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Obama Urges U.S. To Shift Focus From Iraq To Afghanistan

Barack Obama speaking in Amman
Barack Obama speaking in Amman
Barack Obama, the presumed U.S. presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, summed up his visits to Afghanistan and Iraq by saying it's time to shift the United States' military attention away from Iraq and focus it on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking in Jordan on July 22, where he continued his major overseas trip, Obama said that with improved security in Iraq, he believes it's vital for Washington to shift some forces to Afghanistan, the site of the United States' first military offensive against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"We went to Afghanistan first because it is the central front in the war against terrorism," Obama said. "That is where the 9/11 attacks were planned and today in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are mounting a growing offensive against the security of the Afghan people and, increasingly, the Pakistani people, while plotting new attacks against the United States."

Obama has proposed that if he's elected president, he would withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration in January 2009, leaving behind only enough to train Iraqi forces, counter Al-Qaeda attacks, and protect civilian operations. There are now nearly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Two Additional U.S. Brigades

At an outdoor news conference atop the Amman Citadel overlooking the Jordanian capital, Obama said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan told him that two U.S. brigades -- about 10,000 troops -- would help them fight the resurgent Taliban there.

"The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent," Obama said. "We must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation. I called, over a year ago, for additional U.S. troops to be placed in Afghanistan, as well as more nonmilitary assistance and more support from our NATO allies, and I am glad that there is a growing consensus back home that we need more resources in Afghanistan."

Obama said Afghanistan's border with Pakistan is "porous" and allows militants who have trained in Pakistan's lawless frontier region to infiltrate Afghanistan and launch attacks on NATO and Afghan forces, then return to the safety of their bases in Pakistan.

The United States needs to put pressure on Pakistan to get better control over its border region, Obama said, but he also said Afghanistan needs to reform itself if it is to develop into a healthy democracy. He said he made that point in a meeting with the country's leadership in Kabul.

"In our meetings with President [Hamid] Karzai and the other Afghan leaders," Obama said, "I stressed my strong commitment to Afghanistan's security and economic development and urged them to work on a 'more-for-more' basis" -- more U.S. and NATO support for Afghanistan and more action by the Afghan government to take on corruption and counternarcotics, and to improve the rule of law and to make sure that resources and services are actually delivered for the Afghan people."

At the news conference -- which also attended by two fellow U.S. senators, Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Chuck Hagel (Republican, Nebraska) -- Obama said the United States can now afford to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.

But Obama said the Iraqi government must also take advantage of the improved security to make political progress by bringing more Sunni Muslims into a government that is now dominated by Shi'ite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country.

Obama said his talks with U.S. military commanders in Iraq have convinced him that his withdrawal timeline of 16 months remains realistic. And while Iraqi political leaders didn't endorse his plan explicitly, they called for an end to the U.S. military presence in their country in terms that parallel Obama's.

'Growing Consensus'

Obama said that's what the American people want as well, and he noted that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has recently called for something similar, referring to a vaguer "time horizon" for withdrawals.

"I believe that the best way to support Iraqi sovereignty and encourage the Iraqis to stand up is through the responsible redeployment of our combat brigades," Obama said. "I welcome the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline. My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010."

During his two-day visit to Iraq, Obama toured Al-Anbar Governorate, west of Baghdad, where the Sunni insurgency, allied with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, began shortly after U.S.-led forces deposed Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq.

The Sunnis of Al-Anbar now have turned on Al-Qaeda and are allied with the Americans. On July 21, Obama met with the province's leaders to discuss their fight against Al-Qaeda and their demand for greater Sunni representation in the Iraqi government.

Obama has visited Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq on his tour thus far. After Jordan, he's visiting Israel, Germany, Britain, and France.

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Biden Shakes Up 2024 U.S. Presidential Election Race By Stepping Down, Endorsing Harris

(FILES) US Vice President Kamala Harris and US President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 2023.
(FILES) US Vice President Kamala Harris and US President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 2023.

WASHINGTON -- With just over 100 days left before U.S. voters cast their ballots in a presidential election, U.S. President Joe Biden dropped his bid for reelection and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's nominee amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

Biden had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with his rival, Republican candidate Donald Trump. The 81-year-old appeared frail and confused at times during the June 27 debate, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

The president did not give a reason for withdrawing his candidacy, but he immediately endorsed Harris, to be the party’s candidate, which she vowed to "earn and win" as the August 19-21 Democratic National Convention approaches.

"I have decided not to accept the nomination and to focus all my energies on my duties as President for the remainder of my term," Biden, who is recovering at home in Delaware from COVID-19, said, adding he was "acting in the "best interest of my party and the country."

Many Democrats including former President Bill Clinton immediately backed Harris to become the Democratic party's candidate, though it remained unclear whether she would face a challenge to top the election ticket.

The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, said the party would comment soon on the path forward for the nomination process after Biden became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades.

"The bottom line is that it's going to be very hard to dislodge her [Harris] from the top spot for all kinds of reasons," Matthew Dallek, historian and political science professor at George Washington University, told RFE/RL.

"She got Biden's endorsement. She can have access to the campaign infrastructure and the campaign dollars. She's been vice president for four years. There's not a whole lot of time. It would be very hard for the Democratic Party, I think, to replace the first African American woman vice president at the top of the ticket with a white man."

Biden Bows Out Of Election: A Look Back At His Challenging Presidency
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Adding to the situation's urgency, Democrats say too much is at stake – including democracy itself – to lose the election.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

During his term in office from 2017-2021, Trump undermined NATO unity, tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, and sought to overturn the 2020 election results.

Biden beat Trump in 2020, narrowly edging him out in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

However, polls showed Trump, 78, expanding his lead over Biden, including in some of those key states, especially after the Republican nominee survived an assassination attempt during a campaign rally on July 13 in Pennsylvania.

“Biden was really fighting two wars at the same time, one against Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and then one against his own party, the Democrats. I think that that was just too much to keep an election campaign going heading into a general election,” Thomas Gift, associate professor of political science at University College London, told RFE/RL.

Republican leaders immediately attacked Harris over the Biden administration's policies, with some saying that if Biden was not fit enough to run for president, he should step down from the position, a move analysts said was unlikely to happen.

"There's been a lot of evidence, I think, that Biden is really diminished as a campaigner. But in terms of his ability to govern and to make decisions, and to make informed decisions, I don't think we've seen that," Dallek said.

If chosen as the Democratic candidate, Harris, a 59-year-old former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first Black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history.

Biden Endorses Kamala Harris To Replace Him In 2024 Presidential Race
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Harris oversaw several key issues in the administration, including immigration, voting rights, and reproductive rights. She also strengthened her international profile during her three years in office, making more than a dozen trips abroad and meeting about 150 leaders. Harris represented the United States at Ukraine's peace summit in Switzerland last month.

Other names commonly floated as potential contenders for the Democratic nomination have included governors Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Harris shares a similar disapproval rating as Biden. However, experts say she is still not well known to many Americans and can improve her image as she campaigns around the country.

Biden’s backing of Harris gives her a clear path to the nomination, likely avoiding an inter-party brawl, Gift said.

“These last few weeks have been bad enough for Democrats. The last thing they needed was a really bruising convention. So I think that it made sense for Biden to go ahead and endorse Harris,” he said.

Democrats also risk alienating black voters, a key part of their base, if they pass up on Harris, analysts said.

“He has done one of the most difficult things for any political leader, and has done so in the national interest,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in a post on X.

Biden’s announcement means his political career of more than half a century will finally come to an end in January 2025 when his successor is inaugurated.

In 1972, at the age of 29, Biden won the Delaware senate race. He held that seat for the next 36 years, serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He ran for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, losing both times.

Obama, considered a novice in foreign affairs, tapped Biden to be his running mate in 2008. Biden served as vice president for the next eight years, overseeing White House policy on Ukraine and making several trips to Kyiv.


Like most vice presidents, Biden wanted to run for the nation’s top office in 2016 but was encouraged to make way for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, something he is reportedly still bitter about. She was beaten by Trump in one of the biggest upsets in presidential history.

In his third bid for the presidency in 2020, Biden beat incumbent Trump in a close race, becoming the oldest person to hold the nation’s top office. He immediately sought to rebuild relations with European allies damaged under his predecessor.

With Biden bowing out before officially becoming his party's nominee, Trump, 78, is now officially the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history.

In what is likely to be one of his enduring legacies as president, he was able to quickly unite those allies to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military and financial aid when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Russians, Belarusians Among Those Denied Visas To Attend Olympics Amid Spy Fears

France has denied visas to about 100 journalists, therapists, and technical workers seeking to attend the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris amid concerns over espionage, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Le Journal du Dimanche. Those denied visas on those grounds include Russian and Belarusian citizens, he said. The games, which attract hundreds of thousands of foreigners, will be held from July 26 to August 11. Darmanin said France is also concerned about cyberattacks during the games. Russian and Belarusian teams have been banned from participating in the Summer Olympics as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus has supported.

Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan Following Complaints

Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.
Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.

Pakistan on July 21 reopened a key border crossing point with Afghanistan after a nine-month closure following complaints by residents. Pakistan in October closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border that runs through Pashtun communities, ending the century-old Easement Rights, which had allowed certain communities along the 19th-century Durand Line border to cross freely. Pakistan began requiring people show valid documents like passports and visas to cross into Spin Boldak, a district in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, sparking anger. Pashtun communities on both sides of the border argued that it harmed their livelihoods and caused significant financial losses.

Zelenskiy Faces Tough Choices As U.S. Election Looms, Kyiv Mayor Says

Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April
Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces a politically fraught time as the November presidential election in the United States looms, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera. “Should we continue the war with new deaths and destruction, or should we consider a territorial compromise with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?” Klitschko asked. “No matter what step he takes, our president risks ending his life by political suicide.” Klitschko added that Zelenskiy would likely “have to resort to a referendum” to resolve the dilemma, adding it is not possible to make such a decision “without popular legitimacy.” To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Scrambles Fighter Jets To Meet U.S. Arctic Patrol

NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January
NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January

Russia said on July 21 that it scrambled fighter jets to prevent two U.S. strategic bombers from crossing its border over the Barents Sea in the Arctic. The U.S. military routinely carries out flights over international waters, operations that it says are conducted in neutral airspace and in accordance with international law. But Moscow has responded more aggressively to the exercises in recent months, warning in June that U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea risked leading to a "direct" military clash. "As the Russian fighters approached, the American strategic bombers corrected their flight course, moving away, and then turning away from Russia's state border," Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Ukrainian Official Criticizes Red Cross Over Prisoner-Visitation Claims

Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)
Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)

Ukraine’s parliamentary human rights commissioner said the “vast majority” of Ukrainian prisoners who have been returned to the country in exchanges with Russia said they had no communication with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) while they were being held.

“I want to emphasize that, while talking to our defenders who were returned from enemy captivity, I learned that the vast majority of them had not seen or communicated with representatives of the ICRC for the entire time of their detention,” Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on July 20.

Lubinets was responding to recent comments by ICRC Russian delegation head Boris Michel, who told Russian media that ICRC staff had visited “3,100 prisoners in Russia and Ukraine.”

Michel did not specify how many visits were conducted in each country, Lubinets added.

“The reason for this is that almost all the visits in this number were to Russian prisoners of war held by Ukraine, because our country steadfastly abides by the requirements of the Geneva Conventions,” he said.

Lubinets criticized the ICRC for calling on “both sides” to provide access to prisoners without acknowledging Russia’s “practice of not allowing ICRC workers access to the places where Ukrainian defenders are held.”

He urged the ICRC to “operate with true numbers” in order not to mislead the public or the relatives of Ukrainian prisoners.

In comments quoted by Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Michel said he was engaged in “productive dialogue” with Russian officials regarding visits to prisoners.

On July 17, some 95 Ukrainian prisoners were released in the latest exchange with Russia. It was the 54th such exchange since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, resulting in the release of 3,405 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Ukrainian prosecutors have opened more than 450 criminal cases on suspicion of the mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners by Russia.

Romanians Appear To Be Involved In Mass Riot In Leeds

Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.
Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.

An overnight mass riot in the British city of Leeds has been quelled, police said early on July 19, after a police car was overturned and a bus was set on fire by angry residents, most of whom spoke Romanian in videos posted on social media. Police said a “serious disorder incident” began in the late afternoon on July 18 in the northern city’s Harehills area after crowds gathered following a family disturbance that police had been called to. Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said she was “appalled at the shocking scenes” in Leeds

Slovakia's Prime Minister Blasts Ukraine's Decision To Put LUKoil On Sanctions List

Slovakia will not be a "hostage" to Ukraine-Russia relations, Prime Minister Robert Fico told his Ukrainian counterpart in a call on July 20 after Kyiv placed Russia’s LUKoil on a sanctions list. Slovakia and Hungary said this week they had stopped receiving oil from LUKoil after Ukraine imposed a ban last month on the transit of LUKoil resources via its territory. For Slovakia, that meant a loss in some supplies for its Slovnaft refinery, which is owned by Hungarian oil and gas group MOL. Slovakia's government office said that Fico spoke by telephone with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and told him Slovakia did not intend "to be a hostage of Ukrainian-Russian relations."

Belarus In Talks With Berlin Over German Man Sentenced To Death

German citizen Rico Krieger, who has been sentenced to death in Belarus for "mercenary activity," according to the Vyasna human rights group.
German citizen Rico Krieger, who has been sentenced to death in Belarus for "mercenary activity," according to the Vyasna human rights group.

Belarus and Germany are holding "consultations" over the fate of a German man reportedly sentenced to death by a court in Minsk last month, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said on July 20.

"There were, of course, contacts with the German side on this topic. This criminal is a German citizen, and we understand the German side's concern for him,” said Anatoly Glaz, spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

The Belarusian side has proposed “concrete solutions on the available options,” Glaz said, adding that consultations were being conducted by the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Belarus has provided consular access to the individual “in full compliance with international norms and bilateral agreements,” the spokesman said.

The German Foreign Ministry confirmed on July 19 that a German national has been sentenced to death in Belarus and said Berlin was in intensive contact with authorities in Minsk over his fate.

The German ministry did not identify the man, but earlier on July 19 the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights group said the man sentenced to death was Rico Krieger. Vyasna said Krieger, 30, was taken into custody in November 2023, went on trial on June 6, and was sentenced on June 24 by the Minsk regional court.

The human rights group said it was the first trial in Belarus for "mercenary activity."

It said Krieger had been charged additionally with terrorism, creating an extremist group, intentionally damaging a vehicle, and illegal operations with firearms and explosives.

Vyasna said the charges were connected to the Kalinouski Regiment, a group of anti-government Belarusian exiles fighting for Ukraine. The Kalinouski Regiment denies any connection to the case.

The German Foreign Ministry said on July 19 that it and the German Embassy in Minsk were giving "the person in question consular support and...working intensively with Belarusian authorities on his behalf.

Human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka told RFE/RL that he believed the death penalty sentence was not accidental and that Belarusian authorities are counting on using the case to bargain with Germany, noting the lack of a death penalty there.

The German Foreign Ministry statement said Berlin considered the death penalty "a cruel and inhuman form of punishment" and that Germany rejected it in all circumstances.

Belarus is the only European country that continues to use the death penalty.

With reporting by Reuters

Rare Public Protest Held In Krasnodar Over Electricity Blackouts

Cooling towers of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant (file photo)
Cooling towers of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant (file photo)

Residents of the Russian city of Krasnodar on July 20 staged a rare public protest to vent their anger over recent power cuts affecting southern Russia.

An estimated 200 to 300 people turned out for the protest to demand that the authorities resume the supply of electricity and water. They blocked a street in the north of the city as they voiced complaints about the cuts to services, which they said are becoming more frequent, Russian online media reported.

The protesters said that this summer their lights initially were turned off once a week, then three times a week, and now there is no electricity for 12-15 hours a day, the Baza Telegram channel reported.

People demand that they be given electricity for at least three hours, the online publication 93.RU reported.

Public protests are rare in Russia given the risk of arrest and detention and in light of a clampdown on dissent since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The protest in Krasnodar appeared to have been peaceful, though there were reports of two arrests.

Krasnodar Mayor Yevgeny Naumov, police officers, and members of the National Guard were at the scene, according to Russian media reports. The authorities promised to ensure the supply of water.

Authorities in the Krasnodar region earlier this week said the electricity blackouts were necessary due to restrictions on the supply of electricity from other regions and a heat wave in southern Russia.

Extreme temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and a decrease in the flow of power to the region have meant “the equipment of the unified power system is under significant loads, especially in the daytime,” Krasnodar’s Ministry for Energy and Public Utilities said in a statement quoted by Interfax on July 17.

"There has been abnormal heat in the Krasnodar region for a week now. The load on the energy system is colossal. I know and understand all the indignation of residents due to power outages," regional Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on Telegram.

The system operator said on July 16 that the energy system of the south of Russia set a power consumption record.

The following day, Russia's nuclear energy operator, Rosenergoatom, said a unit of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant was switched off. The shutdown left some 1 million people in southern Russia and parts of occupied Crimea without electricity.

Rosenergoatom later said the shutdown was due to a "false alarm” but did not elaborate on the cause. The unit has been put back into operation.

The Rostov Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Volgodonsk Nuclear Power Plant, has four units with a total capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts. The plant is located on the left bank of the Don River near the city of Volgodonsk, some 1,100 kilometers south of Moscow.

In recent months, Ukraine, whose energy infrastructure has been relentlessly pummeled by Russian strikes since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion, has in turn resorted to targeting Russian energy facilities, mainly oil refineries and those that work for the Russian military.

With reporting by Reuters and Interfax

Spain Detains 3 Over Cyberattacks On Pro-Ukrainian Nations

 A woman looks at screens during a NATO cyberdefense exercise in Estonia in 2019.
A woman looks at screens during a NATO cyberdefense exercise in Estonia in 2019.

Spanish police said on July 20 that they had arrested three people accused of taking part in cyberattacks by a pro-Russian group targeting public institutions and strategic sectors in Spain and other NATO countries. The attacks targeted countries that have supported Ukraine in its struggle against the Russian invasion. The three were arrested for "computer-related offenses with terrorist intent" over a string of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which make websites or network resources unavailable by flooding them with malicious traffic. The attacks were "organized by the Russian-linked hacker group called NoName057(16)," it said, without giving further details.

Thousands Stage Sit-In Protest In NW Pakistan After Military Allegedly Fires On 'Peace March'

Organizers of the sit-in protest in the Bannu district of Pakistan's restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province say they will remain until the government provides assurances it will improve security.
Organizers of the sit-in protest in the Bannu district of Pakistan's restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province say they will remain until the government provides assurances it will improve security.

Thousands of demonstrators in northwest Pakistan are participating in a sit-in protest after authorities fired on participants of a “peace march” in the Bannu district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province on July 19.

Leaders of the rally told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that the Pakistani military fired on participants of the peace march, held as the region has experienced a spike in militant attacks.

Doctors at the Bannu district hospital said that they had received one dead body and 27 injured people following the march.

The military has so far not commented on allegations that it was responsible for the violence.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, which has shut down mobile and Internet services in the Bannu district amid the unrest, on July 20 announced the formation of an investigative commission to look into the incident.

Nasir Bangash, a leader of the sit-in protest, told RFE/RL that the sit-in will continue until the government provides assurances that peace in the restive province can be restored.

Amnesty International sharply criticized the authorities’ use of violence to break up the march, saying that the “use of lethal force at a peaceful rally advocating for peace is unlawful” and calling for a prompt investigation to “hold to account officials responsible for the attack.”

The rights watchdog further said that restrictions on mobile and Internet services in Bannu “curtail the people’s ability to mobilize” and also “increase the spread of misinformation during emergencies and create panic.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also urged the government to “hold to account those responsible for protesters' deaths and injuries.”

“This seemingly state-sanctioned violation of citizens' right to life and right to freedom of peaceful assembly is reprehensible and reflects a dangerous contempt for citizen-led calls for peace,” HRCP said in a statement on X on July 19.

The provincial assembly of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa denounced the violence against “peaceful protesters” in a session held late on July 19, as demonstrations spread to other cities in the province, including the regional capital, Peshawar.

Leaders of Pashtun nationalist political parties have also condemned the violence used against protesters in the Bannu district.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has seen an increase in deadly attacks in the past two years, mostly blamed on Islamist extremist groups, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and affiliates of the extremist group Islamic State.

A number of deadly incidents have taken place in recent months, leading to reports that the military is considering an operation to turn the tide of rising terrorism.

While residents of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province have complained that Islamabad is not doing enough to provide security, they have also expressed fears of a large-scale operation.

Pakistani security forces have recently said they have conducted targeted operations against militants in several parts of the province.

On July 15, eight Pakistani soldiers were killed when a militant rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the outer wall of a garrison in Bannu.

Iran Says It Has Salvaged Capsized Warship

The Iranian destroyer Sahand is seen capsized in the port of Bandar Abbas.
The Iranian destroyer Sahand is seen capsized in the port of Bandar Abbas.

An Iranian warship that keeled over while under repair almost two weeks ago has been salvaged, according to the Fars news agency. Experts from the Iranian Navy managed to lift the vessel, the agency reported. Despite the damage sustained, naval experts were confident that the ship, the Sahand, could be repaired. The warship capsized in early July during repairs in the port of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, injuring many workers. Equipped with modern radar and missile systems, the destroyer was one of the country's most important warships and the pride of the Iranian Navy.

Updated

2 Dead After Ukrainian Energy Facilities Hit By Russian Drones, Missiles

A body is covered in the courtyard of an apartment building in Mykolayiv on July 19 after a deadly Russian missile attack.
A body is covered in the courtyard of an apartment building in Mykolayiv on July 19 after a deadly Russian missile attack.

Russia has continued its assault on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, with drones and missiles targeting facilities throughout the country early on July 20.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synyehubov said Iskander missiles killed two people and injured three in the eastern region.

Ukraine’s Air Force said that its air defenses shot down 13 of 17 Russian drones across five regions.

But officials in the Sumy and Chernihiv regions reported that Shahed suicide drones struck and damaged energy facilities in the northern territories.

The national grid operator Ukrenerho said an energy facility in the central Poltava region was also reportedly struck.

Thousands of people have been left without power or running water in the Poltava region, according to Governor Filip Pronin.

In recent months, Russia has increasingly targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leading to blackouts across the country and considerably reducing Ukraine’s capacity to produce electricity.

Following recent discussions with Ukrainian officials, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the German news agency dpa on July 20 that the UN has seen an increase in the number of Ukrainian refugees over the past few months.

"They are worried to have to face winter -- or even this very hot season -- without power," Grandi said.

On July 20, Ukrainian officials also announced a higher death toll resulting from a Russian missile strike that hit a children’s playground in the southern city of Mykolayiv.

The number of people killed in the attack has risen to four, including one child, according to Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, commenting on the attack in a Telegram post on July 19, called on the world to take action to help Ukraine defeat the all-out Russian invasion launched in February 2022.

“This destruction of life must be stopped,” Zelenskiy wrote. “We need new solutions to support our defenses. Russia must feel the power of the world.”

Updated

Zelenskiy Congratulates Trump In Call, Agrees To 'Personal Meeting'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and then-U.S. President Donald Trump in New York in September 2019
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and then-U.S. President Donald Trump in New York in September 2019

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he spoke with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and agreed to a face-to-face meeting to discuss steps to a lasting peace with Russia.

Zelenskiy spoke with Trump on July 19, a day after the former U.S. president and again Republican candidate accepted his party’s nomination and vowed to end the war in Ukraine if elected.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

“I spoke with @realDonaldTrump to congratulate him on the Republican nomination and condemn the shocking assassination attempt in Pennsylvania. I wished him strength and absolute safety in the future,” Zelenskiy said in a post on X, referring to the July 13 shooting at a Trump rally that slightly injured the candidate.

Zelenskiy said he agreed with Trump “to discuss at a personal meeting what steps can make peace fair and truly lasting” without giving any details on when and where such a meeting would take place.

Trump said in a post on Truth Social on July 19 that he had a “very good call” with Zelenskiy in which they discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Trump vowed to “bring peace to the world and end the war that has cost so many lives” through negotiations.

"Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity," Trump said.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands on both sides, is now in its 29th month with no end in sight. Russia currently occupies about 17 percent of Ukraine.

Zelenskiy’s call took place as worries grow in Kyiv and other European capitals about another four years of Trump in the White House. The Republican’s chances of winning the November 2024 election improved following 81-year-old incumbent President Joe Biden’s poor performance in a debate last month that raised questions about his physical and mental state.

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King's College London, said there is interest in how Trump would sort out the war now that it appears "as likely as not" that he will win the election.

Trump's Convention Speech Underscores 'Different Framing' Of Russia's War On Ukraine, Expert Says
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In a post on the social media platform Substack, Freedman cited reports about a rudimentary plan drawn up by two members of the White House National Security Council during Trump's 2017-21 presidency that calls for a cease-fire based on prevailing battle lines.

Keith Kellogg, who drew up the plan with Fred Fleitz, has said it would be crucial to get Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table quickly if Trump wins. According to a Reuters report in June, Kellogg has advocated telling the Ukrainians that if they don't come to the negotiating table, U.S. support would dry up, while telling Putin that if he didn't come to the table, the United States would give the Ukrainians "everything they need to kill you in the field."

NATO membership for Ukraine would be off the table as part of the incentive for Russia to come along; putting it back on would be punishment for holding back.

But Freedman, a distinguished military analyst, is skeptical of the plan, which would mark a major shift in the U.S. position on the war.

'Scorched Earth': On The Front Line In Chasiv Yar
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"These coercive measures might possibly get the parties to the table, but it does not point to any actual agreed deal," Freedman said on Substack on July 20.

The Kremlin has said any peace plan proposed by a possible future Trump administration would have to reflect the reality on the ground but that Putin remained open to talks. Ukraine has rejected holding talks with the current battle lines as a starting point.

Trump-Putin Relationship

Trump has expressed admiration for authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin, called the Kremlin leader’s preinvasion tactics “genius,” and has repeatedly criticized NATO’s European allies for not spending more on collective defense.

Republican lawmakers in the House of Representative who are closely aligned with Trump blocked Biden's $61 billion aid package for Ukraine for months, leaving Ukraine’s force short on ammunition and air defense. Ukraine’s ammunition hunger contributed to Russian territorial gains this year, experts have said.

Trump has not made his opinion on future support to Ukraine clear, though this week he picked Senator J.D. Vance (Republican-Ohio), an outspoken opponent of aid to Kyiv, as his running mate. The 39-year-old senator has said the United States does not have the military capacity to support Taiwan, Israel, and Ukraine and should prioritize the first two.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine maintains bipartisan support in Congress and any future U.S. president will have to take that into account.

"Any administration has to ask hard questions. If we stop, if we reverse ourselves, if we let Ukraine down, what will Putin do? He will then really resume the aggression and possibly have a chance of succeeding where for now he’s failed," Blinken said on July 19 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Blinken said Putin would be "likely to go at other countries in the region, including NATO allies." He also said other would-be aggressors are "taking lessons from this too."

During his 92-minute-long acceptance speech on July 18, Trump said he would usher in global peace and stability if elected. He previously said he would “settle” the Ukraine war, should he win the election, before even setting foot in the White House in January 2025.

However, Trump has not said what terms he would propose to Russia and Ukraine. Zelenskiy has said his goal is to drive Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which the Kremlin seized in 2014. Following Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive in 2023, some experts say Ukraine’s objectives are unrealistic and that Kyiv will have to make concessions.

Blinken noted that last week on the margins of the NATO summit in Washington more than 20 countries announced that they had negotiated and signed 10-year bilateral security agreements with Ukraine. All of these countries, including the United States, have committed to help Ukraine build up its defenses for the next decade, Blinken said.

If the United States were to renege on that, there are more than 20 other countries that would continue their support, he said.

Zelenskiy and Trump have a complicated relationship going back to the Ukrainian president’s first days in office.

In a July 2019 call, two months after the former comedian became Ukraine’s president, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the Ukrainian business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

Trump was charged by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives with using the power of his office to pressure Zelenskiy to interfere in U.S. politics in exchange for a White House visit, becoming the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. However, he was acquitted by the Senate.

Former Ukrainian Deputy Known For Promoting Language Shot Dead In Lviv

Iryna Farion gained notoriety for frequent campaigns to promote the Ukrainian language and discredit public officials who spoke Russian. (file photo)
Iryna Farion gained notoriety for frequent campaigns to promote the Ukrainian language and discredit public officials who spoke Russian. (file photo)

A gunman on July 19 shot and killed a former member of Ukraine's parliament known for campaigns to promote the Ukrainian language.

Iryna Farion, 60, was shot in the head on a street in the western city of Lviv. She died after being transported to a hospital, Lviv regional Governor Maksym Kozytskiy said on Telegram.

Natalya Matolinets, head of the anesthesiology service at the First Medical Association of Lviv, said Farion arrived at the hospital in critical condition "with a severe penetrating gunshot wound to the brain."

She was immediately operated on and then transferred to the intensive-care unit for continued treatment, but her heart could not take the strain, Matolinets said.

"Unfortunately, despite all the efforts of the doctors, despite all resuscitation measures, Iryna Farion's life could not be saved," Matolinets said.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said that the shooting was being treated as an assassination. Police launched a wide search for the gunman.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was receiving regular reports on efforts to capture the gunman. He added that any act of violence was to be condemned.

Farion, a linguist, became a member of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party in 2005 and was elected to parliament in 2012 but failed in subsequent attempts to win reelection.

She gained notoriety for frequent campaigns to promote the Ukrainian language and discredit public officials who spoke Russian.

Farion’s views were seen as radical by some critics, and some of her statements caused controversy.

In 2018, when Ukraine was fighting Russia-backed separatists who had seized territory in the east, she called for a drive to "punch every Russian-speaking person in the jaw."

In 2023, she was dismissed as a professor at the Department of Ukrainian Language at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lviv Polytechnic University due to her controversial statements.

At the end of May, the Lviv Court of Appeal issued a ruling reinstating her to the position.

With reporting by Reuters

Iran Can Produce Fissile Material For Bomb In 'Weeks,' U.S. Says

A photo released in 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
A photo released in 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

Iran is capable of producing fissile material for use in a nuclear weapon within "one or two weeks," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on July 19. Despite comments by Iran's new president, Masud Pezeshkian, who has said he favors reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, Blinken said the United States had seen indications in recent weeks that Iran has moved forward with its nuclear program. Blinken blamed the collapse of the nuclear deal in 2018 for the acceleration in Iran's capabilities. "Instead of being at least a year away from having the breakout capacity of producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, [Iran] is now probably one or two weeks away from doing that," Blinken said at a security forum in Colorado.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Russian Hacker Group

The United States on July 19 imposed sanctions on two leaders of the Russian hacktivist group Cyber Army of Russia Reborn (CARR). The U.S. Treasury and State departments said the two were designated for their roles in targeting U.S. critical infrastructure. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement that CARR also conducted malicious cyberactivities against Ukraine and governments that support Ukraine. The Treasury Department named the two as Yulia Vladimirovna Pankratova and Denis Olegovich Degtyarenko, saying they were the group's leader and a primary hacker. Brian Nelson, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said CARR and its members' efforts to target U.S. critical infrastructure "represent an unacceptable threat to our citizens and our communities, with potentially dangerous consequences."

Germany's Scholz Praises Lithium-Mining Deal With Serbia, Says Environment Will Be Protected

(Left to right) German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic meet in Belgrade on July 19.
(Left to right) German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic meet in Belgrade on July 19.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on July 19 said a proposed lithium-mining project in Serbia was "an important European project" that is also good for Serbia, despite opposition from environmental activists and opposition parties.

Scholz attended a Critical Raw Materials Summit in Belgrade, where a memorandum of understanding between the European Union and the Serbian government on a "strategic partnership" on sustainable raw materials, battery supply chains, and electric vehicles was signed.

The mining of lithium is necessary for Europe "to remain sovereign in a changing world and not be dependent on others," Scholz said after the signing ceremony.

Germany is seeking to secure lithium for the manufacture of electric vehicles as the EU aims to reduce its dependence on imports from China of the critical substance used in batteries for electric vehicles.

Scholz and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic attended the summit in Belgrade three days after the Serbian government reinstated a plan for the lithium mine in the west of the country near Jadar operated by the Anglo-Australian metals and mining giant Rio Tinto.

"I'm glad the decision was made," Scholz said, speaking at a joint news conference with Sefcovic and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. "I admit, this decision required courage, but it was made at the right moment."

Scholz pledged that mining would be carried out "in compliance with the highest standards of environmental protection, and Germany will help in this."

Asked how Germany can guarantee environmental protection, Scholz said that he asked the president of Rio Tinto to respect all environmental standards during exploitation and said that he had received guarantees for this.

"The standards for protecting the climate, the environment, and biodiversity are high. That's why I spoke very early with the head of Rio Tinto," Scholz said.

As the summit took place, environmental activists opposed to lithium mining gathered near the venue in central Belgrade. One banner said the EU should "leave lithium and democracy to the Serbian people."

The Serbian government rejected the project in 2022 after massive environmental protests, but on July 16 it reinstated the plan days after the Balkan state's Constitutional Court said the government of then-Prime Minister Ana Brnabic had acted unconstitutionally when it withdrew permits for Rio Tinto.

Scholz said that among the other reasons to support the project are that it will create new jobs in Serbia and help Europe meet its climate goals.

Sefcovic said that it was a historic day for both Serbia and the European Union.

"This will open the door for investments in Serbia. European companies will come and create jobs and create new economic growth," he said.

Serbia will occupy a central place in the most important strategic value chains and will be the first country in Europe with the entire value chain once batteries are produced in Serbia, Sefcovic said.

According to him, the first goal is to strengthen the Serbian economy with high-quality jobs throughout the supply chain.

He also said the memorandum of understanding and another signed agreement will further highlight the partnership between the EU and Serbia, which is a candidate for membership in the EU.

Vucic said he was proud of "what we started today," calling the memorandum of understanding important for Europe and Germany, but most important for Serbia. "This represents a turning point and a big change for us."

He said that lithium mining represented billions of dollars in direct foreign investment and Serbia should not miss this chance.

He added that Serbia did not hide the difficulties the government is facing in its support for the mining project but insisted that it was doing everything transparently.

"Never at any stage -- and there is a long way to the opening of the mine -- will we hide anything from our people," he added.

With reporting by AP

Russian Missile Strike Hits Playground In Mykolayiv, Killing 3, Zelenskiy Says

The body of a local resident killed in a Russian missile strike lies covered on a playground at an apartment building damaged during a Russian missile strike on Mykolayiv on July 19. Three people were killed, including a child.
The body of a local resident killed in a Russian missile strike lies covered on a playground at an apartment building damaged during a Russian missile strike on Mykolayiv on July 19. Three people were killed, including a child.

A Russian missile strike on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv hit a playground, killing at least three people, including one child, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on July 19.

The strike also wounded five people, Zelenskiy said on Telegram, calling on the world to help stop Russian "terror."

Mykolayiv Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych confirmed on Telegram that three people, including a child, died in the attack.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Zelenskiy published photos showing what appeared to be at least two bodies -- one lying under rubble by the entrance to a building and another lying in a wooded area near residential buildings. The photos also showed one person being carried away on a stretcher and the windows of the residential buildings blown out.

"This destruction of life must stop," Zelenskiy said. "New solutions are needed to support our defense. Russia must feel the power of the world."

The Ukrainian leader has repeatedly called for Kyiv's Western backers to deliver more air-defense systems to help the country protect its skies from Russian aerial attacks.

The port city of Mykolayiv and the surrounding region regularly come under Russian attacks. Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram that another missile landed elsewhere in the region on July 19.

Moscow denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure despite evidence and testimony to the contrary and the documented deaths of more than 10,000 people in its attacks since the launch of its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Russian shelling earlier on July 19 from across the Dnieper River killed an elderly woman in the settlement of Bilozerka in Ukraine's Kherson region, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.

A Russian strike on the town of Chuhuyiv in the northeastern Kharkiv region wounded at least seven people, regional head Oleh Synyehubov reported, while in the Sumy region close to the border with Russia, at least one civilian was wounded by Russian shelling, according to regional officials.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its air defenses had downed 19 Ukrainian drones over the western Kursk and Belgorod regions, as well as occupied Crimea.

With reporting by AFP

Homes Of Afghan Migrants Reportedly Attacked After Killing Of Iranian

Hundreds of Afghans are deported from Iran every day. (file photo)
Hundreds of Afghans are deported from Iran every day. (file photo)

The homes of several Afghan migrants in the southern Iranian city of Khur have reportedly been set on fire in apparent retaliation for the killing of an Iranian man allegedly by an Afghan national.

Hosna, an Afghan who lives in Khur, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi on July 19 that he moved his family from Khur to Shiraz in Fars Province out of fear for their safety.

"People in the region are very angry and set homes of several Afghans on fire," he claimed.

Hosna and others who spoke to Radio Azadi attributed the anger to the July 3 killing of a 62-year-old restaurant owner in the town of Khenj by his 17-year-old apprentice. Iranian media have not identified the nationality of the suspected killer, but Hosna said the suspect was an Afghan citizen.

"The people of the region have sworn not to sell 1 kilogram of meat, or even a piece of bread, to Afghan nationals," Hosna said. "So, many were forced to flee to Shiraz."

Anti-Afghan sentiment in Iran has been on the rise in recent years, especially after a mass influx of migrants following the Taliban's return to power in August 2021.

Occasionally, a hashtag that describes the expulsion of Afghan migrants as a "national demand" becomes a top trend on X, formerly Twitter, often boosted by anonymous accounts.

Last week, an unsubstantiated claim on social media blamed Afghan migrants for an alleged rise in leprosy cases in Iran.

The UN’s refugee agency says Iran hosts around 780,000 Afghan refugees, in addition to some 2.6 million undocumented Afghan migrants. But Iran claimed last year that the number of illegal Afghan immigrants was closer to 5 million.

The authorities have vowed to deport illegal refugees and hundreds of Afghan migrants are sent back to Afghanistan every day. They are also banned from living or working in half of Iran's 31 provinces.

Afghans living in Iran have complained to Radio Azadi about rising harassment, even during deportation.

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans
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Tehran has for years maintained that it does not receive sufficient financial aid from international organizations to handle the number of refugees on its soil.

Serbian Police Kill Alleged Cop Killer After Manhunt

Serbian police at the Lipnicki Sor checkpoint in the city of Loznica in western Serbia, where two policemen were shot, one of them fatally, on July 18.
Serbian police at the Lipnicki Sor checkpoint in the city of Loznica in western Serbia, where two policemen were shot, one of them fatally, on July 18.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said on July 19 that police had killed the suspect in the fatal shooting of a police officer near the western border with Bosnia-Herzegovina after a massive manhunt that involved authorities in several countries.

The Serbian Interior Ministry's initial statement did not identify the dead suspect.

But officials had previously identified the man being sought for the killing of one policeman and the wounding of another as Faton Hajrizi, a recent prison escapee from Kosovo with multiple convictions, including for violent crimes.

"Police officers liquidated the killer of a policeman in the vicinity of Loznica," Dacic was quoted as saying in a police statement.

Dacic later specified to journalists that police had "eliminated an Albanian terrorist" in the vicinity of the village of Banja Koviljaca after he fired on police responding to a resident's report that a man who didn't speak Serbian had approached the resident asking for water.

"The police eliminated him. He had no intention of surrendering," Dacic said. "This is a ruthless and hardened criminal, this is the fifth or sixth murder he has committed."

Helicopters, drones, and at least 150 police officers had been scouring areas near the Drina River that marks the Serbian-Bosnian border, according to Serbian deputy police director Dragan Vasiljevic.

Serbian police said they were working with law enforcement in the Serb-majority region of Republika Srpska, across the border in Bosnia. Vasiljevic said they had also established cooperation with central Bosnian and Croatian police, and with international institutions in Kosovo.

Kosovar authorities had issued a warrant for Hajrizi after his escape early this month from Smrekonica prison, a low-security facility.

Kosovo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, the country's liaison office in Serbia, responded to the reports of the suspect's death by asking Serbian authorities to confirm the identity of the individual who was killed.

Serbian authorities say the shooting occurred during a routine vehicle control at the Lipnicki Sor border checkpoint, near Loznica, early on July 18.

They say the suspect fired on two police officers as he got out of the vehicle, killing one and injuring the other, before fleeing the scene toward the nearby river.

The Interior Ministry had circulated a photograph of Hajrizi and appealed to citizens for help finding him.

After initially calling it "a clear terrorist act coming from Kosovo by Albanian structures," Dacic said investigators were treating the crime as a "terrorist attack because it is an attack on officials."

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti responded to reports of the killing by urging officials to avoid "politicizing" the tragedy.

Relations remain strained between Serbia and its partially recognized former province, which Belgrade still regards as part of Serbia despite a declaration of independence by Kosovo’s predominantly ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina in 2008.

The Kosovo Correctional Service called Smrekonica an "open institution" and said two officers had been suspended after Hajrizi's escape earlier this month.

Hajrizi's criminal convictions in Kosovo included the killing of a Russian soldier 24 years ago when Hajrizi was still in his teens.

Reports suggested Hajrizi had escaped from prison as many as nine times, and the prison authority was quoted earlier this month as saying he had 7 1/2 years left to serve on his current sentence.

The Serbian Interior Ministry said a Kosovar passport in the name of Artan Hajrizi, Faton Hajrizi's brother, and a German identity card were found at the crime scene.

Artan Hajrizi announced in Germany on the day of the shooting that his brother had stolen his passport two days earlier.

Dacic suggested that the alleged document theft pointed to a premeditated attack.

Deputy police chief Vasiljevic told German media that police there had been contacted via Interpol.

On July 18, Dacic reported that the alleged driver of the vehicle in which the suspected shooter was riding had been apprehended in the city of Bijeljina, in Republika Srpska in Bosnia. He was identified as Zoran Radovanovic.

The Serbian Higher Court told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that Radovanovic had skipped bail five years ago before being tried in absentia and sentenced by a Belgrade court in 2020 for leading a criminal group involved in drug smuggling.

Radovanovic's wife was also arrested in Mladenovac, near Belgrade, on July 18 on suspicion of being an accomplice to a crime.

German Sentenced To Death In Belarus For 'Mercenary Activity'

Rico Krieger
Rico Krieger

The German Foreign Ministry confirmed on July 19 that a German national has been sentenced to death in Belarus and said Berlin was in intensive contact with authorities in Minsk over his fate.

The German ministry did not identify the man, but earlier on July 19 the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights group said that the man sentenced to death was Rico Krieger.

Vyasna said Krieger, 30, was taken into custody in November 2023, went on trial on June 6, and was sentenced on June 24 by the Minsk regional court.

The human rights group said it was the first trial in Belarus for "mercenary activity."

It said Krieger had been charged additionally with terrorism, creating an extremist group, intentionally damaging a vehicle, and illegal operations with firearms and explosives.

The Belarusian authorities have not commented on the case, and the court refused to give any information about the matter to RFE/RL by telephone.

The German Foreign Ministry said it and the German Embassy were giving "the person in question consular support and...working intensively with Belarusian authorities on his behalf."

Vyasna said the charges were connected to the Kalinouski Regiment, a group of anti-government Belarusian exiles fighting for Ukraine. The Kalinouski Regiment denies any connection to the case.

Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has supported Russia in the conflict in Ukraine.

"This is the first exceptional measure of punishment for a foreigner in Belarus," human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka told RFE/RL, noting that the death penalty was used in a case not involving a murder.

He believes the verdict is not accidental and the Belarusian authorities are counting on using the case to bargain with Germany, noting the lack of a death penalty there.

The German Foreign Ministry statement said Berlin considered the death penalty "a cruel and inhuman form of punishment" and that Germany rejected it in all circumstances. Belarus is the only European country that continues to use the death penalty.

Krieger was born in Berlin and worked as a paramedic for the German Red Cross, according to Vyasna. He has a young son, who lives in Germany.

Krieger worked previously as a special security officer for the U.S. State Department in Berlin, where he gained experience in armed security operations. He then moved to the field of health care and worked as a nurse specializing in emergency medical care.

In Historic Address To U.K. Cabinet, Zelenskiy Calls For Boosting Ukraine's 'Long-Range Capability'

U.K. Prime Minister Keir Starmer (left) and Defense Secretary John Healey (right) applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) after he addressed an extraordinary meeting of the British Cabinet on July 19.
U.K. Prime Minister Keir Starmer (left) and Defense Secretary John Healey (right) applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) after he addressed an extraordinary meeting of the British Cabinet on July 19.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered a historic address before Britain's cabinet on July 19, calling for its help in halting Moscow's deadly missile strikes by allowing Ukrainian forces to launch attacks deeper inside Russian territory.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Zelenskiy, the first foreign leader to address the cabinet since former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997, said Britain had the power to convince its NATO partners, some of whom have been reluctant to allow Kyiv to use Western-provided long-range weapons to strike targets hundreds of kilometers deep inside Russia, to reverse their stance and remove the limitations.

“I ask you to show your leadership," Zelenskiy told the British cabinet to a standing ovation at the start of the meeting at No. 10 Downing Street.

"Right now we are missing the main answer to this question and that is our long-range capability...Please convince the other partners to remove the limits. If the restrictions on using Western weapons against Russian military are lifted, we can strike further than just near the border," he said, adding that once we can strike further...including Russian military airfields, we will not only protect ourselves from any Russian offensives but also secure our frontline positions and cities from Russian bombs."

Britain has been one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion in February 2022, and Prime Minister Keir Starmer, who led his Labour Party to a landslide election victory earlier this month, was quick to reaffirm Britain's commitment to Kyiv despite the change of government.

Zelenskiy and Starmer met separately ahead of the cabinet meeting, and the Ukrainian leader thanked Britain for its sustained support.

“Ukraine is, and always will be, at the heart of this government’s agenda, and so it is only fitting that President Zelenskiy will make a historic address to my Cabinet,” Starmer said in a statement before the meeting.

“Russia’s incremental gains on the battlefield are nothing compared with the collective international support for Ukraine, or the strength of ties between our people.”

Russian forces over the past several months have made small advances in the east of Ukraine against exhausted Ukrainian forces who have lacked sufficient manpower and ammunition. At the same time, Moscow has also frequently targeted critical Ukrainian energy infrastructure and caused deaths and damage in cities.

Separately, Zelenskiy said on July 19 that Poland had made a decision that would speed up the delivery of F-16 warplanes to Ukraine.

"Today, we have a positive decision from the Polish government on a specific issue, which will allow Ukraine to receive F-16 jets sooner. I am grateful to Prime Minister Tusk for efficiently following up on our previous agreements. I am grateful to Poland for its strong support for Ukraine," Zelenskiy wrote on X, without giving details.

Earlier on July 19, Russian shelling from across the Dnieper River killed an elderly woman in the settlement of Bilozerka, in Ukraine's Kherson region, regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.

A Russian strike on the town of Chuhuyiv in the northeastern Kharkiv region wounded at least seven people, regional head Oleh Synyehubov reported, while in the Sumy region close to the border with Russia, at least one civilian was wounded by Russian shelling, according to regional officials.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its air defense systems had downed 19 Ukrainian drones over the Kursk and Belgorod regions, as well as occupied Crimea.

Updated

Plane Crash Kills 2 Pilots In Armenia

Both pilots on board the plane died in the crash on July 19.
Both pilots on board the plane died in the crash on July 19.

Armenia's Defense Ministry said on July 19 that one of its Yak-52 planes crashed near Yeghvard, a town 20 kilometers north of Yerevan, killing the two pilots on board. The ministry said the plane was on a training mission when it crashed at around 9:30 a.m. local time. The dead pilots were identified as Senior Lieutenant Armen Isakhanian and cadet Armen Khachatrian. The South Caucasus country's Investigative Committee said an investigation had been launched into the crash. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

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