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Iraqi Officials Vow To Probe Abuse Cases Detailed In WikiLeaks Files

The founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, displays a page from the released documents to journalists in London on October 23.
A war of words continues over the conduct of Iraqi and U.S. military forces in Iraq after the WikiLeaks website released what it says are nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war.

Iraqi officials like Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani have been quick to state their country's determination to investigate claims in the WikiLeaks files that Iraqi police and military forces were responsible for prisoner abuse, torture, and murder between 2004 and 2009.

"Human rights violations are unacceptable and against the law, according to the nature of the new political system in the country and according to the institutions of the state," Bolani said. "The Interior Ministry is following up on the cases of violations. Investigation committees are continuously working on it, and nobody is above the law.

"Regardless of how long the investigations will take, there are courts and legal procedures that will bring to justice those who are involved in violations against any Iraqi."

15,000 Undisclosed Deaths

The WikiLeaks files have yet to be authenticated.

But Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing website, says the material documents as many as 15,000 previously undisclosed cases of civilians killed during the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the massive sectarian violence that resulted.

Iraqi military forces detain insurgents following clashes in Najaf in January 2007.
The U.S. military has claimed it does not keep detailed records of civilian casualties in Iraq. But the WikiLeaks files -- mainly written by low-ranking U.S. military officers in the field -- describe numerous cases of roadside bombings, rape, and execution-style killings of prisoners by Iraqi police, military, and sectarian fighters.

The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has responded angrily to the charges related to prisoner abuse and summary detention by Iraqi police. Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in Baghdad, Maliki's adviser Ali al-Musawi defended his country's legal system and dismissed the notion that any illegal arrests had been made.

"The talk about the detention units gives the impression that the detentions are made in an illegal way. But this is wrong," Musawi said. "We defy any one of the media venues that are spreading such news to prove that even a single detention was made illegally."

Maliki's office also reportedly accused Wikileaks of trying to scuttle his bid to form a new Iraqi government.

Human Rights Watch has called on Iraq to investigate the allegations. The watchdog also urged Washington to probe whether its own forces broke international law by handing over detainees to the Iraqis despite the risk of torture.

Rough Correspondence

WikiLeaks says it can document the deaths of as many as 109,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of both U.S.-led forces as well as Iraqi fighters, police, and troops. Iraqi Human Rights Minister Vijdan Mikhail, speaking to Radio Free Iraq, said those numbers roughly correspond to the figures gathered by her ministry and other government bodies.

"Concerning the number of deaths in Iraq, the Iraqi government has already announced its own count of the number of civilian deaths between 2003 and 2009," Mikhail said. "For us, as the Iraqi government and the Ministry of Human Rights, the number was 101,000, and it is close [to the number mentioned in the documents of WikiLeaks]."

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell has sought to dismiss allegations that U.S. negligence was to blame for civilian deaths.

"With regards to civilian casualties, we did everything in our power, and continue to do everything in our power, to minimize -- if not avoid -- them altogether," Morrell said. "It runs counter to the whole philosophy of a counterinsurgency to not do that. We are trying to win the trust and the confidence of the Iraqi people, trying to prevent them from joining the Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in that country -- to work with us, work with the government."

U.S. defense officials have blasted the move by Assange, saying the release of the files leaves American forces and their military partners dangerously exposed. Some 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq pending a full pullout at the end of next year.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, condemned the action by WikiLeaks, saying it was "irresponsible" and "puts lives at risk."

'It's A Violence Culture'

David Service, a private based at Camp Warrior in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, has said he believed the information should have been kept confidential.

"I don't think anybody's who's managed to access classified information should share it, as far as regarding the safety of the soldiers or the people it could be affecting," Service told Reuters. "But when you get into it, the Iraqis know, it's a violent culture, and we've been doing our best to help them with the problems that they're having."

The international community has already begun to react to the files' release. Speaking on October 24, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg -- who has said the British decision to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal -- said the allegations against the U.S.-led forces were "extraordinarily serious."

The WikiLeaks file could prove a massive political liability for U.S. defense officials by adding to the suspicion and resentment of American forces in Iraq. They could also fuel suspicion among some Middle East observers, like U.S.-based analyst Walid Phares, that Assange and WikiLeaks may have been given tacit approval for the files' release as a way of further destabilizing the political situation in Iraq.

"Observers in Washington understand that a helping hand was probably involved in leaking information of this scope. There was a big helping hand," Phares says. "Undoubtedly, there will be discussion of this matter, and journalists who have the right to investigate this matter will start looking for sources."

'Very Dangerous Topic'

Some of Prime Minister Maliki's supporters have called the WikiLeaks release a deliberate campaign to orchestrate Maliki's ouster by suggesting he is to blame for much of the violence. But Ahmed al-Alwani, a member of the Al-Iraqiyah bloc that frequently opposes Maliki's own coalition, told Radio Free Iraq that those responsible for the violence should pay.

"This is a very dangerous topic which has to do with people's lives. We need to face this reality," he said. "There is an International Criminal Court and it should have a role to play in all this. Anyone who is involved in crimes against humanity should be tried, whether he is an official or a simple employee."

For ordinary Iraqis, the WikiLeaks files offer few surprises.

A Baghdad resident identified as Salah told Reuters that all Iraqis have been affected by the years of violence.

"I think there is no new information here, because all Iraqis witnessed the events following the invasion and those following the war," Salah said. "Every family has a relative who was tortured in prison, either detained by Iraqi or foreign forces, or knows someone who was killed by Iraqi or foreign forces. This is something we all know about.

"We don't need documents to know this. These documents only provide official confirmation."

written by Daisy Sindelar, with agency reports

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Trial Of Anti-Regime Protesters Opens in Uzbekistan

The trial stems from anti-government protests in Nukus in July.

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

Candidates for Kazakhstan's upper house must be registered by December 24, when the election campaign kicks off. (file photo)

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

Gazprom accused Ukraine of withholding gas supplies that pass through the country on the way to Moldova -- something Kyiv denied. (file photo)

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 West has struggled to meet Ukraine's demand for more arms. (file photo)

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

A service member stands guard near the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhiya nuclear power plant (file photo)

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."

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 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

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a CSTO summit in Yerevan on November 23.

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

Al-Shabaab militants (file photo)

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

Hengameh Ghaziani was arrested by security forces on November 20. (file photo)

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 the Ukraine's state nuclear power company (file photo)

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'

Farideh Moradkhani (file photo)

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'

A U.S.-based rights group said Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.” (file photo)

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 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

An Iranian fans hold a "Woman. Life. Freedom" flag and a shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini before the Iran-Wales match on November 25.

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 (file photo)

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

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. (file photo)

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

A woman walks past the debris of the destroyed house after a recent Russian air strike in Chasiv Yar on November 27. Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine as utility crews continued a scramble to restore power, water, and heating.

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.

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.

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

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament. (file photo)

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

Iranian players celebrate with coach Carlos Queiroz after the match against Wales on November 25.

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

Hossein Ronaghi has been transferred to a hospital after refusing to eat for 64 days, his father said.

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

Andriy Yermak , the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, also said that Kyiv has managed to secure the release of 98 Ukrainian prisoners of war in the past week. In this picture, a group of POWs pose after a swap in the Zaporizhzhya region on November 24.

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena, pay their respects to the victims of the Holodomor famine at a memorial in central Kyiv on November 26.

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.

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"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.”

Ukraine Marks Anniversary Of Catastrophic Stalin-Era Famine
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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.

How Ukraine's Holodomor Famine Was Secretly Photographed
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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.

Amid Blackouts, Odesa Residents Hunt For Generators To Stay Powered Up
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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

Prime Ministers From Belgium, Lithuania, Poland Arrive In Kyiv, Offer Support For Ukraine

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (left), Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (second from left), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center), Hungarian President Katalin Novak (second from right), and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attend a joint news conference after an international summit in Kyiv on November 26.

The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Lithuania, Poland, and Belgium arrived in Kyiv on November 26, expressing support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion and attending a summit hosted by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss implementation of the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative. The parties reaffirmed their readiness to continue their efforts to ensure regular and structured EU budget support for Ukraine throughout 2023 and further participation in the restoration and reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by Russia's full-scale invasion. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey Dies, Says State News Agency

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey (file photo)

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey has died suddenly at the age of 64, the BelTA state news agency reported on November 26. No cause of death was cited and a spokesman said there were no indications he had been in poor health. Until 2020, in pro-Kremlin media and Telegram channels, Makey had repeatedly been accused of seeking to improve relations with the West to the detriment of Russia's interests, but he later defended Minsk's logistical support for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

130,000 In Kyiv Still Without Power After Russian Strikes

A woman walks in Kyiv amid a blackout following Russian strikes on the city.

After intensive Russian attacks, tens of thousands of residents in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, are still without electricity, according to the local authorities. Some 130,000 people in the metropolis of 3 million were still affected, the city's military administration said on November 26, adding that repairs should be finished in the next 24 hours. All heating systems should then be working again, the authorities said. On November 23, Russia targeted Ukraine's energy infrastructure with dozens of missiles and cruise missiles, causing severe damage.

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