well.

An eyewitness from Ferdowsi University in Mashhad said that a gathering of students there was "attacked" by security forces.

Meanwhile, nationwide strikes at businesses and shops continued for a third day.

Videos received by RFERL’s Radio Farda showed shopkeepers in Isfahan, Bukan, and Tehran on strike in support of the protests.

The government has responded to almost three months of unrest with deadly force as it tries to suppress one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

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

Time Magazine Announces Ukraine's Zelenskiy As Person Of The Year For 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends an award ceremony of a battle banner to an army brigade on the Day of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kyiv on December 6.

Time magazine says it has chosen Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the "Spirit of Ukraine" as its person of the year for 2022 for standing up in the face of Russia's invasion. Noting that the 44-year-old leader had no military background or interest in military affairs, he instead used instincts honed "from a lifetime as an actor on the stage" to guide him through the country's most difficult hour. "Zelenskiy's success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious," the magazine said in an article making the announcement on December 7. To read the original story by Time, click here.

Kyrgyz Musician Seeks Compensation From Kazakhstan For Beating In Custody

Vikram Ruzahunov says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in custody.

BISHKEK -- A well-known Kyrgyz jazz musician who was severely beaten while detained by police in Kazakhstan during deadly anti-government protests in January will seek financial compensation from Astana after an investigation into his treatment by police officers is complete.

Vikram Ruzakhunov's lawyer, Bakyt Avtandil, told RFE/RL on December 6 that the move will be made after the ongoing evidence-checking process and the investigation end.

Ruzakhunov, who says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in custody, visited Kazakhstan in September after Kazakh officials launched a probe into his beating in Almaty.

Anti-government protests sparked by a fuel-price hike erupted in Kazakhstan in early January. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed what he said were "extremists" trained abroad for attacking Almaty during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.

Ruzakhunov's situation was amplified when a Kazakh television channel showed a video in which he said he was recruited by an unspecified group to take part in the unrest for $200. In the video, severe bruises can be seen on Ruzakhunov's face, backing up his claims that he was forced to make the statement.

The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by fans. He was freed several days after his arrest and allowed to go to Bishkek after the Kyrgyz government demanded his release.

Kazakh officials said earlier that six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests, and 238 people died during or after the unrest, which was violently dispersed by law enforcement and the armed forces.

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office has said 25 people were officially considered victims of torture as investigators used hot irons during their interrogations.

Human rights groups insist that the number of killed during the unrest may be much bigger, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were killed by police and military personnel following Toqaev's "shoot-to-kill-without-warning" order.

In July, police in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, concluded that Kazakh authorities had inflicted severe injuries on Ruzakhunov's body during his illegal arrest in January.

Belarusian Lawmakers Approve Death Penalty For High Treason By Officials, Military

A woman holds up a protest sign against Russian aggression in Ukraine in Minsk on February 27.

Amid fears that Russia plans new attacks along with the Belarusian military against Ukraine from Belarusian territory, Belarusian lawmakers approved in the first reading on December 7 a bill that envisages the death penalty for high treason committed by officials and military personnel. The bill also includes criminal prosecution for "spreading false information discrediting Belarusian armed forces." Russia adopted a similarly controversial law in March, days after it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in late February. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russian Law Enforcement Officers Detain Man Suspected Of Opening Fire At Police

Russian police officers stand guard outside a courthouse in Russia's Rostov region. (file photo)

Police in Russia's Rostov region have apprehended a man suspected of opening fire with a machine gun at a group of police officers on December 6, wounding one of them. The region's governor, Vasily Golubev, said on Telegram on December 7 that the suspect was found in an abandoned building in the town of Novoshakhtinsk. Some media reports identified the man as Pavel Nikolin, a 38-year inmate of a penitentiary in Bashkortostan, who was recruited in prison to join the war in Ukraine but deserted with a machine gun. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Media Oulets Express Support For TV Dozhd After Latvia Pulls License

On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

More than 60 media outlets and independent journalists broadcasting and writing in Russian, including those based in Latvia, have expressed support for the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) after Latvia's electronic media authority revoked its broadcasting license.

The Latvia-based Meduza news website published a letter of support for Dozhd hours after the chairman of Latvia's National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP), Ivars Abolins, announced the license revocation on December 6, saying the decision, which takes force on December 8, was made "in connection with the threat to national security and public order."

Meduza's letter of support to Dozhd TV adds that statements saying "these violations pose a 'national security threat' are unconvincing," and that the television channel's position against Russia's war in Ukraine is "obvious" as it is critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies.

"[Dozhd's] significance in countering Russian state propaganda is colossal. Roaring about 'national security' conceals what is actually a heavy blow to free speech and ultimately to European security as well," the letter says.

Dozhd said in a statement on Twitter earlier that the move was "unfair and absurd," adding that while it will cease broadcasting on cable, its YouTube station will continue to operate.

NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

On the same day, Latvia's state security service said it had launched an investigation in connection with statements "which raise suspicions about the assistance provided by this TV channel to the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine."

Dozhd anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the Dozhd audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes. In making the request, he said:

"We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."

The security service said in a news release, "No provision of support to the aggressor Russia is justifiable," it said, adding that anyone helping the Russian forces was subject to criminal liability.

Moscow Court Postpones Verdict, Sentencing Of Opposition Politician Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition activist Ilya Yashin stands in a cage in a courtroom prior to a hearing in Moscow on November 29.

A Moscow court has postponed until December 9 its verdict and sentence in the case of opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is charged with spreading false information about the Russian military amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The judge was scheduled to hand down a decision on December 7 but the court building was cleared after a bomb threat. Prosecutors seek nine years in prison for the outspoken Kremlin critic. The charge against Yashin stems from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Putin Signs Decree Increasing Number Of Police Officers To 938,000 By 2025

Russian police detain a protester who took part in a rally in Moscow against Putin's announced mobilization on September 21.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to increase the number of police officers in the country to 938,000 by 2025. According to the decree, dated December 5, the number of police in the country will be 922,000 next year, and 934,00 in 2024. After Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea and threw support to pro-Russia separatists in 2014, the maximum number of the police personnel in the country was legally set at 894,000. Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians have been called up for military duty. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Belarus Plans 'Counterterrorism' Exercises Amid Concerns Of New Russian Attacks On Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers drive captured Russian T-72 tanks as part of military training close to the Belarusian border on October 28.

The Belarusian Security Council says it plans to start a two-day program of moving military personnel and equipment on December 7 in "a counter-terrorism exercise." The announcement comes amid concerns that Russia may launch a new attack on Ukraine from Belarusian territory. Council officials told the BelTA state news agency that the move will include the transportation of vehicles and persons in unspecified parts of the country. To read the original story by BelTA, click here.


Zelenskiy Says Shelling Of Town In Donetsk Kills 10 'Peaceful People'

Russian military investigators stand near the body of a person killed by shelling at a youth center in Donetsk on December 6.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said an attack on December 7 on the town of Kurakhovo in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine killed 10 people, while the chief of the national power-grid operator, Ukrenerho, said Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at the country's energy infrastructure since the start of the war.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that the attack on Kurakhovo was “very brutal, absolutely calculated” and killed “peaceful people, ordinary people" at a market, a grain elevator, a gas station, a bus stop, and in a residential building.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

“The list of the dead so far includes 10 people, many wounded,” he said.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, said that the Russian troops shelled Kurakhovo from multiple rocket launchers. The town has been among the hot spots in fighting in the Donbas region.

Tymoshenko posted video footage of buildings in flames on Telegram.

"Terrorists are inhuman," Tymoshenko wrote. "And they will be held to account for it."

Tymoshenko also said Russian troops struck the settlement of Pechenehy in the Kharkiv region.

Air defense forces shot down two Russian missiles, he said, quoting Oleksandr Husarov, the leader of the village. He reported that one of the downed rockets fell on the outskirts of the village; the other hit almost in the center. There were no casualties.

WATCH: Soviet-era T-72 tanks are getting new optics, armor, and more at a Czech facility in Sternberk, thanks in part to the efforts of Ukrainian refugees working there.

Czech Company Modernizes Tanks For Ukraine With The Help Of Refugees
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In the Kharkiv region, the regional center in particular, is regularly attacked by Russian troops.

In the Zaporizhzhya region, the head of the regional military administration, Oleksandr Starukh, said that all victims of the latest Russian attacks on the region were in serious condition.

This includes a 15-year-old girl and her father and a woman injured during shelling in Orichov.

Speaking on a live RFE/RL program, he said shelling a few nights before injured a little girl in Novosofiyivka. Her parents are in serious condition and her grandfather and grandmother died, he said, pledging to get help to everyone who needs it.

The battlefield claims could not be independently verified.

Ukrenerho chief Volodymyr Kudrytskiy told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that, despite more than 1,000 rockets and missiles being fired at Ukraine's power grid, it is still working.

Kudrytskiy also said that his officials were scouring the world for the complex equipment needed for repairs, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency.

Eight recent waves of Russian air strikes on critical infrastructure have seriously damaged the grid and led to emergency and planned outages across the country.

"These attacks represent the biggest blow to a power grid that humanity has ever seen," Kudrytskiy was quoted as saying. But the system is still working, he said.

Russian forces attacked several Ukrainian regions with kamikaze drones and heavy artillery on December 6, officials said early on December 7.

In Kherson, Russian troops shelled the region 51 times, killing two people, Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the regional military administration, said on December 7.

Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said all Russian drones were destroyed by Ukrainian forces in the overnight attack.

"Military men from the air command East did a great job. We shot down all eight enemy drones that the enemy directed at the area,"Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

He said Russian shelling targeted the Nikopol district and city, causing damage to gas pipelines, houses, and farm buildings, but no people were wounded.

"Nikopol suffered the most. Up to a dozen private houses, farm buildings and gas pipelines were damaged in the city. Several shops, office buildings, and a college were destroyed by Russian shells," he said.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

U.S. Lawmakers Authorize $800 Million More For Ukraine In Defense Bill

The United States has provided Ukraine with high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARs) as part of its ongoing aid to the war-torn country.

U.S. lawmakers agreed to provide Ukraine at least $800 million in additional security assistance next year and to boost Taiwan with billions in aid over the next several years, according to an $858 billion defense policy bill unveiled on December 6. The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes the additional spending for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, an increase of $500 million over President Joe Biden's request earlier this year. To read the original Reuters story, click here.

UN Aid Chief: Ukrainians Are Suffering 'Colossal' Torment

A man pushes his bike next to destroyed residential buildings in Borodyanka, near Kyiv, on December 4.

The UN humanitarian chief on December 6 decried the “colossal” torment Ukraine is suffering from Russia’s destruction of its infrastructure. That view was echoed by Western allies of Ukraine at a UN Security Council meeting but strongly opposed by Russia. Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths outlined the toll of “widespread death, displacement, and suffering.” He said more than 14 million people have been displaced -- 7.8 million to Europe and 6.5 million still within the country -- and 17,023 civilians have been killed, including 419 children, though the UN human rights office believes “the real toll is far greater.” To read the original story from AP, click here.

Spirits Low After Russian Vodka Brand Auction Runs Dry

Moskovskaya vodka was one of the iconic Russian vodka brands whose trademark rights had been up for sale. (file photo)

The spirits of shareholders of dismantled Russian oil company Yukos were low on December 6 after the top bid in an auction of several iconic vodka brands came up short. The financial holding company GML, the majority shareholder in Yukos before the Kremlin dismantled it in 2003, was hoping to sell the rights to Russian vodka brands Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya. Two bidders each placed a $250,000 deposit hoping to win the rights to use the trademarks in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. But GML reserved the right to reject the winning bids, and did so, deeming them as too low. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Iran Rebroadcasts 'Confessions,' Raising Fears Four Kurds May Have Been Executed

Iranian state television has aired for the second time the "confessions" of four Kurdish political prisoners -- admissions their families and supporters say were coerced -- raising fears that they may have been executed.

Pejman Fatehi, Vafa Azarbar, Mohsen Mazloum, and Hajir Faramarzi have been detained for four months and are thought to be part of a group of people who were identified by security police in November as allegedly being "Mossad-related agents."

On December 5, Javana Teymasi, the wife of Mohsen Mazloum, wrote in a tweet that she has no information about her husband's condition and that the rebroadcast of what she called his forced confession has added to her worries.

"We don't even know if their trial was held and if a verdict was issued or not. What is clear is that the link in their case is with the accusations of 'espionage,'" she wrote.

"Rebroadcasting forced confessions and raising these accusations has worried the families."

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has previously identified the group as operatives from the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, but the party itself has denied the claim. It has said previously that several of its members have been arrested.

In early November, the judiciary of the Islamic republic announced the indictment of 10 people who were identified as "Mossad-related agents" and announced that four of them were accused of "corruption on earth" -- a charge that is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

Earlier this week, Iran executed four people it accused of working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.

The four were identified as Hossein Ordukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmudabadi, Milad Ashrafi, and Manuchehr Shahbandi. They were accused of receiving weapons and funds in the form of cryptocurrency from Mossad.

Israel, as is its policy, has not commented on the accusations.

Iran is currently in the throes of unrest as people take to the streets across the country to protest against the death on September 16 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was detained by the notorious morality police for wearing a head scarf improperly.

Amini, who was taken into custody in Tehran, was from the Kurdish region of western Iran and many of the largest protests have taken there.

Police have met the unrest with deadly force.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran this year exceeds 500.

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

Iranian Lawmaker Says Government Is Seeking Alternative Punishments For Hijab Violators

Iranian parliamentarian Hossein Jalali

A member of the Iranian parliament has unveiled the government's plan for alternative punishments -- including financial ones -- to try and force women to wear a hijab in public despite massive protests across the country over the issue.

Hossein Jalali, a member of the Cultural Commission of the Iranian parliament, said that under the new plan, the actions of morality police would be curbed, allowing for less intrusive methods to be used for ensuring compliance.

"It is possible to notify nonhijab wearers in the form of a text message that they did not observe the hijab rule and that they must respect the law," Jalali said in an interview with Iranian media.

He added that after two warnings, the government would move to block the bank account of the offender as a way of punishing them. He did not explain how the government intends to recognize the identities of those who are supposedly in violation of the hijab law.

The issue has sparked massive protests across the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody. She was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab, or head scarf, improperly.

The government has responded to almost three months of unrest with deadly force as it tries to suppress one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979.

Since the outbreak of the unrest, morality police have been less visible in cities. Still, their status is unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said over the weekend that the notorious force had been closed, only to then walk it back by saying it was a decision for the Interior Ministry, which has jurisdiction over the force.

On December 5, a spokesman for the morality police said that the mission of the police unit has ended and that new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law, but the ministry itself has not commented on the issue.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Jalali said that there will be no backing away from the hijab and chastity plan laid out by the state.

"Moving away from the hijab means a retreat of the Islamic republic," Jalali added.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

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