After 30 Years, Man Who Tried To Kill Pope Freed From Turkish Jail
Agca, now 52 years old, has promised to tell journalists more about the case next week.
During the long years of Agca’s imprisonment, no clear motive for the attack on the Polish-born pontiff has ever emerged.
It was May 13, 1981, when Pope John Paul II appeared on St. Peter’s Square in Rome aboard an open jeep. The vehicle stopped amid the crowd and the white-robed pope picked up a little girl from her parents. He had just handed her back when a hand emerged from the crowd holding a high-powered Browning automatic pistol.
Shots rang out, and the pope slumped sideways into the jeep, with two bullets in his intestines, and a damaged left hand and right arm.
Agca -- then 23 years old, a thin, slightly-built young man with a piercing gaze -- was hindered from further shooting by a brave nun who grabbed him. Unable to escape in the dense crowd, he was soon taken into custody by security staff.
Agca had been involved in far-right organizations and had a history of violent crime, despite his young age. But his motive was unclear, and has remained so for decades.
Agca said at his trial in Italy that he was acting under the operational command of the Bulgarian military attache in Rome, Zilo Vassilev.
Thus he directly implicated the communist world in the attempted assassination of a Polish pontiff who was a symbol of freedom and resistance to Marxism in the whole of Eastern Europe -- especially to his volatile Polish countrymen.
Lech Walesa's Polish Solidarity free trade union was formed only eight months before the papal assassination attempt, and history shows that Moscow was right to fear the contemporary presence of a Polish pope in Rome, as Solidarity and John Paul became the wedge which shattered European communism.
But Agca's links to the Bulgarian secret service, let alone to the Soviet KGB, were never proven, and the trail petered out without anything being established. Other theories arose, including that the West had ordered the killing so that it could blame Moscow.
They were even less substantiated, and when Agca began to make outlandish claims, such as that he was the Messiah, he rapidly lost credibility. Through the long years of jail, his file lay closed.
Agca’s lawyer, Gokay Gultekin, told Reuters in Ankara that there is no need to fear his release.
"He served his sentence,” Gultekin said. “There is no problem with the judicial system. He was in jail for 19 years and 11 months in Italy over the Pope's assassination attempt, and 10 years in Turkey because of the events here. And now he is going to be free. There is no logic in showing any reaction against his freedom."
Agca left the prison compound in a four-car convoy, obscured behind tinted glass windows, although he waved at journalists as he got into one of the vehicles inside the compound.
One of his lawyers said Agca was being taken to a military installation for medical tests to determine whether, as a draft dodger, he should now do military service.
"There is a good possibility the Defense Ministry's health management will approve the new report from the military hospital, and he will not join the army,” the attorney said. “But the opposite may happen, and if they find him healthy, he will join the army."
Whatever Agca eventually purportedly reveals about the mysterious case almost 30 years ago, it is likely to raise more questions than it provides answers.
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Blinken Says Putin's 'Ire And Fire' Attacks On Ukrainian Energy Infrastructure Will Not Divide Allies
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia's recent strategy of targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure will not divide Ukraine's supporters.
Blinken on November 30 told a news conference in Bucharest following a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population, hitting infrastructure that provides heat, water, and electricity to Ukrainians.
"We know President Putin's playbook: Freeze and starve Ukrainians, force them from their homes, drive up energy, food, and other household costs, not only across Europe but around the world, and then try to splinter our coalition," Blinken said.
Russia's recent attacks have left millions of people in the dark and without heating amid sub-zero temperatures. Blinken said his "brutalization of Ukraine's people is barbaric."
Blinken accused Putin of trying to force Ukraine's partners to abandon their support for Ukraine.
"This strategy has not, and will not, work. We will continue to prove him wrong. That's what I heard loudly and clearly from every country here in Bucharest," Blinken added.
The United States and other Western allies pledged more financial support and relevant equipment to boost Kyiv's energy resilience during the foreign ministers' meeting.
In addition, U.S. military planners are working to ensure that the equipment provided thus far to restore Ukraine's energy infrastructure is not destroyed by Russian attacks, Blinken said.
The United States also is trying to establish the best possible defense for Ukraine's energy infrastructure, he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who also attended the meeting in Bucharest, said on Twitter that he and Blinken "focused on urgent assistance to restore Ukraine's energy system and new military aid, including [air defense], to protect it from Russian strikes."
WATCH: After Ukrainian troops retook large parts of the Kherson region from Russian forces, officials began the work of investigating military and civilian deaths and removing mines and booby traps from the area.
Blinken also said NATO is considering the possibility of investing in the production of Soviet-era weapons systems used by the Ukrainian Army.
Ukraine’s NATO allies are considering all options to provide Ukraine with what will be effective, including Soviet-era weapons systems that have been in the Ukrainian arsenal for decades, and ammunition for these systems.
In some cases, this may require the production of equipment that has not been produced for some time, he told CNN.
Blinken's comments came after The New York Times reported last week that NATO member states are discussing the possibility of investing in old factories in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to resume production of ammunition for Ukrainian Soviet-style artillery systems.
NATO foreign ministers also used their meeting in Bucharest to reassure countries in Russia's neighborhood that could be destabilized by Russia as the conflict in Ukraine drags on.
The NATO ministers pledged to provide stronger "individualized support" for Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries that Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said are "facing pressure from Russia" amid Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters and CNN
Four Lion Cubs Saved From War In Ukraine Arrive At U.S. Sanctuary
Four lion cubs that were orphaned during the war in Ukraine have arrived safely at an animal sanctuary in the U.S. state of Minnesota that has pledged to give them a permanent home. The arrival of one male cub and three female cubs on November 29 marked the final step of their journey after they lived through sporadic bombings and drone attacks in Ukraine, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should," said Meredith Whitney, wildlife rescue program manager at the fund. To read the original story from AP, click here.
U.K. Unveils New Sanctions Targeting Russian Officials Over Mobilization
Britain has unveiled a new round of sanctions on Russian officials over the war in Ukraine, targeting those accused of spearheading the recent mobilization and the recruitment of "criminal mercenaries." The new package of 22 sanctions hit Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who London said is responsible for overseeing the country's weapons industry and equipping newly mobilized troops. It also targeted 10 governors and regional heads, including in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kalmykia, noting that “a significant number" of conscripts had been drawn from those regions. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.
German Parliament Labels 1930s Ukraine Famine As Genocide
Germany's parliament has approved a resolution labeling as genocide Ukraine's 1930s "Holodomor," a famine believed to have killed more than 3 million Ukrainians under the repressive rule of Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The resolution was brought to the Bundestag by the three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz's governing coalition and the main opposition bloc. The vote on November 30 took place after a debate attended by Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany. It comes days after Ukrainians marked the 90th anniversary of the start of the famine. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Zelenskiy Invites Elon Musk To Ukraine To See Damage Caused By Russian Forces
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has invited American billionaire Elon Musk to visit Ukraine to see with his own eyes the damage caused by Russian forces, The New York Times reported on November 30. The visit would help Musk understand the situation before making statements about it, Zelenskiy said on a video link at the New York Times DealBook Summit. Zelenskiy said that only after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO sees the damage could he tell Ukraine how to end the war. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.
Germany, Norway Seek NATO-Led Hub For Key Undersea Structures
Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on November 30, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine. "We are in the process of asking the NATO secretary-general to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin. "We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously, and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences," he said.
U.S. 'Deeply Concerned' About American Jailed In Russia And Out Of Touch For Days
The United States is deeply concerned about American Paul Whelan, who is in a Russian jail, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on November 30 after Whelan's family said they had not heard from him for a week.
U.S. diplomats have been trying to get more information about Whelan's condition and his whereabouts, Kirby said.
"As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he's in," Kirby told reporters in a telephone briefing. "That deeply concerns us, and we certainly share the anxiety and the concern of the land and family."
Kirby addressed the issue after Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said the family had become concerned about his whereabouts.
David Whelan said in an e-mail on November 29 that it was unusual that the family did not know the whereabouts of the former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive, who is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies.
The U.S. State Department has said it has been negotiating with Russia on a potential prisoner swap that would involve Whelan and U.S. women's basketball star Brittney Griner, who is serving nine years in Russia after being convicted on drug charges.
The negotiations appear to be stalled as the Russian side has not provided a "serious response" to any of the U.S. proposals on a prisoner swap, a senior U.S. diplomat said on November 28.
The penal colony's staff said Paul Whelan was moved to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.
Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move and had appeared healthy and well to the diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.
“Paul has always mentioned when he's been transferred to the prison hospital," said David Whelan, adding that the transfers usually have occurred without his request or need for medical attention.
“And he spoke to our parents a number of times after the [penal colony] staff say he was moved, at least as recently as November 23, and never mentioned it,” David Whelan said, questioning why his brother has been prohibited from making calls if he is at the prison hospital.
"Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at [prison colony] IK-17 but he's been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?" David Whelan asked.
David Whelan added that it was highly unusual that the family did not hear from him on November 24, the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday.
With reporting by Reuters
Exiled Group Uniting Russia's Non-Russian Ethnic Groups Protest Pope's Comments
The Free Nations League, an exiled group representing some of the dozens of non-Russian ethnic groups inside Russia, has sent a letter to Pope Francis protesting against his recent comments calling Chechens and Buryats "perhaps the cruelest" in Moscow's ongoing war in Ukraine.
In the letter, the Free Nations League calls the statement by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church "humiliating, offensive, and unproven."
In an interview with the Jesuit publication America published on November 28, Francis answered a question about the war in Ukraine by saying: "When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia, but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on. Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state."
The Free Nations League did not demand an apology from the pontiff but instead recommended he become better acquainted with examples of cruelty by "the carriers of the Russian tradition" against Chechens and Buryats, a reference to "war crimes" committed against Chechens during Russian-Chechen wars in the 1990s, the "institutionalized assimilation of Buryats," and their disproportionate mobilization in the war in Ukraine.
The letter also urged Francis to "look at what Russian tradition is doing in Ukraine if examples of faraway Muslims and Buddhists are alien and unclear for you."
"Is it Buryats and Chechens who order the shelling of civilian targets, bomb maternity clinics and hospitals? Is it us who kidnap and forcibly take to Russia hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and conduct deportations within the occupied territories? Look into the eyes of that tradition -- those are Russian eyes," the letter says.
Representatives of Buryat, Chechen, Kalmyk, Tatar, Bashkir, Yakut, Erzya, Moksha, Cossack, and Ingermanland movements signed the letter.
Francis, who has been an outspoken critic of the war, has also been criticized by Russian officials, who reportedly lodged a protest in connection with the statements made in the interview.
The Vatican has not officially commented on the controversy surrounding the pontiff's remarks.
Russia's state-controlled TASS news agency quoted a source in the Vatican as saying that "there was no intention to offend Russia's peoples" and that "the interview's interpretations and translations will be checked."
With reporting by TASS
Iranian Sunni Clerics Release Video Urging End To Deadly Crackdown On Protesters
Sunni clerics of the southern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan have released a video calling on authorities of the Islamic republic to stop a deadly crackdown on protests that has "no justificiation."
The video, released on November 29, shows the signatories of the statement together in a mosque.
According to the statement, the Sunni clerics of the southeastern Iranian cities of Khash, Taftan, and Mirjaveh were united in their stance with regional elders and cultural figures in condemning the repression of "Bloody Friday" in Zahedan and Khash as a sign of "national solidarity."
During the Bloody Friday massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces during protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
At least 96 protesters were reportedly killed in the violence, with more than 300 others injured.
The Sunni clerics announced in their statement that "the killing of people in Zahedan and Khash, and in our beloved Kurdistan, and in other parts of Iran, has no justification and is completely condemned."
Earlier this month, top Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, who is regarded as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters in Zahedan and called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Anger over Mahsa Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread demonstrations represent the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23 at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Lawyer, Family Of Jailed Belarusian Opposition Activist Kalesnikava Denied Hospital Access
Maryya Kalesnikava, a leading opposition activist in Belarus who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in September last year, remains in the hospital after surgery, her father said on November 30.
Alyaksandr Kalesnikau also said he was not allowed to see his daughter due to the "absence of Kalesnikava's request." He is allowed to talk to the medical facility's personnel only in presence of law enforcement officers, who are permanently in the hospital, he said, according to Viktar Babaryka, an excluded presidential aspirant in the 2020 race whose campaign Kalesnikava coordinated.
Doctors told Kalesnikau that his daughter’s condition remains grave but stable. According to unconfirmed information provided by sources close to the medical personnel, Kalesnikava was diagnosed with a ruptured ulcer.
Kalesnikava’s lawyer, Uladzimer Pylchanka, has not been able to see his client either due to "the absence of the convict's request."
Kalesnikava joined forces with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala to form a trio of women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2020.
Kalesnikava, 40, is the only one of the three still in the country but has been imprisoned over her role in the mass protests that lasted for more than two years.
Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after Lukashenka claimed victory in the presidential election that many people in Belarus believe she won, expressed her concerns about the situation faced by her colleague.
"We know that political prisoners in Belarus are being denied proper medical care. It is impossible to imagine what...Kalesnikava has been going through in the punishment cell. Without more information & access to her, we can't be sure she is getting the proper treatment," she tweeted on November 30.
Kalesnikava, and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years respectively on September 6, 2021, after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both had pleaded not guilty and rejected the charges.
Kalesnikava has been in custody since masked men snatched her and two male colleagues from the streets of Minsk on September 7, 2020. The three were driven early the next day to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine.
Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she tore up her passport after they arrived in the no-man’s land between Belarus and Ukraine. Her two associates entered Ukraine but with no valid passport, Kalesnikava remained in the country and was subsequently arrested.
Human rights watchdogs in Belarus have recognized Kalesnikava and two other associates also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called her prosecution a "politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing" on "bogus" charges.
Kalesnikava last year won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor outstanding civil society action in the defense of human rights.
Moldova Not Pursuing NATO Membership But Aims To Strengthen Cooperation With Alliance
Moldova is not aiming to become a member of NATO, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said on November 30, pointing out that its neutrality is enshrined in the country's constitution.
But Popescu, speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Romania's capital, Bucharest, added that Moldova's neutrality does not entail self-isolation, demilitarization, or indifference toward world affairs.
NATO ministers pledged during the two-day meeting to provide stronger "individualized support" for Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries that Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said are "facing pressure from Russia" amid Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has received hundreds of thousands of refugees in the wake of Russia's unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine and has also been affected by power shortages and blackouts caused by Moscow's strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
Popescu mentioned that Moldova's air space had been violated by Russian missiles targeting Ukraine and that a Russian missile even fell on Moldovan territory.
"We live in a difficult region, impacted by Russia's brutal aggression against Ukraine, a fact that has dramatic consequences for our country," Popescu said.
Moldova, wedged between Ukraine and NATO member Romania, last week warned its people to brace for a harsh winter as it was facing an "acute" energy crisis that risked stoking popular discontent.
Stoltenberg told a news conference at the end of the ministerial gathering that the alliance will step up its support for the three countries, without providing details on what shape that support would take.
"If there is one lesson from Ukraine it is that we need to support them now," Stoltenberg told a news conference.
"They are affected from Russian influence in different ways, but better to support them now rather than see developments that go absolutely in the wrong direction as we saw with the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year."
Fears of a spillover from the Ukraine conflict have persisted since the Russian invasion amid concerns that Moscow could attempt to create a land corridor through southern Ukraine to Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester.
Russia maintains some 1,500 soldiers in Transdniester who are said to be guarding a huge Soviet-era arms depot.
Besides the troops ostensibly guarding the depot, Russia has another 400-500 soldiers in Transdniester that have been labeled as peacekeepers since the end of a 1992 war between Moldova and Transdniester that ended in a tense cease-fire enforced by Russian troops.
With reporting by Reuters
Explosion Hits Ukrainian Embassy In Madrid, One Person Injured
One employee has been injured by a blast at the building of the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid. Oleh Nykolenko, the embassy's representative, said on Facebook on November 30 that an envelope delivered by post exploded when it was being examined by the building's superintendent, who sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has asked his Spanish counterpart to thoroughly investigate the situation and urged Ukrainian embassies abroad to boost security measures.
Arash Sadeghi's Family Calls On Other Countries To Pressure Iran Authorities To Release The Activist
Hossein Sadeghi, the father of imprisoned Iranian activist Arash Sadeghi, has again warned about his son's deteriorating state of health and called on countries around the world to press Tehran to release him.
Arash Sadeghi, who has been imprisoned several times, is suffering from bone cancer and his father says the prison authorities have prevented him from accessing medicine and treatment.
Sadeghi was arrested on October 12 during protests that are rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing her head scarf, or hijab.
Sadeghi's father has expressed concern several times about his son’s condition. In response, a campaign has been launched on social media in support of the activist. His name has been used more than 1.5 million times on Twitter since the beginning of November.
The activist has already undergone surgery due to chondrosarcoma cancer, and according to human rights groups, and the doctors who treated him say he should have been sent to the hospital every four months after surgery to undergo treatment courses.
Sadeghi was a student at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran where he was expelled by the authorities due to his political activities.
In 2013 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of propaganda against the government, defamation of the supreme leader, and threatening national security.
He has gone on hunger strike several times, including in 2016 to protest the arrest of his wife, who was detained on a charge of writing fiction that has not yet been published.
Sadeghi, who was diagnosed with cancer during his previous imprisonment, was released from prison a year and a half ago after enduring more than five years behind bars.
Many high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent days because of the protests, including Fatemeh Sepehri and Majid Tavakoli.
At least 116 journalists and columnists are among those arrested, according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
They include Yalda Moayeri, Arash Ganji, and Niloufar Hamedi, who reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini died on September 16.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Toqaev, Macron 'Did Not Discuss' Exiled Opposition Politician Ablyazov
ASTANA -- Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vasilenko has rejected a report by Le Figaro newspaper, saying that the issue of fugitive Kazakh oligarch and opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov was not discussed at a meeting between President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
Ablyazov, an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government who received political asylum in France several years ago, is wanted in Kazakhstan and Russia on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion. Ablyazov rejects the charge as politically motivated.
Vasilenko said on November 30 that Macron and Toqaev discussed "political, trade, and economic cooperation and education ties" when they met the day before in the French capital.
"As for Ablyazov, the issue related to him is an extraordinary issue related to law enforcement and the court system not only in Kazakhstan, but also in Europe and the United States. Those sorts of issues cannot be discussed on a political level," Vasilenko said.
Le Figaro had reported prior to the meeting that Ablyazov would most likely be discussed at the meeting.
Vasilenko added that trials related to Ablyazov will be held soon in the United States, Britain, and France with the participation of Kazakhstan's Justice Ministry, the Almaty mayor's office, and BTA bank.
Ablyazov, a 59-year-old fugitive tycoon, established the opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and regularly organizes unsanctioned anti-government rallies across Kazakhstan via the Internet.
DVK was labelled "extremist" and banned in Kazakhstan in March 2018.
Dozens of Kazakh activists have been jailed in Kazakhstan in recent years for their involvement in DVK activities, including taking part in the DVK-organized rallies.
Human rights groups have said Kazakhstan's law on public gatherings contradicts international standards, as it requires official permission in advance to hold rallies and envisions prosecution for organizing and participating in unsanctioned rallies even though the nation’s constitution guarantees its citizens the right of free assembly.
Latvia Says Ukraine Should Be Free To Strike Targets Inside Russia
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics says Ukraine should be allowed to strike military sites inside Russia as it fends off attacks on its critical infrastructure. "We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or airfields from where those operations are being launched," Rinkevics said on November 29 in an interview while attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest. NATO allies, including the United States, have held back on sending weapons that can strike Russia. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.
Ukraine's Odesa To Remove Monument To Russian Empress Catherine
Lawmakers in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa have decided to remove a monument of 18th-century Russian Empress Catherine the Great, often referred to as "the founder of Odesa," from the city center amid Moscow's ongoing invasion. The Odesa city council also voted on November 30 to remove a monument of 18th-century Russian military commander Aleksandr Suvorov from downtown Odesa. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
EU Executive Recommends Blocking Billions Of Euros In Funds To Hungary
The European Commission has proposed that billions of euros of European Union funds allocated to Hungary remain blocked over the failure of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to implement credible rule-of-law and anti-corruption reforms.
The commission said in September that the EU should freeze around 7.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) in regular funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
Budapest agreed on 17 anti-corruption measures, including the creation of an anti-corruption task force and changes to its public-procurement rules, but the commission believes it has not done enough to fix the problems.
"The commission finds that, notwithstanding steps taken, there is still a continued risk to the EU budget given that the remedial measures that still need to be fulfilled are of a structural and horizontal nature," the executive arm of the 27-member bloc said in a statement on November 30.
The money can be frozen under a recently adopted conditionality mechanism that permits the bloc to take measures to protect its budget.
The European Council, which represents the member states, has until December 19 to make a decision based on the commission's proposal.
"We are today giving our positive assessment to Hungary's comprehensive recovery and recovery plan. Regarding the rule of law, Hungary has committed to significant reforms. Only once these reforms are implemented in full will access to the EU's recovery fund be unlocked," European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference in Brussels.
Hungary's right-wing populist government has antagonized EU officials with its repeated criticism of the EU sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Orban, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, continues to block crucial EU decisions such as the disbursement of 18 billion euros of financial aid to Ukraine and a global tax deal.
With reporting by Reuters
Mirziyoev, Japarov Sign Laws On Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border, Disputed Water Reservoir
The Uzbek and Kyrgyz presidents have signed into law several documents on the delimitation of their border, including an agreement to jointly managing the Kempir-Abad water reservoir, a hot-button issue between the two Central Asian nations.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev on November 30 put his signature on the documents after his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadyr Japarov, had done the same.
The signatures were the final step in the process after lawmakers from the two Central Asian nations approved the documents earlier this month.
The Kempir-Abad reservoir, known in Uzbekistan as the Andijon reservoir, was built in 1983. It is located in the fertile Ferghana Valley and is a vital regional water source. Uzbekistan, whose population of 35 million is five times larger than that of Kyrgyzstan, uses most of the water from the area.
Many Kyrgyz civil activists, opposition politicians, and residents living close to the dam have opposed the deal, saying Uzbekistan should continue to be allowed to use the water, but the reservoir's land should remain within Kyrgyzstan.
Last month, more than 20 members of a group called the Kempir-Abad Defense Committee were arrested in Bishkek and detained for two months after they openly challenged the deal. They were charged with planning riots over the border deal, which is more than three decades in the making.
The former Kyrgyz ambassador to Malaysia, Azimbek Beknazarov, former lawmaker Asia Sasykbaeva, well-known politicians Kanat Isaev, Jenis Moldokmatov, and Ravshan Jeenbekov, and other noted public figures and human rights activists are among the committee members jailed.
Japarov and his allies claim the deal benefits Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyz farmers will still have access to the reservoir.
The two countries share a border more than 1,300 kilometers long.
Crimean Tatar Activist Gets 17 Years In Prison in Russia On Terrorism Charges
A court in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Marlen Mustafayev to 17 years in prison on terrorism charges.
The Crimean Solidarity public group said the Southern Military District Court sentenced Mustafayev on November 30, with the first three years of his term to be spent in a prison cell and the remainder in a correctional colony. The court added that after his release, Mustafayev will remain under parole-like control for 18 months.
Mustafayev is known for actively supporting political prisoners and assisting their families. He was arrested, along with three other Crimean Tatar activists, in Russian-occupied Crimea in February after their homes were searched.
They all were accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group that is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization but is legal in Ukraine.
All three say they are practicing Muslims and members of a group that is legal.
Since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges that rights organizations have called trumped-up.
In September, the de facto Supreme Court of Crimea sentenced a leader of the Crimean Tatar community, Nariman Dzhelyal, to 17 years in prison on a sabotage charge that he and his supporters call politically motivated.
Moscow's takeover of the peninsula was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.
Exiled from their homeland to Central Asia by Soviet authorities under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.
Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries.
Russian, Chinese Bombers Fly Joint Patrols Over Pacific
Russian and Chinese strategic bombers on November 30 flew a joint patrol over the western Pacific in a show of increasingly close defense ties between the two countries. The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Tu-95 bombers of the Russian Air Force and the Chinese H-6K bombers flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea during an eight-hour mission. As part of the drills, the Russian bombers for the first time landed in China and the Chinese bombers flew to an air base in Russia, the ministry said. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Russian Anti-Putin Shaman's Appeal Against Extention Of Forced Psychiatric Care Denied
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- The Primorye regional court in Russia's Far East has rejected an appeal filed against the extension of forced psychiatric treatment filed by a Yakut shaman who became known across Russia for his attempts to march to Moscow to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.
Aleksandr Gabyshev's lawyer, Aleksei Pryanishnikov, said that Judge Marina Sazhneva pronounced the ruling on November 30. Pryanishnikov added that his client's right to confidentiality was violated during the hearing, as the psychiatric clinic's nurse was always present with a rope in his hands when the lawyer talked to Gabyshev.
The decision to prolong Gabyshev's forced treatment in a psychiatric clinic was made by a lower court in October after the Primorye regional court had ruled in favor of Gabyshev's appeal against the extension of his forced treatment.
That court sent the case back to the Ussuriisk district court for a new hearing, citing inconsistences in medical conclusions regarding the case.
In early August, the Ussuriisk district court ruled that Gabyshev must continue being treated in a psychiatric clinic even though a team of psychiatrists had concluded that he could be transferred from a psychiatric clinic to a regular hospital because his "condition had improved."
However, several days later, a new medical commission concluded that the shaman's mental health "had worsened" and he must be transferred back to a psychiatric clinic.
Gabyshev, who has been stopped several times by the Russian authorities since 2019 when he tried to march from his native Siberian region of Yakutia to Moscow with the stated goal of driving Putin out of office, was sent to a psychiatric clinic against his will in July last year after a court found him "mentally unfit."
During the hearing, the court accused him of committing a "violent act against a police officer" when he was being forcibly removed from his home to be taken to a psychiatric clinic in late January.
The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev's lawyers and supporters, who say his detention is an attempt to silence dissent.
The Memorial Human Rights Center in Russia has recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner and Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling for his release.
Von Der Leyen Proposes Plan To Confiscate Frozen Russian Assets, Russian War Crimes Tribunal
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has proposed a plan to confiscate Russian assets that have been frozen in the wake of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and set up a Russian war crimes tribunal.
"We have blocked 300 billion euros ($310 billion) of the Russian Central Bank reserves and we have frozen 19 billion euros ($19.6 billion) of Russian oligarchs' money," commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
She said that the EU and its partners could manage the funds and invest them in the short term, with the proceeds going to Ukraine in order to compensate for damages caused by the Russian invasion.
"We will work on an international agreement with our partners to make this possible. And together, we can find legal ways to get to it," she said.
Von der Leyen also said that the EU was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, "to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression."
"Russia's horrific crimes will not go unpunished," she said.
Sweden, Finland, And Turkey 'Make Progress' On NATO Membership
Sweden and Finland have made good progress toward an agreement with Turkey on the Nordic countries' admission to NATO, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said. "We had a very good bilateral yesterday between Sweden, Finland, and Turkey and I felt after this meeting that there is progress. We are moving forward," Billstrom told reporters on arrival for the second day of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest on November 30. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
NATO Ministers Focus On Russia Regional Destabilization Concerns
NATO foreign ministers will on November 30 seek to reassure fragile countries in Russia's neighborhood that they fear could be destabilized by Russia as the conflict in Ukraine drags on, squeezing energy supplies and pushing up prices. Speaking on November 29, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-member alliance would hold talks with Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries "facing pressure from Russia." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukrainian Forces Stave Off Multiple Attacks Amid Relentless Russian Shelling Of Energy Targets
Ukrainian forces have repelled more Russian military attacks in the east as Moscow pounded civilian settlements in central and southern Ukraine, targeting energy infrastructure, the military and regional officials said as millions of people faced power and heating shortages at the onset of winter.
Five people were killed In the eastern Donetsk region in shelling over the past day, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on November 30.
In the central Zaporizhzhya region, Russian rockets hit a gas distribution point, according to regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh.
"In one of the settlements of the Zaporizhzhya district, a gas distribution point was damaged as a result of a missile, resulting in a fire. It was quickly liquidated, but three streets remained without gas," Starukh wrote on Telegram.
No one was injured in the attack, he wrote.
Russia has launched numerous waves of attacks on Ukraine's electricity and heating infrastructure since October, an act that Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians and amounts to a war crime.
In Kyiv and its surroundings, millions of people struggled to heat their homes amid dropping temperatures and snowing.
A power company official wrote on Facebook that 985,500 people in Kyiv were without power, and another electricity provider said the city would have emergency power cuts on November 30.
A glimmer of hope was offered early on November 30 by Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, who said the stability of electricity supply was "improving every day" as technicians work around the clock to repair the damage. But Halushchenko warned that further attacks could cause additional damage.
On the front line, the Ukrainian General Staff said on November 30 its forces had repelled six Russian attacks in the past 24 hours in Donetsk and the adjacent Luhansk region.
The military said Russian troops continue to attack in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions employing tank and artillery fire. Russian air strikes were carried out near Avdiyivka, it added.
Meanwhile, Russian forces relentlessly shelled the right bank of the Dnieper River and Kherson city further south.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that Ukrainians were defending against attempted Russian advances in multiple regions, as NATO allies promised more arms for Ukraine and equipment to help restore power supplies cut by Russian strikes.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriot missile-defense systems, calling the 30-member alliance a "criminal entity" for delivering arms to what he called "Ukrainian fanatics."
WATCH: Ukrainian artillery crews make regular use of the Western-supplied M777 howitzer and say it has had a major impact against Russian forces.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, speaking in Romania, where foreign ministers from the alliance are holding a two-day gathering, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "trying to use winter as a weapon of war" as Moscow's forces lose ground on the battlefield.
U.S. and European officials said NATO ministers would focus on providing nonlethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies, and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance, while Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power-grid equipment.
U.S. President Joe Biden said providing more military aid for Kyiv was a priority, but Republicans, who take control of the House of Representatives in January, have talked about pausing the funding, which has surpassed $18 billion.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
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