Iraqis Defy Violence To Vote For New Parliament
At least 38 people are reported to have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the violence, which hit a number of cities including Baghdad, Fallujah, Baquba, and Samarra.
Worst-hit was the capital, where at least 25 people were killed in mortar- and rocket-attacks blamed on insurgents firing from mainly Sunni districts.
An elderly woman in Kut told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that voting is her response to the violence that has taken away her son.
"I'm voting today because I lost my son. This is my compensation. I may have lost my son, but I have not lost my vote," she said.
Radio Free Iraq correspondent Haidar Rashid, reporting from the Karredeh polling station in Baghdad, said the attacks did not seem to have affected the turnout. People are disappointed with the performance of the government, and the last parliament, and this is a major motivation for many people going to vote," Rashid said.
U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the courage of Iraqi voters who, he said, "defied threats to advance their democracy."
In a statement, Obama commended Iraqi authorities for how they conducted the polls and said voters’ participation showed that "the Iraqi people have chosen to shape their future through the political process."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the top U.S. general in Iraq, Ray Odierno, told him that election-related violence was "surprisingly" low. Gates speculated that the tight security measures had forced Al-Qaeda to change their usual patterns of disrupting voting with terror-related tactics.
He called Sunday "a good day for the Iraqis and for all of us."
In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the turnout deserved "respect from all" and reconfirmed "the commitment of the Iraqi people to a democratic Iraq."
And there was praise from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said turnout bore testimony "to the will of the Iraqi people to move beyond the ordeals of the past" and reject terrorism.
Over 6,000 Candidates
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who cast his vote earlier today in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, described the attacks as "only noise" and added that they will not damage the morale of Iraqis.
Shi'ite Maliki is seeking reelection to serve a second four-year term in parliament as head of his State Of Law Coalition.
Some 6,200 candidates from more than 80 political entities are competing for the 325 seats in the Council Of Representatives. Some 19 million people were eligible to vote.
Voters are choosing between mainly Shi'ite Islamist parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and parties offering a more secular stance.
WATCH: Election day in Iraq
The vote, being held less than six months before the United States has pledged to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq, is being seen as a key test of both stability and national reconciliation.
Last time Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections in 2005, Sunnis boycotted the polls leading to several years of sectarian violence, which has abated only over the last 18 months.
This time Sunnis were expected to turn out in force at voting centers.
In a rare public appearance, influential Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said at a press conference in Tehran that holding an election under the "shadow of occupation" was illegitimate. Sadr, however, urged Iraqis to vote anyway to pave the way for "liberation" from U.S. forces.
'No Major Fraud So Far'
Local election observers have told Radio Free Iraq correspondents that so far the election has gone according to plan and that no major fraud or irregularities have been reported so far.
In the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan, Christine McNab, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative, hailed the voting as smooth and well-organized.
"So far, I have been to four polling centers, that’s about 16 stations. It was very quiet at 7 o'clock when they opened. But everything was prepared very well. Every station we have seen, they've had observers from the political parties and civil society," McNab said.
"Very well organized, very nice atmosphere. Now there are a lot of people coming out to vote, old people, young people, people with their families and children."
Speaking to journalists in Baghdad, Iyad Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister and head of the Iraqiya list, said that at least “12 violations” had been recorded.
And in a televised speech after polls closed, Allawi said he objected to the performance of the election commission and called for an accurate vote count.
Polls opened today at 7 a.m. Iraqi time and closed at 5 p.m. as scheduled, though those waiting in line were given assurances they would still be allowed to vote.
Our correspondents say that preliminary results are not expected for several days.
The horse-trading between the rival political blocs to form a new government could take weeks, if not months -- raising the prospect a new government might not be in place by August.
That’s when the United States plans to pull out all its combat troops from the country, ahead of a full withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011.
A U.S. military spokesman, Major General Steve Lanza, said after the end of today’s voting: “Right now we’re committed to stay on our plan that we’ve been given."
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Orban Says Hungary Opposes Global Minimum Corporate Tax
Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian public radio on December 2 that Budapest continues to be against a global minimum corporate tax rate, arguing it would reduce the number of jobs in Hungary, which has used its low-tax regime to attract investment. Hungary's 9 percent corporate tax rate and government subsidies have brought major investments by German carmakers and Asian battery manufacturers. "This is a job-killing tax hike, which, if implemented with Hungary's approval, would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs," Orban said. To listen to Orban's interview with Radio Kossuth, click here.
IAEA Chief Says Progress Being Made on Zaporizhzhya Safety Zone
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says progress is being made to reach a deal to create a safe zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has come under repeated shelling during the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since late February.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in an interview published on December 2, Grossi said he is committed to finding a solution to ensuring the safety of Europe's largest nuclear power station, "hopefully by the end of the year."
"On the safety of Zaporizhzhya there is a concrete proposal and important progress has been made," the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog told the newspaper.
"My commitment is to reach a solution as soon as possible.... Our aim is to avoid a nuclear accident, not to cause a militarily favorable situation for one or the other," he added.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other in recent months of targeting the plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February.
The reactors at the Soviet-designed plant have been shut down, but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if power supplies to the plant's cooling systems are cut off.
The plant has been forced to operate on backup generators a number of times since the Russian invasion, but no radioactive emissions are believed to have leaked since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Grossi said the two sides are now "in agreement on some fundamental principles" around securing the plant.
"The first is that of protection: It means accepting that you don't shoot at the facility, nor from the facility. The second is the recognition that the IAEA represents the only possible way" to ensure the safety of the plant, he said.
Grossi said it's possible he could soon meet with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to work out details of a deal.
With Russian strikes over the past weeks decimating Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Grossi said he is concerned about other nuclear plants in Ukraine, which have at times lost external power, creating potentially dangerous situations.
"The Ukrainian authorities have made a formal request to have a permanent presence of the IAEA in these plants, as in Zaporizhzhya. In this way, the agency's personnel will be deployed throughout Ukraine and will ensure that nuclear power plants are not used by anyone as weapons of blackmail in the conflict," he said.
Based on reporting by La Repubblica
Finnish PM Warns Russian Win Would Empower Aggressors
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience on December 2 that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China. Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia. To read the original AP story, click here.
Russia Tests New Missile-Defense System Rocket
Russia on December 2 tested a new missile-defense system rocket, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the missile was launched from the Sary Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan. Other than saying the test was successful, the ministry gave few other details. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukraine War Shows Europe 'Not Strong Enough,' Says Finnish PM
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on December 2 offered a "brutally honest" assessment of Europe's capabilities in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, stating that "we're not strong enough" to stand up to Moscow alone. Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighboring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia.
Fighting Rages In East As Zelenskiy Aide Says Up To 13,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Killed In War
Fierce fighting continued in the east, where Kyiv's forces fought off waves of attacks in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the military reported early on December 2, as an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.
In the southern region of Kherson, three people were killed and seven wounded by Russian shelling of over the past 24 hours, the regional governor said on December 2.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily update that Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions in 14 settlements including Belohoryivka in Luhansk and Bakhmut in Donetsk while carrying out 30 air strikes and 35 multiple-rocket attacks on civilian settlements along the contact line.
The Russians were on the defensive in Kupyansk and Lyman in the east and in Zaporizhzhya in central Ukraine, the General Staff said, while in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions in the east Moscow's forces were on the offensive.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, told Ukraine's Channel 24 television on December 1 that as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's invasion in February.
"We have official estimates from the General Staff.... They range from 10,000...to 13,000 dead," Podolyak said.
He said Zelenskiy would make the official data public "when the right moment comes." Podolyak's comments have not been confirmed by the military.
In June, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was losing "60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action."
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in September that 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
The figures could not be independently verified, and it is believed that both sides are minimizing their losses to avoid lowering the troops' morale.
U.S. General Mark Milley said last month that more than 100,000 Russian military personnel and 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since the start of the war.
The figures advanced by Milley -- which could not be independently confirmed -- are the most precise to date from the U.S. government.
In the recently liberated southern region of Kherson, Russian missiles killed three people over the past day, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Yanushevych said Russian troops had bombarded the city of Kherson and other parts of the region 42 times in the same period.
Shelling the night before damaged power lines in the city, where electricity had only begun to be restored nearly three weeks after Russian troops withdrew to the eastern side of the Dnieper River.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at a news conference in Moscow, defended recent missile strikes, saying they targeted Ukraine's civil infrastructure to prevent Kyiv from importing Western arms.
"We disable energy facilities (in Ukraine) that allow you (the West) to pump lethal weapons into Ukraine to kill Russians," Lavrov said. "So don't say that the U.S. and NATO are not participants in this war -- you are directly participating."
NATO, the United States, and other Western allies have sent weapons requested by Kyiv to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion and its attacks on energy infrastructure. Western countries recently have agreed to send generators and other equipment to help Ukraine repair the damage caused by the Russian attacks.
In a sign some channels of communication remain open, Russia's Defense Ministry and the head of Ukraine's presidential administration said the two countries swapped 50 service personnel on December 1.
Russia's Defense Ministry published a video of prisoners of war cheering as they crossed the border in a bus. "We're going home!" said one as his fellow soldiers waved at a camera.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and BBC
Reports: EU Close To Agreeing On $60 A Barrel Cap For Russian Seaborne Oil
EU governments have tentatively agreed on a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil aimed at reducing Moscow's ability to finance its war in Ukraine.
"The price cap is set at $60 with a provision to keep it 5 percent below market price for Russian crude, based on [International Energy Agency] figures," an EU diplomat said, according to Reuters on December 1.
U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he was encouraged by the news about the tentative agreement on the price cap -- an idea supported by the United States and the other Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations -- adding that he expects the European Union to iron out details and reach a final agreement.
EU countries have wrangled for days over the details of the price cap. Poland, which had pushed for the cap to be as low as possible, had as of late on December 1 not confirmed its support for the deal, Reuters and AFP reported.
The initial G7 proposal last week was for a cap of $65-$70 per barrel with no adjustment mechanism.
Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia rejected that level because Russian Urals crude, the main variety sold by Russia, was trading at below $70 a barrel on December 1 and last week traded at about $55.
The G7 price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil is to kick in on December 5, replacing an outright ban on buying Russian seaborne crude.
The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap.
The world's key shipping and insurance firms are based in G7 countries, giving them leverage to set the price cap and make it difficult for Moscow to sell its oil for a higher price.
The adjustment mechanism would mean the price cap would be reviewed in mid-January and every two months after that.
The document outlining the tentative agreement, quoted by Reuters, said a 45-day "transitional period" would apply to vessels carrying Russian-origin crude oil that was loaded before December 5 and unloaded at its final destination by January 19, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that any attempt by the West to cap the price of Russian oil would have "grave consequences" for world markets. But the G7 vowed to go ahead.
Oil ministers from OPEC+ cartel of petroleum exporting countries, of which Russia is a member, will meet in Vienna on December 4.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, RFE/RL's Russian Service, Reuters, and AFP
Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric
A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.
The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.
"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.
Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Dutch Prosecutors Won't Appeal In MH17 Case, Making Verdicts Final
Dutch prosecutors said on December 1 that they will not file an appeal regarding the outcome in the trial over the 2014 downing of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, making the verdicts final. A Dutch court last month convicted three former Russian intelligence agents in absentia and sentenced them to life in prison for the downing of the jet. All 298 people aboard were killed. The three men were found to have helped arrange the transport of the Russian military Buk missile system that was used to shoot down the plane. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Biden, Macron Vow To Hold Russia Accountable For 'Widely Documented Atrocities' In Ukraine
U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on December 1 renewed their commitment to fighting Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a meeting at the White House.
The two leaders said in a joint statement that they were determined to hold Russia to account "for widely documented atrocities and war crimes, committed both by its regular armed forces and by its proxies including mercenary entities such as Vagner" in Ukraine.
Speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting, Biden said he was ready to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin "if he is looking for a way to end the war," while Macron vowed not to push Ukraine into a compromise it can't accept.
They also reaffirmed their continued support for Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity “for as long as it takes.” The support includes significant resources to help Ukrainian civilians through the winter.
The United States and France also intend to continue providing “robust direct budget support for Ukraine, and to urge the international financial institutions to scale up their financial support,” the joint statement said.
He said the two countries were "facing down Vladimir Putin's grasping ambition for conquest" and "defending the democratic values and universal human rights which are the heart of both our nations."
"It doesn't mean that every single solitary thing we agree on," Biden said, speaking after meeting Macron. "But it does mean we agree on almost everything."
Macron said the two nations had a shared responsibility to protect democracies on both sides of the ocean and face the direct and indirect consequences of the war in Ukraine together.
Biden and Macron covered several other topics during their meeting, including energy, emerging technologies, trade, and nuclear deterrence.
The two leaders said in their joint statement that they will continue to coordinate on their concerns regarding "China’s challenge to the rules-based international order, including respect for human rights, and to work together with China on important global issues like climate change."
Prior to their meeting, Macron raised French and European concerns about subsidies in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a $430 billion bill that offers massive subsidies for U.S.-made products and is aimed at addressing the climate crisis.
European leaders say the legislation signed by Biden in August is unfair to non-American companies and would be a serious blow to their economies as Europe deals with the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Biden is hosting Macron for the first state visit since he took office last year. He and first lady Jill Biden are playing up the pageantry with a colorful arrival ceremony planned and 200 live lobsters flown in from Maine for a glittering state dinner.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Armenia, Hungary Agree To Restore Diplomatic Relations After 10-Year Suspension
Armenia and Hungary have agreed to fully restore diplomatic relations, which were severed in 2012 after Hungary extradited Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov to Baku. Safarov at the time was serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing to death Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian in 2004 during NATO training courses. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on December 1 that the Armenian and Hungarian foreign ministers, who met in Poland, expressed their intention to open a new chapter in Armenian-Hungarian relations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Iran Hands Death Sentences To Four Accused Of Collaborating With Israel
Iran has sentenced to death four people accused of collaborating with Israel, the semiofficial Mehr News agency reported.
According to a report by Mehr News on November 30, the four were arrested in June and were accused of having interrogated people in Iran with intelligence cooperation from Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
Three other people on trial in the case were handed sentences by the Supreme Judicial Court of Iran of between five years and 10 years for "acting against the country's security," kidnapping, and the possession of weapons.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war. Tensions between the two have soared in recent years.
The report on the sentencing comes after Tehran accused Israel of carrying out a recent spate of assassinations and sabotage attacks inside the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, Israeli media reported that Mossad captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps inside Iran.
Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Mansur Rasuli, admitted that he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as an American general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.
Mehr News has not specified whether the people who were sentenced to death were related to that case or not.
Iran has been roiled in recent months by nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman while she was being held in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
Tehran has blamed Israel, the United States, and other Western countries for the unrest, which has seen security forces kill more than 400 people, according to human rights groups, including dozens of minors.
Officials have not shown any evidence to back up their accusations that the West has been involved in the anti-government uprising.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Ukrainian Power-Grid Operator Receives 300 Million Euro Loan From European Bank, 72 Million Euro Grant From Netherlands
Ukraine's Ukrenerho grid operator has secured 300 million euros ($315 million) in loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to restore power infrastructure damaged in Russian attacks and improve financial stability, the company said in a statement on December 1. Ukrenerho said 150 million euros of the loan and a 72 million euro grant from the Netherlands will be used for the purchase of equipment needed for the repairs. The remaining 150 million euros of EBRD funds will be allocated for the company's financial obligations in the electricity market, Ukrenerho said. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Jailed Belarusian Opposition Activist Kalesnikava Leaves Intensive Care Unit After Surgery
Maryya Kalesnikava, a leading opposition activist in Belarus who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year, was transferred from an intensive care unit to a regular unit in a hospital after a surgery.
Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who was imprisoned for alleged corruption last year, wrote on Telegram on December 1 that doctors informed Kalesnikava’s father, Alyaksandr Kalesnikau, that his daughter felt better and ate yogurt and porridge in the morning.
Kalesnikau has not been allowed to see his daughter and still does not know her diagnosis. Kalesnikava’s lawyer, Uladzimer Pylchanka, has not been able to see his client either due to "the absence of a request from the convict."
Kalesnikava was rushed to the hospital from a penal colony in the city of Homel, 300 kilometers southeast of Minsk, on November 29.
Kalesnikava rose to prominence after she joined forces with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala to form a trio of women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2020.
Kalesnikava, 40, the only one of the three still in the country, has been imprisoned over her role in the mass protests that lasted for more than two years. She was arrested in September 2020.
Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years, respectively, in September 2021, after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both had pleaded not guilty and rejected the charges.
Human rights watchdogs in Belarus have recognized Kalesnikava and two other associates who also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.
Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Navalny Again Placed In Punitive Solitary Confinement
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has been placed in a punitive solitary confinement cell for the eighth time since August, Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmysh tweeted on December 1. This time, Navalny was sent to solitary confinement for 11 days for a "violation of the dress code." The violation was for failing to have on a prison jacket during a check at 5:12 a.m. Navalny has called all his previous incarcerations in solitary confinement "politically motivated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Tajik Prosecutors Seek 30 Years In Prison For Activist From Restive Gorno-Badakhshan Region
DUSHANBE -- Tajik prosecutors have asked a court in Dushanbe to convict and sentence to 30 years in prison Faromuz Irgashev, an activist and former lawmaker in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region (GBAO), on charges of receiving illegal financial support from abroad, organizing an unsanctioned rally, and participating in the activities of a criminal group.
Two sources close to the trial, which started in October and is being held behind closed doors, told RFE/RL on December 1 that the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Irgashev last week.
The 32-year-old lawyer was arrested in May with several other activists in the wake of the deadly dispersal of protesters in GBAO. It is not known how he pleaded.
Irgashev was a lawyer for the Commission 44 group, which was created in November last year in GBAO to facilitate a dialogue between regional authorities and anti-government protesters. The group’s efforts led to the peaceful resolution of protests in the region.
In May, the protests in GBAO resumed as people demanded a thorough investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of GBAO's capital, Khorugh.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters was killed by police in May, prompting the authorities to launch a "counterterrorist operation."
Authorities violently dispersed the protesters, arresting dozens of them. Irgashev and at least six other members of Commission 44 were among those apprehended. Two of them were later sentenced to 18 years in prison each.
In August, Tajikistan's Supreme Court declared Commission 44 to be a criminal group.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
Former Russian Lawmaker And His Brother Handed Lengthy Prison Terms On Embezzlement Charges
A court in Moscow on December 1 sentenced former Russian lawmaker Magomed Magomedov and his brother, an ex-tycoon, Ziyavudin Magomedov, to 18 years and 19 years in prison, respectively, on embezzlement charges. The Meshchansky district court also found the brothers guilty of creating a criminal group. Magomed Magomedov used to be a member of the Federation Council, the Russian parliament's upper chamber. In 2017, Forbes estimated Ziyavudin Magomedov's wealth to be $1.4 billion. The two were arrested in March 2018. Both maintain their innocence. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Police In Russia's Tatarstan Search Homes Of Local Journalist, Anti-War Activist
Police in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, have searched the home of local journalist Nailla Mullayeva over a video of an attack by anti-war activists in Poland against the Russian ambassador in May.
Police in Kazan also searched the home of activist Elina Yasonova on December 1 for unspecified reasons. Both Mullayeva and Yasonova have been known for their public stance against Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Mullayeva told OVD-Info, a group that monitors cases of persecution of journalists and activists, that the search of her home was held as part of a probe into a "justification of terrorist action" case.
According to Mullayeva, police are investigating whether she had any involvement in distributing a video in May showing Ambassador Sergei Andreyev being doused with red paint by Polish activists as he attempted to lay flowers at a Soviet military memorial cemetery in Warsaw for Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.
Last month, Tatarstan's authorities added Andrei Grigoryev, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Idel.Realities online project, to the wanted list and issued a warrant for his arrest over the same video, accusing him of publicly calling for terrorist activities via the Internet.
In August, police in Kazan searched the homes of Grigoryev and several other current and former correspondents of RFE/RL's Idel.Realities and Tatar-Bashkir Service, saying they were suspected of having been involved in the video's distribution online.
All of the journalists said they had nothing to do with the video.
Idel.Realities is a regional news outlet in Russian of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.
With reporting by OVD-Info
Serbia's Plum Brandy Gets UNESCO World Heritage Status
Serbian authorities announced on December 1 that sljivovica, Serbia's traditional plum brandy, is being added to the UN’s list of intangible cultural heritage as "a cherished tradition to be preserved by humanity." UNESCO experts gathering in Morocco this week decided that “social practices and knowledge related to the preparation and use” of sljivovica deserve UN recognition as an example of an important cultural tradition, Serbia's Culture Ministry said. Sljivovica has been handcrafted in Serbia for centuries, a custom carried from generation to generation that experts say has become part of the national identity. To read the original AP story, click here.
Streaming Of Foreign Movies, Music Aboard Russia's Aeroflot Aircraft Suspended Amid Sanctions
Streaming of foreign movies and music aboard planes operated by Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline, has been suspended after foreign partners refused to provide services due to international sanctions imposed on Russia over its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Aeroflot said on Telegram on December 1 that all of its 137 planes were affected by the situation, adding that domestic movies and music will be offered to passengers by January 1, 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Former Kyrgyz President Atambaev Calls Trial A 'Circus,' Removed From Courtroom For 'Disrupting Order'
BISHKEK -- Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has been removed from the courtroom after he called his trial "a circus" and started kicking at the glass cage where he had been placed.
The judge of the Birinchi Mai district court ordered bailiffs to remove Atambaev from the courtroom as the trial of the former leader and three other former officials charged with abuse of office during deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 in the Central Asian nation started on December 1.
The 66-year-old Atambaev, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in the illegal release of a notorious crime boss in 2013, led Kyrgyzstan's interim government when clashes between Kyrgyz and local Uzbeks shook the Central Asian nation's southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010, following anti-government protests that toppled then President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
According to Kyrgyz officials, 446 men and women were killed in the ethnic clashes, about 2,000 people were injured, and tens of thousands were displaced.
Atambaev is currently involved in another trial that is related to August 2019 clashes between his supporters and security forces at his residential compound near Bishkek.
The two-day standoff between security forces and Atambaev’s supporters resulted in the death of a top security officer and more than 170 injuries -- 79 of them sustained by law enforcement officers.
Atambaev and 13 others are charged in that case with murder, attempted murder, threatening or assaulting representatives of authorities, hostage taking, and the forcible seizure of power.
Russia-Backed Separatist Leader In Ukraine Says Moscow, Kyiv To Exchange 50 POWs Each
The leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's occupied eastern region of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, says that Russia and Ukraine will each hand over 50 prisoners of war in the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges. Pushilin said in a post on Telegram on December 1 that the exchange will be conducted during the day. He said 20 of the POWs to be returned to the Russian side are from Donetsk and separatist-controlled districts of another eastern region in Ukraine, Luhansk. Ukrainian officials have yet to confirm the swap.
China's Xi Urges Ukraine Talks In Meeting With EU's Michel
Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged negotiations on a political solution to the Ukraine conflict in talks with visiting European Council President Charles Michel in Beijing on December 1, state broadcaster CCTV said. Xi was quoted as saying that "solving the Ukrainian crisis through political means is in the best interest of Europe and the common interest of all countries in Eurasia." He added that “under current conditions, we must avoid escalation and expansion of the crisis and work for peace." To read the original AP story, click here.
EU's Borrell Says Russia Must Pay For Ukraine Reconstruction
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at regional security talks on December 1 that he plans to discuss with his counterparts any available legal means to ensure Russia pays for the reconstruction of war-torn Ukraine. Borrell spoke at the start of this year's two-day ministerial conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the central Polish city of Lodz. He noted that the EU has frozen Russian assets worth nearly 20 billion euros since Moscow invaded Ukraine.
U.S. Prosecutors Move To Seize $5 Million Tied To Russian Oligarch Malofeyev
U.S. prosecutors have moved to seize more than $5 million from a U.S. bank account belonging to Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, a nationalist oligarch who officials say has funded separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine for years.
The civil forfeiture complaint, filed on November 30 in a U.S. federal court in Manhattan, was the latest effort by U.S. authorities targeting Malofeyev and part of a wider effort by authorities to go after assets belonging to wealthy and politically connected Russians.
Malofeyev himself was hit with criminal charges in March. He is accused of evading sanctions and using co-conspirators to acquire media organizations across Europe. He’s also been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.
There was no immediate response to an e-mail sent by RFE/RL to his television channel Tsargrad TV seeking comment.
In the court filing, U.S. prosecutors alleged that Malofeyev used a Seychelles shell company in March 2014 to invest $10 million in shares in a Texas bank.
Prosecutors said he sold the shell company in 2015 to an unnamed Greek business partner for $1. But the sale agreement was backdated to July 2014, before sanctions were imposed, prosecutors said.
According to the complaint, the Texas bank, called Strategic Growth Bancorp, recognized Malofeyev as the owner of the original shares and flagged the attempted transfer to the Treasury Department.
Malofeyev's shares were later converted into cash and deposited into a blocked account when Strategic Growth Bancorp merged with another bank, Sunflower Bank, which is Denver-based.
Neither Strategic Growth Bancorp nor Sunflower Bank was accused of wrongdoing.
A billionaire and founder of Tsargrad TV, Malofeyev has gained notoriety for years for espousing a nationalist, religious ideology that has been increasingly embraced by some Russian officials. He’s also been instrumental in financing and supporting separatist efforts in the Donbas for years, according to Western and Ukrainian officials.
In the criminal indictment issued in April, U.S. prosecutors accused Malofeyev of trying to evade U.S. sanctions by a U.S. man to operate television networks in Russia and Greece and attempting to acquire a Bulgarian television network.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, U.S. and Western authorities have stepped up efforts to go after assets -- bank accounts, yachts, private jets, mansions -- owned by wealthy and politically connected Russians.
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