Attack On Peshawar Hotel Leaves At Least 11 Dead
Some news agencies place the death toll as high as 18, while estimates on the number of injured varies from 59 to 70.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of Northwest Frontier Province, is quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying the massive blast was revenge for the Pakistani government's military operation against Taliban ensconced in the country's northwest.
"The blast is a reaction to the army offensive in Swat and Malakand. The possibility of this type of terrorist attack cannot be ruled out in future," Hussain said.
The Pearl Continental Hotel, popular with foreigners, was housing a number of international aid workers who arrived in the city to assist the tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting between government forces and the Taliban in northwest Pakistan.
Security video footage shows militants riding in a white car shooting their way through a security post at the gate of the hotel. A white flatbed truck, presumably packed with explosives, follows the car and hurtles toward the hotel's main building.
The powerful blast brought down part of the five-story hotel's facade and destroyed dozens of cars. Police reportedly estimated that the bomb contained 500 kilograms of explosives.
"We were offering our prayers when firing started, and everybody began shouting, 'The terrorists are here'," said taxi driver Jameel Shah. "Then all of a sudden there was a loud blast."
Speaking to RFE/RL from Peshawar, regional expert Fazal Rahim Marwat said that the hotel was considered the "safest hotel" in Peshawar. It is surrounded by many important government and military offices and was widely used by aid workers and diplomats.
"The truth is that after the Swat operation, the government here has been doing all it can [to improve security]. It has established check posts and conducts regular searches," Marwat said.
"The truth is that no public place was safer than where the bombing happened yesterday, because the main hotel building was far away from the front gates were visitors were searched. They had sniffer dogs and security cameras and even the V.I.Ps were thoroughly searched," he said.
Marwat suggested that the hotel was targeted because the militants wanted to send a message to Westerners that no place in Peshawar is safe for them.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed that Aleksandar Vorkapic, a Serbian working for the aid agency, was killed. The United Nations reported that Perseveranda So, a UNICEF employee from the Philippines, was also killed.
"This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable," UNICEF's executive director, Ann Veneman, said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attack.
Top city administrator Sahibzada Anis said that a German woman working for UNICEF, a British man, and a Nigerian man were also among the 70 wounded.
A similar suicide truck bomb targeting the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September killed 55 people.
Estonian Ambassador Leaves Russia As Deadline Expires In Tit-For-Tat Dispute
Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre has left Moscow as requested by Russia's Foreign Ministry, Russian media reports said on February 7. Last month, Moscow demanded that Laidre leave Russia by February 7, saying the level of diplomatic representation in both countries will be reduced from ambassadors to charge d'affaires. The move came after Estonia told Russia to cut the number of diplomats it has in the Baltic nation to eight, equivalent to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Estonia has expelled three Russian diplomats. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Iranian Clinic Shut After Doctor Defends Woman For Her Stance On Hijab
Authorities in the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar have shut down a clinic after a confrontation between two women over wearing a head scarf, a topic that has been at the center of months of unrest since a young woman died while in police custody after being detained over how she was wearing hers.
A video that appeared on social media on February 4 shows a veiled woman warning another woman for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. A doctor at the clinic then defends the woman's right not to wear a hijab and says that her move is a symbol of protest.
"This is a criticism of the mullahs and I defend her," the doctor added in the video. The date of the recording of the video could not be independently verified.
The hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), quoted the prosecutor of Razavi Khorasan Province as saying the doctor was summoned and charged for "insulting a hijabi woman and insulting clerics," while his clinic was also sealed.
In recent weeks, numerous reports have been published about the sealing of businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases even pharmacies for owners and managers failing to observe Islamic laws and mandatory hijab rules.
The wave of closings comes amid the months-long public anger that erupted after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.
Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Germany Urges 'Immediate' End To Nagorno-Karabakh Blockade
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on February 7 called for the reopening of a key corridor to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, after talks with her Armenian counterpart. Baerbock, whose country leads a European Union mission in the region, told reporters that the escalating humanitarian situation made it essential that the blockade by Azerbaijan "end immediately." "The supermarket shelves are almost empty, medication is lacking...family members are stuck in Armenia and can't get back to their loved ones, schoolchildren have to freeze in these icy temperatures because the energy supplies are cut off," Baerbock said. To read the original report by AFP, click here.
Swedish PM Says He's Ready To Restart NATO Talks With Turkey When Ankara Is
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on February 7 that he's ready to restart stalled negotiations over Sweden's application to join NATO as soon as Turkey is. Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and while most member states have ratified the applications, Turkey has yet to give its approval in what must be a unanimous process. The three nations last year reached an agreement on a way forward, but Ankara suspended talks last month following protests in Stockholm, where a far-right politician burned a copy of the Koran. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Paris Mayor Against Russian Athletes Competing In 2024 Olympics 'While War Goes On'
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is opposed to Russian competitors at the 2024 Olympics "while the war continues" in Ukraine, her office said on February 7. It represents a change in position by Hidalgo, who said last month she believed Russians could take part "under a neutral flag" to avoid "depriving athletes of competition." The International Olympic Committee said last month that it was exploring a "pathway" to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Olympics. Ukraine responded to that announcement by saying it would consider boycotting the games.
Another Group Of Karakalpak Activists Goes On Trial In Uzbekistan Over 2022 Protests
A court in Uzbekistan's southwestern city of Bukhara has started the trial of another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in unsanctioned anti-government protests in the Central Asian nation's Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan last year.
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court said on February 7 that 20 of the defendants are charged with organizing mass unrest, while seven are charged with distributing materials inciting social discord, seven others with inflicting serious bodily damage, four with the illegal use of firearms, and one person is charged with torture and blackmail.
The same court last week sentenced the first group of Karakalpak activists -- 22 individuals -- sending lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov to prison for 16 years on charges of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.
Four defendants, including another journalist, Lolagul Qallykhanova, were handed parole-like sentences and immediately released from custody.
Another 17 defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between three years and 8 1/2 years. It remains unclear how the defendants pleaded.
Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General’s Office said on February 6 that one of the activists convicted last week and handed a six-year prison term, Polat Shamshetov, had died over the weekend while in custody of "thromboembolism of the pulmonary artery and acute heart failure."
Self-exiled Karakalpak activists have expressed suspicions that the 45-year-old Shamshetov might have been tortured to death in custody and have demanded a thorough investigation of his death.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July 2022 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.
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 2 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.
Ukrainian Lawmakers Appoint New Security Service Chief, Interior Minister
Ukrainian lawmakers on February 7 appointed Vasyl Malyuk to the post of chief of the Security Service (SBU) and Ihor Klymenko to the post of interior minister. Malyuk had served as the SBU's acting chief since August 2022. Klymenko had been serving as acting interior minister after his predecessor, Denys Monastyrskiy, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Wikipedia Unblocked In Pakistan
Wikipedia was accessible in Pakistan on February 7, days after the country’s media regulator had blocked the free online encyclopedia. Pakistan’s media regulator blocked Wikipedia services on February 3. A spokesperson told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the decision was taken after the site failed to remove purportedly blasphemous content. After an outcry, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on February 6 ordered the site to be unblocked. Blasphemy is a sensitive subject and carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where even allegations of the offense are often enough to provoke mob violence. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
Russian Court Reduces Sentence Of Self-Exiled Activist Shevchenko
A Russian court has cut the prison term handed down to the self-exiled former coordinator of the defunct Open Russia group, Anastasia Shevchenko, by one year, putting the sentence at two years.
Shevchenko, who fled Russia for Lithuania last summer, tweeted the court decision -- the second time that a year was cut from her original sentence -- on February 6. She gave no reason for the reduction of the sentence.
In December, a court in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don ruled in absentia to replace Shevchenko's suspended sentence with a real prison term at the Federal Penitentiary Service's request.
Shevchenko was initially handed a four-year suspended sentence in February 2021 for having links with the opposition group Open Russia. The sentence was later cut by one year.
Shevchenko was the first person in Russia charged with “repeatedly participating in the activities of an undesirable organization.” Previously, violations of this law were punished as a noncriminal offense.
Shevchenko's supporters have said the case was a politically motivated attempt to stop her activism and punish her for showing dissent publicly.
The “undesirable organization” law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources.
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declared Open Russia "undesirable” in 2017.
During her pretrial house arrest in January 2019, Shevchenkowas granted a furlough at the last minute to see her eldest daughter in the hospital shortly before she died of an unspecified illness.
Prosecutor Seeks Nine Years In Prison For Siberian Journalist Charged With 'Discrediting' Russian Armed Forces
A prosecutor has asked a court in the Siberian city of Barnaul to convict and sentence journalist Maria Ponomarenko to nine years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine. Ponomarenko's lawyer, Dmitry Shitov, said the prosecutor also requested the court to bar Ponomarenko from journalistic and online activities for five years. Ponomarenko was arrested in April 2022 for her online posts about Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Russian Invading Forces Continue Attacks In Eastern Ukraine Amid Warnings Of Fresh Offensive
Russian invading forces continue to launch attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv’s military reported on February 7, as Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Moscow was preparing for a fresh offensive in the region.
Over the past 24 hours, Russia’s military launched six missile and 24 air strikes, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military, which also reported 75 artillery strikes, including on civilian targets in the eastern and southeastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson.
It said there had been an unspecified number of civilian casualties.
Later, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, reported that one person had been killed and five wounded as a result of overnight shelling in the Donetsk region.
Over the past 24 hours, 1,030 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military claimed on February 7, although such casualty figures are impossible to verify.
The fresh fighting comes after Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russia is deploying reinforcements in eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive.
"We are seeing more and more [Russian] reserves being deployed in our direction. We are seeing more equipment being brought in...," Hayday told Ukrainian television on February 6.
"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before; it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive," Hayday claimed.
Britain's Defense Intelligence said in its daily report on February 7 that Russia's military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they "lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive," it said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces are fighting attempts by Russian troops to surround the city of Bakhmut and break the city's defenses.
Speaking in his evening address on February 6, Zelenskiy thanked every soldier involved, singling out specific brigades.
Intense fighting has been raging for weeks around Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
For months, Russia's main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold.
Ukraine said late on February 6 that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar, and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
The European Union said Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began nearly a year ago.
Zelenskiy's office did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Almost 8 Million People Have Fled Ukraine, UN Aid Chief Says
The UN's emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion almost a year ago. Almost 8 million people fled from Ukraine to neighboring countries, while another 5.3 million are internally displaced, Griffiths told the UN Security Council in New York on February 6. The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.
Russian Pleads Guilty In U.S. On Money-Laundering Charge
Russian citizen Denis Dubnikov pleaded guilty on February 6 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. District Court of Oregon. Dubnikov is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11. The Russian national, who had been sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang, was extradited to the United States from the Netherlands in August. U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks. They allegedly laundered $400,000 in payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including in the United States.
U.S. Vice President To Map Out Next Steps To Aid Ukraine At Munich Security Conference
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to discuss Washington's future support for Ukraine when she travels to a major security conference in Germany next week. Harris will travel to the Munich Security Conference, scheduled to begin on February 16, as Ukraine readies itself for a new Russian offensive. A White House official said Harris will use her speech to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people, reaffirm international support for the country, condemn Russia's actions, reaffirm Washington's mutual defense commitments under NATO, and "outline the path forward" on Ukraine. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Invited To Take Part In EU Summit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of European Union leaders, the EU said on February 6. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, invited Zelenskiy "to participate in person in a future summit," Michel spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted. Leyts did not say when Zelenskiy might take up the invitation and specified that no further information would be provided "for security reasons." The next EU summit is scheduled to take place on February 9-10 in Brussels. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Salman Rushdie To Release New Novel, Six Months After Stabbing Attack
A new novel by Salman Rushdie will be published on February 7, nearly six months after a man repeatedly stabbed the writer onstage during a lecture in New York state in what was widely condemned as an attack on freedom of expression. Rushdie, 75, was blinded in his right eye and his left hand was badly injured in the stabbing, which happened more than three decades after Iran instructed Muslims to kill Rushdie because of what religious leaders alleged was blasphemy in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Poll Shows Steady Support Among Americans For Ukraine Reclaiming Its Territory
Nearly one year into the war in Ukraine, Americans’ support for Kyiv holds steady, according to a Gallup poll released on February 6. The poll shows 65 percent of U.S. adults polled want the United States to support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, even if that results in a prolonged conflict. Thirty-one percent said they would rather see the United States work to end the war quickly, even if this allows Russia to keep territory captured in its invasion. The data is from a Gallup web survey conducted January 3-22.
Judge Denies Saakashvili's Request For Release On Health Grounds
TBILISI -- A court in Tbilisi has rejected an appeal to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on health grounds, Saakashvili's legal team said.
Judge Giorgi Arevadze said the arguments presented during 15 hearings did not satisfy the request to suspend the sentence of the imprisoned ex-president and immediately announced his decision on February 6 after hearing closing arguments.
“The motion to postpone or release the sentence due to Mikheil Saakashvili's illness should not be granted," Arevadze said.
In a statement shared by Saakashvili's team, the ex-president slammed the ruling as a "death sentence" handed down by his political opponents.
"The Georgian court hearing turned out to be a total joke," Saakashvili said. "The government's experts did not even bother to see me.... Now I've basically got a death sentence.”
Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.
Family members and his lawyers have warned for months that Saakashvili’s health condition has been deteriorating, even as he receives treatment in a private clinic in Tbilisi.
His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration.
Saakashvili's legal team has also asserted that he was "poisoned" with heavy metals while in custody.
During a hearing last week, he asked for “the opportunity for adequate treatment” as he asked to have his sentence suspended so he can be transferred abroad for more intensive care.
But Georgian officials have raised doubts about how critical his health situation is.
Saakashvili is currently on trial on separate charges of violently dispersing an anti-government rally in November 2007 and illegal border crossing.
With reporting by Reuters
Russia's January Budget Deficit Widens As Energy Revenues Slump
Slumping energy revenues and soaring expenditures pushed Russia's federal budget to a deficit of 1.76 trillion rubles ($24.78 billion) in January amid Western sanctions and the cost of the war in Ukraine. The Finance Ministry said on February 6 that oil and gas revenues were 46.4 percent lower in January than in the same month last year. Overall revenue for the month was down 35.1 percent, while spending was 58.7 percent higher. The ministry cited lower prices for Russian oil and lower volumes of natural gas exports as the primary reasons. Sanctions have forced Moscow to sell oil and gas at a discount. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Head Of Russia's Tyva Republic Sends Representatives To Russia-Occupied Donetsk After Complaints
The leader of Russia's Republic of Tyva in Siberia, Vladislav Khovalyg, has sent his representatives to parts of Ukraine's Russia-occupied Donetsk region after a group of Tyvan men mobilized to fight with the Russian armed forces invading Ukraine complained of ill treatment.
In a video posted on Telegram on February 6, the men said they had been mobilized in September and gone through poor military training in the Novosibirsk region, where they were told that they will serving in a patrolling unit.
According to the men, they were transferred to the Donetsk region in late December, where they had not been officially registered with any Russian military unit, while some of them were ordered to fight against Ukrainian forces on the line of contact, which is not what a patrolling unit does.
The men also said Russian-backed separatists from the Donetsk region, as well as military police, came to them and beat them severely while saying that they now belong to them.
"In that case, we are not soldiers of the Russian Federation," the men said in the video.
Footage also showed two men in military uniform forcing a third man to kneel as they put the barrel of an assault rifle to his head. It is not clear who is in the footage and when the video was shot.
Khovalyg called the situation "a flagrant case that discredits the situation of mobilized men," adding that he already talked to the leader of Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk, Vitaliy Khotsenko, regarding the situation before sending his representatives to the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk.
Tyva's former leader, Sholban Kara-Ool, also issued a statement on January 6, saying he had canceled a business trip across Siberia and would urgently travel to Donetsk to personally look into the situation.
In recent years, soldiers in the Russian armed forces conscripted from Tyva complained about race-based bullying because of their ethnicity, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's father was a Tyvan.
Tyvans (Tuvinians) are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group of some 308,000 people, mainly residing in the remote republic on the Russian-Mongolian border.
Tatar Sociologist Gets Three Days In Jail On Hatred Charge Over Analysis Published By RFE/RL
A noted sociologist in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Iskander Yasaveyev, has been sentenced to three days in jail on a charge of inciting hatred in an analysis of Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that was published in June on RFE/RL's Idel.Realities website. Yasaveyev's lawyer, Rim Sabirov, said the Vakhitov district court in Kazan sentenced his client on February 6, adding that the court's ruling will be appealed. RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly called for Yasaveyev's immediate release. "Only authoritarians view independent journalism as inciting hatred, when journalists are doing nothing more than reporting the truth,” Fly said in a statement.
Ukraine, Russia Offer Help After Powerful Earthquake Strikes Turkey, Syria
Ukraine and Russia are among the countries that immediately pledged to send rescuers and other aid after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria in the early hours of February 6. More than 4,000 people were killed in the two countries. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv stands ready to send a large group of rescue workers to Turkey even as it battles to repel invading Russian troops. "We are working closely with the Turkish side to coordinate their deployment," Kuleba said on Twitter. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also promising to send rescuers.
Serbian PM Apologizes For Official Reference To 'Republic Of Kosovo'
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic publicly apologized on February 6 for the appearance on the official government website of the phrase “Republic of Kosovo,” saying it was the result of an “unforgivable” translation error.
Serbia does not acknowledge the independence of its former province, and Brnabic’s government, along with populist President Aleksandar Vucic, has waged a campaign aimed at persuading more than 100 countries to withdraw their official recognition.
"I couldn't sleep last night,” Brnabic told Serbia’s public broadcaster. “I don't know what I'm doing. I can't kill myself over it. But I'm sorry that it's being used by the political opposition to score some political points.”
Brnabic said there would be consequences for the Internet team that works on the government website. In the broadcast, she called it a "gross, unforgivable mistake by the translator."
Official Serbian documents describe Kosovo as part of Serbia.
Former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who is in the opposition, shared a screenshot on January 5 of the original wording in English next to the Serbian-language version referring to “KiM.”
The English-language statement was subsequently amended to read “Kosovo and Metohija,” a term used by Belgrade that evokes the Serbian Orthodox Church’s historical presence the region.
The item in question relates to a February 2 special session of the Serbian National Assembly at which Vucic accused Kosovo’s leadership and its Western allies of seeking to “avoid the obligation to form the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO)” since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year.
Pristina has failed to provide the legal groundwork for the formation of the ZSO as a conduit for dialogue with minority Serbs despite its inclusion in the so-called Brussels Agreement signed by Kosovo in 2013.
Belgrade and Pristina have been locked in mostly stagnant talks organized by EU officials for a decade to pursue a normalization of relations, a development that could allow Kosovo access to blocked multilateral institutions.
The past year has seen tensions rise at their shared border, including as a result of Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s imposition of a “reciprocal” license-plate requirement on vehicles in northern Kosovo owned by ethnic Serbs who oppose such registration as a de facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia has long refused to respect Kosovar vehicle registration and other documents.
Ethnic Serbs make up a majority in four northern Kosovar regions but are otherwise far outweighed by ethnic Albanians.
Frenchman Held In Iran Reportedly Starts New Hunger Strike
Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said on February 6. Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West. A hunger strike is the "only weapon he has," his sister, Blandine Briere, said in a statement. He stopped eating on January 28, she said.
Iranian Activist Says Reforms Can't Save Islamic Government, Change Needed
A leading jailed Iranian political activist says the time has come for the Islamic government to leave, even if it takes some reforms such as repealing the deeply divisive mandatory hijab law.
In a letter written from the women's ward of Evin prison imploring fellow rights activist Farhad Meysami to end his hunger strike, Bahareh Hedayat wrote that "our problem is with the logic of this regime, which is a form of Islamic fascism."
"The overthrow [of the Islamic republic] is now the will of the majority of the nation and the necessity of the existing situation," she added.
Last week, Meysami vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities release six political prisoners, including Hedayat, and stop their harassment of women through the compulsory hijab rule. Photos on social media showed him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his health.
Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law, which forces them to cover their hair in public.
He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.
In the letter, Hedayat wrote that even if the Islamic republic repeals the compulsory hijab law, "what should we do with its costly conflict with the world?"
"Even if they reached an agreement with the West, what should we do with its organized corruption? What to do with the guardian jurist (supreme leader)? What should we do with its madness, tyranny, inefficiency, and looting?" she added.
In the face of withering criticism from the West over its treatment of protesters and its human rights record in general, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on February 5 issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during recent anti-government rallies.
Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration; his demands have been mostly related to social conditions in Iran and the pligth of other activists and prisoners.
Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times.
Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during nationwide protests in Iran that broke out following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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