Lebanon's Pro-Western Coalition Wins Surprise Victory in Elections
The coalition is headed by Saad Hariri -- son of slain former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. It expects to widen its majority in the 128-seat parliament to at least 70 seats, compared to about 58 seats for the rival Hizballah and its Shi'ite and Christian partners.
But already, analysts and newspaper commentators are questioning whether the rival factions will be able to form a unity government in order to ensure stability.
In fact, Hizballah on June 8 warned Hariri's coalition that the election results signal the possibility of further political turbulence ahead. Hizballah lawmaker Muhammad Raad predicted that political crisis will continue in the country unless "the majority changes its attitude."
He also warned that Hizballah will not surrender its weapons arsenal -- an issue that has been at the center of a national debate in Lebanon.
Israel waged a devastating war against Hizballah in 2006 that left much of southern Lebanon in ruins and killed more that 1,200 people.
The militant Hizballah -- supported by both Iran and Syria, and blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist group -- has refused to disarm since 2006, despite a post-war UN resolution that calls for all militias to turn in their weapons. Hizballah argues that its arsenal is needed to defend Lebanon against Israel.
Hussain Abdul Hussain, the former managing editor of Beirut's "Daily Star" newspaper, is now a visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. He told RFE/RL that the election results were encouraging. But he says Hizballah's position on the vote bodes ill for the future of Lebanon and the wider region.
"The first reaction we see is the reaction of Hizballah, who said that the election results show that the crisis is still the same -- and that the only way out of this crisis is for the renewed majority to come to terms with Hizballah and to change its behavior,” Hussain said. “It seems they won't admit defeat. There seems to be no democratic way around the problem of Hizballah's arms in the short term. And there is no way to convince Hizballah to play according to democratic rules in the long term."
Experts say they could not have imagined a more legitimate victory for the Hariri-led alliance that the June 7 vote.
Paul Salem, head of the Beirut-based Middle East Carnegie Center, says Lebanon has entered a new phase with the election. But he says the real question is about the kind of challenges that Lebanon's future government will face.
Hussain tells RFE/RL that he expects the biggest challenge to be the issue of what Hizballah does with its weapons.
"Now what happens on the ground is different because Hizballah has the arms. It has a private army and it can call the shots. This is what is worrisome for Lebanese democracy at large,” Hussain said. “The good news is Lebanon will not be re-aligned or taking the side of Syria and Iran -- at least the official side of Lebanon won't be doing that in the near future."
As for the impact of the elections on regional relations, Hussain says Iran and Syria are not going to be happy about the election results.
"The region was apparently anticipating a victory by Hizballah,” Hussain said. “We heard Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad saying that the Iranian axis was waiting for a victory by their allies in Lebanon so that Lebanon will formally join this axis. This did not happen -- to the surprise, I would say, of everyone in the region and around the world.”
He continued: “So Hizballah now cannot step into the shadows and call the shots from behind the scene like I think it had planned to do. Hizballah now will have to keep on relying on its bullying force in order to keep whatever it does not like in the Lebanese government in line. This [election result] will not go well with [Hizballah's] regional allies -- especially in Damascus and Tehran."
‘Victory For Democracy’
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah -- a supporter of Hizballah -- told journalists in Gaza City on June 8 that he is not unhappy with the election outcome.
"What happened is the victory of democracy, the victory of freedom of expression, political pluralism, and peaceful handover of authority,” Haniyah said. “We wish for Lebanon, the Lebanese nation, and all the winners of this election to provide Lebanon with protection as an Arab power and a strong region in the face of the Israeli occupation."
But in Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Lebanon's next government ultimately will be held responsible for any violence Hizballah militants commit against Israel.
"It is quite natural that the government of Lebanon, be its components what they may, will be held responsible for any military or otherwise hostile activity that will emanate from its territory,” Palmor said. “For Israel, the primordial interest is that no violence be carried out against Israel or against Israelis from Lebanese territory."
Israel also has already demanded that the next Lebanese government stop the smuggling of weapons to Hizballah via Syria and by sea. It says Beirut's next government must act to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 -- which ended the 33-day war between Israel and Hizbollah in 2006. Full compliance with that resolution would entail the disarming of Hizballah.
Israeli lawmakers have said they are optimistic about the election outcome because it reverses a trend in which radical Islamists have gained strength in the Middle East in recent years.
Seven Out Of 30 Allies Met NATO Military Spending Target In 2022, Says Stoltenberg
Seven out of 30 allies met NATO's military spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, one country less than in 2021 before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the alliance's chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said on March 21, urging allies to boost defense investment more quickly. Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels that the alliance originally had expected two more countries to meet the goal. "But because GDP has increased more than expected for a couple of allies, two allies that we expected to be at 2 percent are now slightly below 2 percent," he said.
U.S. Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery To Ukraine War Zone
The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials told the Associated Press. The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from U.S. Army stocks and will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russia's invasion. The officials spoke on March 21 on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been publicly announced. To read the original report by AP, click here.
- By Current Time
Moscow Resident Gets Jail Time For Ukrainian Symbol On His Phone
A Moscow court said on March 21 it has sentenced local resident Yury Samoilov to 14 days in jail for having an image of the shoulder sleeve insignia of Ukraine's Azov Regiment as a screensaver on his smartphone. Samoilov was found guilty of distributing extremist materials. The Azov Regiment, once a far-right group and now one of the most prominent Ukrainian military formations fighting against Russia in eastern Ukraine, was labeled as a "terrorist" organization in Russia in August 2022. Samoilov was charged after a fellow passenger on a subway train reported him to police. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Rights Groups Call On Belarus To Halt Extradition Of Tajik Opposition Activist
Human Rights Watch and several other groups have urged Belarus on March 21 not to extradite Tajik opposition activist Nizomiddin Nasriddinov, saying he "would be at serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture on the basis of his political beliefs." Nasriddinov was detained at Dushanbe's request while entering Belarus from Lithuania in January. Nasriddinov is wanted in Tajikistan on the charge of calling for extremist actions which the right groups call ungrounded. Nasriddinov has refugee status in Germany. Dozens of opposition figures, journalists, and rights activists have been handed lengthy prison terms in Tajikistan in recent years. To read a joint statement from the rights groups, click here.
Belarusian Supreme Court Rejects Darya Losik's Appeal Against Her Two-Year Prison Term
The Supreme Court of Belarus has rejected an appeal filed by Darya Losik, the wife of jailed RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik, against a two-year prison term she was handed in January for giving an interview to an independent media outlet.
The court took little time in handing down its ruling announcing it shortly after the start of the hearing on March 21. No details of the ruling were immediately available.
A court in the western city of Brest sentenced Losik after finding her guilty of facilitating extremist activity. The charge stemmed from her interview with the Poland-based Belsat television channel, which has been officially labeled as an extremist group by Minsk.
Losik's husband was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2021 on several charges, including organizing mass riots, incitement to social hatred, and several other charges that remain unclear.
He has maintained his innocence and calls all charges against him politically motivated.
On March 20, the Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) rights group said Ihar Losik had been taken to a prison medical facility after being found with "cuts to his hands and neck," while being kept in a punitive solitary confinement.
Vyasna described the incident as an "attempted suicide," though it was not clear how Losik was injured, to what extent, or when the incident occurred.
The Supreme Court of Belarus on March 21 also rejected an appeal filed by military expert Yahor Lyabyadok against a five-year prison term he was handed in late December for giving an interview to an unspecified independent media outlet.
The cases highlight the harsh crackdown by the regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka against any dissent since an August 2020 presidential election, which he claims he won, while opposition politicians and activists say the vote was rigged.
The 68-year-old, who has been in power since 1994, has directed a campaign to arrest tens of thousands of people.
He has refused to negotiate with the opposition, and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
Russian Foreign Ministry Summons Canadian Diplomat Over FM Melanie Joly's Comments
Russia's Foreign Ministry on March 21 summoned Minister Counsellor Brian Ebel of the Canadian Embassy in Moscow over Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly's recent statements regarding her country's efforts against Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The ministry called Joly's opinions "another Russophobic move...that will have the most serious repercussions for the bilateral relations." On March 10, Joly said Canada's goal is "definitely" to "weaken Russia's ability to launch very difficult attacks against Ukraine," calling to ensure that President Vladimir Putin and his associates are "held to account" for the full-scale aggression against Ukraine.
UNICEF Warns That Millions In Pakistan Still Lack Safe Water Following Floods
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF says that six months after catastrophic floods struck Pakistan, more than 10 million people, including children, living in flood-affected areas still have no access to safe drinking water.
UNICEF said in a statement on March 21 that the lack of clean water is forcing many families with no alternative but to drink and use "potentially disease-ridden water."
The prolonged lack of access to safe drinking water and sewage systems, along with the continued proximity of vulnerable families to bodies of stagnant water, are contributing to the widespread outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dengue, and malaria, UNICEF said, adding that unsafe water and poor sanitation are key underlying causes of malnutrition.
"Safe drinking water is not a privilege, it is a basic human right," said UNICEF's representative in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil.
“Yet, every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and the consequential malnutrition."
Last summer unprecedented monsoon rains and the flooding they sparked caused more than 1,500 deaths across Pakistan, including more than 550 children.
Many roads and bridges were washed away or are badly damaged by the disaster, leaving thousands of families with little access to food, safe water, and medicines.
In January donors pledged more than $9 billion to help Pakistan recover and rebuild following the devastating floods, which environmentalists and scientists blamed on climate change.
But the funds have been slow to come, with UNICEF saying in its statement that its current appeal of $173.5 million to provide life-saving support to women and children affected by the floods remains less than 50 percent funded.
"It is imperative that the voices and the needs of children in Pakistan are prioritized at all costs and that children are placed at the heart of all post-flood recovery and resilience plans," said Fadil.
Hungary Obstructs EU Statement On Putin's International Warrant
Hungary has used its veto power to block a joint statement by European Union member states on the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg reported on March 21, quoting sources familiar with the matter. Hungary's move forced EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to issue a personal statement instead, "taking note" of the ICC move. Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mate Paczolay denied the report, telling Bloomberg, "It's a lie that Hungary vetoed an EU statement on the ICC case." To read the original report by Bloomberg, click here.
Anti-Kremlin Movement Claims Role In Deadly Fire At Russian FSB Compound
A Russian partisan group called Chyorny Most (Black Bridge) has claimed responsibility for a fire in the compound of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don near the Ukrainian border that killed at least four people and injured five others on March 16. The group said on Telegram on March 21 that it was "a co-author" of the incident by contributing to its preparations and implementation. It did not name any others involved. Black Bridge positions itself as a guerrilla movement fighting against President Vladimir Putin and Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
HRW Urges Pakistan To Drop Terrorism Charges Against Opposition Supporters
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says authorities in Pakistan have committed abuses while confronting supporters of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan during recent protests. Dozens of members of Khan's Tehrik-e Insaf party, including Khan, have been charged with terrorism offenses, criminal intimidation, and rioting. "The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying," said HRW's Patricia Gossman in a statement on March 21. "It is vitally important for the police to respect the right to peaceful assembly while holding those responsible for unlawful violence to account."
Police Raid Moscow Homes Of Employees Of Liquidated Human Rights Group Memorial
Russian police on March 21 raided the homes of several employees of the liquidated prominent Memorial Human Rights Center, the rights group said on Twitter. A lawyer for the group told the Novaya gazeta publication that police searched the residences of senior figures of the group Oleg Orlov, Nikita Petrov, and Yan Rachinsky. Russian authorities ordered the liquidation of Memorial in December 2021 under the controversial "foreign agent" law amid a continued crackdown on civil society. Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with jailed Belarusian dissident Ales Byalyatski and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Local Pakistani Official Among 11 People Killed In Attack On Car
Eleven people were killed on March 20 in an armed attack on a vehicle in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The dead included Atif Munsif Jadoon, chairman of the Havelian area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Tariq Mazhar, a police official in Havelian, told RFE/RL that it is not known who carried out the attack. Another police official said the attack may have been caused by enmity within the Jadoon family. Pakistani media say four of the dead were bodyguards for the family, which has not commented on the attack. Jadoon was independently elected in last year's elections but later joined the Tehrik-e Insaf party. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.
U.S. Says China, Russia Blocking UN Action On North Korea
The United States has accused China and Russia of shielding North Korea from any action by the UN Security Council for its unprecedented spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches, which violate multiple UN resolutions and jeopardize international aviation and maritime safety. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on March 20 told a council meeting that Chinese and Russian "obstructionism" was encouraging North Korea "to launch ballistic missiles with impunity" and advance its development of more sophisticated and dangerous weapons. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Japanese PM Kishida Arrives In Kyiv As Intense Fighting Continues In Eastern Ukraine
Russia's sustained offensive in the eastern Donetsk region has intensified, the Ukrainian military said on March 21, as Japan's prime minister arrived in Kyiv in a show of support that coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow.
The commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said Russian assault groups have been attempting to advance toward the center of Bakhmut, the Donetsk region city that has been the focal point of a months-long raging battle that has prompted heavy losses to both sides.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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"Attempts by enemy assault units are trying to advance from the outskirts to the center of [Bakhmut], but the Defense Forces are working to destroy them 24/7," Syrskiy wrote on Telegram.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have invested heavily in the battle for Bakhmut, even though analysts say the city -- which has been reduced to little more than rubble -- carried little strategic value.
Ukrainian defenders repelled 120 attacks focused primarily on Bakhmut, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said earlier in its daily report, adding that Russians also attempted advances in the directions of Avdiyivka, Lyman, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk.
Russian forces shelled civilian and infrastructure targets in 11 settlements along the line of contact, the Ukrainian military said.
Ukrainian forces also repelled Russian attacks in Kupyansk, in the northern region of Kharkiv, it said.
Japan's public television NHK broadcast video footage on March 21 of Fumio Kishida walking on the platform of a Kyiv train station accompanied by several people who appeared to be Ukrainian officials, including First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Japarova.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry earlier said Kishida will visit Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with Japanese television showing the prime minister boarding a train at the Polish border town of Przemysl.
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Kishida will voice solidarity and support for Ukraine following Russia's invasion more than a year ago, the ministry said in a statement.
Kishida's meeting with Zelenskiy comes as Japan prepares to host a Group of Seven (G7) summit in May that the Japanese leader has said should exude a strong signal that international order and the rule of law must be upheld in opposition to Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow launched in February of 2022.
Kishida's arrival also coincides with Xi's visit to Moscow to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has become increasingly isolated on the international stage because of the invasion.
Ukrainian officials have said they hope Zelenskiy will get a chance to talk with Xi by phone while the Chinese leader is in Moscow, but such a conversation had yet to be scheduled by midday on March 21.
IN PHOTOS: Ukraine continues to hold on to eastern city of Bakhmut despite the Wagner mercenary group claiming to have seized up to 70 percent of the ruined city.
As Kishida was beginning his visit to Ukraine, Russia's Defense Ministry said on March 21 that two of its strategic bombers flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours.
The Tupolev Tu-95MS planes are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and Moscow regularly flies them over international waters in the Arctic, North Atlantic and Pacific as a show of strength.
Separately, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate said on March 20 that the Russia-installed chief of a notorious detention center in the city of Nova Kakhovka in the Russia-occupied part of the Kherson region has been "liquidated."
The directorate said Serhiy Moskalenko, a native of the city who was accused of helping Russian troops detain and torture Ukrainians, was killed days earlier.
According to media reports, Moskalenko was killed in a car-bomb attack in the southern Ukrainian town of Skadovsk on March 19.
There have been several attacks, some deadly, against Ukrainian citizens who collaborated with Russian military forces after Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on March 21 that he and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola have discussed steps to establish a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
During the call, Kuleba tweeted, he encouraged the European Parliament "to keep up its vital role in tackling impunity."
In January, the European Parliament adopted a recommendation for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russia's aggression against Ukraine and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted unanimously to establish such a tribunal.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Putin, Xi Begin Formal Talks, China's Proposal On Ukraine War On Agenda
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have opened talks on the second day of the Chinese leader's visit to Moscow as the Russian president sought to brush off his deepening international isolation over the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Putin and Xi, who had called each other "dear friend" the previous day, shook hands and listened to their national anthems but made no statements before starting the meeting, Russian state television images showed.
The meetings with Xi, who arrived on March 20 for a three-day meeting, give a rare opportunity to Putin to claim that Russia is not completely walled off from the rest of the world despite his being targeted by an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.
The two are also expected to discuss a Chinese proposal for a political settlement in Ukraine that Western countries said echoes Russian talking points.
Ahead of the meeting, China and Russia touted their "no-limits friendship" and rebuffing what they say is Washington's attempt to isolate them and hold back their development. Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, Moscow's reliance on China, which has not directly criticized Russia for the war, has increased.
The two made brief statements at the start of their first meeting on March 20.
"We hope that the strategic partnership between China and Russia will on the one hand uphold international fairness and justice, and on the other hand promote the common prosperity and development of our countries,” Xi said as he and Putin began their meeting.
The first meeting ended after more than four hours, including a dinner at which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would likely offer Xi a "detailed explanation" of Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that Xi and Putin seem to be connected in "a marriage of convenience" rather than one of affection.
"These are two countries that have long chafed at U.S. leadership around the world," he said.
The White House remains concerned that China might provide lethal weapons to Russia, Kirby said.
He also said Washington encouraged Xi to press Putin directly "on the need to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and said Xi should speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about the impact of the war on Ukraine.
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Putin has welcomed China's proposal of a peace plan, which blames the West for the unprovoked invasion and calls for a cease-fire and peace talks among other provisions.
"We are always open to negotiations," Putin told Xi. "We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiatives which we treat with respect, of course."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced skepticism over the proposal, warning it could be a "stalling tactic" to help Russia on the ground in Ukraine.
"The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms," Blinken told reporters at the State Department.
Blinken also denounced Xi's visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with "diplomatic cover" to commit further crimes.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Zelenskiy Notes Expanding Support For Creation Of Tribunal On Russian Aggression
The number of countries that support the creation of a UN-backed special tribunal to hold Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine is increasing, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on March 20.
Zelenskiy said in his evening address that he held conversations earlier in the day with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to thank them for joining an international group that is preparing the creation of the special tribunal.
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"The circle of partners who are ready to work together to punish Russia for aggression is inevitably expanding. And it makes the prospect of punishment more and more realistic," Zelenskiy said.
He said he also spoke about the special tribunal on March 20 in an address to a conference of European justice ministers in London.
"I appealed to the participants of the conference and called on them to support all elements of the international effort so that the aggressor would be accurately punished," he said.
The European Parliament in January adopted a recommendatory resolution on the creation of a special tribunal regarding the crime of Russian aggression against Ukraine. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted unanimously one week later to establish the tribunal.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), however, has said he opposes the EU proposal. Karim Khan said in December that his court is capable of effectively considering war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.
The ICC on March 17 issued a warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing the Russian leader of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children's rights official who allegedly directs the removal of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The Kremlin dismissed the warrant, arguing that it is void because Russia is not in the ICC's jurisdiction. Ukraine is also not a member of the ICC.
Millions In Extra Funding Pledged For ICC Work In Ukraine
An international conference in London has raised 4 million pounds ($4.9 million) to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Justice ministers from over 40 countries met in London on March 20 after the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him in the abduction of children from Ukraine. British Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the countries "share the belief that President Putin and the wider leadership must be held to account," adding, "Let's make sure that we back up our words with deeds." To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iran's Protest Anthem Played At White House Norouz Celebration
A video of Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour performing the protest anthem Baraye played on March 20 at a White House celebration marking Norouz, the Persian New Year. The video was played just before President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted the event. Biden told the audience that the traditional New Year inspired "hope for women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms." The song instantly became associated with the political upheaval in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody for an alleged violation of Iran's hijab law.
EU Extends Iran Sanctions To Judges, Clerical Council
European ministers agreed to add eight Iranians and one of the Tehran government's most powerful bodies to EU sanctions lists, alleging human rights violations. The individuals -- including clerics, judges, and a broadcaster -- are accused of playing leading roles in Iran's crackdown on anti-government protests. The EU said it was in particular "sanctioning members of the judiciary responsible for handing down death sentences in unfair trials and for the torturing of convicts." The government institution, the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, was said to have "promoted several projects undermining the freedom of girls and women and discriminating against minorities."
Iranian Teachers' Union Warns Government Over Failing To Meet Its Demands
A teachers' union in Iran has warned the government that if its demands are not met, its members will take to the streets in May, adding to the social and economic unrest that has plagued the country for almost a year.
The Coordinating Council of Teachers' Syndicates said in a statement on March 19 that imprisonment, dismissal, deportation, and court sentences have failed to deter teachers from their desire to accompany the people of Iran in the direction of fundamental changes in the Islamic republic.
"The tyranny can no longer stand against The Power of Powerless", the statement added, referring to a political essay written by the Czech communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel.
In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions. In response, the authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters and activists, actions that have failed to stop the rallies.
The statement, published just ahead of the beginning of the Persian New Year on March 21, referred to the last year as "a year full of glory and complaints" and added that "the stance of teachers and students together will promise days full of awareness."
Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.
Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.
The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Blinken Offers U.S. Support To Facilitate Bilateral Peace Between Armenia, Azerbaijan
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has offered support in facilitating bilateral peace discussions with Azerbaijan in a phone call on March 20 with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The U.S. State Department said that in the call Blinken "reiterated U.S. support for direct talks and diplomacy to support a lasting and sustainable peace in the South Caucasus and stressed that there is no military solution."
The statement also said Blinken thanked Pashinian “for Armenia’s continued commitment to peace and encouraged concrete steps forward in finding solutions to outstanding issues.”
According to the press service of the Armenian prime minister's office, Blinken reiterated his call for the immediate unblocking of the Lachin Corridor, the mountain road that links Armenia and the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, and stressed that the United States is ready to continue supporting the process.
Pashinian and Blinken exchanged views on the prospects for the settlement of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the opening of communication ties in the region, according to the prime minister’s press service.
Pashinian also expressed concern over the recent aggressive rhetoric of Azerbaijan.
Tensions have flared recently as the Lachin Corridor has been blocked by government-backed Azerbaijani protesters since December 12.
The availability of food in Nagorno-Karabakh has become acute due to irregular deliveries, and prices for food and other goods have risen significantly. There have also been periodic interruptions in the supply of gas and electricity.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Nagorno-Karabakh at a meeting in Moscow with his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan. Lavrov said that the problem of the Lachin Corridor should be considered exclusively in the context of trilateral statements, and emphasized that each side has its own obligations.
He did not specify what Armenia should do in connection with the opening of the corridor but said the issues of rights and security guarantees for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh should be resolved between representatives of Karabakh and Baku.
Lavrov also lashed out at Brussels and Washington for "imposing their supervision" on the peace talks between Yerevan and Baku, accusing the West of "undisguised attempts...to undermine the region's security architecture" and "tear Russia away" from the region.
Lavrov's meeting with Mirzoyan came days after Pashinian said he had complained to Russian President Vladimir Putin about "problems" with Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh, warning of an escalation in the region.
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for years, and the United States and European Union have recently taken the lead role in peace talks between them.
Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.
Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict brought little progress and the two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russia-brokered cease-fire, which resulted in Armenia losing control over parts of the region and seven adjacent districts.
Armenia's Defense Ministry on March 12 rejected as "untrue" an accusation from Azerbaijan that Yerevan is transporting military equipment to the Nagorno-Karabakh region over ground routes bypassing the Lachin Corridor.
Nagorno-Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan.
Russia Adds Institute For Statecraft To 'Undesirable Organizations' List
Russia has declared the Institute for Statecraft of Great Britain an "undesirable" organization amid an ongoing crackdown on international and domestic NGOs, civil society, and independent journalists. The Prosecutor-General's Office announced the decision on March 20, saying that the group's activities pose a “threat to the basis of [Russia's] Constitutional order, territorial integrity, and security." The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin which squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
EU Member States Agree To Send 1 Million Ammunition Shells To Ukraine
European Union member states have agreed to supply 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said while attending a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels. "We have reached a political consensus to send to Ukraine one million rounds of 155-millimeter-caliber ammunition," he told reporters, adding that the shells would be sent within 12 months. "There are many, many details still to (be) solved but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way." To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
Russia Launches Probe Of ICC After It Issues Arrest Warrant For Putin
Russia's Investigative Committee said on March 20 that it has started investigating International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan and the court's three judges after an arrest warrant was issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. According to the committee, The Hague-based court’s officials are suspected of "preparation of an attack on a representative of a foreign state who is under international protection to complicate the international situation." The ICC issued the arrest warrant for Putin and his commissioner for children's rights on March 17. The two are accused of committing a war crime by unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Iranian Rights Violations May Amount To Crimes Against Humanity, UN Expert Says
Iran's authorities have committed violations in recent months that may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN-appointed expert told the Human Rights Council on March 20, citing cases of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. Iran has been swept by protests since the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in custody last September. Addressing the Geneva-based council, Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said he had evidence that Amini died "as a result of beatings by the state morality police." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ukrainian Officials Express Outrage Over Putin's Surprise Visit To City of Mariupol After Crimea2
Don't Call It Mobilization: Across Russia, Military Recruiters Send Out New Orders3
Battle For Bakhmut Grinds On As EU, U.S. Announce Plans To Send Ammunition To Ukraine4
Russia's Wagner Mercenary Group Turns To Pornhub For Ukraine War Recruits5
'What Kind Of Example Is This?': Siberians Balk At Military Honors For Ex-Cons Killed In Ukraine6
Russia Launches More Attacks On Bakhmut, 'Regardless Of Losses,' As U.S. Warns Of 'Tough Fight' Ahead7
Ukrainian Forces Fight Off 'Unlimited' Russian Attacks On The Donetsk Front8
ICC Issues Arrest Warrant For Putin For Alleged War Crimes In Ukraine9
Oscars And Opposition: For Many In Ukraine, Award For Navalny Documentary Is Part Of The Russia Problem10
Slovakia Agrees To Give Ukraine Fleet Of Soviet Warplanes