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Iraqi Oil Auction Draws Strong Foreign Interest

Workers carry out checks at the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq.
Workers carry out checks at the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq.
Iraq is expected to disclose which foreign oil companies have won contracts to develop eight of its massive oil and gas fields.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki opened the meeting in Baghdad, saying that foreign investment in Iraq's oil and gas sector is necessary for the rebuilding of the country.

He was speaking to executives of 31 oil companies, including ExxonMobil of the United States, Anglo-Dutch Shell, Sinopec of China, Total of France, and others from Russia, Indonesia, India and South Korea.

They are bidding for the right to share the long-term production of six key oil fields and two natural-gas fields, with the aim of nearly doubling Iraq's production to 4 million barrels per day in the next five years.

First word from the Baghdad meeting is that a BP-led consortium has accepted a contract to develop the biggest oil field, the southern Rumaila field.

Iraq has the world's third-largest proven oil reserves, but its production rate is low because of war, sanctions and neglect over many years, both before and after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

Disputed Entry

The reentry of foreign companies into the Iraqi oil industry is controversial, with some members of parliament and oilmen opposing the sale of Iraqi resources to foreigners as illegal. The legislature has failed to pass a new law regulating the industry because of disagreements between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds about who will control some northern fields.

Faruq Muhammad Sadiq, an executive of Iraq's South Oil Company, which produces most of the country's crude, says he opposes the plan because the fields on offer are already highly productive and could be developed further by local entities.

"These fields in particular, which are currently being talked and argued about and disputed over, are in fact productive fields and this means that they are the backbone of the Iraqi economy," Sadiq says.

"If we're producing 100 percent of oil, 80 percent of it is produced by these fields. Hence, we do not need a foreign company to come and develop these fields at a time when we are capable of doing this if we have financial and logistical support from the Ministries of Oil and Finance."

Sadiq also expressed fears that the return of international oil companies may also herald the return to the monopolies of the 1920s, when Iraq's huge reserves were first tapped.

Security too remains an issue. During the insurgency, militants set out to sabotage energy production, so as to deny revenue to the central or regional authorities. The country is quieter today, but it's impossible to predict whether the oil and gas facilities in foreign hands will continue to attract sabotage.

Paying To Get In

In addition, the terms of the deals being offered by Iraq are not considered very favorable. Winning companies must put down a deposit of $2.6 billion before even beginning their investment in the oil fields themselves.

They will also have to join a partnership with Iraqi government-owned companies, and share management of the fields despite fully financing their development.

Further, they will be paid a fixed fee per barrel, not a share of the profits, and the fee will only be paid once a production threshold set by the government is reached.

But the bidding companies will accept these conditions because they want to gain a toehold in the potentially highly lucrative Iraqi market for the future.

Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, head of the Energy Committee at the Basra Investment Commission, told Reuters television that in any case it's too late for objections from Iraqis as the country has to honor commitments it has made.

"The Oil Ministry has started working in this project for several months now, therefore those who have a different vision should have been more active in the past months because the foreign companies, the private foreign sector, foreign expertise and world companies view these days as important in shaping the nature of relations with the Iraqi government as represented by the Ministry of Oil," Jabbar says.

"The Oil Ministry insists on going on with its decision not only because of technical reason but, I think, it views the issue as a way to prove its ability to run its facilities."

The bidding is expected to continue into July 1.

compiled from agency material

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Iranian President Dies In Helicopter Crash

The empty chair of President Ebrahim Raisi in the Iranian cabinet after confirmation of his death in a helicopter crash.
The empty chair of President Ebrahim Raisi in the Iranian cabinet after confirmation of his death in a helicopter crash.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash in northwest Iran.

Iranian state television on May 20 said the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions.

Raisi’s cabinet is holding an emergency meeting, state media said.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days.

Mohammad Mokhber
Mohammad Mokhber

The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.

Search and rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz.

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President
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The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

Islamic State Claims Attack In Afghanistan That Killed 3 Spaniards

Bamiyan statues (file photo)
Bamiyan statues (file photo)

The Islamic State militant group on May 19 claimed responsibility for an attack by gunmen on tourists in Afghanistan's central Bamiyan Province. Three Spanish tourists were killed and at least one other was injured in the May 17 attack, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said. Abdul Matin Qane, spokesman for the Taliban-led government’s Interior Ministry, said four people had been arrested over the attack. In addition to the three foreign tourists, one Afghan citizen was killed, and four foreigners and three Afghans were injured, according to Qane. Bamiyan is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the remains of two giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban during its previous rule in 2001.

Updated

Official Says 'No Signs Of Life' Found At Crash Site Of President Raisi’s Helicopter

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after rescue teams reached the remote site in northwestern Iran where a helicopter he and other government officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were travelling in crashed.

The head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state television early on May 20 that rescuers had seen the downed helicopter and upon arrival, the situation was "not good."

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter's passengers,” he said.

Search and rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz. The massive search for more than 12 hours before a Turkish drone with night vision that was aiding the search identified a source of heat "suspected to be the wreckage of the helicopter carrying Raisi." According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, Ankara immediately "shared its coordinates with Iranian authorities."

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President
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Reports of the crash sparked several countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, into action to help in the search effort, while the European Union activated its Copernicus satellite mapping service at Iran's request.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

With growing dissent among many Iranians over an array of political, social and economic crises, Iran's clerical rulers.

Hours after the search began, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a brief statement late calling for prayers and assuring Iranians "the country's affairs will not be disrupted." He has not commented publicly since reports of the burned wreckage were found.

State TV showed people praying at the Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who won Iran's 2021 presidential election after leading the country's judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has been sanctioned by the United States in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Some reports have noted that because of international sanctions it has been difficult for Iran to obtain parts for its aging helicopter fleet.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the head of the judicial power, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days. The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.

Slovak PM's Condition Upgraded To Positive Prognosis Following Assassination Attempt

Slovak PM Robert Fico greets people in Handlova, Slovakia where he was shot on May 15.
Slovak PM Robert Fico greets people in Handlova, Slovakia where he was shot on May 15.

Slovakia’s populist prime minister, Robert Fico, remained in serious condition on May 19 but has been given a positive prognosis four days after he was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt that has sent shock waves across the deeply polarized European Union nation, the defense minister said. "The worst of what we feared has passed, at least for the moment. But his condition remains serious," Robert Kalinak told reporters outside the hospital where Fico is being treated. "His condition is stable with a positive prognosis."

Updated

Pakistan Evacuates Students Following Bishkek Attacks On Foreigners

Pakistani Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi (left) greets a student injured in the Bishkek attacks, at Lahore airport on May 18. The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek announced special flights to bring students home over the next few days.
Pakistani Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi (left) greets a student injured in the Bishkek attacks, at Lahore airport on May 18. The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek announced special flights to bring students home over the next few days.

Top officials from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan have met after mob violence in Bishkek against foreign students injured at least 29 people, including several foreigners, and triggered diplomatic tensions with Pakistan and India.

Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Avazbek Atakhanov held talks on May 19 in the Kyrgyz capital with Hassan Ali Zaigham, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

Atakhanov said the situation was under control and added that Kyrgyz authorities had launched a probe into the incident, allegedly sparked by an unclear dispute days earlier involving migrants.

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov and Ali Zaigham visited the hostel where most of the violence took place and met with international students. Baisalov apologized on behalf of the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz people for failing to protect the students.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials said a planned visit to Bishkek by a Pakistani delegation, including Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, had been canceled after Kyrgyz officials had assured them the situation was now calm.

Students Leave Kyrgyzstan In Wake Of Anti-Foreigner Mob Violence
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About 140 students and 40 other Pakistanis flew out of Bishkek late on May 18. The students were received by Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi at Lahore International Airport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek informed Radio Azattyk on May 19 that special flights have been arranged to repatriate Pakistani students for the next few days.

A Pakistani student told Radio Mashaal he had spent the night at Bishkek’s international airport waiting to fly out.

“Our university arranged transport last night.... There were three vans…. We were brought to the airport and here we are completely safe. Our flight is scheduled for today. It is a direct flight from Bishkek to Islamabad. We spent the night without any trouble and there was no attack," Hasnain Ali, a student of medicine at Ala-Too International University in Bishkek, told Radio Mashaal.

Another described how foreign students were being told not to venture outside.

Protests In Pakistan Over Mob Attack On Foreigners In Kyrgyzstan
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"We are also getting messages from the university that things are normal, but one can't believe it. It is not fully normal because they are asking us that if you want to go out, do it only in groups of three or four, but not alone. We are restricted to our hostel,” explained Syed Shah Rukh Khan.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service also spoke with people at the VIP Hostel in Bishkek, which was the epicenter of the mob attacks.

"The students who are here only came to study. And now the students are really scared. I know that no country is bad. But, thanks to some bad people and their behavior, the students are scared. They are someone's children. They came here only to study, and they [the mob] came in and beat them," said Ahmed Faiz, a student from Pakistan at Kyrgyzstan’s International University.

Ahmed Umer, another Pakistani student at Kyrgyzstan’s International University, described some of the violence at the hostel.

"Some locals went into our hostel, and they harassed women. Also, they broke windows, everything. They stole things from us," he told RFE/RL.

Sajjad Ahmad, head of the VIP Hostel, said faculty from Kyryzstan's International University were helping students cope with the aftermath.

"They have been sleeping here since yesterday. They have been calming down the students. Now, the students are calm.... Of course, the situation is scary. They will now head home. We are [arranging] plane tickets and flights," Ahmad said.

An estimated 500 people live at the hostel, and Ahmad said all of them were expected to leave.

"They didn't expect such a thing to happen here. The atmosphere was very good in Kyrgyzstan. Now they are saying that they urgently need to [leave]," Ahmad told RFE/RL, adding that their course work would continue online.

"Let's see if they come back. Then they will continue their education here," he said.

Meanwhile, three foreign nationals injured in the unrest in Bishkek remain in a stable condition on May 19, according to Health Ministry spokesman Jyldyz Aigerchinova, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.

The Health Ministry said on May 18 that 15 of the 29 people injured had been taken to the Bishkek City Emergency Hospital and the National Hospital and the rest were treated on the spot.

The Kyrgyz government said earlier that four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 had been arrested following the violence. It said they were placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

Those found guilty will be punished, the Kyrgyz government said in a statement, rejecting what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students." But it appeared to lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said in a statement on May 18 that the violence was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "persons of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13 and then pursuing them to their dormitory, where at least one foreign student was assaulted by several men and dragged on the floor.

Updated

Russian Strikes Kill At Least 11 Civilians In Ukraine's Eastern Kharkiv Region

A woman cries as police officers inspect the site of a Russian missile attack that hit a recreation area killing five and injuring 16 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 19.
A woman cries as police officers inspect the site of a Russian missile attack that hit a recreation area killing five and injuring 16 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 19.

Russian air strikes in eastern Ukraine killed at least 11 people amid Moscow's renewed offensive in the Kharkiv region, government officials said on May 19, while Russia said it came under a drone attack.

The air strikes killed at least five and injured nine others near the city of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said. Three men aged 58, 64, and 65, and two women aged 56 and 72 died, in the attack, Synyehubov said. Five men and four women were injured, he said on Telegram.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Police in the Kharkiv region said the shelling occurred in the morning of May 19.

Russian forces also struck a lakeside recreation center near Kharkiv, killing six people and injuring 27, the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement. Two of the injured people were police officers, the statement said.

It added that the fate of one employee of the recreation center who was fishing at the time of the attack was unknown.

Earlier on May 19, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's partially occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine, said that one person died and 16 were wounded when a Ukrainian drone hit a minibus.

Ukrainian troops are fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region that began late last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 17 during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in the Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that the activity of Russian military forces in the area around Kharkiv had been "somewhat slowed down," adding that eight combat clashes took place there on May 19. The assessment said the Russian forces were still trying to break through the defenses near Vovchansk, Starytsya, and Lyptsi.

In addition, there were 13 attacks in the area around the city of Kramatorsk.

Further south in the area around the city of Kurakhiv in the Donetsk region, the General Staff said Russian troops doubled the number of attacks to 10.

"The situation at the front remains difficult, but at the same time it is controlled by the Defense Forces of Ukraine," it said in its evening assessment. "Our defenders firmly hold their positions, beat the enemy, and destroy their equipment."

The Ukrainian military's commander in chief, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on May 17 that the combat zone had expanded by some 70 kilometers in a move meant to force Kyiv, already at a troop disadvantage on the battlefield, to concentrate more soldiers in the area and stretch it thin elsewhere.

Earlier, Ukrainian Air Force officials said air defenses shot down all 37 Russian drones launched at sites across the country overnight.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said several regions of the country plus occupied Crimea came under an intense drone and missile attack early on May 19.

Russian air defenses shot down nine U.S. ATACMS missiles over Crimea along with 57 drones over Russia's Krasnodar region and three drones over the Belgorod region, the ministry said.

Local officials said six drones crashed onto the territory of an oil refinery in Slavyansk-on-Kuban in Russia's southern Krasnodar region, forcing it to halt work.

News outlet Astra published videos appearing to show an explosion at the refinery as it was hit by a drone. The videos could not be independently verified.

A source who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to comment officially on the situation told RFE/RL that in addition to the oil refinery a Russian airfield also was hit, adding that Russians complained on social media about a series of explosions and fires.

"At this airport there were dozens of different planes that attack Ukrainian positions at the front -- Su-34, Su-25, Su-27, MiG-29. The management of the Slavyansk Refinery said that after several noisy flights, the plant stopped its work, and they are now assessing the damage," the source said.

The source did not provide any other details about the possible destruction caused by the impact.

EU's Michel Says Georgian President's Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Bill Offers 'Moment Of Reflection'

European Council President Charles Michel called the veto an "opportunity" to "ensure Georgia stays on the European course the population supports."
European Council President Charles Michel called the veto an "opportunity" to "ensure Georgia stays on the European course the population supports."

European Council President Charles Michel says a veto by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili of a bill targeting media and NGOS that receive foreign funding "offers a moment for further reflection" on the controversial legislation that has sparked weeks of protests in Georgia and concern in the West.

"I call on all politicians and leaders in Georgia to make good use of this window of opportunity and ensure Georgia stays on the European course the population supports," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

The EU offered Georgia candidate status last December but said at the same time that Tbilisi needed to fulfill policy recommendations for its membership bid to move forward. Among other things, Brussels urged Tbilisi to ensure that elections remain free and fair, to fight disinformation "against the EU and its values," and to safeguard the independence of public institutions such as the central bank and anti-corruption bodies.

In announcing her decision on May 18, Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, said the legislation contradicts Georgia’s constitution and "all European standards," and added that it "must be abolished."

The ruling party, Georgian Dream, has a majority sufficient to override Zurabishvili’s veto and is widely expected to do so in the coming days. Georgian Dream was founded by Russian-friendly billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

In his post on X, Michel said he would continue to monitor developments in Georgia.

On May 14, Michel said that if Georgians "want to join the EU, they have to respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the democratic principles."

Zurabishvili said the Georgian Dream party together with several opposition members of parliament voted through the legislation in defiance of protesters who oppose any shift away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

The Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs, and prompted weeks of protests that were repeatedly cracked down on violently by authorities.

On May 15, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued a statement in support of the Georgian protesters, condemning what he described as a wave of violence against opposition politicians, activists, journalists, and their families.

Earlier on May 18 opponents of the law were attacked by Georgian Dream supporters outside Tbilisi State University, where they were waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who teaches a course at the university on Saturdays.

Kobakhidze has accused the protesters of "following the agenda of the political minority" and charged that they were showing a "great irresponsibility" toward their country.

Opponents have pointed to the similarity to legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law."

Zurabishvili used that description in a briefing after announcing her veto.

"This law is a Russian law in essence and spirit, which contradicts our constitution and all European standards. Thus, it represents an obstacle on our European path," she said. "This veto is completely legal and will be delivered to the parliament today."

The law is not subject to any change or improvement, she said, adding that the move is simple veto indicating the draft law "should be repealed."

However, Georgian Dream's parliamentary majority will allow it to easily override the presidential veto.

Russian Court Seizes Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank Assets As Part Of Lawsuit

(file photo)
(file photo)

A Russian court has ordered that Deutsche Bank's and Commerzbank's assets, accounts, property and shares be seized in Russia as part of a lawsuit involving the German banks, court documents showed. The banks were among the guarantor lenders under a contract for the construction of a gas processing plant in Russia with Germany's Linde, which was terminated due to Western sanctions. The lawsuits were filed by St Petersburg-based RusChemAlliance, a joint venture 50 percent owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom which is the operator of the project.

Zelenskiy Says Fighting 'Difficult' As Ukrainian Forces Repel Russian Assault On Chasiv Yar

Seizing Chasiv Yar would allow Russia to threaten Kostyantynivka and its rail and roadway and crack the door toward Kramatorsk to the north, and Slovyansk, both large population centers and redoubts of Ukrainian troops and supplies.
Seizing Chasiv Yar would allow Russia to threaten Kostyantynivka and its rail and roadway and crack the door toward Kramatorsk to the north, and Slovyansk, both large population centers and redoubts of Ukrainian troops and supplies.

Russian forces shelled the border regions of Sumy and Kharkiv on May 18, wounding civilians, while pitch battles took place near the cities of Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, and Kurakhiv, military and civilian officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the fighting "is difficult, but the Armed Forces are giving a worthy rebuff to the occupier."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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Speaking in his evening address, Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian military repelled a Russian assault in the area of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region. Ukrainian soldiers destroyed more than 20 units of armored vehicles of the occupier, he claimed, thanking “the guys who repelled the Russian assault on Chasiv Yar.”

The village lies on high ground that Russia has been fighting desperately to capture. Ukrainian forces have repelled the effort so far.

Seizing Chasiv Yar would allow Russia to threaten Kostyantynivka and its rail and roadway and crack the door toward Kramatorsk to the north, and Slovyansk, both large population centers and redoubts of Ukrainian troops and supplies.

In the Chernihiv region on May 18 one person was wounded by shelling, according to the press services of the local regional military administrations.

According to information from the Sumy regional military administration, Russian forces as of 9 p.m. local time on May 18 shelled border territories and settlements in the region 46 times, wounding one person. It said 284 explosions were recorded.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said seven of 77 combat clashes during the day were still ongoing in the evening, the "hottest" being in the Pokrovsk direction.

According to the military, Ukrainian aviation on May 18 struck 18 areas of concentration of Russian forces and two of their anti-aircraft missile systems.

Ukrainian soldiers carried out assaults four times with the aim of knocking the enemy out of the occupied positions, the General Staff said.

Ten clashes took place in the Kharkiv area during the day after Russian forces carried out an air strike on a residential area of the city of Kharkiv using two guided aerial bombs.

Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating the air strike, which wounded five civilians, including a 13-year-old girl and 16-year-old male, as a potential war crime.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces captured the village of Starytsya in the Kharkiv region on May 18.

It was not possible to verity either side’s battlefield claims.

Russian troops began shelling border settlements in the Kharkiv region on May 10 and launched a ground offensive in the area of Vovchansk. On May 16, Russian units appeared to have entered Vovchansk, about 5 kilometers from the border, and the site of the fiercest fighting in the north.

Earlier on May 18, a Russian missile attack on Ukraine's southern Black Sea port city of Odesa killed one person and wounded eight others, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram.

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service reported that the strike hit a warehouse and a fire broke out on an area of 800 square meters, which firefighters were extinguishing.

Poland To Spend Around $2.5 Billion On Securing Eastern Border, Tusk Says

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)

Poland will invest 10 billion zlotys ($2.55 billion) in a program to secure its eastern border, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 18. Tusk did not provide specifics but said the program would include fortifications and landscaping that will make the border impossible for a “potential enemy" to pass through. Poland's border with Belarus has been a flashpoint since migrants started flocking there in 2021 after Minsk began encouraging Middle Eastern migrants to travel to Belarus and then use the new route into Europe. Warsaw and the European Union accused Minsk and Moscow of sending migrants to the border as part of an effort to destabilize Poland.

U.S. Military Cargo Plane Arrives In Moldova To Take Part In Emergency Response Training

A C-17 military transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force (file photo)
A C-17 military transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force (file photo)

A U.S. C-17 military aircraft landed on May 18 in Chisinau to support an exercise called Shield of Peace, the U.S. Embassy in Moldova said in a statement. On board the cargo plane were 35 military personnel from the North Carolina Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force in Europe, according to the embassy. They will collaborate with Moldovan government ministries “to implement response tactics aimed at ensuring the best protection of Moldovan citizens in the event of civil emergencies.” The aircraft also delivered medical and defense equipment to be donated to the Moldovan Defense Ministry of as part of U.S. grant assistance. To read the full story on RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Final Text Of UN Resolution On Srebrenica Genocide Agreed

Bosnia-Herzegovina Ambassador to the UN Zlatko Lagumdzija (file photo)
Bosnia-Herzegovina Ambassador to the UN Zlatko Lagumdzija (file photo)

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ambassador to the United Nations has announced that the final text of a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide has been agreed.

Zlatko Lagumdzija announced the agreement on X, formerly Twitter, late on May 17, saying that changes proposed by Montenegro had been considered in the last few days and were largely implemented in the text of the resolution.

The latest revisions "led us to an even better 'refined' text with two amendments that became an integral part of the document," Lagumdzija said.

The agreed final version of the resolution will be presented to the General Assembly for a vote on May 23, Lagumdzija said.

He added that the discussion of the Srebrenica genocide in recent months represents "the fight for justice, truth, reconciliation, learning, prevention of genocide, and ultimately -- a symbol of the fight against the denial of genocide. No one can 'escape' from that anymore," Lagumdzija added.

In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in Potocari near the eastern town of Srebrenica in the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.

The massacre has been deemed genocide by various verdicts of both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The UN resolution, which would declare July 11 as the International Day of Remembrance for the Genocide in Srebrenica, was initiated by Germany and Rwanda and is co-sponsored by the United States, France, Bosnia, and other countries. If the resolution passes, the day of remembrance would be observed starting on July 11 next year, the 30th anniversary of the genocide.

The final draft condemns any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as well as actions that glorify convicted war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide.

It also highlights the importance of completing the process of finding and identifying the remains of victims of the genocide and calls for the continued prosecution of its perpetrators that have yet to be brought to justice.

The leaders of Bosnia's Serb entity, Republika Srpska, and Serbia have voiced angry opposition to the resolution, which they claim would label Serbs as a “genocidal nation.”

Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska's Russian-friendly leader, has repeatedly threatened that if the resolution is adopted, the entity "will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords, has regularly reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

Dodik told supporters at a rally in Banja Luka on April 18 that the actions of the Republika Srpska Army in Srebrenica in 1995 were "a mistake that left the crime," but again denied it was genocide.

Lagumdzija in a separate post on X on May 17 said the resolution includes language that "breaks out the arguments of false patriots who promote the nonexistent guilt of 'genocidal peoples'!"

The text reads: "We repeat that criminal responsibility under international law for the crime of genocide cannot apply to any ethnic, religious, or other community as a whole."

Serbia's nationalist president, Aleksandar Vucic, said the resolution should be subjected to a vote in the UN Security Council, not the General Assembly.

Unlike resolutions presented to the General Assembly, those put to a vote in the Security Council can be vetoed by any of its five members, therefore allowing Russia and China to sink it.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, has dismissed the resolution as “one-sided” and “politically charged.” Nebenzya said on April 30 that the move would not promote reconciliation among Bosnia’s two entities.

Georgia's President Vetoes 'Foreign Agent' Law As Protesters Attacked In Tbilisi

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili speaks at a joint news conference in Tbilisi on May 15.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili speaks at a joint news conference in Tbilisi on May 15.

TBILISI -- Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has vetoed the so-called foreign agent bill targeting media and NGOs that are funded by foreign governments following weeks of mass protests by Georgians who see the bill as endangering the country's path toward EU integration.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Zurabishvili said earlier in the week that she considered the law "unacceptable."

Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, previously expressed her intention to veto the bill, which was approved by parliament on May 14.

Protesters rally outside Tbilisi State University on May 17.
Protesters rally outside Tbilisi State University on May 17.

She said earlier in the week that she considered the law "unacceptable" and "not consistent" with the country's path toward integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. She also warned that the law endangers the very existence of the Georgian state.

Zurabishvili said the Georgian Dream party together with several opposition members of parliament voted through the legislation in defiance of protesters who oppose any shift away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

The Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs, and prompted weeks of protests that were repeatedly cracked down on violently by authorities.

Opponents have pointed to the similarity to legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law."

Zurabishvili used that description in a briefing after announcing her veto.

"This law is a Russian law in essence and spirit, which contradicts our constitution and all European standards. Thus, it represents an obstacle on our European path," she said. "This veto is completely legal and will be delivered to the parliament today."

The law is not subject to any change or improvement, she said, adding that the move is simple veto indicating the draft law "should be repealed."

However, Georgian Dream's parliamentary majority will allow it to easily override the presidential veto.

Earlier on May 18 opponents of the law were attacked by Georgian Dream supporters outside Tbilisi State University, where they were waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who teaches a course at the university on Saturdays.

One of the organizers of the rally, Niko Managadze, said a group of people confronted the protesters in front of the university and began to physically attack them.

Managadze told RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus that the move was meant to allow Kobakhidze to safely enter the building without having to face the protesters.

"We decided to gather in front of the university and protest, although as you could see, the others have mobilized and came into direct physical contact with us," Managadze said. "There was no adequate reaction from the police. They just stood next to us."


The attackers, who were said to be members of the youth wing of Georgian Dream, came to the university building dressed in black and wearing masks -- apparel similar to that worn by what appeared to be riot police who violently and repeatedly attacked protesters against the law earlier in the week before its adoption.

The incident outside Tbilisi State University came a day after top officials from the ruling party joined senior Orthodox clerics and conservative religious groups in rallies across the country on May 17 to mark a new holiday known as Family Purity Day, including a march in central Tbilisi, the scene of weeks of protests against the bill.

In Georgia, Church-Led 'Family Purity Day' Forces Out LGBT Events
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A procession attended by thousands began at the Holy Trinity Cathedral attended by Kobakhidze, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, who is also Georgian Dream's secretary-general, and parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili.

The attention given by Georgian Dream to the event appeared to be an attempt to tamp down the impact of the weeks of massive protests against the contentious "foreign agent" bill approved by parliament amid the violent crackdown on protesters.

Kobakhidze has accused the protesters of "following the agenda of the political minority" and charged that they were showing a "great irresponsibility" toward their country.

Georgian Dream was founded by Russian-friendly billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Updated

Suspected Would-Be Assassin Ordered Detained As Slovak PM's Condition Is Stable

The 71-year-old suspect was detained after shooting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after a government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, on May 15.
The 71-year-old suspect was detained after shooting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after a government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, on May 15.

The man accused of attempting to assassinate Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was ordered to remain behind bars on May 18, while Fico remains in serious but stable condition, officials said. Slovakia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered the detention of the suspect after prosecutors said they feared he could flee or carry out other crimes if set free, a court spokesperson said. Fico, 59, was shot multiple times as he greeted supporters following a government meeting on May 15, officials said. Unconfirmed media reports say the suspect is a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet. Though he doesn’t belong to any political groups, allies of Fico have said the attack was politically motivated.

Russian Missile Attack On Odesa Kills 1, Wounds 8

 Missile attack on Odesa on May 17
Missile attack on Odesa on May 17

A Russian missile attack on Ukraine's southern Black Sea port city of Odesa has killed one person and wounded eight others, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram. Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service reported that the strike hit a warehouse and a fire broke out on an area of 800 square meters, which firefighters were extinguishing. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

50 Dead In Heavy Rain, Floods In Central Afghanistan

Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.
Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.

At least 50 people are dead following a fresh bout of heavy rain and flooding in central Afghanistan, an official said on May 18. Mawlawi Abdul Hai Zaeem, head of the information department for the central Ghor Province, told Reuters there was no information about how many people were injured in the rain spell that began a day earlier, which had also cut off many key roads to the area. Zaeem added that 2,000 houses were completely destroyed, 4,000 partially damaged, and more than 2,000 shops were under water in the province's capital, Feroz-Koh.

Updated

Bishkek University Reportedly Calm After Mob Violence That Injured At Least 29

Attackers Storm Foreigners' Dorms In Kyrgyzstan
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BISHKEK -- The situation in Bishkek was stable late on May 18, police said, after mob violence against foreign students injured at least 29 people, including several foreigners, and triggered diplomatic tensions with Pakistan and India.

RFE/RL correspondents reported that the situation near the dormitory where foreigners live at Kyrgyz International University in the eastern part of Bishkek was calm on the evening of May 18 and said security measures had been strengthened.

Kyrgyz authorities said the Pakistani Embassy and a dormitory where foreigners live were put under strict security.

The Health Ministry said on May 18 that 15 of the 29 people injured in a brawl the night before were taken to the Bishkek City Emergency Hospital and the National Hospital and the rest were treated on the spot.

Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev said three foreign students were hospitalized, one in the maxillofacial department and two in the trauma department.

The nationality of the injured students was not released, but students confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that Pakistani students were involved in the incident and some of them were injured.

Indian media reported that Indian and Pakistani students were injured, and Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar said he was monitoring the situation.

About 140 students and 40 other Pakistanis flew out of Bishkek late on May 18. The students were received by Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi at Lahore International Airport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. A second flight is arriving on May 19, the CAA officials said.

Pakistani Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, who is also foreign minister, and Minister for Kashmir Affairs Amir Muqam, will leave for Bishkek from Islamabad on May 19 at the direction of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to accelerate the evacuation of students, officials told RFE/RL.

The Kyrgyz government said earlier that four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 had been arrested following the violence. It said they were placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

Those found guilty will be punished, the Kyrgyz government said in a statement, rejecting what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students." But it appeared to lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said in a statement on May 18 that the violence was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "persons of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13 and then pursuing them to their dormitory, where at least one foreign student was assaulted by several men and dragged on the floor.

Video Appears To Show Mob Attacking Foreigners In Bishkek
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Samiulla Qureshi, a fifth-year medical student at the International University of Bishkek, said the fight on May 13 broke out between Egyptian students and local residents.

Later a video of Egyptians beating international students went viral on social media, he said.

The violence that started on the night of May 17 occurred when "local guys gathered and decided to visit the places where international students live,” Qureshi said. They were beaten “regardless of whether they are from Pakistan, India, or [another country], he added.

The ministry, which posted a version of the video on its Telegram channel, said other foreign students, alerted by the intruders' apparent attempt to enter the female students' quarters, mobilized and fought off the attackers.

"A fight ensued between them in the hostel yard, during which three of the attackers fled, leaving one behind," the statement said.

It said four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 were detained and placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

The ministry said authorities are still looking for two of the alleged attackers who were identified as natives of Kyrgyzstan's Kemin district: Nursultan Mukaev, born in 2006, and Tilek Shermatov, born in 2005.

The ministry claimed in its statement that the emergence of the video on social media on May 17 "without an explanation of the true circumstances of the incident" triggered a public outcry, and 500-700 people gathered, demanding action by authorities against those responsible for the May 13 incident at the hostel.

The ministry claimed security forces cordoned off the area where people had gathered at the intersection of Kurmanjan-Datka Street and Chui Avenue. "Explanatory work was carried out onsite, and after some time, the crowd dispersed," the statement said.

However, the statement does not explain how dozens of people were injured on the night of May 17, while the official account was contradicted by video footage appearing to show attackers ransacking a student hostel and beating up people, as well as riotous crowds in different parts of the city.

It also did not clarify why authorities took four days to intervene and identify the alleged suspects.

Muhammad Ihtisham Latif, a Pakistani medical student in Bishkek, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, "The situation is bad here. The situation started when Egyptian students clashed with locals here. The locals are now protesting and they are beating Indian and Pakistani students.... They chase them in their hostels and houses...hostel [doors] were broken. I am locked up in the university along with other students since yesterday and I am sharing my voice with you."

Syed Shah Rukh Khan, a medical student in his final year, told Radio Mashaal the past night had been "living hell."

Kyrgyz Security Forces Cordon Off Parts Of Bishkek Amid Violence
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"Our hostel and many other hostels were attacked. The locals beat whoever came their way, boys or girls, and they were dragged to the ground. Even outside the universities, they went after the Pakistani and Indian students and beat them," Khan said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed "deep concern" over the situation of Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan, saying in a statement that he directed Pakistan's ambassador to provide all necessary help and assistance to the students.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said on X, formerly Twitter, that the reports of mob attacks on students in Kyrgyzstan are extremely concerning.

"We have established contact with the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure protection of Pakistani students. I have instructed our ambassador to Kyrgyzstan to fully facilitate them," Dar said.

In a separate statement, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the charge d'affaires of the Kyrgyz Embassy to Islamabad, Melis Moldaliev, was summoned to the ministry, where he "was conveyed the deep concerns of the government of Pakistan about the reports of last night’s incidents against Pakistani students studying in the Kyrgyz Republic."

Moldaliev was told that Islamabad expects the Kyrgyz government to take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens in Kyrgyzstan.

The head of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee on National Security (UKMK), Kamchybek Tashiev, appeared to try and lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying protesters were demonstrating against migration.

Tashiev claimed Kyrgyzstan has been grappling with an influx of illegal migrants coming to the country, mostly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, many of whom "break the law."

"We identify at least 20-30 or 50 illegal migrants per day and try to expel them from the country. Based on official statistics, most of the foreigners who break the law are citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Of these, we returned about 1,500 people from Pakistan and about 1,000 people from Bangladesh to their countries."

The incident comes amid a drive by Kyrgyz authorities to expel foreign workers. On May 16, the UKMK announced the arrest of 28 alleged illegal Pakistani workers from a sweatshop. On May 15, Bishkek police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

France Accuses Baku Of Backing Campaign Inciting Violence On New Caledonia

A protester holds the flag of New Caledonian nationalists at a demonstration in Paris on May 16.
A protester holds the flag of New Caledonian nationalists at a demonstration in Paris on May 16.

France has again accused Azerbaijan of interfering in the internal politics of New Caledonia by backing a disinformation campaign that Paris says is encouraging deadly riots in the French territory located between Australia and Fiji.

A French government agency said on May 17 that France has detected a "massive and coordinated" online campaign accusing French police of shooting pro-independence demonstrators. The agency linked the disinformation efforts to "Azerbaijani actors." Azerbaijan has rejected the claims.

Viginum, the French government's watchdog for online disinformation campaigns, pointed to the manipulation of information on social media platforms over the recent riots in New Caledonia.

"On May 15 and 16, 2024, Viginum detected massive and coordinated dissemination on various platforms of clearly inaccurate or misleading content, accusing French police of firing on pro-independence demonstrators," the agency said.

In recent days New Caledonia has been engulfed in clashes between supporters and opponents of independence. The protests started over an electoral reform law that expanded the voting rights of French nationals living in New Caledonia. Opponents of the law say it will weaken the vote of the local population and increase the influence of Paris.

French authorities in New Caledonia and at the Interior Ministry said that five people, including two police officers, have been killed in the clashes since May 13.

France imposed a state of emergency and deployed military forces to protect ports and airports. High Commissioner Louis Le Franc announced stringent measures under the state of emergency, which will run for at least 11 days, including a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The accusation made on May 17 by Viginum follows the comments of French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanen, who told French television that "some leaders of Caledonia's supporters of independence made a deal with Azerbaijan."

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the French official’s words were "another baseless opinion" and added on May 17 that Azerbaijan was not connected to the New Caledonia protests.

Darmanen’s comments came after a delegation from New Caledonia visited Azerbaijan and held meetings with the chairman of the parliament, deputies, and other officials.

Azerbaijani Deputy Asim Mollazadeh said that according to the information provided by the guests from New Caledonia "almost all their rights are violated. It is not suitable for anyone to live in the 21st century with the actions of the 15th century," Mollazadeh said.

Mollazadeh, who participated in a conference in April dedicated to the topic New Caledonia's history, modern challenges, and future, said Azerbaijan can provide moral support to New Caledonia. The territory is "fighting for its freedom and rights…. History also remembers the crimes committed by France," he said.

New Caledonia held three referendums on independence between 2018 and 2021. None of them passed.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Bill Allowing Military Service For Some Convicts Endorsed In Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 17 signed into law a bill allowing for convicts under certain circumstances to serve in the armed forces as Kyiv deals with a military personnel shortage amid Russia's ongoing invasion. Parliament approved the bill on May 8 after the government dropped its opposition to the move. Kyiv has sharply criticized Moscow for recruiting convicts from prison to fight in the war in exchange for a release from their sentences. Reports in recent months say former prisoners have committed serious crimes across the country after they served in the war. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

At Least 4 Killed In Attack On Foreign Tourists In Afghanistan

Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)
Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)

At least four people were killed in an armed attack on a group of foreign tourists at a market in Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan on May 17, according to government and security sources.

Taliban-led Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Matin Qane was quoted by AFP as saying that 11 people were shot and that four of them, including three foreigners, died. Among the other seven victims were four foreigners and three Afghans, he added.

But a Taliban security source told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that the attack left eight people dead.

The source, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that five Afghan civilians and three foreigners were shot dead. The governor of Bamiyan did not respond to RFE/RL’s requests for additional information about the shooting.

Qane said the foreigners were tourists but did not provide their nationalities.

Hospital sources quoted by AFP said preliminary information indicated that three Spanish nationals were killed, and that the wounded were from Norway, Australia, Lithuania, and Spain.

A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed to Reuters that Spanish nationals were among the victims in the attack. The spokesman said the total number of victims had yet to be confirmed.

Security forces have arrested four people in connection with the attack, Qane said.

The Taliban government "strongly condemns this crime, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims, and assures that all the criminals will be found and punished," Qane said in a statement.

Afghanistan has been attracting more and more tourists since improvements in security following the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after the withdrawal of international forces.

The Bamiyan region is home to many members of the mainly Shi'ite Hazara ethnic minority. The historically persecuted religious minority has been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State extremist group, which considers them heretics.

In 2001, the Taliban blew up the giant, centuries-old Buddha statues that were carved into cliffs at Bamiyan. The statues once stood alongside caves, monasteries, and shrines that are among the tourist attractions in the province.

Before blowing up the statues, the hard-line Islamist group declared them "false idols.” Their destruction has been called the "cultural crime of the century.”

With reporting by AFP

Uzbeks Who Broke Laws In Russia Recommended To Avoid Travel To Kazakhstan

An Uzbek-Kazakh border checkpoint (file photo)
An Uzbek-Kazakh border checkpoint (file photo)

Uzbekistan's Foreign Labor Migration Agency on May 17 called on the Central Asian nation's citizens who may have broken laws in Russia to avoid travel to neighboring Kazakhstan, citing Kazakh-Russian agreements on joint efforts against crime. According to the agency, Uzbeks registered in Russia's database as violators will be arrested if they cross into Kazakh territory and subsequently handed to Russia. Many Uzbek migrant workers have left Russia in recent months, fearing forced recruitment into the war in Ukraine. As an alternative, many have chosen Kazakhstan as a destination for job opportunities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Intense Border Clashes Between Taliban, Pakistan Cause Deaths, Destruction

The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)
The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)

At least one Taliban border guard and one Pakistani soldier have been killed and several more injured in the latest border clashes between them.

The clashes continued into the early hours of May 17 after they first erupted five days ago. Pakistani and Taliban forces targeted each other in several places along the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia and Khost, which borders Pakistan's western Kurram district.

Most of the casualties occurred on May 15 when one Pakistani soldier was killed and six more injured after a Taliban rocket hit their post, according to official sources in the country. The Taliban also acknowledged the death of one of its fighters.

"Intense shooting is spreading a wave of fear among locals,” Imran Ali, a Pashtun tribal leader in Kurram, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal on May 17.

Sameer Khan, a resident of the Teri Mangal area straddling the border, said that locals are moving to safer regions after mortar shells landed in civilian homes.

Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a Taliban official in eastern Afghanistan, said they are collecting information on the human and material losses in the fighting.

The clashes erupted on May 13 after Pakistani forces began repairing the barbed-wire fence it first erected in 2017 to demarcate the Durand Line border, which no government in Afghanistan has formally recognized after it was first drawn by the British Empire in India in 1893.

Relations between Afghanistan's Islamist rulers and Pakistan have been tense since the Taliban returned to power in 2021. Islamabad blames the Taliban for sheltering the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TPP), a longtime ideological and organizational ally of the Taliban.

The recent tensions were partly flamed by an alleged Pakistani air strike in the southeastern Paktika Province, reportedly targeted by the Pakistani Taliban.

On May 12, at least seven Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more injured in two separate militant attacks in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district, which borders Paktika.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, director of news at the Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, says the Taliban blames Islamabad's border fence for the tensions. At the same time, Pakistani authorities allege that the TTP is exploiting the border to infiltrate Pakistan with the help of the Taliban.

“Unlike previous Afghan regimes led by Karzai and Ghani, which largely relied on verbal criticisms over border issues, the Taliban has resorted to force,” he said, referring to former Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani.

He said that the clashes have severely disrupted trade between the two countries, wreaking havoc among the Pashtun border communities in the two countries.

“Border tensions not only disrupt trade but also undermine trust,” he said. “This underscores the pressing need for a peaceful resolution to this long-standing dispute.”

But both the Taliban and Islamabad have been silent over the clashes, which experts say might indicate a complete breakdown in their relations.

'Leaders' Of Banned Islamic Group Detained In Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on May 17 that four "leaders" of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group and several of the banned organization's members have been apprehended in Bishkek and other locations inside the Central Asian nation. According to the ministry, the suspects were detained during a special operation two days earlier. Police confiscated books with "extremist content," mobile phones, and other electronic devices as they searched the suspects' homes. Hizb ut-Tahrir, along with such Islamic groups as Yakyn Inkar, Jabhat an-Nusra, Jaihul-Mahdi, Ansarullah, Jihad Tobu, and the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, have been outlawed in Kyrgyzstan since 2003. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Russian Officer Who Fled To Kazakhstan To Avoid Ukraine War Detained

Russian officer Kamil Kasimov's military ID
Russian officer Kamil Kasimov's military ID

Kazakh rights defender Artur Alkhasov said on May 17 that Russian military officer Kamil Kasimov, who fled Russia last year to avoid being sent to the war in Ukraine and was legally residing in Astana, was arrested in late April and is currently being held at a Russian military base in Kazakhstan's central Qaraghandy region. The 23-year-old Kamilov was charged with being absent without notice in order to evade military service and faces up to 10 years in prison if extradited and convicted, Alkhasov said. Officers at the Russian military base in Kazakhstan’s Priozyorsk refused to comment on the situation when contacted by RFE/RL. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Dubai Unlocked: Convicts, Wealthy Iranians With State Ties Implicated In Leaked Property Data

An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)
An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)

Over 7,000 Iranians, including convicts and some with ties to the state, own what experts estimate to be billions of dollars of property in Dubai, according to a report by the Netherlands-based outlet Radio Zamaneh.

The information was obtained as part of a monthslong investigative project known as Dubai Unlocked. Journalists from 75 media outlets from across the world, including Radio Zamaneh, pored over the leaked data and have gradually released their findings over the past week.

Radio Zamaneh’s report cites academics and experts who say the total value of properties owned by Iranians in Dubai is around $7 billion.

It notes that while there is a slew of ordinary Iranians who have properties in the United Arab Emirates, there are also convicts, fugitives, and known figures with links to the Iranian establishment.

An office in Dubai’s Aspect Tower worth around $650,000 belongs to Abbas Iravani, a former head of the Ezam Automotive Parts Group who was sentenced to 65 years in prison earlier this year for his involvement in smuggling auto parts, disrupting the economy, and bribing officials. He has denied the charges.

Another prominent figure is Mohammad Emami, an investor and TV producer who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in financial corruption. His friend and alleged co-conspirator in the case, Amir Reza Farzanrad, is a fugitive and also implicated in the Dubai Unlocked leaks.

Radio Zamaneh says Emami and Farzanrad each own a villa in the affluent Al-Merkadh neighborhood of Dubai worth $5.5 million and $12 million, respectively.

Convicted steel magnate Rasul Danialzadeh, sentenced to 16 years in prison for bribery, owns $12.6 million worth of property in Dubai, including five apartments in the upscale Al-Thanyah Fifth community and a villa in Palm Jumeirah.

The family of the late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani feature prominently in the leaks.

His oldest son, former Tehran City Council chairman Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, owns an apartment worth an estimated $380,000. Mohsen’s son, Ehsan, has a small apartment in Dubai valued at $100,000.

Yasser Hashemi Rafsanjani -- the ex-president’s youngest son -- and his wife, Maryam, own two apartments in the Burj Khalifa worth a combined $1.45 million.

The reports also notes that several dual national Iranians own properties in Dubai, including Mehdi Shams, a former executive at the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line Group.

The report said Shams, who is sentenced to 20 years in prison over his involvement in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement case, purchased a villa valued at $20 million on his British passport.

To put the figures into perspective, the average annual household income in Tehran in the Iranian year 1401 (March 2022-23) was around 2.3 billion rials. That is roughly $3,900 per year, or around $325 a month.

“With a reputation for financial secrecy, low taxes, and an ever-expanding spread of valuable real estate, [Dubai] is an appealing option for those looking to launder or hide cash,” says the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which along with Norwegian financial outlet E24 coordinated the investigation project.

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