Accessibility links

Breaking News

News

Obama Begins Mideast Tour With Saudi Visit

A worker prepares the inside of Cairo's 14th-century Sultan Hassan Mosque, which U.S. President Barack Obama will visit on the Egyptian leg of his trip on June 4.
(RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Saudi Arabia for the first leg of his maiden tour of the Middle East, a visit aimed at improving relations between the United States and the Islamic world.

After arriving in Riyadh, Obama travelled to King Abdullah's farm where the two were to hold talks expected to cover the Arab-Israeli conflict, U.S. overtures to Iran, and oil. Obama will continue his visit with a keynote speech in Cairo, Egypt.

"What I want to do," Obama told Britain's ITV shortly before leaving Washington, "is create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States, but also the West, thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy, to discuss the framework for what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and our outreach to Iran and also how we view the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Officials in the U.S. administration say Obama plans to seek King Abdullah's support on issues like the nuclear standoff with Iran, reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and global oil prices.

Obama also is expected to seek Saudi Arabia's help to counter the spread of Taliban militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Riyadh's Influence

Many experts say Saudi Arabia -- a Sunni Arab powerhouse -- could be crucial in mediating some form of reconciliation with the Islamic extremists who have caused havoc in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They say Saudi Arabia also could help cut off large sums of money that flow to militants from wealthy Saudi donors and Islamic charities.

The Saudis insist they are doing all they can to reduce terrorist financing. Experts say Saudi Arabia could do more, but they say the Saudis are wary of angering religious conservatives in the country who are key government supporters.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly asked Saudi Arabia to mediate between his government and the Taliban.

But Ali Awadh Asseri, a former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, says the kingdom is reluctant to take an overt role as a mediator unless both sides are clearly ready to make peace.

King Abdullah held a secret meeting with Afghan officials and former Taliban government members in Mecca in September to explore the possibility of mediating reconciliation talks.

Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban deputy higher education minister who attended those talks, claims that Saudi Arabia has contact with Taliban leaders -- including Mullah Mohammad Omar. Rahmani says that if Saudi Arabia cannot convince the Taliban to negotiate, nobody can.

Ambitious Agenda

Washington also hopes Saudi Arabia will play a moderating role in OPEC and counter attempts by countries like Iran to raise oil prices. There are fears that oil price hikes could threaten prospects of an imminent global economic recovery.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have an over 70-year-old relationship based on guaranteeing oil supplies in return for U.S. protection for the Saudi monarchy.

For its part, Saudi Arabia wants Obama to get tough with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has balked at Palestinian statehood and rebuffed U.S. calls to halt the construction and expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Steven Cook, of the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations, says he thinks Obama's administration is interested in a peace plan proposed in April 2002 by Saudi Arabia.

That initiative calls for full normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel, a complete withdrawal of Israel forces from occupied Arab land, the creation of a Palestinian state and an "equitable" solution for Palestinian refugees.
The Islamic World
There is no exact figure for the number of Muslims worldwide, but most estimates put it at about 1.5 billion.

Indonesia has the world's biggest Muslim population with around 195 million people. Other countries with large Muslim populations include Pakistan (160 million), India (140 million), Bangladesh (125 million), Turkey (72 million), Iran (69 million), Egypt (68 million), Nigeria (70 million) and China (20 million).

The worldwide Muslim community is known as the ummah. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents 57 states, says it is the collective voice of the Muslim world.

Although Islam is often associated with the Arab world and the Middle East, by some estimates, fewer than 15 percent of Muslims are Arab.

Muslims predominate in 30 to 40 countries, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and along a belt that stretches across North Africa into Central Asia and south to the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent.

Countries with almost entirely Muslim populations (99.5 percent or more) include Bahrain, Comoros, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

(Reuters)


In fact, some analysts see the 2002 plan as a way to broaden Middle East diplomacy and bypass the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian track.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has been pushing a so-called "57-state" solution that would grant Israel sweeping diplomatic recognition across the Islamic world in return for making peace with the Palestinians.

But so far, it seems unlikely that many Arab states will grant early concessions to Israel without some moderation of Netanyahu's refusal to halt Jewish settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.

Trouble Spots

The Saudis also would like to see greater pressure on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. The West fears that nuclear program is aimed at building atomic weapons. But Tehran says the program is only for generating nuclear energy.

Saudi rulers think the virtual collapse of the Middle East peace process in recent years has given Iran opportunities to expand its regional influence through Sunni Islamist groups like the Palestinian Hamas, as well as its traditional Shi'ite Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.

Mohammad al-Qahtani, a political analyst in Riyadh, says Obama is in a position to help foster democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia as well as to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.

"I guess leaders in this part of the world listen to the American president, and I guess he could instigate them, push them toward more reform, loosen up their clench on authority and power," al-Qahtani says. "And he could just enfranchise the people. And also, he could help in resolving the Arab-Israel conflict which is draining the economies of the region."

On the eve of Obama's trip, a high-ranking Al-Qaeda leader -- Ayman al-Zawahiri -- released an audio recording in which he called upon Egyptians to shun Obama.

Independent analysts say the message suggests Al-Qaeda is deeply concerned about Obama's unique position among U.S. leaders to improve relations with the Islamic world. As the son of an African Muslim father, Obama spent part of his childhood in majority-Muslim Indonesia.

with additional Reuters and wire reporting

All Of The Latest News

Ukraine Applies For Accelerated Accession To NATO

Commenting on Putin's statements about occupied or partially occupied regions of Ukraine "joining Russia," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia is "trying to steal what does not belong to it."

Ukraine has submitted an application for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address on September 30.

The announcement came after meetings of Ukraine's top military and security councils and after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees to formally seize four Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Moscow.

Commenting on Putin's statements about occupied or partially occupied regions of Ukraine "joining Russia," Zelenskiy said Russia is "trying to steal what does not belong to it."

"We have a solution. First, only the path of strengthening Ukraine and expelling the occupiers from our entire territory will restore peace. We will go this way," he said.

Updated

Huge Explosions Preceded Nord Stream Pipeline Leaks In Baltic Sea, Sweden, Denmark Tell UN

A gas leak from Nord Stream 1 is seen in the Swedish economic zone of the Baltic Sea on September 28.

The explosions that rocked the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea ahead of huge gas leaks "probably corresponded to an explosive load of several hundred kilos," Denmark and Sweden wrote on September 30 in a letter to the United Nations.

The blasts measured 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, resulting in four leaks and the venting of gas into the sea. Two of the leaks are in Danish territory; the other two are in Swedish territory.

In the letter to the UN Security Council, the two countries noted that the gas plumes being vented are disrupting air and sea vessels and could be dangerous to marine life. Additionally, greenhouse gas is being released into the environment. The leaks could continue through at least October 2.

Norwegian researchers on September 30 published a map projecting a huge plume of methane released by the damaged Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Moscow has requested an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council to discuss the explosions and called for a thorough international probe to assess the damage to the pipelines, which carry natural gas from Russia to Europe.

Russia cut natural gas supplies to Europe after Western sanctions were imposed over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February. Though pipelines were not operating at the time of the blasts, they still contained natural gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 30 accused the West of orchestrating the blasts.

"By organizing explosions on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines that run along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, they actually started destroying European energy infrastructure," Putin said during a televised speech at a Kremlin ceremony at which he signed decrees that the Kremlin calls "accession treaties" to formally seize four Ukrainian territories.

Washington has denied involvement in the incident.

The European Union and NATO have said the leaks are the result of sabotage but have stopped short of pointing fingers.

However, Ukraine and Poland have accused Russia of being behind the ruptures.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Russians 'Anxious, Scared, Horrified' By Mobilization, Latest Poll Says

A Russian serviceman addresses reservists at a gathering point during an ongoing partial mobilization of troops, which was announced on September 21.

A new Russian opinion poll shows that President Vladimir Putin's popularity has plunged and Russians feel "anxious, scared, horrified" after a partial military mobilization was announced last week.

The Levada Center said in a survey released on September 29 that the number of Russians thinking that what the Kremlin calls a "special military operation in Ukraine" is going "according to the plan" decreased from 73 percent in May to 53 percent in September.

Some 1,631 respondents from Russia's 50 regions took part in the poll.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

A total of 47 percent of the respondents said they were anxious, scared, or horrified by the government's decision to decree the partial mobilization, while 23 percent said they were shocked by the move.

Another 13 percent said they are angry and exasperated by the mobilization. Some 23 percent said they feel proud of Russia.

A total of 66 percent said they expected that the partial mobilization will be followed by a full mobilization. At the beginning of Russia's invasion in late February, 28 percent of Russians said they expected a nationwide mobilization.

Almost one-third (31 percent) of Russians see the special military operation in Ukraine as unsuccessful.

The number of those who support the Russian armed forces decreased from 76 percent in August to 72 percent in September, while the percentage of those who do not support the war increased from 17 percent in August to 21 percent in September.

The majority of those who support the war in Ukraine -- 81 percent -- are men and women older than 55.

Putin's approval rate also went down from 83 percent in May-August to 77 percent in September, while the number of those who do not support his actions increased from 15 percent in August to 21 percent in September.

The mobilization announced by Putin last week has been met with countrywide protests and a mass exodus of men potentially eligible for military duty from Russia.

Police have detained protesters in Russian towns and cities who challenged the mobilization, while several military enlistment centers and other administrative buildings in the country have been targeted in arson attacks in recent days.

Iran 'Ruthlessly' Suppressing Protests, Amnesty Says

A woman holds up her headscarf as part of a protest in Tehran on September 27 against the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Iran is intentionally using lethal force to crack down on protests that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, Amnesty International said September 30, calling for international action to prevent the killing or detention of even more people.

The London-based rights group's warning came as another group, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights, said 83 people, including children, had been killed in two weeks of protests that started over Amini's death following her arrest by morality police, as Iran pressed ahead with more detentions of prominent figures.

"The Iranian authorities have mobilized their well-honed machinery of repression to ruthlessly crack down on nationwide protests in an attempt to thwart any challenge to their power," Amnesty said.

"Without concerted collective action by the international community that goes beyond statements of condemnation, countless more people risk being killed, maimed, tortured, sexually assaulted, and thrown behind bars."

It said its review of photos and videos showed "most victims were killed by security forces firing live ammunition."

Amnesty said it had obtained a leaked official document issued to the commanders of armed forces in all provinces on September 21 instructing them to "severely confront" protesters labeled “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries."

Another leaked document showed that on September 23, the commander of the security forces in Mazandaran Province, where some of the deadliest clashes have occurred, ordered security forces to "confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-revolutionaries."

Amnesty's warning comes as Iran presses ahead with an intensifying crackdown that has seen the arrest of many journalists, activists, and other prominent figures.

Iranian Protests Appear To Wane Amid Crackdown, Internet Restrictions
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:15 0:00

Former Iranian international footballer Hossein Manahi was arrested on September 30 for backing the protests on his social media accounts, the state run IRNA news agency said.

Security forces also arrested singer Shervin Hajipur, whose song "Baraye" ("For") made up of tweets about the protests went viral on Instagram, according to Persian-language media based abroad.

His song, which racked up millions of views on Instagram and prompted many to comment that it moved them to tears, has now been removed from his account.

At least 29 journalists were also arrested since the start of the wave of repression, according to the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Among them are two female reporters, Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who helped expose the case of Amini to the world by reporting respectively from her hospital and her funeral.

With reporting by AFP

Ukraine Missile Attack Kills Another Russian-Appointed Official In Occupied Kherson

Alexei Katerinichev was killed in a missile strike, Russian-imposed authorities in Kherson said.

Another Russian-appointed official has been killed in Ukraine's Kherson region.

Russian-imposed authorities in Ukraine's Kherson region said on September 30 that the Moscow-appointed deputy governor of the partially occupied region, Aleksei Katerinichev, was killed in a Ukrainian missile strike.

Five days earlier, state media outlets in Russia reported that former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Zhuravko, who joined the Russian side after Moscow troops took some parts of the Kherson region in March, was killed in a Ukrainian missile attack in the regional capital, which is also called Kherson.

Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February, there have been several attacks conducted against Russia-appointed officials in territories occupied by Moscow.

With reporting by RIA Novosti
Updated

Putin Signs Decrees Seizing Parts Of Ukraine As He Lashes Out At West

Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at the use of nuclear weapons to defend the four regions his forces are trying to hold, saying Russia would defend them "by all the means we possess."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed decrees to formally seize four Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Moscow as he escalates his failing seven-month invasion.

At a lavish ceremony on September 30 in the opulent white-and-gold St. George's Hall in Moscow, Putin signed the decrees -- which the Kremlin calls "accession treaties"-- to incorporate the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions as hundreds of members of the nation's elite applauded.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson are now becoming citizens of Russia," Putin said, claiming they had "made a choice" in referendums widely seen as having been conducted at the barrel of a gun.

Several European countries, including Sweden, Poland, Germany, and Britain, joined the United States in immediately condemning the move as illegal.

U.S. President Joe Biden called it a "fraudulent attempt" to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory, which he said was a flagrant violation of international law. He said in a statement that new U.S. sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive.

"Make no mistake: These actions have no legitimacy. The United States will always honor Ukraine's internationally recognized borders," Biden said.

During a 30-minute speech that preceded the signing and was filled with grievances toward the West, Putin hinted at the use of nuclear weapons to defend the four regions his forces are trying to hold, saying Russia would defend them "by all the means we possess."

The ceremony comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.

Putin rushed to carry out the so-called referendums and the signing of the "accession treaties" amid a successful counteroffensive by Ukraine that has pushed Moscow's forces back and raised the specter of a Russian defeat.

As Putin signed the documents, Ukrainian forces were on the verge of another major victory in the Donbas.

By seizing the regions, Putin is seeking to justify not only the use of weapons of mass destruction but also his recent mobilization of citizens on the grounds to defend Russian "territory," experts say.

Putin’s September 21 decision to call up 300,000 reservists has sparked protests across the country.

During his speech, Putin called on Ukraine to lay down its arms, falsely accusing Kyiv of starting the war in the eastern provinces in 2014, one of the many historical inaccuracies he voiced.

The Kremlin instigated the war in the Donbas when it backed separatists and sent in irregular forces following the ouster of Kremlin-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February of that year.

Putin claimed he was "ready" for peace talks but said the annexation of the four regions would not be on the table, a proposition unacceptable to Ukraine and akin to escalation.

The four regions together with Crimea make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose forces in recent weeks have launched a successful counteroffensive that has clawed back some territory, promised a strong response to the move and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting.

He announced afterward that Ukraine has applied for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure.

He said Putin's statements about occupied or partially occupied regions of Ukraine "joining Russia" are an attempt to steal what does not belong to Russia.

Zelenskiy said earlier on the Telegram messaging app that he and the military chiefs discussed supplies of weapons for the country's armed forces, as well as Russia's possible further plans following its invasion of Ukraine.

Prior to the ceremony, the United Nations and Western leaders denounced Russia's plans to annex the four regions.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss criticized Putin for showing "clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent."

"The U.K. will never ignore the sovereign will of those people and we will never accept the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya as anything other than Ukrainian territory," she said on September 30.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the referendums held in the four Ukrainian territories and their imminent seizure by Russia.

"We will not accept these alleged results. We will not accept these border shifts," said Steinmeier at a medal ceremony to mark German Unity Day in Berlin on September 30.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Jailed Political Activist In Kazakhstan Gets Additional Seven Years In Prison

Erzhan Elshibayev (right) in court earlier this month

QYZYLORDA, Kazakhstan -- Jailed Kazakh activist Erzhan Elshibaev, recognized by rights groups as a political prisoner, has been handed an additional seven years in prison for "violating the penitentiary’s internal regulations and calls for disobedience to prison guards."

Elshibaev said the September 29 ruling by a court in the southern city of Qyzylorda was "lawless."

Elshibaev was expected to be released in October next year. He was initially sentenced to five years in prison in 2018 after a court in his native cityof Zhanaozen in the country's southwest found him guilty of hooliganism.

Elshibaev and his supporters have rejected the charges, saying they were politically motivated and aimed at ensuring he wouldn't lead any protests in the restive town.

Elshibaev was one of the leaders of several protest rallies in Zhanaozen in 2018 during which residents in the oil town demanded jobs.

Kazakh authorities have been very sensitive to any dissent or protests in the volatile city, where police fatally shot at least 16 people while repressing protests by oil workers in December 2011.

In January this year, a rally in Zhanaozen against abrupt fuel price hikes led to unprecedented anti-government protests across the nation that ended with violent dispersals in which at least 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers were killed.

The European Parliament has urged Kazakh authorities to release Elshibaev and other political prisoners.

Kazakhstan’s government has denied that there are political prisoners in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Women's Rights Group Urges FIFA To Expel Iran From World Cup

The Open Stadiums group has campaigned over the last decade for women to be allowed to attend football matches in Iran, but with only limited success. (file photo)

Rights group Open Stadiums have called on world football's governing body to kick Iran out of the World Cup finals in Qatar in November because of the Islamic Republic's discrimination against women.

In an open letter sent to FIFA President Gianni Infantino on September 29, the group said Iranian authorities continued to refuse to allow female fans access to games inside the country.

"The Iranian FA is not only an accomplice of the crimes of the regime. It is a direct threat to the security of female fans in Iran and wherever our national team plays in the world. Football should be a safe space for us all," the letter said.

"Therefore, we ask FIFA, based on Articles 3 and 4 of its statutes, to immediately expel Iran from the World Cup 2022 in Qatar."

The articles mentioned refer to issues of human rights and nondiscrimination based on gender, race, religion and other matters, with breaches punishable by suspension or expulsion from the global body.

Open Stadiums has campaigned over the last decade for women to be allowed to attend football matches in Iran, but with only limited success.

The call comes as protests continued in several cities across Iran against the death of young woman in police custody, state and social media reported, as a human rights group said at least 83 people had been killed in nearly two weeks of demonstrations.

Iran is due to attend its sixth World Cup finals in Qatar and has been drawn to face England, Wales, and the United States in the group stage.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Ukraine Says Russian Strike Kills At Least 25, Wounds 50 In Zaporizhzhya

The attack occurred as people were waiting in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory, so they could bring family members back across the front lines, according to Ukrainian officials.

At least 25 people have been killed and 50 wounded in a Russian missile attack that hit a convoy of civilian vehicles near the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya on September 30, Ukraine's prosecutor-general said, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of terrorism.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Zaporizhzhya is one of the four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Moscow that the Kremlin is due to seize officially in a ceremony on September 30 after a referendum rejected as a sham by the Ukraine, the United States and the United Nations.

"Only complete terrorists could do this," Zelenskiy said in reaction to the strike. "Bloodthirsty scum! You will definitely answer," he added.

"The enemy launched rockets on a civilian convoy leaving the city center" said Zaporizhzhya Governor Oleksandr Starukh.

"Rescuers, medics -- all relevant services are currently working at the site," he added.

The attack occurred as people were waiting in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory, so they could bring family members back across the front lines, said the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

But the Kremlin-backed regional chief Vladimir Rogov blamed the attack on Ukrainian forces, accusing them of carrying out a "terrorist act."

"The regime in Kyiv is trying to portray what happened as shelling by Russian troops, resorting to a heinous provocation," he said on social media.

Ukraine's air force said Mykolayiv and the Black Sea port city of Odesa were also targeted again with Iranian-supplied suicide drones that Russia has increasingly deployed in recent weeks, seemingly to avoid losing more pilots who don't have control of Ukraine's skies.

In Mykolayiv, a Russian missile struck a high rise building and wounded eight people, said the regional head, Vitaliy Kim.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-backed head of the separatist administration in the eastern Donetsk region said on September 30 that the Russian stronghold of Lyman, in the region's north, was "semi-encircled" by the Ukrainian Army and that news from the front was "alarming."

In a message posted on Telegram, Denis Pushilin, the administrator of the self-proclaimed separatist entity in Donetsk, said the villages of Yampil and Drobysheve near Lyman "are no longer fully controlled by us."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Six Russian Diplomats Expelled From Montenegro Amid Espionage Probe

The Russian Embassy in Podgorica said that its consular department had been "suspended indefinitely" in reaction to the expulsions. (file photo)

Montenegro on September 29 ordered the expulsion of six Russian diplomats who worked for the Russian Embassy in Podgorica amid an investigation into alleged spying.

The six were declared personae non gratae due to "activities that are contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," the Foreign Ministry tweeted.

Moscow retaliated by closing its consulate in Montenegro "indefinitely," Russia's Embassy said in a statement.

The embassy said in a statement that due to "hostile actions by Montenegrin authorities toward the Russian embassy in Montenegro," the work of the consular department in Podgorica has been "suspended indefinitely."

Authorities earlier searched several homes and other locations as part of an investigation into suspected espionage, state prosecutors said.

At the request of the special prosecutor’s office for the criminal offense of espionage, searches were conducted at several locations in Podgorica, a spokesman for the special prosecutor, Vukas Radonjic, told RFE/RL on September 29.

Individuals are suspected of "creating a criminal organization and espionage," Radonjic said, adding that there were no arrests.

Local media reported that police detained six Russian diplomats and up to 30 Russian citizens with temporary residency permits, alongside two Montenegrin citizens, on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence.

Outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said the operation was undertaken alongside Montenegro's international partners in order to "preserve national interests."

Abazovic told reporters he hoped it would diminish "malign influences" in Montenegro.

Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 and adopted Western sanctions against the Kremlin following Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has been cited as the source of a cyberattack that disabled state IT infrastructure beginning at the end of August and whose consequences are still being felt. Experts from the FBI assisted Montenegro in the investigation of the cyberattack.

With reporting by AFP

Finland Joins Baltics, Poland In Shutting Border To Russian Tourists

The Finnish government said its decision would lead to a significant drop in cross-border traffic after almost 17,000 Russians crossed the border during the weekend.

Finland will ban Russian citizens with tourist visas from entering the country starting on September 30, shutting off a route to the European Union for Russians trying to flee a military mobilization announced last week by President Vladimir Putin.

The move means Finland joins Poland and the Baltic states in barring tourists crossing their shared land borders with Russia. The bans were part of a series of sanctions and other steps taken against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine launched in February.

“The decision in principle aims to completely prevent Russian tourism to Finland and the related transit through Finland,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said during a news conference.

The government said the move would lead to a significant drop in cross-border traffic after almost 17,000 Russians crossed the border during the weekend.

The government justified its decision by citing security concerns related to Russia's war in Ukraine, “illegal” referendums arranged by Russia in parts of Ukraine, and what it said was sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia under the Baltic Sea.

Finland had already slashed the number of visas issued to Russian citizens to one-tenth of the typical number in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. But until the decision on September 29 it had provided one of the last easily accessible land routes to Europe for Russian holders of European Schengen-zone visas.

Russian citizens can still enter Finland for family reasons, to study, or work. Also, Russian political dissidents may seek to enter for humanitarian purposes.

The EU has banned all flights from Russia, leaving only rail and road transport links available, and this month it agreed to limit issuing free-travel Schengen zone visas to Russians.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Washington Indicts Russian Billionaire For Sanctions Violations Related To The Birth Of His Child In The U.S.

Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The United States has charged Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska with violating sanctions by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to arrange to have his partner flown to the United States twice to give birth to his children.

The acts violated U.S. sanctions that were imposed in 2018 against Deripaska, 52, because of his close ties to the Russian government and its seizure of the Crimea region of Ukraine, the Justice Department said in a news release.

The Justice Department unsealed the charges on September 29 following at least a yearlong investigation into the tycoon’s business dealings in the United States that included a raid on his home in Washington in October 2021.

The department said that Natalia Bardakova, 45, a Russian citizen based in Russia and U.S.-based Olga Shriki, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen, helped Deripaska arrange for Yekaterina Voronina, 33, to travel to the U.S. by private jet on a tourism visa in 2020 for the birth of their first child and again for the birth of their second in 2022.

The first effort was successful and the child was born in the United States and automatically received U.S. citizenship. But in June 2022 Voronina was refused entry after concealing the tycoon was funding her trip.

Authorities said Deripaska spent at least $300,000 on medical care, housing, childcare, and other logistics to support Voronina when she traveled to the U.S. in 2020.

Following the birth, Deripaska's three co-defendants conspired to conceal that the Russian tycoon was the child's father by slightly misspelling the child's last name, the indictment said.

Bardakova and Shriki also worked to manage Deripaska's properties in the United States and to launder some $3 million from the sale of one of his businesses, a music studio in California, according to the Justice Department.

Only one of the four people charged -- Shriki -- is in custody. She was arrested on September 29 and released on a $2 million bond after an appearance in federal court. She did not enter a plea.

Prosecutors said in the news release that Deripaska lied and evaded U.S. sanctions as he sought to benefit from life in America “despite his cozy ties with the Kremlin and his vast wealth acquired through ties to a corrupt regime.”

Erich Ferrari, a lawyer for Deripaska, declined to comment, according to Reuters.

Deripaska, Bardakova, and Shriki, are charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Shriki is further charged in one count of destruction of records, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Bardakova and Voronina are each further charged with one count of making false statements to federal agents, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Deripaska and Bardakova reside in Russia. The Justice Department could request their extradition should they travel to any of the dozens of countries that have such treaties with the United States.

The United States sanctioned Deripaska in April 2018 as part of a sweeping package of asset freezes and financial restrictions slapped on more than two dozen Russian political and business elites thought to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin as Washington sought to punish the Kremlin for “malign activity around the globe,” including aggression against Ukraine.

Deripaska is one of Russia’s wealthiest businessmen, owning stakes in a wide range of businesses including aluminum, power, and auto production. He acquired his initial wealth during the chaotic privatizations of the 1990s when he scooped up stakes on the cheap in aluminum smelters.

His business empire flourished during Putin’s first two terms in office from 2000 to 2008 when he snapped up businesses in various industries and, at one point, became the nation’s wealthiest man. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth $2.8 billion.

In targeting Deripaska with sanctions, the United States claimed he acted or purported to act for senior Russian government officials as well as for operating in Russia’s energy sector.

Evidence of Deripaska’s close ties to the Russian government surfaced when a video was published online showing him vacationing in 2016 on a yacht near Norway with Sergei Prikhodko, who at the time was a deputy prime minister and top foreign policy adviser.

The sanctions put a freeze on any assets belonging to Deripaska in the United States, including bank accounts and property.

However, Deripaska continued to “maintain and retain” the three luxury properties, including the one in Washington and two in New York, with the help of his associates and shell companies.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

U.S. Charges Former Army Officer, Wife With Conspiracy Over Medical Data Leaks

A former U.S. Army officer and his wife have been criminally charged by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly plotting to leak sensitive health-care data about military patients to Russia.

Jamie Lee Henry, a former major, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, an anesthesiologist, have been charged in connection with a plot that the Justice Department says started in August and was linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Justice Department on September 29 unsealed the indictment charging them with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of health information about patients at a U.S. Army base in the state of North Carolina.

The couple allegedly told an undercover agent they were motivated by an allegiance to Russia and a belief that U.S. actions in Ukraine were an expression of U.S. hatred toward Russia.

The couple were scheduled for their initial court appearance on September 29.

Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing data to "gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the U.S. government and military."

The two met on August 17 with an individual whom they believed was a Russian official, but who in fact was an FBI undercover agent, the Justice Department said.

Gabrielian told the undercover agent she was motivated by "patriotism toward Russia" to provide any assistance she could, even if it meant "being fired or going to jail," the indictment says.

In the meeting, which took place in a hotel in Baltimore, she volunteered to recruit her husband, saying he had information about prior military training the United States provided to Ukraine, among other things.

Henry later told the undercover agent he was committed to Russia and claimed he had contemplated volunteering to join the Russian Army.

"The way I am viewing what is going on in Ukraine now, is that the United States is using Ukrainians as a proxy for their own hatred toward Russia," he allegedly told the agent.

In a subsequent meeting, Gabrielian pledged to provide Russia with access to patients at the U.S. Army base in North Carolina and later in August handed over information on current and former military officials and their spouses, the department said.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years for conspiracy, and a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for each count of disclosing health-care information.

With reporting by Reuters

Russia Says Sanctions Prevent It From Maintaining Gas Pipeline To Turkey, Balkans

Russian President Vladimir Putin launching TurkStream pipeline in 2020 with his counterparts from Bulgaria, Turkey, and Serbia.

The Russian operator of a pipeline that supplies Turkey and the Balkans with natural gas said it would suspend some maintenance and repair work, citing European Union sanctions, a move that threatens to deepen Europe’s energy crisis.

Oleg Aksyutin , the director of South Stream Transport B.V., sent a note earlier this month to division managers informing them that Netherland’s import and export authority would be revoking its export license as of September 17.

South Stream Transport is the Dutch-unit of the Kremlin-controlled natural gas giant, Gazprom, which manages the TurkStream pipeline running under the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey and on to the Balkans and Central Europe.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL, Aksyutin ordered them to “suspend the execution of all contracts related to the technical support of the gas pipeline, including design, manufacture, assembly, testing, repair, maintenance and training.”

He said gas exports should continue but only with emergency support in order to prevent damage to the environment.

Deyan Kalaydzhiyev, the head of contracts, told employees in a letter that was also obtained by RFE/RL to inform Western suppliers of goods and services -- such as control valves, technical support, telecommunications for pipeline maintenance, and pipeline repair – that purchase agreements were to be suspended as of September 16.

South Stream Transport has applied for a new license but it doesn’t know if it will receive it, a company source told RFE/RL.

Dutch and Turkish officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

TurkStream has the capacity to deliver 31.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas a year with half of it destined for Turkey and the other half for the Balkans and Central Europe.

Serbia and Hungary are the main European consumers.

TurkStream lies three kilometers below the sea in waters with high seismic activity. Specialized ships regularly monitor the pipeline for damage in order to quickly make repairs. The equipment needed to monitor and repair the pipeline is largely imported from the West.

South Stream Transport’s suspension of contracts means that “no one will be able to carry out repairs if a pipe is damaged, gas leaks, or if a part of the pipeline comes apart due to an earthquake. In fact, the company has lost operational control over the pipeline, the Russian branch has lost contact with the corporate center," a company source told RFE/RL.

Russia earlier this year slashed exports through Nord Stream 1, its main natural gas export pipeline to Europe, claiming Western sanctions on equipment and services impaired its ability to maintain the underwater pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

The move drove EU gas prices to record highs. Last month, Russia completely cut exports along Nord Stream 1, citing continued maintenance issues.

Western leaders accused Russia of using the sanctions as an excuse to cut natural gas exports to Europe in an attempt to inflict severe economic pain on the bloc , weaken EU support for Ukraine, and reverse sanctions.

The EU last year received 40 percent of its natural gas needs from Russia, giving the Kremlin massive influence over the bloc’s energy industry, including the ability to manipulate prices.

In imposing sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the EU made carve outs for the gas industry to ensure continued deliveries.

Benjamin Schmitt, a research associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said Europe needs to brace for Russia replicating in the Black Sea the strategy it used to halt exports along the Baltic Sea.

"For months, Gazprom has been citing false technical and sanctions claims to justify its significant gas cuts and resultant energy weaponization along the Nord Stream pipeline routes against the EU,” said Schmitt, a former European energy security advisor at the State Department.

Continuing that same playbook along the TurkStream pipeline route is something the European Union must be prepared for, and the arguments that Gazprom is making for potential cuts along this Black Sea line is consistent with this very approach that has been taken by the Kremlin for months," he said.

Earlier this week, explosions damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, meaning they will be out of operation indefinitely.

The EU and NATO called it “sabotage” with some EU officials accusing Russia of being behind the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and pointed the finger at the United States, an accusation that Washington immediately dismissed.

Russia now has only two out of five natural gas export pipelines to Europe in operation, including TurkStream and one running through Ukraine.

A cut in flows or a complete shutdown of TurkStream would especially hurt Hungary, one of the EU countries most dependent on Russian gas imports.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been the most vocal opponent of EU sanctions on Russia, undermining the bloc’s united front against the Kremlin.

His government earlier this month called for holding a non-binding, popular vote to determine if Hungarians want the EU to end sanctions on Russia.

Russia’s halt to maintenance and repairs on TurkStream comes just as Europe rushes to fill its natural gas storage ahead of the winter heating season.

Natural gas is used to heat homes and buildings throughout Europe with demand surging during the winter. It is also used to fire power plants to generate electricity.

Europe could suffer from rolling blackouts this winter if it is unable to secure enough gas, experts say.

UN Telecom Agency Elects First Woman To Top Post In Vote Between U.S., Russian Candidates

Participants watch a recorded message from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the opening session of the International Telecommunication Union in Bucharest on September 26.

American Doreen Bogdan-Martin has been overwhelmingly elected as the first woman to lead the UN's telecom agency in a vote that pitted her against a Russian candidate.

Bogdan-Martin will become the next secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). She claimed a landslide 139-25 victory on September 29 over Russia's former deputy telecom minister, Rashid Ismailov, at an ITU conference in Bucharest.

The ITU plays an important global role in setting the technical standards underlying mobile phones, television, and the Internet.

The vote to lead the Geneva-based agency was unrelated to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but was seen as a test of Russia's standing in the United Nations.

Though Moscow's reliable friends in UN circles have dwindled, it had enough support among ITU member states to block a bid to stop Russian candidates from running for the top post.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the election of Bogdan-Martin "reflects a broad endorsement by member states of [her] vision for universal connectivity, digital empowerment, and leadership at the ITU that is innovative, collaborative, and inclusive."

Bogdan-Martin said in her campaign that she supported getting more of the world connected to the Internet and pushing forward on high-speed access.

"The world is facing significant challenges: escalating conflicts, a climate crisis, food security, gender inequalities, and 2.7 billion people with no access to the Internet," she said.

Bogdan-Martin will take over from Houlin Zhao of China when his second four-year term as ITU secretary-general expires at the end of the year.

With reporting by AFP

Police In Russia's Tyva Disperse Anti-Mobilization Rally, Detain Women

One of the detained women told RFE/RL that police registered the women's personal data and took their fingerprints.

KYZYL, Russia -- Police in Russia's Siberian Tyva region have detained at least 27 women and dispersed a rally against the mobilization of local men for Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Dozens of women chanted "No to mobilization! No to genocide!" before the rally was dispersed just minutes after it started on the central Arat Square in Tyva's capital, Kyzyl, on September 29.

One of the detained women told RFE/RL that police registered the women's personal data and took their fingerprints.

After the rally was dispersed, seven police vehicles remained on the square and a specially equipped vehicle came to the site and started washing the square with water.

Tyva's military commissioner, Artyn Demir-Ool, said that the republic had "accomplished its mobilization quota," adding that an unspecified number of Tyvan men had been mobilized since the call-up was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21.

They have had been settled at the base of the 55th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, which is engaged in the ongoing war in Ukraine, he said.

Last weekend, a protest was held by women in another region in Russia's Far East, Yakutia, over what locals feel is a "disproportionate" recruitment of ethnic minorities to the war in Ukraine, calling it "a genocide" against them.

The largest protest against the mobilization by an ethnic region was held over the weekend in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan in the North Caucasus.

The mobilization for the war in Ukraine has been met with countrywide protests in general and the mass flight of men potentially eligible for military duty from Russia.

Some estimates say that almost 300,000 men have left the country since the mobilization was announced.

Iran Reportedly Fires On Iraqi Kurdish Regional Capital

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter inspects the damage following an Iranian cross-border attack in the area of Zargwez, where several exiled left-wing Iranian Kurdish parties maintain offices, around 15 kilometers from the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah on September 28.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) has fired on targets in the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Irbil, and the eastern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah, the Iranian state news agency IRNA has reported.

Nine people were killed and 32 wounded in the attacks, Kurdish regional Health Minister Saman Barazanchi said in a statement on September 29.

"Some of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll could rise," Barazanchi added.

The attacks were carried out against Kurdish political parties, as well as an Iranian Kurdish refugee camp, while a senior member of Komala, an exiled Iranian Kurdish opposition party, told Reuters that several of its offices were struck as well.

The attacks come amid massive protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in custody after being arrested by the so-called morality police for allegedly wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab, improperly.

The protests started in Amini's hometown of Saghez in Iran's Kurdistan Province and quickly spread to dozens of cities and towns across Iran.

Tariq Haidari, mayor of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Koye, told Reuters that two people including a pregnant woman were killed and 12 wounded. Some of the wounded were rushed in critical condition to a hospital in Irbil, he said.

The spokesman of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it would summon the Iranian ambassador to voice Iraq's opposition to the attacks, which Baghdad considers to be a violation of its sovereignty.

The IRGC has repeatedly attacked areas in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent days and said in a statement that it will continue to target "terrorists" in the region.

"This operation will continue with our full determination until the threat is effectively repelled, the bases of terrorist groups are dismantled, and the authorities of the Kurdistan region assume their obligations and responsibilities," the IRGC said in its statement.

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

Rights Group Says Russian Historian Under Pressure In Prison

Yury Dmitriyev appears in court in Petrozavodsk in December 2021.

A human rights group in Russia says Yury Dmitriyev, the imprisoned historian and former head of the Memorial human rights group in the northwestern region of Karelia, is being mistreated at his prison in Mordovia.

The Memorial Society said on September 28 that Dmitriyev had been placed in punitive solitary confinement three times since mid-September for unwarranted reasons.

According to Memorial, Dmitriyev was initially sent to solitary confinement, a tiny concrete room with no toilet or running water, for three days on September 16 for failing to properly greet a guard. After serving that punishment, Dmitriyev was immediately returned to the punitive cell for five days for having a cat on his bed.

The human rights group added that on September 26, the administration of the prison in Mordovia -- an area historically associated with some of Russia's most brutal prisons, including Soviet-era labor camps for political prisoners -- again put the 66-year-old historian in solitary confinement for five days for "failing to quickly follow a guard’s command to put his hands behind his back."

"Constant and baseless placement in a punitive cell is one of the known methods of pressure imposed by penitentiary administrations on inmates," Memorial said, adding that it continues to follow the historian's time in the prison.

The high-profile case against Dmitriyev dates back to 2016, when the academic, who spent decades researching extrajudicial executions carried out in Karelia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was arrested over photographs of his foster daughter that investigators found on his computer.

The authorities said the images were pornographic, but Dmitriyev said they were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child's physical development.

He was acquitted in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial. He was rearrested in June 2018 and then charged with the more serious crime of sexual assault against a minor.

In July 2020, Dmitriyev was sentenced to 3 1/2 years for "violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age." He has rejected the charge, insisting that he is being targeted because of his research into the crimes of Stalin's regime.

Prosecutors, who had asked for 15 years in prison in the high-profile case, said the original sentence was "too lenient" and appealed it. Dmitriyev's defense team, meanwhile, also appealed, insisting he was innocent.

In September 2020, weeks before he was due to be released because of time served, the Supreme Court of Karelia accepted the prosecutors' appeal and added another 9 1/2 years onto Dmitriyev's sentence.

Dozens of Russian and international scholars, historians, writers, poets, and others have issued statements in support of the scholar, while the European Union has called for Dmitriyev to be released.

Dmitriyev's research has been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin. Under Putin, Stalin has undergone a gradual rehabilitation, and the Russian government has emphasized his leadership of the Soviet Union while downplaying his crimes against Soviet citizens.

Under Stalin, millions of people were executed, sent to labor camps, or starved to death in famines caused by forced collectivization. During World War II, entire ethnic groups were deported to remote areas as collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis.

Belarusian Journalism Advocates Handed Lengthy Prison Terms

The six men were found guilty of being members of Busly Lyatsyat, which was officially declared a terrorist organization and banned in Belarus in November 2021. (combo photo)

A court in Minsk has sentenced six members of the journalism advocacy group Busly Lyatsyat (Storks Are Flying) to lengthy prison terms on terrorism charges that rights activists say are politically motivated.

The Vyasna human rights center in Minsk said Judge Anastasia Papko on September 28 sentenced Andrey Buday to 15 years, Alyaksey Hamez to 14 1/2 years, Alyaksey Ivanisau to 14 years, Alyaksandr Muravyou and Alyaksandr Sidarenka to 12 years each, and Mikalay Biblis to 8 1/2 years in prison.

The judge also ordered each defendant to pay hefty fines

The six men were found guilty of being members of Busly Lyatsyat, which was officially declared a terrorist organization and banned in Belarus in November 2021.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The group's members also were convicted of participating in activities disrupting social order, conducting a terrorist act against a state official, premeditated damage to private property, incitement of hatred, and public calls for international sanctions against Belarus. The trial was held behind closed doors.

The men were arrested in September-October 2021 amid a crackdown on independent journalists, opposition politicians, and rights activists following unprecedented mass protests challenging the results of an August 2020 presidential poll that declared authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged to extend Lukashenka's rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

Vyasna said on September 29 that lawyer Dzmitry Pigul, who represented one of the defendants at the trial of the Busly Lyatsyat group, was arrested late on September 28 on a charge of "revealing data related to a preliminary investigation or closed trial."

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 police crackdown.

Updated

Anti-Government Protests Sparked By Death Of Detained Woman Continue In Iran

A woman holds up her headscarf as part of a protest in Tehran on September 27 against the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Anti-government demonstrations sparked by the death of a young Iranian woman after being detained by the morality police for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab continue across the country despite official warnings that an already deadly crackdown on unrest would be tightened.

Videos published on social media overnight showed demonstrations and protest gatherings being held in at least six cities of Iran, including Tabriz, Najafabad, Isfahan, Tehran, Mashhad, Sanandaj, and Urmia.

Activists and relatives say 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed as a result of blows to the head sustained in detention. The authorities claim she died of a heart attack.

Simmering anger over Amini's death in Tehran has struck a nerve in a country already wracked by unrest in recent months over poor living conditions and economic hardships exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program.

The outrage also has reignited decades-old resentment at the treatment of women by Iran's religious leadership, including laws forcing women to wear Islamic scarves to cover their heads in public, and have reverberated outside Iran.

Many Iranians living abroad announced on social media that they are going to gather in more than 70 cities around the world on October 1 in support of the protests in Iran.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on September 29 she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the lethal crackdown after summoning the Iranian ambassador to Berlin.

"The clubs and the tear gas are not an expression of power -- the violence of the system in Iran speaks of pure fear," Baerbock wrote on Twitter.

"Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion."

The Iranian government has imposed a near-total Internet shutdown as the nationwide protests continue, which has helped thin crowds by making it harder to communicate and suppressing the publishing of video of the protests. Meanwhile, videos released from Shiraz show police and security agents attacking a protest gathering at the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences on September 28.

WATCH: Demonstrations across Iran appear be to waning as security forces continued their deadly crackdown on protests that have shaken the country for two weeks. Fewer protest videos have appeared on social media after authorities restricted Internet access and launched the crackdown.

Iranian Protests Appear To Wane Amid Crackdown, Internet Restrictions
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:15 0:00

The Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says at least 25 journalists have been arrested since the protests erupted, including Elahe Mohammadi, who covered Amini's funeral and was detained on September 29.

In a sign of the rising stakes over the protests, Iranian oil industry workers warned the government on September 29 that if it does not end its crackdown on protesters, they will strike, a move that could cripple one of the few sectors of the economy still generating money for the state.

Meanwhile, on September 28 the musicians of the Iran's National Orchestra refused to appear onstage, forcing the cancellation of a concert that was supposed to be held on the anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war.

Music journalist Bahman Babazadeh said on Twitter that the musicians refused to take the stage due to requests made to them on social media pages.

Employees at two Iranian startup giants, Snapp and Digikala, also joined the nationwide strikes in support of the protests by publishing a joint statement on their social media.

"The violent suppression of the people's protests is intolerable and unforgivable" Digikala employees wrote in their statement, adding, "We join the nationwide strikes in solidarity with the grieving and suffering people of Iran."

Reports indicate that security forces tried to prevent a gathering of protesters in the central Iranian city of Najafabad on the evening of September 28.

Unconfirmed reports that security forces were using young Iranians to quell the protests, prompting child and youth literature activists in Iran to publish a statement on September 29 condemning the arrest of protesting teenagers and the possible presence of youths in special units to suppress protests.

"This way of dealing will have unfortunate and irreparable consequences for the perpetrators," they wrote.

The Iran Human Rights Organization said on September 27 that at least 76 people have been killed in the anti-government protests.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
NOTE: This article has been amended to clarify that the number of people attending the protests in Iran appears to be waning.

Kazakh President Endorses Law Abolishing Nazarbaev-Linked Holiday

A woman pushes a pram in front of a poster with a portrait of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as the country prepares to the Day of the First President, celebrated on December 1, in Almaty in 2015.

ASTANA -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has endorsed a law canceling a state holiday instituted in honor of the Central Asian nation's first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, the latest move to distance himself from his predecessor.

The bill to exclude from the nation's list of state holidays the Day of the First President -- observed on December 1 each year -- was signed into law by Toqaev on September 29, and the parliament's upper chamber, the Senate, approved the move.

The legislation was approved by the parliament's lower chamber, the Mazhilis, in early September.

The change is the latest in a series of moves Toqaev has taken to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.

Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy" or leader of the nation.

Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign.

Those feelings came to a head in January when unprecedented antigovernment nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike.

The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich Central Asian nation's wealth.

Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.

In June this year, a Toqaev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbaev's name from the Constitution and annulled his status as elbasy.

Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and did not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.

Prosecutor Seeks Eight Years In Prison For Tajik Journalist On Charges He Rejects

Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati (left) and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for his articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.

DUSHANBE -- Prosecutors at the trial of noted Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati have asked a court in Dushanbe to convict and sentence the defendant to the maximum allowed eight years in prison on charges he and his supporters say are unfounded.

Sources present at the hearing told RFE/RL that the request came as the Shohmansur district court resumed the trial behind closed doors on September 29.

Ghurbati is charged with publicly insulting an authority, the minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group. The first two charges carry only fines, but the third charge carries a penalty of up to eight years in prison.

The latter charge is linked to Ghurbati's business relations with Tajik businessman Idibek Latipov, who has been living and working in Egypt since 2007.

Investigators say Ghurbati received money from Latipov for making a YouTube video advertising his company, while Latipov was included on the Tajikistan National Bank's registry of individuals involved in "terrorist or extremist activities."

According to the sources who talked to RFE/RL, Ghurbati told the court on September 29 that he was not aware that Latipov was on the registry and that his ties with the man were purely business-related.

Latipov told RFE/RL by phone that his inclusion on the National Bank’s registry was groundless.

Ghurbati and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for his articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.

Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation. His trial is pending.

In June, Human Rights Watch demanded that Tajik officials immediately release Ghurbati and Imomali, saying that the two men "are being targeted for their professional activities, despite being protected by Tajikistan’s laws and international obligations on freedom of expression and media freedom.”

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Updated

Putin Signs Independence Decrees In Precursor To Seizing Ukrainian Regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host a ceremony on September 30 at which he will formally move to seize four Ukrainian territories by signing documents that the Kremlin is calling “accession treaties.”

Putin recognized the independence of the Ukrainian regions Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in decrees early on September 30 that are an intermediary step paving the way for the two occupied regions of Ukraine to be annexed by Russia.

The decrees are similar to steps Putin took in February just before launching the invasion of Ukraine regarding Luhansk and Donetsk.

The United States and the United Nations on September 29 strongly denounced Russia's plans to hold the annexation ceremony, which comes on the heels of referendums in Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk, and Donetsk that Western countries said were a “sham” but that Moscow-installed officials in the regions said overwhelmingly showed support for joining Russia.


U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia's claims on Ukraine's territory, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the referendums were "a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine," adding in a statement that the results "were orchestrated in Moscow and do not reflect the will of the people of Ukraine."

As Washington and the European Union prepared additional sanctions to further isolate Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said annexation would mark a "dangerous escalation" that would jeopardize the prospects for peace.

Guterres said any decision to proceed with the annexation of the four regions "would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned."

The annexations "will prolong the dramatic impacts on the global economy, especially in developing countries, and hinder our ability to deliver life-saving aid across Ukraine and beyond," Guterres said.

The Kremlin announced earlier that it will move to seize the territories through the signing of documents on "the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation."

The territory amounts to about 15 percent of Ukraine's total area and is equal to the size of Hungary.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the signing ceremony involving Putin and Moscow-imposed leaders from the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya would take place at 3 p.m. Moscow time.

Putin will sign accession documents in an ornate Kremlin hall and deliver a speech, Peskov said. A pop concert will be held on Red Square, where a stage with giant video screens has been set up and where billboards proclaim "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson -- Russia!"

The announcement prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to call an emergency meeting of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council on September 30, presidential spokesman Serhiy Nikiforov said on Facebook. The agenda and other details will be announced later, Nikiforov added.

Zelenskiy promised a "very harsh" response to the annexation, which he previously said destroyed any chance of reviving peace talks.

"The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values," Zelenskiy said in his evening address on September 29.

Zelenskiy also issued a separate video directed at Russia’s ethnic minorities, especially those in Daghestan, one of the country's poorer regions in the North Caucasus.

“You do not have to die in Ukraine,” he said, standing in front of a plaque in Kyiv memorializing what he called a Daghestani hero. He called on the ethnic minorities to resist mobilization.

Further heightening tensions is Putin's partial military mobilization, which has prompted an exodus of Russian men. Putin told a meeting of the National Security Council on September 29 that mistakes made in carrying out the mobilization must be corrected.

He said Russian men mistakenly called up for service should be sent back home and only reservists with proper training and specialties should be summoned to serve.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Russian Opposition Politician Leaves Country After Serving 30 Days In Jail

Kremlin critic Leonid Gozman was sentenced to 15 days in prison twice in a row over his online articles written in 2013 and 2020 that said the Soviet regime was no better than the regime that ruled Nazi Germany.

Russian opposition politician Leonid Gozman has left Russia after serving two consecutive 15-day jail terms on charges of "equating" Soviet-era Russia with Nazi Germany.

Gozman wrote on Facebook late on September 28 that he was at an airport along with his wife, Marina, adding "I am leaving now, and she will one day after me."

He did not say where he was headed.

Gozman's daughter, Olga, had said her father planned to leave Russia once he was released, emphasizing he needs surgery for gallbladder issues.

The 72-year-old Kremlin critic was sentenced to 15 days in prison twice in a row over his online articles written in 2013 and 2020 that said the Soviet regime was no better than the regime that ruled Nazi Germany.

The law criminalizing equating the Soviet and Nazi regimes was adopted in 2021.

Gozman also has openly protested Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

He was a co-chairman of the now defunct Union of Right Forces political party, and a top manager of OAO Unified Energy System of Russia and the Rusnano Group.

After Russia launched its war against Ukraine in late February, Gozman left Russia but returned to Moscow in mid-June.

He was previously investigated on a charge of not reporting his second citizenship. He holds both Russian and Israeli passports. Under Russian law citizens are required to report other citizenships immediately after obtaining them.

Kyrgyz Education Minister Detained Over Allegations Of Taking Bribes For Admissions

Education Minister Almaz Beishenaliev is suspected of accepting a total of $110,000 for arranging foreign students' acceptance to universities in Kyrgyzstan. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz Education Minister Almaz Beishenaliev has been detained on charges of taking bribes in connection with student admissions to the Central Asian nation's universities.

The Interior Ministry said on September 28 that Beishenaliev is suspected of accepting a total of $110,000 for arranging foreign students' acceptance to universities in Kyrgyzstan.

The ministry’s statement said detailed information on the case will be made public at a later date.

The 41-year-old Beishenaliev has initiated multiple reforms in the education system since his appointment to the post in November 2020.

Between June 2021 and February 2022, he worked as the Kyrgyz ambassador to Switzerland, after which he returned to the position of education minister.

Neither Beishenaliev nor his legal representative has commented on the situation.

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG