Kidnapped American UN Official Freed In Pakistan
John Solecki, 49, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Baluchistan province, was kidnapped in the provincial capital, Quetta, on February 2 when gunmen ambushed his car and shot dead his driver.
"We have found him and he's being taken to Quetta," senior police official Asif Nawez Warriach said. "He's safe and sound."
A UN spokeswoman confirmed Solecki had been freed.
A previously unknown militant group, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), said it had kidnapped Solecki and had demanded the release of prisoners it said were being held by the government.
A man claiming to speak for the group telephoned a Pakistani news agency earlier on April 4 to say Solecki was being released on humanitarian grounds.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking during a visit to France, thanked Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and other people who had worked for Solecki's release.
"I am very happy and at the same time I would like to share this moment with his family and his colleagues in the United Nations," he said.
Separatist militants have for decades fought a low-intensity insurgency in Baluchistan for control of the province's gas and other resources.
The BLUF had demanded the release of more than 1,000 prisoners it said were being held by the government.
It had also demanded resolution of the issue of Baluch independence under the Geneva Convention.
North Macedonia, Bulgaria Say No 'Incidents' Tolerated At Upcoming Event In Skopje
The interior ministers of North Macedonia and Bulgaria have met to discuss tensions between their two countries and measures aimed at preventing violence during the upcoming celebration of the 151st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary Goce Delchev, who is claimed by both Skopje and Sofia as a hero.
Oliver Spasovski, interior minister of North Macedonia, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Demerdziev, met on January 30 in Skopje to reduce tensions between the two countries, vowing that "no incident" will be tolerated during the celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Delchev on February 4 in Skopje.
Delchev is claimed by both countries as a hero in the fight for the liberation of Macedonia from Turkey.
Tensions were heightened earlier this month after the beating of a man who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative.
The announcement that a larger number of Bulgarian citizens will attend the celebration of the Delchev's birth caused further concern.
Macedonian authorities have assessed the celebration as a high-risk event.
"We want to send a message that no incident will be allowed. The Macedonian police force is taking all necessary measures and will not allow incidents to ensure a befitting honoring of our great Goce Delchev," Spasovski said.
Demerdziev said that the Bulgarian side will also take appropriate measures.
"I will not allow provocations to be caused and unwanted events to occur. We have reached an agreement that everything will be in the best possible order, and not to allow some people to fan the flames between the two nations," Demerdziev said.
The two ministers also addressed the beating of Hristijan Pendikov, who was attacked in Ohrid on January 19.
The Bulgarian minister said that he and Spasovski reached an understanding that such incidents should not be allowed in North Macedonia and he was assured that the case will be investigated fully and objectively.
Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Skopje after the incident.
Relations between the Balkan neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic ties that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's negotiations to join the European Union.
Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year.
Belarus's Lukashenka In Zimbabwe On Trip Aimed At Increasing Cooperation With Russian Ally
Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived on January 30 in Zimbabwe on a visit to cement economic and political ties between the two countries that are both close allies of Russia. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and hundreds of singing and cheering supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party welcomed Lukashenka at the airport in Harare. The visit, according to the Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry, is aimed at boosting "strong cooperation in political, economic, mining, agriculture, and disaster risk management." Belarus has provided Zimbabwe with farm equipment under a deal reached after Mnangagwa's visit to Minsk in 2019. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Pretrial Detention Of Former Chief Of Navalny's Team In Bashkortostan Extended
A Moscow court has extended the pretrial detention of Lilia Chanysheva, the former chief of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's office in the city of Ufa in Bashkortostan.
The court ruled on January 30 that Chanysheva, whose pretrial detention expires on February 3, will remain in custody at least until April 3.
The 40-year-old activist was arrested in Ufa in November 2021 and later transferred to a detention center in Moscow.
Chanysheva headed the local unit of Navalny's network of regional campaign groups until his team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded "extremist."
The court accepted the prosecutor's request, effectively outlawing the group.
Chanysheva's defense team said at the time that her arrest was the first since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive, since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist.
International and domestic human rights groups have urged Russian authorities to release Chanysheva, saying that the extremism charges are absurd and should be dropped.
Navalny himself has been in prison on charges he and his supporters call politically motivated since February 2021.
Several of his associates have been charged with establishing an extremist group. Many of them have left the country.
Several former activists who worked for Navalny's groups fled the country shortly before and after Chanysheva's arrest.
Iranian Pharmacist, Cleric Square Off Over Hijab, Authorities Close Her Shop
Authorities in the northern Iranian city of Amol have shut down a pharmacy after the female owner and a local cleric got into a confrontation over wearing a head scarf, an issue that has sparked nationwide unrest in recent months.
A video that has gone viral on social media shows the owner of the pharmacy, identified as Dr. Forough Haghpanah, being confronted by a cleric who warned her to cover her hair in line with the law of the Islamic republic.
Following the argument, the pharmacy staff refused to provide services to the cleric, who started recording the scene with his mobile phone and describing the incident.
Mohammad Sadegh Akbari, the chief justice of Mazandaran Province, announced that the pharmacy had been shut down "for failing to comply with the hijab law and for not providing services to a customer."
Akbari also added that a legal case had been filed against the owner.
The news comes amid monthslong public anger that erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.
Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
The hijab first became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Croatia's President Criticizes Tank Deliveries To Ukraine
Croatia's president has criticized Western governments for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons in its campaign against invading Russian forces, saying those arms deliveries will only prolong the war. Zoran Milanovic told reporters in the Croatian capital that it was "mad" to believe that Russia can be defeated in a conventional war. Milanovic won an election in Croatia in 2019 as a left-leaning liberal candidate, a counterpoint to the conservative government currently in power in the EU and NATO-member state. But he has since turned to populist nationalism and criticized Western policies toward Russia as well as the Balkans. To read the original story by AP, click here.
University Student In Siberia Jailed For Posting Anti-War Video
A 23-year-old university student in Siberia has been sentenced to three years in prison for posting a video on the Internet condemning Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. A court in the city of Tyumen pronounced Kirill Martyushev's sentence on January 30 after finding him guilty of extremism. Martyushev was arrested in March. The court ruled that each day served by the defendant in pretrial detention equals 1 1/2 days in prison and therefore his final prison term will be 18 months. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Iran Clamps Down On Khoy Residents Angry Over Earthquake Relief
Iranian security forces have clamped down on protests over the government's mismanagement of its response to a strong earthquake over the weekend that killed at least three people and injured hundreds in the northwestern city of Khoy.
Videos published on social media show security forces used a water cannon to disperse people who had gathered in front of the regional administration building in Khoy city, which was rocked by the 5.9 magnitude earthquake on January 28.
Panicked residents fled their homes during the tremor as buildings collapsed and cars were overturned. Hundreds have been forced to seek shelter from freezing winter conditions in evacuation centers as more than 20 aftershocks rocked the region.
The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy, with a population of around 200,000, in West Azerbaijan Province, according to the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran.
People were seen wrapped in blankets and huddling around fires in the snow-dusted region in images published by Iranian media, as state TV broadcast footage of major damage to residential buildings, including half-destroyed houses.
Local sources report that two days after the earthquake, people are still in need of basic relief equipment, including tents, heating devices, and food.
Many on social media, including Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince of Iran and an opposition leader, condemned the government for being quick to send riot police to the region instead of relief equipment.
On Twitter on January 29, while sympathizing with the bereaved families, Pahlavi said that the Islamic republic, "instead of providing quick and appropriate relief to the earthquake victims, has sent forces and tools of repression."
The earthquake comes as Iran finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
EU Urges Bosnia To End Visa-Free Regime For Russians
The European Union has reiterated its request from candidate Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon its visa free-regime for Russian citizens. "Full compliance with the EU visa policy is expected from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which does not foresee a visa-free regime with Russia," the EU delegation to Bosnia told RFE/RL on January 30. The Balkan country was granted EU candidate status in December and is expected to align its sanctions and visa policies with the bloc as part of its drive to join. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
Ukrainians To Get Millions Of LED Light Bulbs To Ease Energy Shortfall
Ukrainians were urged on January 30 to swap old light bulbs for free energy-efficient LED bulbs under a scheme intended to ease an energy shortfall caused by Russian attacks. Launching a program backed by the European Union and aimed at replacing 50 million light bulbs, Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said all adults would be able to exchange five incandescent light bulbs for five LED bulbs at post offices. The goal is in the next few months to reduce by one-quarter the energy deficit caused by Russian strikes on power infrastructure. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ryanair Hiring Ukraine Staff In Anticipation Of Return After War
Ryanair is hiring significant numbers of Ukrainian pilots and cabin crew so that it will be ready to return to the country when the war with Russia ends, Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said on January 30. "We are very committed to returning to Ukraine as soon as it is safe to do so," said O'Leary, who had said on the eve of the conflict that he was considering basing up to 20 aircraft in the country. Commercial flights are currently not operating in Ukraine due to fighting with Russia after Moscow ordered an invasion of its neighbor. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Tatar Sociologist Faces Hatred Charge Over Analysis Published By RFE/RL
A sociologist in Russia's Tatarstan region, Iskander Yasaveyev, has been charged with inciting social hatred over his analysis of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine published on the website of RFE/RL's Idel.Realities project in June. Yasaveyev wrote on Facebook on January 30 that he was summoned to the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism directorate, where he was informed that the charge was filled against him. He added that some of his belongings that were confiscated during a search of his home two weeks earlier were returned to him while he was at the ministry. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Armenia Tells International Court Of Justice That Azerbaijan Blockade Is 'Ethnic Cleansing'
A representative of Armenia told judges at the International Court of Justice on January 30 that a blockade of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region by neighboring Azerbaijan was designed to allow "ethnic cleansing.” The Lachin Corridor is the only route whereby Armenia can provide food, fuel, and medical supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. The corridor has been blocked since December 12, when protesters claiming to be environmental activists stopped traffic by setting up tents. Azerbaijan denies any blockade, saying the activists are staging a legitimate protest against illegal mining activity. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Self-Exiled Buddhist Leader Of Russia's Kalmykia Resigns Over 'Foreign Agent' Label
The self-exiled supreme lama of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, who was the first religious leader in the country who publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, has announced his resignation.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni-Basan Ombadykov, issued a statement on January 29 saying that he was stepping down from the post of the Shajin-Lama, the leader of Kalmykia's Buddhists, after Russia added him to its registry of "foreign agents."
"In the situation that occurred, I consider it reasonable to pass on all the duties related to the position of the Shajin-Lama of the Republic of Kalmykia to the current leader of the centralized religious organization - the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery of Geden Sheddup Choi Korling -- Tendzin Choidak (Mutul Ovyanov) and the administrator Yonten Lodoi (Sergei Kirishov)," Telo Tulku Rinpoche's statement said.
The statement came two days after Russia's Justice Ministry added Telo Tulku Rinpoche to its list of "foreign agents."
Telo Tulku Rinpoche had led Kalmykia's Buddhists since the early 1990s.
The Buddhist monk, who represented the Dalai Lama in the Russian Federation and holds a U.S. passport, fled Russia for Mongolia last fall, where he is helping thousands of Kalmyks who left Russia after Moscow launched its war against Ukraine in late February, 2022.
In early October, he became the first religious leader in the Russian Federation to condemn Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion in Ukraine.
Kalmyks in Russia's southwest and Buryats in Siberia are mostly Buddhist, Mongol-speaking ethnic groups. Tyvans are another mostly Buddhist indigenous people in Siberia, whose language is Turkic.
Russia Claims Slight Gains As Ukraine Waits For More Weaponry
Russian forces say they have made slight territorial gains in intense fighting in Ukraine's east amid reports Moscow has moved additional forces to the Kursk region on the border with Ukraine to protect the frontier and ensure security.
Kyiv rejected assertions by Denis Pushilin, administrator of Russian-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, on January 30 that advances were made near the town of Vuhledar, an epicenter of current fighting in the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.
"We did not lose our positions," Yevhen Yerin, the Ukrainian military spokesman in charge of the area, said.
Ukraine has been calling on its Western allies to speed up deliveries of heavy weaponry promised in recent weeks as it tries to hold on to territory in the east amid Russia's overpowering advantage.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called the situation on the ground "very tough," with Russian forces making "constant attempts to break through our defenses."
The United States and Germany have agreed to send Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively, to Ukraine, while the United Kingdom earlier in January said it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany also allowed other countries, such as Norway and Poland to send their German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Poland said it will provide 60 more tanks to Ukraine in addition to the 14 Leopard 2 tanks it has already pledged.
Ukrainian soldiers are currently in Britain to be trained on the advanced weaponry, the British Defense Ministry said on January 29, though the delivery of the promised equipment is not expected for several months.
"Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces," Zelenskiy said. "So we have to make time our weapon."
Russia has many more tanks than Ukraine, but their models are inferior in some key respects to Western models.
Both Russia and Ukraine are expected to launch offensives in the coming weeks with tanks expected to play a vital role in those battles, experts said.
With reporting by Reuters and Interfax
Explosion In Residential Building Kills Five In Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan
An explosion in a residential building in Uzbekistan's autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan has killed at least five people. Uzbekistan's Emergency Ministry said on January 30 that the explosion, caused by a gas leak, occurred late in the afternoon of the previous day in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus. Rescue teams continue to search for survivors and casualties under the debris. Gas explosions occur with some frequency in Central Asia due to ageing pipelines and infrastructure, as well as lax safety standards. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Iran Summons Senior Ukraine Diplomat Over Comments On Drone Strike
Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran on January 30 over his country's comments about a drone strike on a military factory in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Slovenia Reportedly Detains Two Foreigners On Charge Of Spying For Russia
Media reports in Slovenia said over the weekend that the Intelligence and Security Service had detained two foreigners suspected of spying for Russia's military intelligence. According to the reports, the suspects detained in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, worked in the country under fake names. One of the suspects holds an Argentinian passport, the reports said. If convicted of spying and lying while crossing the border, the two face up to eight years in prison each. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Dozens Killed, Scores Wounded In Suicide Bombing At Pakistani Mosque
At least 59 people have been killed and 157 wounded in an attack witnesses said was a suicide bombing inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Most of the dead were police officers, according to a spokesman for a Peshawar hospital where victims of the attack were treated.
Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that suicide bombers standing in the first row behind the imam detonated explosive vests as worshippers, including many policemen and other officials, had gathered for afternoon prayers at the Police Line Mosque on January 30.
Dozens of the wounded were transferred to nearby hospitals, a police officer said. Several of them were in critical condition, the officer said, raising fears that the death toll might rise further. One hospital official said 10 to 15 people were in critical condition.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack. The radical group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the "abhorrent" blast, his spokesman said.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and said "stern action" will be taken against those who were behind it. He ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment to the victims.
RFE/RL correspondents in the area said the mosque has been frequented by police officers and officials from the provincial government whose offices are located in the same area.
Police said rescue crews were working at the scene amid expectations that there are more casualties buried beneath the rubble as the two-story building collapsed following the powerful blast.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the bombing, calling it a "terrorist suicide attack."
"It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering [and] properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism," Khan tweeted.
Peshawar is the capital of the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
International Olympic Committee Rejects 'Defamatory' Criticism From Ukraine
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rejected fierce criticism from Ukrainian officials, who accused it of promoting war after the IOC said Russians could potentially be given the opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak on January 30 said the presence of Russian athletes at the Paris Olympics would constitute giving the country "a platform to promote genocide." "[The] IOC is a promoter of war, murder, and destruction. The IOC watches with pleasure Russia destroying Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to promote genocide and encourages their further killings. Obviously Russian money that buys Olympic hypocrisy doesn't have a smell of Ukrainian blood," he said on Twitter. The IOC rejected the accusation "in the strongest possible terms." A statement quoted by Reuters said the comments "cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Business Offers Cash Bounties To Destroy Western Tanks In Ukraine
A Russian company said it will offer 5 million rubles (about $72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture Western-made tanks in Ukraine, after the Kremlin vowed Russian forces would wipe out any Western tanks shipped to Ukraine. The United States, Germany, and several other European countries are lining up to send Kyiv dozens of advanced combat tanks over the next few months to help boost Ukraine's military capacity. The decision has been criticized by the Kremlin as a dangerous escalation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Britain's Boris Johnson Says Putin Threatened Him With Missile Strike
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike during a phone call in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Johnson said Putin had asked him about the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO, to which he had responded it would not be "for the foreseeable future." "He threatened me at one point, and he said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute' or something like that," Johnson said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Says Nuclear Arms Treaty With U.S. May End After 2026
Russia's deputy foreign minister said in an interview published on January 30 that it was "quite possible" the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States would end after 2026. "This is quite a possible scenario," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA news agency. U.S.-Russia talks on resuming inspections under the treaty, which expires in February 2026, were called off at the last minute in November 2022. Neither side has agreed on a time frame for new talks. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Germany Won't Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine, Says Scholz
Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated on January 29 that Germany will not send fighter jets to Ukraine, as Kyiv steps up calls for more advanced weapons from the West to help repel Russia's invasion. Scholz only just agreed on January 25 to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other European countries to send theirs, after weeks of intense debate and mounting pressure from allies. "I can only advise against entering into a constant bidding war when it comes to weapons systems," Scholz said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper. To read the original story from AFP, click here.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Attacks Idea That Russia Could Compete In 2024 Olympics
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 29 that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris was tantamount to showing that "terror is somehow acceptable." "Attempts by the International Olympic Committee to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. He said Russia must not be allowed to "use [the Olympics] or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Turkey's Erdogan Signals Finland's NATO Bid May Be Considered Over Sweden
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled on January 29 that Ankara may agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm. "We may deliver Finland a different message [on their NATO application], and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did," Erdogan said in a televised speech. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and need the approval of all member countries to join. Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify the Nordic countries' membership. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Interview: For Putin, The War In Ukraine Is Hard To Win And Even Harder To End2
Punished By Western Sanctions, Russia's Airlines Are Showing More Cracks And More Problems3
Amid Worries Over Russian Forces In Belarus, Former Security Officer Says Belarusian Conscripts Won't Fight4
Kyiv Says Forces Outnumbered, Battling 'Intensifying' Russian Attacks Near Bakhmut5
Romance And Realism: The Former Banker Photographing Rural Romania6
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official7
Leader Of Group Of Mothers And Wives Of Russian Soldiers Detained En Route To Moscow8
Romania's Traditional Clothing Makers Call For Action After UNESCO Listing9
Ukrainian Army Drone Footage Shows Purported Russian Sneak Attack10
'Not Everyone Supports This Crazy War': Life In Russia's Embattled Belgorod Region