Holbrooke, Karzai Reportedly Argue Over Alleged Afghan Vote Fraud
Sources say Karzai reacted angrily to the accusations, while a spokesman denied any heated exchange took place.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is denying reports that Holbrooke and Karzai shouted at one other, or that Holbrooke angrily stormed out of the meeting.
A U.S. official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was "difficult" and that there had been some "sharp exchanges." That official says Holbrooke's points during the meeting were that Afghanistan must respect the electoral process, be patient, and respect the results.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley says it is too early for Washington to announce suspicions that the election outcome was altered by fraud.
"We're in a delicate time here," Crowley said. "We're going to wait and see what the results of the elections are. We're going to wait and see what the composition of the Afghan government is. As a strategic imperative, we are working hard with the international community [and] with the sitting Afghan government to create institutions that will meet the needs of the Afghan people."
To be sure, complaints of electoral fraud have been widespread.
Karzai's main competitor, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, charges that there was a vast, state-engineered campaign of fraud in favor of Karzai. Still, Abdullah has urged his supporters to be patient and to work through the electoral system. Other candidates have made similar complaints.
Expectations For Second Round
Jean MacKenzie, the director of the Kabul office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told RFE/RL that it was widely expected that Karzai would not get enough support to win reelection outright in the first round.
To do so, Karzai needed to win at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. For weeks before the vote, a second-round ballot was being predicted by the European Union, the U.S. Embassy, and other international players in Afghanistan.
MacKenzie says that it would have been easy for local election officials to alter results at their polling station in case of low voter turnout. If only 100 out of 500 eligible voters cast a ballot on election day, she says, polling center administrators would have been able to cast up to 400 ballots for the candidate of their choice.
Marvin Weinbaum, a former U.S. State Department analyst who monitored last week's presidential and provincial Afghan elections, told RFE/RL that he has seen every indication that fraud was widespread.
"Everyone knows that an election in Afghanistan was going to have a certain amount of fraudulent voting," Weinbaum said. "There is no way to avoid this. The question has been all along: Would that be of such a scale -- would that be of such a dimension -- that subjectively, the public and the international community would say that the fraud which took place was too much?"
Two early batches of vote tallies show Karzai with nearly 45 percent of the vote, compared to 35 percent for Abdullah. His lead was expected to grow further as the tallying continues. But that may now be delayed as the electoral commission investigates the fraud allegations further.
Weinbaum said that at this point in time for Afghanistan, a credible election is "absolutely critical for the larger challenge that the Afghan government and international community face" in battling the Taliban insurgency.
"If this election lacks complete credibility -- if it is not accepted [by the Afghan people] and if the president is not seen as legitimately holding his office -- this will seriously undermine the military campaign," Weinbaum said.
"[It also will undermine] the campaign to bring better governance to the countryside and the campaign to bring development to the countryside. This is why this election is so important."
Analysts say that if the official results show Karzai winning outright in the first round, suspicions among Afghans about vote fraud would be raised. In that case, confidence in the democratic process among ordinary Afghans could be restored only if Afghanistan's electoral complaints commission disallowed enough votes to bring Karzai's total below the 50-percent threshold.
"The one way to overcome this may very well be to allow it to go on into a second round -- where you have a face-off between the top two candidates -- and then to bring in safeguards for the second round that were not in place for the first round," Weinbaum said. "And that probably means a larger role for the international community in the monitoring of the election. This election was given over entirely to the Afghans themselves."
MacKenzie agrees that a second-round vote would help alleviate suspicions about fraud in the election process. But she says it also would raise additional complications.
"Final results will not be announced until the 17th of September," MacKenzie said. "And by law, the [second-round] poll has to be two weeks after that. So it's not a lot of time to print ballots, get them shipped out, and get all of the arrangements in place that they will need to do."
"There are going to be security implications for this," MacKenzie continued. "There could very well be protests and/or violence. There are going to being logistical implications for this. And [preparations for a second round vote would be] all happening during the month of Ramadan, which makes it all much more complicated in the Afghan context."
Still, with trust in the elections very low even before the vote, MacKenzie and others conclude that a second-round ballot may be necessary to convince many Afghans that democracy is not a sham.
RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique contributed to this report.
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Iranian Hard-Liners Propose Punishment For Cooperation With 'Hostile' Countries
Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have proposed a plan to enact harsher punishments against protesters who they say are cooperating with "hostile" foreign countries.
According to the plan, any interaction with any Western institutions and media, including social media, will be considered cooperation and criminalized under the title of "corruption on earth" a charge -- often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow the government -- that is punishable by death.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In recent months and especially amid the latest weeks of protests, Iranian legislators have repeatedly tried to facilitate the suppression of protesters by passing harsher and harsher laws while accusing Western countries of being directly involved in fomenting the unrest, despite giving no evidence to back up their claims.
Last month, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-liner-led parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters arrested amid the recent wave of demonstrations.
They also proposed banning student protesters -- who along with women have formed the backbone of the demonstrations demanding more freedoms -- from traveling abroad for 10 years as the Islamic republic struggles to suppress the biggest show of dissent in years.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Tech Giant Yandex, Battered By Wartime Censorship, Reorganizes, Moves To Leave Russia
Russian tech giant Yandex has said it is reorganizing its operations, moving to cut its ties with Russia in a restructuring that solidifies government control over a company once seen as a bellwether for the country's digital economy.
The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of the two of the company's best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges.
"These are exceptionally challenging times," John Boynton, chairman of Yandex's board of directors, said in a statement released late on November 25.
According to the online news site The Bell, which was first to report on the reorganization, Yandex's parent company, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, will lose ownership and control of all businesses of the Yandex Group.
A new, Russian-incorporated company will take over those operations, with a new board headed by Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime confidant of President Vladimir Putin who currently heads the Audit Chamber, a government fiscal watchdog.
The Bell said Kudrin met with Putin November 25, and that Kudrin would receive 5 percent of shares in the newly reorganized entity. On November 25, hours before the company statement, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Kudrin intended to leave the Audit Chamber before year's end, and join Yandex.
The deal also called for Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire oligarch whose fortune comes from ownership of metals giant Norilsk Nickel, to take a minority position, The Bell said.
In its statement, Yandex said it had "commenced a strategic process to review options to restructure the group's ownership and governance in light of the current geopolitical environment."
"The board anticipates that Yandex N.V. will in due course be renamed, with the business to be divested retaining exclusive rights for the use of the Yandex brand," it said, adding that shareholders must approve any corporate changes.
Under the reorganization, founder Arkady Volozh, who left Russia after the invasion and now lives in Israel, will retain some licensing rights to develop Yandex-originated ventures outside of Russia.
A combination of Google, Uber, PayPal, Bolt, Amazon, and myriad other online businesses, Yandex was the dominant tech company in Russia, employing thousands of engineers, programmers, and designers across its sprawling divisions.
The company, whose U.S.-traded shares were held by major U.S. mutual funds and investment companies, had been under pressure since at least 2019, when it was forced to give state bank Sberbank a veto over major management decisions. The voting power was later transferred to a Russian foundation.
But it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its 10th month, and the Kremlin's censorship of news and debate about the war-- and the rampant problems that Russians forces have faced on the battlefield -- that forced the final, sweeping decision.
Shortly after the February 24 invasion, the Kremlin pushed through legislation that criminalized "discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation" -- a catch-all measure that has allowed the authorities to go after Russians who protest the war, question its motivations, or even criticize the civilian or military leadership. Russian media are barred from calling the conflict a "war," instead using the phrase "special military operation."
Parliament has since tightened those restrictions further.
Yandex's search engine, and its main news page, Yandex News, were the dominant portals used by Russians to search for news, including about the war. But the company began tweaking its algorithms to direct searches toward state-run media around the time of the invasion.
On March 7, two board members quit in protest. A week later, the deputy executive director resigned, after he was hit with European Union sanctions. Volozh resigned in June after he was hit with EU sanctions.
In August, the company announced the sale of Yandex News and another entertainment portal called Yandex Zen to VK, Russia's dominant social-media company, whose control was sold to a Putin ally in late 2021.
Seven Nordic, Baltic Foreign Ministers In Kyiv Despite Russian Air Attacks
Foreign ministers from seven Baltic and Nordic countries were in Kyiv on November 28 in a show of support for Ukraine amid a barrage of Russian air and missile strikes that have crippled much of the country's energy infrastructure. "We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, are in Kyiv today in full solidarity with Ukraine," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on Twitter. "Despite Russia's bomb rains and barbaric brutality Ukraine will win!" he added. (RFE/RL)
To read the original tweet from the Lithuanian foreign minister, click here. https://twitter.com/GLandsbergis/status/1597183680492933121
Trial Of Anti-Regime Protesters Opens in Uzbekistan
The trial of 22 people accused of undermining Uzbekistan's constitutional order for taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests earlier this year has opened in the southwestern city of Bukhara.
Uzbek authorities said 21 people died in Uzbekistan’s Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
Aziz Obidov, a spokesman for the Uzbek Supreme Court, wrote on Telegram that "22 people" were in the dock, of whom 20 were in custody, with one under house arrest and one out on bail.
They are accused of several offenses, out of which the most serious one, "undermining constitutional order," carries a 20-year jail sentence.
The trial was only announced on November 27 in the evening and takes place in Bukhara, around 600 kilometers from both Nukus and the capital, Tashkent. Journalists are allowed to attend.
Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people, out of a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
With reporting by AFP
Kazakh Central Election Commission Sets Schedule For January 14 Senate Elections
Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission has approved the election schedule for Senate elections, which will be held on January 14. The commission said on November 28 that nominations for Senate candidates can be submitted between November 29 and December 14. Candidates must be registered by December 24, when the election campaign kicks off. Campaigning ends on January 13, the commission said. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev set the election date last week after his inauguration, saying it was part of a "systematic process of political modernization" for the Central Asian country. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.
Russia's Gazprom Says It Won't Reduce Gas Supplies To Moldova, But Reserves The Right To
Russian state gas producer Gazprom withdrew a threat to reduce gas supplies to Moldova starting November 28 but said it reserves the right to lower or halt flows in the future if Moldova fails to make agreed payments. Last week, Gazprom accused Ukraine of withholding gas supplies that pass through the country on the way to Moldova -- something Kyiv denied -- and said it could start reducing those flows from November 28. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
Pentagon Mulling Cheap, Precision Strike Weapon For Ukraine As Arms Makers Wrestle With Demand
The Pentagon is considering a Boeing proposal to supply Ukraine with cheap, small precision bombs fitted onto abundantly available rockets, allowing Kyiv to strike far behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more arms. Boeing's proposed system, dubbed Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), is one of about a half-dozen plans for getting new munitions into production for Ukraine and other Eastern European allies, industry sources said. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
Russia Denies Planning To Leave Nuclear Plant; Zelenskiy Warns Of 'New Russian Strikes' On Power Grid
Ukraine said Russia was "planning new strikes" on the country's power grid, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling on Ukrainians to be prepared to endure more electricity shortages amid plunging temperatures.
"We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down."
The head of the joint coordination press center of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine, Natalya Humenyuk, said a Russian warship capable of firing cruise missiles had recently deployed to the Black Sea with Kalibr-type missiles on board.
"This indicates that preparations were under way," Humenyuk said on November 28.
"It's quite likely that the beginning of the week will be marked by such an attack," she added.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, denied that Russian forces were preparing to leave the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, saying on November 28 that the plant was and would remain under Russian control.
"There's no need to look for signs where there are none and cannot be any," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing on November 28.
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe
Meawhile, in Kyiv, where snow fell and temperatures dropped, people continued to struggle with disruptions to the electricity supply and central heating caused by the waves of Russian air strikes.
City authorities said work was almost completed to restore electricity, water, and heat after waves of Russian strikes, but warned that high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed.
Zelenskiy on November 27 criticized Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko rejected the criticism, saying it was out of place amid Russia's military campaign.
In the south, much of the city of Kherson -- recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces from Russian occupiers -- remained without electrical power as authorities worked to get the grid operational again.
Officials said only about 5 percent of the population has been reconnected and was receiving electricity.
The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on November 28 that Kherson continues to suffer daily bombardments by Russian artillery.
"The city is vulnerable because it remains in range of most of Russia’s artillery systems, now firing from the east bank of the Dnieper River, from the rear of newly consolidated defensive lines," British intelligence said.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces continued to shell civilian areas across the country, hitting a dozen settlements in Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, and several villages in the Nikopol district of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.
The General Staff accused Russian troops of shelling civilian areas and then attempting to shift responsibility to Kyiv's military.
On the battlefield in the east, Ukrainian forces fought pitched battles, repelling 10 Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said on November 28.
Russian forces had launched several failed attacks on the town of Soledar, near Bakhmut, and had taken heavy losses in a separate push towards Avdiyivka, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told Reuters.
The claim could not be independently verified.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Twenty-Five Ukrainian Soldiers Hospitalized After Bus Crash In Latvia
Twenty-five Ukrainian soldiers and an Estonian soldier were hospitalized after their bus collided with a truck in Latvia, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported on November 27. The coach, which was traveling from Tallinn to Riga, was chartered by the Estonian Army, and its driver was killed in the crash, which occurred late on November 26, ERR said. It did not say why the Ukrainian soldiers were in Latvia. The crash was one of several that occurred along the road as ice and snow made driving hazardous. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Kremlin Defends Russian-Led Security Alliance After Criticism By Armenia
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on November 27 said attempts to break up a Russia-led security alliance had always existed and would continue, but he insisted the alliance remained in high demand following criticism this week from Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who questioned the effectiveness of the six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Armenia requested the organization's assistance in September but received only a promise to send observers. Pashinian contrasted that with the alliance's decision in January to send troops to CSTO member Kazakhstan to help President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev survive a wave of unrest. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Somalia Questions Iranian, Pakistani 'Hostages' Found Near Al-Shabaab Territory
Somali police on November 27 launched an investigation after 20 foreigners, who were claiming to be fishermen who had been held hostage for years, were discovered near territory controlled by the Al-Shabaab militant group. Police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said the men -- 14 Iranians and six Pakistanis -- were apprehended for questioning after they wandered from a part of Galmudug state under militant control. "Some of these people were kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in 2014, while others were abducted on the Harardhere coast, near Qosol-tire, in southern Somalia in mid-2019," Dudishe said.
Prominent Iranian Actress Reportedly Released After Arrest For Supporting Protests
Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last week after expressing support for anti-government protesters, has been released from custody, state news agency ISNA reported on November 27.
Ghaziani, a film and theater actress, was arrested by security forces on November 20 along with fellow actress Katayoun Riahi after they removed their head scarves in public in an apparent act of defiance against the regime.
ISNA did not give details of Ghaziani's release or mention Riahi’s status in its report.
Reports by human rights organizations indicate that more than 15,000 people have been detained during protests that have swept the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf.
Authorities have said Amini died from a sudden heart attack while denying claims by activists that she was beaten.
Riahi was one of the first Iranian celebrities to remove her hijab in protest of Amini's death, while Ghaziani published pictures of herself standing on a Tehran street without a hijab and tying her hair in a ponytail. Tying one's hair in a ponytail in public has become an act of defiance in Iran in recent weeks.
Ghaziani and Riahi were detained after being summoned by prosecutors in a probe into their "provocative" social media posts and media activity, the state-run IRNA news agency said at the time.
The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.
Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."
Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."
Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.
Prior to the recent wave of nationwide protests, three prominent Iranian cinematographers -- Mostafa al-Ahmad, Mohammad Rasulof, and Jafar Panahi -- were arrested after they joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following a building collapse in May in the city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.
The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran on October 3 announced a sentence of six years against Ahmad.
Panahi and Rasoulov reportedly have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for several months.
Ukraine's Nuclear Chief Says He Sees Signs Russia May Be Leaving Occupied Nuclear Plant
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the vast Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Such a move would be a major battlefield change in the partially occupied southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, where the front line has hardly shifted for months. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Iran Arrests Khamenei's Niece After She Condemns 'Murderous Regime'
Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a "murderous and child-killing regime.” Farideh Moradkhani comes from a branch of the family that has a record of opposition to Iran's clerical leadership and has herself been jailed previously in the country. Her brother, Mahmoud Moradkhani, wrote on Twitter that she was arrested on November 23 after going to the office of the prosecutor following a summons. Then, on November 27, her brother posted a video on YouTube in which she condemned the "clear and obvious oppression" Iranians have been subjected to.
Iran Charges Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi With Spreading 'Corruption On Earth'
Iran’s judiciary has charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading “corruption on Earth,” a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic.
Isfahan’s judicial chief, Asadollah Jafari, was quoted on November 27 as saying that Salehi faces other charges, including “propaganda activity against the establishment, forming an illegal group with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, cooperating with hostile governments, and spreading lies and inciting others to commit violence.”
A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.”
But Jafari said no court session has been held so far for Salehi, who was arrested in late October after denouncing the clerical establishment and expressing support for the protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
His detention came shortly after he told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation: "You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation...in order to keep its power, money and weapons."
State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded and apologizing for his words. Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.
Family members have expressed concern about Salehi’s health and the charges against him. Earlier this month, over 100 musicians, poets, artists, and activists called for his release.
Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.
Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.
Salehi is among thousands, including protesters as well as journalists, lawyers, artists, athletes, activists and others arrested in Iran’s ongoing state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months. Iran's judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
With reporting by AFP
At World Cup, U.S. Soccer Scrubs Islamic Emblem From Iranian Flag
The U.S. soccer federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match on November 29. Iran's government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. The decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Russia Not Critically Weakened By War So Far, Estonian Minister Says
Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur does not believe that Russia has been critically weakened, even after nine months of war in Ukraine. "We have to be honest and clear: The Russian Navy and Air Force are more or less as big as they were before the war," Pevkur told dpa during a visit to Berlin. Although the Russian land forces had lost considerable strength, they would "sooner rather than later" have the size they had before February 24 when they launched their offensive -- or even larger. Russia will also learn from its military experience in Ukraine, he argued: "We have no reason to believe that the threat from Russia is somehow reduced or that the threat to NATO is reduced."
Iran Bank Manager Reportedly Fired For Serving Unveiled Woman
An Iranian bank manager who served an unveiled woman has been fired, local media reported on November 27, as demonstrations triggered by the mandatory head-covering rule shake the Islamic republic. Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the dress code rules sparked nationwide demonstrations, which authorities call "riots.” Mehr news agency reported that the bank manager in Qom Province, near the capital, Tehran, "had provided bank services on November 24 to an unveiled woman.” To read the story from AFP, click here.
Ukrainian Authorities Work To Restore Services Amid Russian Strikes, As Both Sides Prepare For Winter Fighting
Ukrainian authorities struggled to resume essential services throughout the country after the latest barrage of Russian strikes on infrastructure sites as both sides prepared for the upcoming winter season, with some troops and materiel bogged down in muddy fields in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Much of the city of Kherson -- recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces from Russian occupiers -- remained without electrical power on November 27 as authorities worked to get the grid operational again. Officials said only about 5 percent of the population has been reconnected and was receiving electricity.
Meanwhile, in Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko -- who has come in for criticism from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for being slow to restore services -- told the November 27 edition of Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper that work was proceeding at "record pace" in the capital.
Earlier, Serhiy Kovalenko, chief operating officer of YASNO, which provides energy to Kyiv, said the situation in the city had improved but still remained "quite difficult." He indicated that residents in the capital should have at least four hours of power per day.
Following overnight strikes, shelling by Russian forces continued on November 27 in several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Officials said both sides appear to be slowed by the rain and muddy conditions but that the approaching colder temperatures could set the stage for renewed action.
The Institute for the Study of War, an influential think tank that has closely monitored Ukraine war developments, said reporting from “critical frontline areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, including Svatove, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, indicates that operations on both sides are currently bogged down by heavy rain and resulting heavy mud.”
“Temperatures are forecasted to drop throughout Ukraine over the next week, which will likely freeze the ground and expedite the pace of fighting as mobility increases for both sides,” it said in its update.
“It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counteroffensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting.”
The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said on November 27 on his Telegram channel that Russian forces shelled the southern Ukrainian region more than 50 times this weekend. Yanushevych accused Russia of terrorism and of targeting civilians, reporting that one person had died and two had been injured in the shelling.
Much of the city of Kherson remains under difficult conditions, with UN resident coordinator Denise Brown telling AP that civilians continued to leave the area in large numbers.
“The level of destruction, the scope of the destruction, what’s required in the city and in the oblast -- it’s massive,” she said, adding that UN teams were bringing in food, water, medicines, blankets, and mattresses to the area.
“Time is of the essence, of course, before it becomes an absolute catastrophe,” Brown was quoted as saying.
In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. Overnight shelling was reported by regional officials in the Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west.
Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa
Russia To Bar Foreigners From Using Its Surrogate Mothers
Russia will soon adopt a law barring foreigners from using Russian surrogate mothers, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said on November 27, the nation's Mother's Day. Paid surrogacy is legal in Russia, but the practice has been criticized by religious groups as commercializing the birth of children. "Everything must be done to protect children by prohibiting foreigners from using the surrogacy service," Volodin said on Telegram. "We will make this decision at the beginning of December." He said some 45,000 babies born by surrogate mothers have been taken abroad in the past few years. "Child trafficking is unacceptable," he added. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Queiroz Tells Klinsmann To Quit FIFA Role Over 'Outrageous' Iran Rebuke
Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted German soccer icon Juergen Klinsmann for criticizing his team's World Cup conduct, calling his remarks a "disgrace to football" and urging him to resign from his role with world governing body FIFA. In comments as an analyst with broadcaster BBC, 1990 World Cup winner Klinsmann accused Iran of systematic gamesmanship during their stunning 2-0 stoppage time win over Wales on November 25 and said Queiroz's record with other national teams made him the right match for Iran. "That's their culture and that's their way of doing it and that's why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well in the Iranian national team," said Klinsmann, a former United States coach. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Hossein Ronaghi Released On Bail, Transferred To Hospital
Iranian authorities on November 26 released activist Hossein Ronaghi on bail, his brother said. Ronaghi was among thousands arrested in the crackdown on protests rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a head scarf. Concern had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. "Hossein was released tonight on bail to undergo treatment," Hossein Ronaghi's brother Hassan said on Twitter. Their father, Ahmad, said Ronaghi had been transferred to a hospital after refusing to eat for 64 days. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.
Russia, Ukraine Announce Latest Prisoner Swap
Russia and Ukraine announced the latest exchange of prisoners, with 12 Ukrainians and nine Russians released. “Another POWs swap. We managed to [win the] release 12 [Ukrainians]. Our soldiers, who defended Mariupol, the Chernobyl [nuclear plant], and Snake Island are returning home,” the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter on November 26. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said nine Russians prisoners of war had been released to Russian authorities “as a result of the negotiation process.”
Ukraine Wants Lower Cap On Russian Oil, At $30-$40 Per Barrel
The price for Russian seaborne oil should be capped at between $30-$40 per barrel, lower than the level that Group of Seven (G7) nations have proposed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on November 26. EU governments, seeking to curb Moscow's ability to fund the Ukraine war without causing an oil supply shock, are split over a G7 push that the cap be set at $65-$70 per barrel. It is due to enter into force on December 5. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine 'Cannot Be Broken,' Citing Russian Invasion, 1932-33 Famine
KYIV -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine “cannot be broken” as he cited his country’s fight against the Russian invasion and marked the anniversary of the famine regarded by Ukrainians to be a deliberate act perpetrated by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
"Ukrainians went through very terrible things...Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger -- now, with darkness and cold," Zelenskiy said on November 26 in a video message.
"We cannot be broken," he declared.
The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland were in Kyiv to mark the day and to attend a summit hosted by Zelenskiy to press the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative designed to get crucial supplies to world markets. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those speaking through video addresses.
Zelenskiy’s remarks came amid widespread cuts in power and water supplies in his country after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and as temperatures plunge with the beginning of winter.
Zelenskiy and other leaders commemorated the victims of the Holodomor famine, which took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.
Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.
It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the Stalin-era campaign.
Many Ukrainians consider the famine an act of genocide aimed at wiping out Ukrainian farmers.
Along with Ukraine, at least 16 other countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as “genocide.”
In October 2018, the U.S. Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing that Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33.
German lawmakers are preparing to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, according to a draft text seen by the AFP news agency of a joint resolution from Germany's ruling coalition and opposition.
Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing that a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he "honored the memory of the Holodomor victims" at a memorial in the Ukrainian capital.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, on his first visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, said on Twitter that "after the heavy bombing of recent days, we stand with the people of Ukraine. More than ever before."
"With the cold winter months ahead, Belgium is releasing new humanitarian and military aid," he added.
Zelenskiy told the grain summit that Kyiv is one of the guarantors of world food security and will fulfill its duties despite the Russian invasion, citing the new “Grain From Ukraine” initiative.
He pressed world leaders to support the initiative aimed at feeding about 5 million people in poor countries, particularly Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Speaking through video statements to the summit, Scholz and Macron unveiled new financial packages designed to aid Ukrainian grain exports, which have been hit hard by the war, causing food shortages in many of the world’s poorer nations.
"The most vulnerable countries must not pay the price of a war they did not want," Macron said.
Zelenskiy said the Black Sea Grain Initiative -- brokered by Turkey and the UN and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine -- is not operating at full capacity, blaming what he called Moscow's efforts to delay the movement of ships, leaving many vessels trapped at Ukrainian ports.
The deal took effect in August, aimed at unblocking grain shipments to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other food to those countries, and Russia was the world's top exporter of fertilizer before it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February.
Many in the West have accused Russia of weaponizing the shipment of crucial food-related supplies to world markets. Moscow denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, throughout Ukraine, millions of people are still without heat or electricity after the recent devastating Russian air strikes on infrastructure sites.
Authorities on November 26 were gradually restoring power in many cities -- helped by the reconnection to the grid of the nation’s four nuclear plants.
Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces was reported in the east and south of the country, as Kyiv’s troops continue their counteroffensive, which has recaptured thousands of kilometers of territory seized by Russia early in the war.
In the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its environs, authorities said at least 32 people have been killed by Russian shelling since pro-Kremlin forces withdrew two weeks ago and moved to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
"Daily Russian shelling is destroying the city and killing peaceful local residents. In all, Russia has killed 32 civilians in the Kherson region since the de-occupation," Ihor Klymenko, chief of the National Police of Ukraine, said on Facebook.
"Many people are evacuating to seek refuge in calmer regions of the country. But many residents remain in their homes, and we need to provide them with the maximum possible security," he added.
With reporting by AFP and AP
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