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Karzai To Attend Afghanistan Meeting, Ankara Talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attend a conference in the Netherlands next week, where the United States, the UN, and Afghanistan's neighbors, including possibly Iran, are to discuss ways to end the Afghan conflict.

Karzai will also travel to the Turkish capital in early April, a spokesman for the Afghan president also has said, but declined to say whether the trip to Ankara would coincide with a visit there by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 5-7.

The flurry of diplomatic activity comes as the United States is due to unveil its new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan that is expected to include a greater emphasis on economic assistance, more troops, and a regional diplomatic approach.

Obama has also said the strategic review would contain an exit strategy. Mosts analysts see the only way out of Afghanistan for the West in the long-term is to build up the Afghan Army and police to the point where they can take a greater security role.

Afghan officials declined to make specific comments on the new U.S. strategy before it is officially announced.

"We have yet to see the strategy, so I don't want to prejudge an outcome that we have not seen," said Karzai's spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

Afghanistan's foreign minister traveled to the United States last month to give Kabul's input into the review of policy since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda leaders after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"What were the lessons learned from the past seven years, where we actually had success, and where were our shortcomings? So it was a process, where we had a contribution," Hamidzada said of the strategy review meeting.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is also due to attend the Ankara meeting, diplomats said, part of a series of talks hosted by Turkey to try to bring the two often feuding U.S. allies closer together to combat the Taliban insurgency that threatens both the neighbors.

Afghanistan is suffering its worst levels of violence since 2001, with Afghan forces and 70,000 international troops engaged in daily firefights with Taliban insurgents mainly in the south and east, who have also launched scores of suicide bomb attacks.

Some 5,000 people, including more than 2,100 civilians, were killed last year alone, a 40 percent rise on 2007, the United Nations says. Sixty-eight foreign soldiers have been killed so far this year, far higher than any other year in the same period.

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U.S. Army Opens New 155mm Artillery Munitions Plant In Texas

An employee handles 155mm caliber shells after the manufacturing process at the the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 16.
An employee handles 155mm caliber shells after the manufacturing process at the the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 16.

The U.S. Army inaugurated its new Universal Artillery Projectile Lines facility in Mesquite, Texas, on May 29, marking a significant step in producing more 155mm artillery and modernizing domestic munitions production capabilities. The plant is part of a broader effort by the army to update its industrial base and achieve a goal of making 155mm artillery shells at a rate of 100,000 a month. Demand for 155mm artillery rounds has soared in the wake of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and as allies' own supplies have depleted as they have rushed shells to Kyiv. The more than $500 million facility features advanced manufacturing technologies and automation for producing large-caliber metal parts.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Visits Belarus Despite EU Sanctions, Talks About Expanding Ties

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meet in Minsk on May 29.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meet in Minsk on May 29.

Hungary's top diplomat visited Belarus on May 29 for talks on expanding ties despite the European Union's sanctions against the country. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto declared that "our position is clear: The fewer sanctions, the more cooperation." Belarusian and Hungarian officials signed an agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy that envisages training personnel and handling radioactive waste. Hungary is working with Russia on adding a new reactor to its Paks nuclear facility, which is expected to go online by the end of the decade. Belarus also has a Russian-built nuclear power plant.

Zelenskiy Says Russia Trying To Thwart Upcoming Peace Summit In Switzerland

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses a press conference with the Portuguese prime minister on May 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses a press conference with the Portuguese prime minister on May 28.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 29 that Ukraine continues to counter Russia's attempts to "weaken" a peace summit that is set to take place in Switzerland in two weeks.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that Russia is putting pressure on leaders and "openly threatens various countries with destabilization."

He said this was a consequence of the world giving Russia too much time.

"Unfortunately, evil knows how to adapt and is now using all its resources to divide the world and prevent the world from forcing Russia to make peace," Zelenskiy said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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Despite these efforts, nearly 100 states and international organizations are associated with "global efforts" to resolve the conflict, he said.

Zelenskiy wants the summit, scheduled for June 15-16 in Switzerland, to produce an international front to exert pressure on Russia and advance his "peace formula," which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

Moscow has dismissed Zelenskiy's plan as unworkable and Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that Russia is prepared to negotiate an end to the conflict but said it would be possible to return to talks "only based on today's realities in the special operations zone."

Zelenskiy has rejected Moscow's preconditions, including allowing Russia to retain the territory its forces have taken thus far in the war.

Switzerland has not invited Russia to the summit, and Moscow dismisses the meeting as pointless without its participation. Ninety countries have agreed to attend, according to Zelenskiy.

Earlier this week Zelenskiy played down potential peace talks with Russia after a report that the European Union plans to organize a meeting in Saudi Arabia later this year with Russia's participation.

The meeting would come after the peace summit in Switzerland.

"There is no faith in Putin," Zelenskiy said on May 27 during a press conference in Spain.

The Ukrainian president said his country had held around 200 rounds of talks with the Kremlin and there were "no results." Many of the sessions took place long before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Kosovo, Serbia Urged To Further Probe Attack On KFOR Peacekeepers In Northern Kosovo

Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) scuffle with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.
Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) scuffle with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.

One year after an attack on Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers in northern Kosovo there are renewed calls for Pristina and Belgrade to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

On May 29, 2023, members of the NATO-led mission were attacked in Serb-majority Zvecan during violent protests by Serbs who opposed the new ethnic Albanian mayor taking office in the municipal building. The new mayor had been elected weeks before in an election boycotted by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.

Some of the 93 KFOR officers who were attacked suffered life-altering injuries.

"We take very seriously the attacks carried out on KFOR peacekeepers in Zvecan. These were unacceptable and perpetrators must be held accountable," a NATO official said in a written statement to RFE/RL.

Major General Ozkan Ulutas, commander of KFOR, said in a separate news release that the peacekeepers' courage helped to stabilize the situation in the area and prevented a further escalation of violence.

However, little has been achieved in reaching justice.

The Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo, which is conducting the investigation, and the Basic Court in Pristina did not respond to RFE/RL's question about how far the criminal prosecution of the suspected perpetrators has gone. The High Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade also did not respond to questions by RFE/RL.

What is known is that about 10 people were arrested, most of whom were released. Four were charged, but two were acquitted. In addition, two citizens of Serbia were expelled from Kosovo after their six-month prison sentence was replaced by a fine.

RFE/RL asked the High Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade if it is investigating the attack and whether it has started proceedings against the individuals who participated in the attack who are now in Serbia. However, the office did not respond.

Ehat Miftaraj of the Kosovo Institute for Justice said the Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo has taken appropriate and effective actions to prosecute the attackers of the KFOR members and the journalists who also were attacked while reporting on the crisis.

However, there is a lack of cooperation with Serbia for the arrest and extradition of those who have committed criminal offenses in the territory of Kosovo and are not available to the responsible institutions, he said.

"Unfortunately, Serbia has turned into a safe haven for criminals who have committed crimes in Kosovo, providing them with complete institutional impunity," Miftaraj told RFE/RL.

He added that Kosovo's institutions should increase cooperation with KFOR and international partners when it comes to actions in northern Kosovo and thus build trust among the Serbian majority population there.

"In addition, KFOR and the international community must exert greater pressure on Serbia to extradite to Kosovo all those who participated in the aggression against Kosovo so that such actions are not repeated," Miftaraj said.

Last year's crisis in northern Kosovo culminated on September 24 when an armed group of Serbs attacked the Kosovo police in the town of Banjska near Zvecan, killing Sergeant Afrim Bunjaku. Three Serbs also were killed.

Kosovo blamed Serbia for the attack, which Belgrade denied. The responsibility was claimed by the former vice president of the Serbian List political party, Milan Radoicic. It is believed that he and other members of the armed group that took part in the attack are in Serbia.

NATO has sent around 1,000 additional troops and heavy armored equipment to Kosovo since the attack. This was the biggest reinforcement of KFOR troops in Kosovo in a decade. Currently, there are more than 4,500 KFOR troops in Kosovo. The security situation continues to be fragile, according to KFOR's assessment.

Every NATO Step To Support Ukraine Will Help Contain Russia, Czech Minister Says

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (file photo)
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (file photo)

NATO needs to send a signal that it will contain "Russian imperialism" and every move to aid Ukraine will help it do this, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said on May 29, as the military alliance meets this week to discuss support for Kyiv. Foreign ministers of NATO's 32 members will gather in the Czech capital Prague on May 30-31 to hammer out agreements for later when NATO leaders meet in Washington in July, focusing on putting support for Ukraine on a more stable long-term footing.

Putin Gives Rostelecom Go-Ahead To Buy Nokia Out Of Joint Venture

Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland
Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has authorized a subsidiary of telecoms firm Rostelecom to buy Nokia Solutions and Networks' stake in a software joint venture between the companies, according to a decree. Nokia said in April 2022 that it would exit the Russian market after Moscow launched its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In a statement on May 29, Rostelecom said that its previous business model had become impossible after Nokia left the Russian market. "The transaction will be completed shortly," Rostelecom said. "Other details are not being disclosed."

Russia Adds Actor Aleksei Panin To List Of Extremists

Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.
Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.

Rosfinmonitoring, Russia's agency for countering money laundering and terrorism financing, said on May 29 it has added noted actor Aleksei Panin to the register of terrorists and extremists. No reason was given for adding Panin, who left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States, but a year ago he was placed on the wanted list after a probe against the actor was launched on a charge of "justifying terrorism." The charge stems from an online post that Panin published in October 2022 in which he expressed his support for an explosion that seriously damaged the Kerch bridge connecting Ukraine's Russian-annexed Crimea with Russia's Taman peninsula. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Dodik Says Bosnian Serb 'Foreign Agent' Bill Pulled Back For 'Harmonization' With EU Laws

Milorad Dodik (file photo)
Milorad Dodik (file photo)

Milorad Dodik, the Russian-friendly president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-led entity, said the sudden withdrawal from parliament of a controversial "foreign agent" bill was prompted by the need to harmonize it with EU legislation "since Republika Srpska is committed to the European path."

The law, initiated by Dodik himself back in 2022, was withdrawn without explanation from the agenda of the National Assembly on May 28, the same day Georgian lawmakers pressed ahead with similar legislation, overriding a presidential veto and ignoring weeks of mass protests against what is seen as a measure tailored on a repressive Russian law.

The withdrawal of the bill was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Milos Bukejlovic, who is also justice minister.

Dodik later explained on X, formerly Twitter, that the bill had been pulled back because "certain objections are visible, and they concern European norms, and since the Republika Srpska is committed to the European path, we agreed to withdraw it and additionally harmonize it...with European legal practice."

Bosnia became a candidate for EU membership in 2022, but the 27-member bloc said in December that accession negotiations will only begin "once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved."

One of the main stumbling blocks in Bosnia's progress toward the EU has been Dodik's separatist statements and actions. His statement on X did not mention the Bosnian state and did not explain how Republika Srpska can pursue European integration outside the Bosnian state.

Dodik, who is on friendly terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been placed under sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's civil war in 1995 and led to the formation of a Bosnian state consisting of two entities -- a Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska -- tied together by a weak central government.

Last week, Dodik announced a formal proposal to "disassociate" his entity from the Bosnian state, a move that prompted a stark warning from the U.S. ambassador to Sarajevo, Michael Murphy, who called the proposal "secession by another name" and accused Dodik of pursuing "a dangerous path."

Dodik's "agents of foreign influence" bill is aimed at NGOs and other organizations that deal with political activities or that attempt to influence public opinion and those that "violate the integrity and constitution of the Republika Srpska."

The bill was introduced in parliament in March, one month after Dodik held talks with Putin during his fourth visit to Moscow since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The draft law calls for the surveillance of NGOs and other organizations that receive funding from abroad and requires registration, financial reporting, and a ban on political activities.

A written request from 46 NGOs was sent to deputies to vote against the law, which would open the way to repressing everyone "who fights for human rights and against corruption."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also warned last week that the bill contradicts the constitutions of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and the country's international obligations to respect human rights.

Research conducted by RFE/RL showed that the draft law is similar to one that has been in effect for more than a decade in Russia, where the Kremlin uses it to silence political opponents and stifle independent media.

The U.S. Embassy previously told RFE/RL that the draft law was "repressive and undemocratic” and, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska.

The Office of the High Representative to Bosnia also asked for the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliamentary schedule, saying it was intended to scare civil society organizations into submission.

Chinese-Led Consortium To Build Massive Port Project On Georgia's Black Sea Coast

Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.
Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.

TBILISI -- Georgia has announced that a Chinese consortium submitted the sole bid to build a sprawling deep-sea port in Anaklia, ending a multiyear political saga over the megaproject that puts Tbilisi's growing ties with Beijing in the spotlight.

Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Levan Davitashvili made the announcement at a May 29 press conference, where he said the government had received bids from a Swiss-Luxembourg consortium and a joint offer from China Communications Construction Company Limited and the Singapore-based China Harbour Investment Pte. Ltd.

"The application is complete, the relevant bank guarantees have been presented," Davitashvili said. "In a few days, we will have clarifications, after which the Chinese consortium will be announced as the winner."

He added that China Road and Bridge Corporation and Qingdao Port International Co Ltd will serve as subcontractors to build the port.

After months of consultations with both bidders, Davitashvili said that Tbilisi only received a final proposal from the Chinese consortium, which now looks set to build the country's first deep-sea port.

The announcement brings an end to a controversial political struggle over who would build Georgia's strategically important port, while the winning Chinese bid highlights Tbilisi's burgeoning relationship with China.

A previous attempt to build the port in Anaklia by a consortium formed between Georgia's TBC Bank and U.S.-based Conti International was canceled by the government in 2020 after years of political controversy that saw TBC co-founders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze facing money-laundering charges.

Following the charges, the American investor pulled out and the project ground to a halt until the government canceled the $2.5 billion port contract. In 2022, a court found Khazaradze and Japaridze guilty of fraud, but they were both released without prison time.

Khazaradze has claimed the authorities were trying to sabotage the project and that the real issue behind the dispute was his personal conflict with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire former prime minister who leads the Georgian Dream party that has been in power since 2012.

The government announced plans to revive the project in 2022 and opened up a call for bids, saying that Tbilisi planned to hold a 51 percent stake in the port.

Georgia's strategic location on the eastern edge of the Black Sea has made it particularly crucial for the Middle Corridor, a trade route between China and Europe bypassing Russia that has grown in importance and usage since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But the megaproject has been at the center of geopolitical jostling, with European Union-based and Chinese companies said to have been in the running. Political observers and officials said that Tbilisi's choice of winner for Anaklia would be a bellwether for where the country was leaning in its future political orientation.

"If what is chosen is not in line with the EU -- a club that Georgia wants to join -- then that should help tell us about the direction this government is heading towards,” Asuncion Sanchez Ruiz, deputy head of mission of the EU delegation to Georgia, told RFE/RL in 2023.

Davitashvili's announcement also comes one day after parliament pushed through an override of a presidential veto of a controversial "foreign agent" law that has been criticized by Western governments and faced widespread protests at home.

In recent years, the government has pushed connectivity to the top of Georgia's foreign policy agenda and looked to capitalize on newfound interest in the Middle Corridor.

But the country has a dearth of high-quality infrastructure, which has so far held back its transit potential, with long lines of trucks at its borders and ports at Batumi and Poti operating near capacity as trade along the route has steadily increased since 2022.

This has led to organizations like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank warning that without a deep-sea port in Georgia -- which would allow larger ships to transport increased volumes at a more efficient rate -- neither the country nor the Middle Corridor will be competitive as a global trade route.

Georgia has increasingly turned to China for infrastructure projects, with one study by the Tbilisi-based Civic Initiative for Democratic and Euro-Atlantic Choice saying that since 2021, every infrastructure project worth more than $100 million has involved Chinese companies.

Written by Reid Standish in Prague with reporting from RFE/RL’s Georgian Service in Tbilisi

Iranian Rights Activists Slam UN For Planning Memorial For 'Butcher' Raisi

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.

The United Nations has announced plans to hold a memorial ceremony for the late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, this week, sparking sharp criticism from rights activists, who decried a move to honor a man they refer to as the "Butcher of Tehran."

UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis said he will convene the tribute on May 30, with member states "encouraged" to deliver statements at the meeting "to pay tribute" to Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several other officials, died in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The tribute has sparked a wave of criticism from activists who refer to Raisi's alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In addition, they said that as president he oversaw a brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown on dissent during protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation when she died.

"When the governments of the world elevate a blatant human rights violator and butcher from Iran's history to a position of honor, as if mourning a peace-loving and democratic figure, they set a dangerous precedent," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi wrote from her prison cell in Tehran.

The UN has already been sharply rebuked by rights groups for observing a moment of silence for Raisi on May 22, and for flying its flag at half-mast in honor of the Iranian president.

Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for Francis, said paying tribute to the memory of a deceased head of state is a diplomatic practice.

But Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi argued that the UN's decision flies in the face of its own protocols, as Raisi was not Iran's highest-ranking official, while pointing out that a UN fact-finding mission recently said that "crimes against humanity" were committed by the Iranian regime during the crackdown on protesters in 2022.

"[Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei is the highest political and military official in the Islamic republic. Whenever they die, the United Nations can hold a quadruple memorial ceremony for them along with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hitler," Ebadi said in a post on Instagram.

“I want the respected Secretary General and President of the General Assembly to recognize Ebrahim Raisi as the people of Iran called him, the 'Executioner of Iran' and the 'Butcher of Tehran' after his death.”

The UN has also implicated Iranian officials in the "physical violence" that lead to Amini's death, raising further questions over honoring Raisi at the United Nations.

A group of 23 LGBTQ+ rights organizations also issued a statement condemning the UN's actions, describing them as a "disgrace to the body of the global community."

The group said Raisi played a role in the execution and killing of members of their community and that many Iranians "consider the likes of Ebrahim Raisi among the murderers, torturers, and violators of their loved ones.”

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Execution Spike In Iran Boosts Global Total To Highest In Almost A Decade, Amnesty Says

Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.
Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.

Executions around the globe rose to their highest number in almost a decade, spurred by a spike in cases of the death penalty being carried out in Iran, according to a new report by watchdog Amnesty International.

In the report, released on May 29, Amnesty said a total of 1,153 executions took place in 2023 -- not including the thousands believed to have been carried out in China -- marking an increase of more than 30 percent from 2022.

In particular, Amnesty highlighted Iran, where the authorities intensified their use of the death penalty "to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power" by carrying out at least 853 executions, a 48 percent rise from the previous year.

"The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran. The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran's most marginalized and impoverished communities," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

"Despite the setbacks that we have seen this year, particularly in the Middle East, countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated. Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty."

Amnesty chided Iran for the high number of executions -- at least 545 -- that were carried out "unlawfully" for acts such as drug-related offenses that under international law are not punishable by the death penalty.

The rights group said executions "disproportionately impacted" Iran's Baluch ethnic minority, who accounted for 20 percent of recorded executions even though they make up only around 5 percent of Iran’s population.

At least 24 women and at least five people who were children at the time they are accused of committing a crime were executed, the Amnesty report said.

Despite the higher overall total of executions, Amnesty said progress on stopping the usage of the death penalty was made.

Executions were carried out in only 16 countries last year, it said, the lowest total ever recorded.

Belarus, Japan, Myanmar, and South Sudan, all of which carried out executions in 2022, did not register any last year, Amnesty said.

"The inherent discrimination and arbitrariness that marks the use of the death penalty have only compounded the human rights violations of our criminal justice systems. The small minority of countries that insist on using it must move with the times and abolish the punishment once and for all," Callamard said.

YouTube Confirms Iranian Foreign Ministry Account Closed Over U.S. Sanctions

Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)
Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)

Internet video platform YouTube has confirmed terminating an account run by Iran's Foreign Ministry to comply with U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"Google is committed to compliance with applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, and enforces related policies under our Terms of Service," YouTube spokesman Alzbeta Houzarova told RFE/RL in a written statement on May 28.

"If we find that an account violates our Terms of Service, we take appropriate action," she added.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the account had been suspended after posting a video in English in support of Palestinians amid Israel's war against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, in the Gaza Strip.

State-controlled IRNA accused YouTube, which has been banned in Iran since 2009, of "violating freedom of speech."

Asked about IRNA's claim that a pro-Palestinian video had resulted in the account's removal, Houzarova reiterated that U.S. sanctions were the reason for the channel's suspension.

The account "will remain terminated," according to YouTube, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet.

"Due to established U.S. sanctions, Iran's state-owned channels are not permitted on YouTube," the platform said.

Iran has blocked all major social media platforms and outlawed the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the ban. However, the authorities themselves continue to use the blocked platforms.

Iran has for years tried to encourage the public to use domestically developed alternatives to popular social media platforms, with little success. A survey in January by the state-affiliated ISPA polling agency found that Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram -- all of which are blocked -- are the most popular platforms among Iranians.

YouTube has previously suspended other Iranian state-owned accounts, including the English-language news service Press TV and the Spanish-language Hispan TV.

In February, Instagram removed accounts run by the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Instagram and Facebook for posts in support of Hamas.

A spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company, Meta, told RFE/RL the accounts had been shut down for "repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations & Individuals policy."

The policy includes organizations backlisted by the U.S. government.

Updated

Russian Shelling Kills Several In Ukraine As Sweden Donates Modern Radar Planes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.

NATO member Sweden on May 29 announced its largest military aid package for Ukraine so far will include modern radar surveillance planes as Russian attacks continued to target civilians, killing several people in three Ukrainian regions.

Two people were killed and three wounded early on May 29 when Russian troops shelled Krasnopil in the northeastern region of Sumy, the regional military administration reported on May 29.

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.

Vadym Filashkin, the governor of the eastern region of Donetsk, said on May 29 that three civilians were killed and six were wounded by Russian bombardment the previous day.

In the northern region of Chernihiv, one person died in the hospital after being wounded by Russian shelling the previous day in Semenivsk, near the border, Ukraine's Interior Ministry reported on May 29.

Ukraine's air defense said it shot down 13 of the 14 drones launched by Russia early on May 29 at three of its regions -- Mykolayiv, Kirovohrad, and Rivne. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily summary on May 29 that the heaviest fighting had been observed in the areas around Kupyansk and Pokrovsk. It also said Russian forces continue their assault in the Vovchansk region, where Russian ground units were supported by guided aerial bombs launched from planes over Russia.

Russian troops "significantly intensified" their attack in the area around Kurakhiv, the General Staff noted, but the area around Pokrovsk continued to experience the largest number of clashes.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said in two separate statements on May 29 that planes from its Black Sea Fleet had destroyed three Ukrainian Crimea-bound sea drones in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.

In Stockholm, the Swedish government announced a package of 13.3 billion Swedish crowns ($1.3 billion) in military aid for Ukraine -- the 16th since the start of Russia's invasion and the largest so far.

The package includes two Swedish-made SAAB ASCC airborne early-warning-and-control aircraft.

Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonsson said the two planes would have the "greatest effect on the Ukrainian air defense," complementing and supporting the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets pledged by several countries.

Stockholm has provided 43.5 billion Swedish crowns ($4.1 billion) in military aid to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The Swedish donation was the third secured by Ukraine this week, following similar packages pledged by Spain and Belgium during visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Belgian donation included a pledge of 30 F-16s to be delivered to Kyiv by 2028, with the first aircraft expected to arrive later this year.

Ukraine's air defenses have been struggling with insufficiently modern air-defense systems and dwindling supplies of antiaircraft ammunition needed to counter an increasingly intense Russian bombardment, mainly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed Moscow wants to establish a "buffer zone" against cross-border Ukrainian attacks on military targets inside Russia.

Ukraine has complained that some donors, chiefly the United States and Germany -- have banned the use of modern Western missile systems by Ukraine to attack targets inside Russia.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have been in favor of such strikes on military facilities located just across the border and used by Russia to bomb Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.

However, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, on May 29 told Bloomberg that Kyiv had used British-supplied missiles on targets inside Russia after securing London's approval.

"We already have a precedent. For example, Great Britain -- they have already allowed Ukraine to use the long-range Storm Shadow missiles that they supply. And we successfully use them," Sak said.

Former Putin Bodyguard, Kremlin Aide Dyumin Elevated To Key Position

Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.
Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.

Aleksei Dyumin, a former bodyguard to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was recently named a top Kremlin aide, has been appointed secretary of the State Council.

Dyumin's appointment to the council, an advisory board consisting of governors, top parliament deputies, the prime minister, and other regional officials, was the latest indication of his growing clout within the Kremlin.

Though not as powerful as the Security Council, the council is nevertheless a highly public venue that analysts say is used by Putin to build support among regional officials and business elite.

The Kremlin made the announcement on May 29, but gave no other details.

A former governor of the Tula region, home to a sizable number of defense industries, the 52-year-old Dyumin was named as an aide to Putin earlier this month amid a wide-ranging shuffle of top Defense Ministry and Security Council positions.

Dyumin had previously worked as a bodyguard for Putin as part of the powerful Federal Protective Service, Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.

In a 2016 interview with the newspaper Kommersant, he described how once, when he was serving on Putin’s security detail, he scared off a bear that had approached a presidential residence where Putin was sleeping.

A recipient of Russia's highest honor and regular ice hockey teammate of Putin, Dyumin has also served as deputy defense minister and was instrumental in the 2014 operation to occupy Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was subsequently annexed.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Dyumin in 2018, citing his role in the Crimea annexation.

He's also frequently been on Kremlin watchers' short list of possible successors to Putin.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported that Dyumin may have been instrumental in the creation of the Wagner mercenary group.

The company's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in August 2023 two months after he staged an unprecedented mutiny that openly challenged Putin and Russia's military leadership.

During the June 2023 mutiny, Dyumin reportedly played a key role in persuading Prigozhin to back down.

Afterwards, Dyumin publicly praised Prigozhin as "a true patriot, a decisive and fearless man."

Putin recently began a reshuffle of top defense-related jobs, including relieving his close ally, Sergei Shoigu, of his duties as defense minister. The appear to underpin an attempt by the Kremlin to crack down on corruption in the sector.

In his appointment as a Kremlin aide earlier this month, Dyumin was given oversight of Russia's military-industrial complex, a position Kremlin watchers said was aimed at balancing other powerful business interests, including the state defense conglomerate, Rostekh.

"Apparently, Putin decided that some kind of independent supervision over them was needed," Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who now lives outside of Russia, told Current Time on May 29.

"Dyumin is not from their clan, he is not their enemy, but he is not from their clan. And this independent supervision of an extremely important industry for Putin will be carried out by Dyumin," Gallyamov said.

Poland To Reintroduce Buffer Zone At Belarus Border, PM Says

Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.
Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.

Poland will reintroduce a 200-meter buffer zone at the Belarusian border at the beginning of next week, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 29, after a soldier was left fighting for his life after an attack on the frontier. The border has been a flashpoint since migrants started flocking there in 2021, after Belarus, a close Russian ally, reportedly opened travel agencies in the Middle East to offer a new unofficial route into Europe -- a move the European Union said was designed to create a crisis. Belarus rejects the accusation that it helps to channel migrants to the Polish border.

Eyes On Georgia's President After Lawmakers Nix Her Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Law

President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.
President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.

TBILISI -- Georgia's so-called "foreign agent" law is expected to land back on President Salome Zurabishvili's desk after lawmakers on May 28 overrode her veto, prompting fresh protests against the piece of legislation seen as mirroring a repressive Russian measure and jeopardizing the country's drive toward the European Union.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, as expected, pushed through the override on May 28 with an 84-4 vote in the 150-seat parliament. A simple majority of 76 votes was needed to cancel Zurabishvili's veto.

Most opposition deputies had walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote.

Angry Protests In Tbilisi As Parliament Rejects Veto On 'Foreign Agent' Bill
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Zurabishvili, who has been at odds with Georgian Dream over the bill and sided with the pro-Western protesters, now has five days to sign the measure into law. She has given no indication she intends to do so but if she refuses, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, can sign the law and publish it.

The vote to override Zurabishvili's veto came despite last-minute appeals from the European Union and several member states to Georgian lawmakers as hundreds of mostly young protesters chanted "No Russian law!" and "Slaves!" while waving Georgian and EU flags.

Zurabishvili addressed the crowd massed peacefully at the back entrance of the legislature via video link, urging them not to let the 84 lawmakers who voted for bill have the final say.

The 84 deputies who voted for the law are "nobody compared to those who are here today -- the new Georgia, the Georgia of the future," she said, encouraging demonstrators to save their anger and energy for national elections in October.

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic path.

Both the United States and the European Union have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But European Council President Charles Michel warned on May 28 that overriding Zurabishvili's veto was a "step backward" for Georgia's European aspirations.

"The European Council decided in December to grant Georgia candidate status on the understanding that Georgia undertakes the relevant steps and necessary democratic reforms," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The adoption of the transparency law in the parliament is a step backward and takes Georgia further away from its EU path. The Georgian people have clearly chosen a future in the EU and we will do everything to support their ambitions," Michel said, adding that the issue will be on the agenda of the next European Council meeting.

A day before the vote, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

After the Georgian Dream party pushed the bill through, a State Department spokesman said the United States condemns the parliament's decision and told reporters that the party's actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten Georgia's democratic trajectory.

Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland), chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Georgian Dream vote was a "sad day for Georgia," and reaffirmed Washington's determination to back the aspirations of the Georgian people.

"The people have demonstrated that they will not allow Ivanishvili to destroy their democracy & take away their European future. We stand with them," Cardin said on X.

Zurabishvili, meanwhile, has urged Georgians to gear up for the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year.

"We must now do everything we can to prepare for October 26, which will be our answer to today. Are you angry today? Get angry, but let's get down to business," she said, calling for a campaign to collect signatures for an EU referendum.

The law requires civil society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Ukraine Repels Russian Drone Attacks On Three Regions

Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Russian drone. (file photo)
Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Russian drone. (file photo)

Ukraine's air defenses shot down 13 of the 14 drones launched by Russia early on May 29 at three of its regions, the Ukrainian Air Force reported on Telegram. "As a result of antiaircraft combat, 13 Shahed [drones] were shot down in the Mykolayiv, Kirovohrad, and Rivne regions," the message said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Meanwhile, Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Russia's southern Krasnodar region, said in a message on Telegram that a Ukrainian drone had been shot down by Russian air defenses over the city of Armavir. There were no casualties or damage, Kondratyev wrote. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

Blinken Praises Progress Toward 'Dynamic Moldova' In Visit To Chisinau

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldovan President Maia Sandu pose after a joint news conference in Chisinau on May 29.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldovan President Maia Sandu pose after a joint news conference in Chisinau on May 29.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 29 pledged $135 million in aid to Moldova for energy security and to counter Russian disinformation, reaffirming Washington's support for Moldova's European integration and its sovereignty against the backdrop of Russian threats and the war in Ukraine.

Blinken announced the assistance and expressed his admiration for President Maia Sandu's leadership at a joint news conference with Sandu in Chisinau, where he is on a stop before traveling on to Prague for a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

He praised recent progress made in Chisinau, including the fight against corruption and preparations for EU accession.

"Two years ago when I was here we discussed how we will be able to build a dynamic Moldova, anchored in Europe, that lives in peace. Despite all the difficulties you are facing you have taken concrete steps to fulfill this vision, which will create a strong future, through progress along the European path," Blinken said.

Blinken also thanked Moldova again for the help it has provided to Ukrainian refugees.

"You really are a small country with a big heart," Blinken said.

Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion the United States has provided Moldova with $774 million in financial aid. Nearly half of that amount -- $300 million -- was earmarked for energy security.

Sandu said the U.S. aid has been used to foster energy security, modernize agriculture, and fight corruption.

"As a matter of fact, in this way you support us in achieving our dream of Moldova to become a land of guaranteed peace, freedom, and well-being for everyone who works in honest manners," Sandu said.

Blinken made a stop in Moldova amid concerns over renewed threats from Russia to both Moldova and Georgia.

Russia still has 1,500 troops stationed in the disputed territory of Transdniester, and in Georgia backs the ruling party’s anti-Western moves that run counter to its aspirations to join the European Union.

Both countries have candidate status to eventually join the EU.

Blinken also answered questions on whether Ukraine's Western backers will allow Kyiv to use arms they have provided to strike targets in Russia. Blinken's response was that Ukraine's allies would "adapt and adjust" their weapons deliveries to ensure its success.

"As what Russia does has changed in terms of how it's pursuing its aggression, we've adapted and adjusted to it and I'm confident we'll continue to do that," Blinken said.

James O'Brien, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, said last week there is no direct military threat to Moldova at this time from Russia, but he said there are "ongoing Russian influence operations, and that is of concern."

Moldova has repeatedly accused Russia of meddling in local elections and running disinformation campaigns to try to topple the government and derail its path toward joining the EU. Sandu said she expects Russian disinformation to increase in the coming months. Russia has denied the accusations.

In Georgia, those fears intensified on May 28 when the country's parliament overrode a presidential veto of a "foreign agent" bill that has prompted weeks of street protests against the legislation. Demonstrators say it will restrict media freedom and obstruct Georgia's EU aspirations.

With reporting by AP

Allies Meet In Prague To Discuss Czech Munitions Drive, Air Defense For Ukraine

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (file photo)
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (file photo)

The leaders of five European NATO states reaffirmed their support for Ukraine on May 28 at a meeting in Prague where the main focus was a Czech plan to procure up to 800,000 artillery shells from countries outside the European Union and provide them to Ukraine.

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Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Ukraine can expect the first delivery of tens of thousands of 155-millimeter shells in the next few days.

Fiala hosted the working dinner attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, and Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina and said they would also meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

At a news conference ahead of the dinner, Fiala said the officials would discuss how their countries can help Ukraine "at this critical stage of its defense from Russian aggression."

They also would discuss to what extent the existing initiatives to arm Ukraine are working and what more could be done beyond the Czech initiative and a German initiative on supplying air defenses.

Under the Czech initiative, Czech government officials and private companies have worked to source ammunition rounds from around the world. Fifteen EU and NATO states have pledged around 1.6 billion euros ($1.7 billion) to fund the project.

The leaders said in a joint statement after the meeting that with the current financing, they "expect to ensure the donation of half a million rounds of artillery ammunition before the end of the year."

They added that they would continue the initiative as long as needed.

Duda pledged to support the transport of the artillery shells and described the situation on the Ukrainian-Russian front as difficult. He said Russia had the initiative in the war and is preparing another major offensive, and artillery will play a key role in defense.

"We need it (the ammunition) at the front lines as soon as possible," said Shmyhal, who also spoke about the initiative to provide Ukraine with air defense systems to secure its skies.

“We need, [at] a minimum, seven Patriot systems and modern combat aircraft also as soon as possible,” he said.

Fiala also commented on Ukraine's request to use weapons supplied by its Western allies against targets inside Russia.

"I see this as fully logical. Ukraine is a country that defends itself from Russian aggression. It needs to protect its territory and civilian population," he said. "Being a country under attack, it definitely has the full right to use all means for its defense."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and others have endorsed letting Ukraine use weapons on Russian targets, saying concerns that the use of Western weapons inside Russia would implicate the alliance in the war are unfounded.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Bosnian Serbs Withdraw 'Foreign Agent' Law From Assembly Agenda

The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (file photo)
The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (file photo)

The government of Republika Srpska has withdrawn a controversial proposed "foreign agent" law from the agenda of the National Assembly.

The move on May 28 came on the same day that lawmakers in Georgia overrode the president’s veto of similar legislation and then voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill despite mass protests against it in recent weeks.

The withdrawal of the bill in Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Milos Bukejlovic, who is also justice minister, without explanation.

The proposed "agents of foreign influence" bill is aimed at NGOs and other organizations that deal with political activities or that attempt to influence public opinion and those that "violate the integrity and constitution of the Republika Srpska."

The draft law calls for the surveillance of NGOs and other organizations funded from abroad and requires registration, financial reporting, and a ban on political activities.

It was included in the agenda at the beginning of the assembly session on May 22 despite a written request from 46 NGOs to deputies not to vote for the law. The NGOs expressed concern that under the draft law everyone "who fights for human rights and against corruption" would be attacked.

The government of Republika Srpska considered the foreign agent law proposal on May 22, but no details were announced afterward.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also warned last week that the bill contradicts the constitutions of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and the country's international obligations to respect human rights.

The law was announced in 2022 by Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russian president of Republika Srpska, who is also the leader of the largest party in parliament. Dodik is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his efforts to undermine the Dayton agreement that brought an end to the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

The draft law was referred to the National Assembly on March 28 just days before the legal deadline.

Research conducted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed that the draft law is close to one that has been in effect in Russia for more than a decade.

The U.S. Embassy previously told RFE/RL that the draft law was "repressive and undemocratic” and, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) to Bosnia also asked for the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliamentary schedule, saying it aimed to scare civil society organizations into submission.

Zelenskiy To Attend D-Day Commemorations In Normandy, Says Macron

A general view of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Colleville-sur-Mer, France. (file photo)
A general view of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Colleville-sur-Mer, France. (file photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 28 that he will greet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy along with other world leaders in Normandy for the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. U.S. President Joe Biden is also scheduled to attend this year’s commemorations of the landings, which led to the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi Germany’s occupation. Dozens of World War II veterans are expected to return to Normandy’s beaches for the ceremony. Macron said during a visit to Germany that he will elaborate on Paris’s support for Ukraine next week, when Zelenskiy visits for the D-Day events.

Iranian Court Sentences Journalist To 21 Years For 'Propaganda Against Regime'

Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)
Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)

The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj, western Iran, has sentenced journalist Zina Modares Gorji to a combined 21 years in prison for her advocacy of women's rights.

The Kurdish human rights portal Kurdpa reported that Judge Mohammad Karami, handed down a split verdict in the case, with Gorji receiving 10 years for "forming an illegal group aimed at overthrowing the regime" and another 10 years for "collaborating with hostile groups and governments." Additionally, she was given one year for "propaganda against the regime."

Under Iranian law, the longest sentence in cases where multiple punishments are handed down is enforced, meaning she will spend 10 years in prison. However, the court also enforced a 10-year exile period after that.

Her supporters said the sentencing was officially communicated on May 23 and that her legal team has filed an appeal. Her lawyers have requested a retrial and are challenging what they view as an overly harsh and politically motivated verdict aimed at intimidating voices within the country.

The exile portion of the punishment, analysts said, shows how far Iranian authorities are going to stifle dissent in the wake of nationwide unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged Islamic head scarf, or hijab, violation in September 2022.

Gorji was first detained during Amini-inspired protests.

After an initial 40-day detention period for "assembly and collusion against the system," Gorji was temporarily released on a bail.

She was rearrested in April 2023 and spent about a month in solitary confinement before being transferred to a general prison ward.

Last month Gorji said on Instagram that her bookstore in Sanandaj was forcibly closed for several days by local authorities for alleged noncompliance with mandatory hijab laws.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Spain Says Its Decision Not To Recognize Kosovo Unchanged After Deciding To Recognize Palestinian State

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)

Spain's position on recognizing Kosovo’s independence from Serbia remains unchanged, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said May 28 after announcing Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

The ministry told RFE/RL that it viewed the two situations as very different.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine does not affect Israel's territorial integrity, as this territory has never been legally part of the state of Israel,” ministry spokeswoman Elena Aljarilla Cortezon said in response to an inquiry from RFE/RL.

“Spain's decision to recognize the state of Palestine aims to uphold international law, the principles of the UN Charter, and the resolutions of the UN Security Council," Aljarilla Cortezon said.

Spain joined Ireland and Norway on May 28 in formally recognizing a Palestinian state. Israel has slammed the decision as a "reward" for Hamas, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

More than 140 countries of the 193 in the UN General Assembly have now recognized Palestine as an independent state.

Spain, Ireland, and Norway said they believed their initiative has strong symbolic impact that is likely to encourage others to follow suit.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine is not only a matter of historical justice, with legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, but is also an imperative to achieve peace," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on May 28.

"It is the only way to realize the solution we all recognize as the only possible one to achieve the future of peace -- a Palestinian state that coexists alongside the state of Israel in peace and security," Sanchez said.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It has been recognized by more than 110 states, including many EU-member countries and the United States. Serbia, Russia, and China are among those that refuse to recognize it along with EU-member states Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia.

The issue of the recognition of Kosovo by Spain in the light of it recognizing Palestine came up during a meeting of foreign ministers on May 27 in Brussels. Sources told RFE/RL that there was an open spat between Germany and Spain. While Germany was "very convincing" on Kosovo recognition, "Spain was defensive, arguing that Kosovo was not on the agenda."

Spain's former ambassador to Belgrade, Raul Bartolome Molina, said last year just before Madrid took over the presidency of the European Union that his country's position is not to recognize Kosovo's independence, while supporting EU efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

“This position has not changed, nor will it change, and all our allies know it very well," Bartolome said on June 30, 2023.

Siberian Court Upholds 9-Year Prison Sentence Handed To Former Navalny Associate

Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)
Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)

A court in the Siberian city of Tomsk has rejected an appeal filed by Ksenia Fadeyeva, a former local lawmaker and the ex-head of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's regional team, over a nine-year prison term she was handed in December for extremism, a charge she and her supporters reject.

Judges Andrei Arkhipov, Ksenia Gerasimova, and Lyudmila Matyskina of the Tomsk City Court ruled on May 28 that Fadeyeva's sentence must be upheld as a lower court's decision to convict her of organizing the activities of an extremist group and participating in the activities of an NGO that violates "citizens' privacy and rights" was legally grounded.

The judges also concluded that the initial ruling by a lower court ordering Fadeyeva to pay 500,000 rubles ($5,535) fine also remains.

Fadeyeva's lawyers, meanwhile, have called for their client's immediate release, stressing that she had ended her involvement with Navalny's organization before it was labeled extremist in 2021.

During her trial last year, prosecutors asked the court to sentence Fadeyeva to 10 1/2 years in prison.

Fadeyeva was detained in December 2021. She was later released but barred from using the Internet and from communicating with others without the permission of investigators, She was also banned from attending public events.

She was then placed under house arrest and later put in a detention center for what investigators said was a violation of house arrest conditions.

After that, her trial, which started in mid-August, resumed behind closed doors.

In January 2022, Russian authorities added Fadeyeva and several other former leaders of Navalny's teams across the country to the list of extremists and terrorists.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his other organizations were labeled extremist in August 2021 as part of a crackdown on civil society.

Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several of Navalny's former associates have been charged with discrediting the Russian armed forces, distributing "fake" news about the military, and extremism.

Earlier in 2023, the former leaders of Navalny’s teams in the Republic of Bashkortostan and the region of Altai Krai -- Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin -- were sentenced to 7 1/2 and 9 years in prison, respectively, on extremism charges, which they and their supporters call politically motivated.

In April, Chanysheva's prison term was extended by two years at the request of prosecutors.

Visa-Free Travel To China For Georgians Comes Into Force

The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)
The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)

A deal allowing Georgians to travel to China without visas for up to 30 days came into force on May 28, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said. In September, Georgia canceled the visa requirement for Chinese nationals visiting the South Caucasus nation after the two countries announced a decision to upgrade their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. Tbilisi's move to enhance ties with Beijing coincided with rising tensions between China and both the United States and the European Union over what was seen as the Georgian government's ambivalence toward Russia in the face of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.

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