Karzai's New Cabinet Keeps Most Top Ministers Favored By West
WATCH: Jan Alekozai of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan talks about why so much attention is being paid to Karzai's new cabinet, and what is so surprising about the proposed lineup.
(RFE/RL) -- The Afghan government has formally presented to parliament a list of nominees for the new cabinet of President Hamid Karzai, who is under Western pressure to tackle corruption following his controversial reelection.
Karzai's proposed lineup keeps most of the top ministers favored by the West, including Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, and Finance Minister Hazarat Omar Zakhelwal.
Karzai, who was reelected in an August 20 vote marred by fraud, has been facing intense pressure from Western nations to cleanse his government of corruption and mismanagement.
The ministers of mines and of the hajj, both accused of embezzling large sums of donor money, are not among the nominees.
One former warlord accused of human rights abuses, Energy and Water Minister Ismail Khan, is included in the list.
Jan Alekozai, a senior correspondent with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, says Afghans who had hoped for real change are disappointed by the new cabinet.
"People were expecting that after having waited for such a long time, and under international pressure and also pressure from the public, President Karzai would nominate a very good and specialized cabinet," Alekozai says. "Unfortunately, many think this didn't happen."
Shukria Paikan, a female deputy, is among those who wished for more change.
"The president should have considered more women in the new cabinet," Paikan says. "In my opinion, there is no major change in the new cabinet. Most of them are ex-cabinet ministers."
Only one woman, the minister of women's affairs, was nominated.
The cabinet list was presented to the Wolsi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, by First Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said today that the list was prepared following consultations with political figures, as well as Afghan and international experts.
"The list that you see today and that was presented to parliament was decided by the president after listening to the views of political, social, and cultural figures inside the country and to the views of the international community," Omar said. "But the final decision was made by the president of Afghanistan."
Nominees for the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Ministry for the Disabled have not yet been named.
Omar told a news conference that the current foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, would retain his post until a London conference on Afghanistan scheduled for January 28 is held.
The 23 nominees must be approved by parliament before they can take office.
Parliament speaker Younis Qanuni offered to start discussing the new cabinet in an emergency session on December 20.
The parliamentarians must check each nominee's credentials before starting the process for a vote of confidence. The process is expected to take up to two weeks.
RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari contributed to this article; with agency reports
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Prominent Iranian Actress Reportedly Released After Arrest For Supporting Protests
Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last week after expressing support for anti-government protesters, has been released from custody, state news agency ISNA reported on November 27.
Ghaziani, a film and theater actress, was arrested by security forces on November 20 along with fellow actress Katayoun Riahi after they removed their head scarves in public in an apparent act of defiance against the regime.
ISNA did not give details of Ghaziani's release or mention Riahi’s status in its report.
Reports by human rights organizations indicate that more than 15,000 people have been detained during protests that have swept the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf.
Authorities have said Amini died from a sudden heart attack while denying claims by activists that she was beaten.
Riahi was one of the first Iranian celebrities to remove her hijab in protest of Amini's death, while Ghaziani published pictures of herself standing on a Tehran street without a hijab and tying her hair in a ponytail. Tying one's hair in a ponytail in public has become an act of defiance in Iran in recent weeks.
Ghaziani and Riahi were detained after being summoned by prosecutors in a probe into their "provocative" social media posts and media activity, the state-run IRNA news agency said at the time.
The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.
Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."
Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."
Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.
Prior to the recent wave of nationwide protests, three prominent Iranian cinematographers -- Mostafa al-Ahmad, Mohammad Rasulof, and Jafar Panahi -- were arrested after they joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following a building collapse in May in the city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.
The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran on October 3 announced a sentence of six years against Ahmad.
Panahi and Rasoulov reportedly have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for several months.
Ukraine's Nuclear Chief Says He Sees Signs Russia May Be Leaving Occupied Nuclear Plant
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Iran Arrests Khamenei's Niece After She Condemns 'Murderous Regime'
Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a "murderous and child-killing regime.” Farideh Moradkhani comes from a branch of the family that has a record of opposition to Iran's clerical leadership and has herself been jailed previously in the country. Her brother, Mahmoud Moradkhani, wrote on Twitter that she was arrested on November 23 after going to the office of the prosecutor following a summons. Then, on November 27, her brother posted a video on YouTube in which she condemned the "clear and obvious oppression" Iranians have been subjected to.
Iran Charges Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi With Spreading 'Corruption On Earth'
Iran’s judiciary has charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading “corruption on Earth,” a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic.
Isfahan’s judicial chief, Asadollah Jafari, was quoted on November 27 as saying that Salehi faces other charges, including “propaganda activity against the establishment, forming an illegal group with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, cooperating with hostile governments, and spreading lies and inciting others to commit violence.”
A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.”
But Jafari said no court session has been held so far for Salehi, who was arrested in late October after denouncing the clerical establishment and expressing support for the protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
His detention came shortly after he told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation: "You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation...in order to keep its power, money and weapons."
State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded and apologizing for his words. Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.
Family members have expressed concern about Salehi’s health and the charges against him. Earlier this month, over 100 musicians, poets, artists, and activists called for his release.
Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.
Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.
Salehi is among thousands, including protesters as well as journalists, lawyers, artists, athletes, activists and others arrested in Iran’s ongoing state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months. Iran's judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
With reporting by AFP
At World Cup, U.S. Soccer Scrubs Islamic Emblem From Iranian Flag
The U.S. soccer federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match on November 29. Iran's government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. The decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies. To read the original story from AP, click here.
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Iran Bank Manager Reportedly Fired For Serving Unveiled Woman
An Iranian bank manager who served an unveiled woman has been fired, local media reported on November 27, as demonstrations triggered by the mandatory head-covering rule shake the Islamic republic. Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the dress code rules sparked nationwide demonstrations, which authorities call "riots.” Mehr news agency reported that the bank manager in Qom Province, near the capital, Tehran, "had provided bank services on November 24 to an unveiled woman.” To read the story from AFP, click here.
Shelling Reported Across Ukraine As Authorities Work To Restore Power
Shelling by Russian forces struck several areas in eastern and southern Ukraine overnight as authorities continued to work to restore power, water, and heating after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and as temperatures plunge with the beginning of winter.
Electricity has been restored to almost all of Kyiv, four days after a devastating attack its infrastructure, the military administration in the Ukrainian capital said on November 27. It added that “outages are possible due to the load on the power grid.”
Tens of thousands of residents in the Ukrainian capital had been left without electricity following intensive Russian attacks.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who has come in for criticism from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for being slow to restore services, told the November 27 edition of Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper that work was proceeding at a "record pace."
Earlier, Serhiy Kovalenko, chief operating officer of YASNO, which provides energy to Kyiv, said the situation in the city has improved but still remained "quite difficult." He indicated that residents should have at least four hours of power per day.
The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said on November 27 on his Telegram channel that Russian forces shelled the southern Ukrainian region more than 50 times this weekend. Yanushevych accused Russia of terrorism and of targeting civilians, reporting that one person had died and two had been injured in the shelling.
Much of the city of Kherson remains without electrical power as the authorities battle to get the grid operational again. While one hospital again has power, just 5 percent of the population has been connected.
In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. Overnight shelling was reported by regional officials in the Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west.
Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.
Meanwhile, Kyiv announced the launch of an international aid program called Grain from Ukraine on November 26, a bid to win the support of countries in Africa and Asia for its attempts to fight off Russia's invasion.
WATCH: Near the front line, Ukrainian doctors fight in a daily battle between life and death. RFE/RL spent a day at a field hospital near Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, which Russian forces are attempting to capture.
“Ukraine has always been and will remain the guarantor of world food security, and even in such harsh conditions of war, the Ukrainian leadership works for the sake of global stability," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at a press conference during a visit by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo.
The program will provide for food deliveries to the poorest countries. Up to about 60 ships will be sent from Ukraine's Black Sea ports around Odesa to countries such as Sudan, Yemen, or Somalia by the middle of next year, Zelenskiy said.
"Food security is one of the key elements of global stability," Zelenskiy said in his daily video address on the evening of November 26. "The total amount that we have accumulated for Grain From Ukraine is already about $150 million. Work continues. We are preparing up to 60 ships."
Several European countries have agreed to finance the deliveries within the framework of the World Food Program.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa
Russia To Bar Foreigners From Using Its Surrogate Mothers
Russia will soon adopt a law barring foreigners from using Russian surrogate mothers, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said on November 27, the nation's Mother's Day. Paid surrogacy is legal in Russia, but the practice has been criticized by religious groups as commercializing the birth of children. "Everything must be done to protect children by prohibiting foreigners from using the surrogacy service," Volodin said on Telegram. "We will make this decision at the beginning of December." He said some 45,000 babies born by surrogate mothers have been taken abroad in the past few years. "Child trafficking is unacceptable," he added. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Queiroz Tells Klinsmann To Quit FIFA Role Over 'Outrageous' Iran Rebuke
Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted German soccer icon Juergen Klinsmann for criticizing his team's World Cup conduct, calling his remarks a "disgrace to football" and urging him to resign from his role with world governing body FIFA. In comments as an analyst with broadcaster BBC, 1990 World Cup winner Klinsmann accused Iran of systematic gamesmanship during their stunning 2-0 stoppage time win over Wales on November 25 and said Queiroz's record with other national teams made him the right match for Iran. "That's their culture and that's their way of doing it and that's why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well in the Iranian national team," said Klinsmann, a former United States coach. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Hossein Ronaghi Released On Bail, Transferred To Hospital
Iranian authorities on November 26 released activist Hossein Ronaghi on bail, his brother said. Ronaghi was among thousands arrested in the crackdown on protests rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a head scarf. Concern had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month. "Hossein was released tonight on bail to undergo treatment," Hossein Ronaghi's brother Hassan said on Twitter. Their father, Ahmad, said Ronaghi had been transferred to a hospital after refusing to eat for 64 days. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.
Russia, Ukraine Announce Latest Prisoner Swap
Russia and Ukraine announced the latest exchange of prisoners, with 12 Ukrainians and nine Russians released. “Another POWs swap. We managed to [win the] release 12 [Ukrainians]. Our soldiers, who defended Mariupol, the Chernobyl [nuclear plant], and Snake Island are returning home,” the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter on November 26. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said nine Russians prisoners of war had been released to Russian authorities “as a result of the negotiation process.”
Ukraine Wants Lower Cap On Russian Oil, At $30-$40 Per Barrel
The price for Russian seaborne oil should be capped at between $30-$40 per barrel, lower than the level that Group of Seven (G7) nations have proposed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on November 26. EU governments, seeking to curb Moscow's ability to fund the Ukraine war without causing an oil supply shock, are split over a G7 push that the cap be set at $65-$70 per barrel. It is due to enter into force on December 5. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine 'Cannot Be Broken,' Citing Russian Invasion, 1932-33 Famine
KYIV -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine “cannot be broken” as he cited his country’s fight against the Russian invasion and marked the anniversary of the famine regarded by Ukrainians to be a deliberate act perpetrated by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
"Ukrainians went through very terrible things...Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger -- now, with darkness and cold," Zelenskiy said on November 26 in a video message.
"We cannot be broken," he declared.
The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland were in Kyiv to mark the day and to attend a summit hosted by Zelenskiy to press the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative designed to get crucial supplies to world markets. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those speaking through video addresses.
Zelenskiy’s remarks came amid widespread cuts in power and water supplies in his country after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and as temperatures plunge with the beginning of winter.
Zelenskiy and other leaders commemorated the victims of the Holodomor famine, which took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.
Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.
It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the Stalin-era campaign.
Many Ukrainians consider the famine an act of genocide aimed at wiping out Ukrainian farmers.
Along with Ukraine, at least 16 other countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as “genocide.”
In October 2018, the U.S. Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing that Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33.
German lawmakers are preparing to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, according to a draft text seen by the AFP news agency of a joint resolution from Germany's ruling coalition and opposition.
Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing that a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he "honored the memory of the Holodomor victims" at a memorial in the Ukrainian capital.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, on his first visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, said on Twitter that "after the heavy bombing of recent days, we stand with the people of Ukraine. More than ever before."
"With the cold winter months ahead, Belgium is releasing new humanitarian and military aid," he added.
Zelenskiy told the grain summit that Kyiv is one of the guarantors of world food security and will fulfill its duties despite the Russian invasion, citing the new “Grain From Ukraine” initiative.
He pressed world leaders to support the initiative aimed at feeding about 5 million people in poor countries, particularly Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Speaking through video statements to the summit, Scholz and Macron unveiled new financial packages designed to aid Ukrainian grain exports, which have been hit hard by the war, causing food shortages in many of the world’s poorer nations.
"The most vulnerable countries must not pay the price of a war they did not want," Macron said.
Zelenskiy said the Black Sea Grain Initiative -- brokered by Turkey and the UN and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine -- is not operating at full capacity, blaming what he called Moscow's efforts to delay the movement of ships, leaving many vessels trapped at Ukrainian ports.
The deal took effect in August, aimed at unblocking grain shipments to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other food to those countries, and Russia was the world's top exporter of fertilizer before it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February.
Many in the West have accused Russia of weaponizing the shipment of crucial food-related supplies to world markets. Moscow denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, throughout Ukraine, millions of people are still without heat or electricity after the recent devastating Russian air strikes on infrastructure sites.
Authorities on November 26 were gradually restoring power in many cities -- helped by the reconnection to the grid of the nation’s four nuclear plants.
Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces was reported in the east and south of the country, as Kyiv’s troops continue their counteroffensive, which has recaptured thousands of kilometers of territory seized by Russia early in the war.
In the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its environs, authorities said at least 32 people have been killed by Russian shelling since pro-Kremlin forces withdrew two weeks ago and moved to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
"Daily Russian shelling is destroying the city and killing peaceful local residents. In all, Russia has killed 32 civilians in the Kherson region since the de-occupation," Ihor Klymenko, chief of the National Police of Ukraine, said on Facebook.
"Many people are evacuating to seek refuge in calmer regions of the country. But many residents remain in their homes, and we need to provide them with the maximum possible security," he added.
With reporting by AFP and AP
Prime Ministers From Belgium, Lithuania, Poland Arrive In Kyiv, Offer Support For Ukraine
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Ukraine Works To Restore Water, Power After Russian Strikes
Ukrainian authorities endeavored on November 26 to restore electricity and water services after a recent pummeling by Russian military strikes that vastly damaged infrastructure. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said millions have seen their power restored since blackouts swept the war-battered country days earlier. Meanwhile, skirmishes continued in the east and residents from the southern city of Kherson headed north and west to flee after punishing, deadly bombardments by Russian forces in recent days. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Ukraine President's Chief Of Staff Says Russia 'Will Pay' For Soviet-Era Famines
Russia will pay for a Soviet-era famine that left millions of Ukrainians dead during the winter of 1932-33 and for its actions in the current war in Ukraine, the head of Ukraine's presidential administration said on November 26. "The Russians will pay for all of the victims of the Holodomor and answer for today's crimes," Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram, using the Ukrainian name for the disaster. Ukraine's annual memorial day for the victims of Holodomor takes place this year on November 26. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
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Iran's Khamenei Praises Basij Forces For Confronting 'Riots'
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech on November 26 that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in "riots" sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September. The Basij force, affiliated with the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
U.K. Says Russia Likely Removing Nuclear Warheads From Missiles And Firing At Ukraine
Russia is likely removing nuclear warheads from aging nuclear cruise missiles and firing unarmed munitions at Ukraine, Britain's military intelligence said on November 26. It said open-source imagery shows the wreckage of an air- launched cruise missile fired at Ukraine which seems to have been designed in the 1980s as a nuclear delivery system, adding that ballast was probably being substituted for the warheads. Such a system will still produce damage through the missile's kinetic energy and unspent fuel. However, it's unlikely to achieve reliable effects against intended targets. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
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