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Poles Mourn Lost President

Crash Scene Of Polish President's Plane
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(WATCH: The wreckage of the plane crash. Source: Reuters.)

(RFE/RL) -- Poles are in mourning today following the death of President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other Polish government, military, and church officials in a plane crash in western Russia.

A week of mourning has been called in Poland and a two-minute silence will be held at 1200 local time. Kaczynski's body is expected to arrive back in the country today.

Bronislaw Komorowski, the head of Poland's lower house of parliament, has taken over as interim head of state.

Investigations have been launched in Russia into why the presidential jet, an older Soviet Tupolev Tu-154, clipped the tops of trees, crashed and broke up in flames on April 10 as it approached the runway at the Smolensk airport.

Russian officials have suggested that heavy fog or an error by the Polish crew may have played a role in the crash, which killed all 97 passengers and crew on board. Both "black box" flight data recorders from the aircraft have been found.

In a cruel twist of fate, the delegation -- which included much of the upper echelons of the country's political and military elite -- was en route to pay homage to the victims of the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish military officers and civic leaders were executed by the Soviet secret police in April 1940 during World War II.

President Kaczynski had wanted to attend the April 7 commemorations at Katyn, headed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. But Kaczynski -- a frequent critic of the Kremlin -- did not receive an invitation from Moscow, prompting his trip on April 10.

Among the other officials on board the Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft and presumed dead were Central Bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek, Army Chief of Staff General Franciszek Gagor, and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

Also on board were the head of the National Security Office, the deputy parliamentary speaker, the civil rights commissioner, two presidential aides, and three lawmakers. (Click here for a list of the known dead so far.)

'This Tragic, Cursed Katyn'

Aleksander Kwasniewski, Kaczynski's predecessor as president, bitterly noted what he called "the horrible symbolism" of the two tragedies, which took place seven decades apart. "This tragic, cursed Katyn," he said. "It's hard to believe. You get chills down your spine."

In an emotional address to the Polish people, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his condolences, declared April 12 a day of national mourning in Russia, and promised to work closely with the Polish authorities in investigating the tragedy.

"In recent days, we together conducted memorial services in Katyn. We together mourned the victims of totalitarian times. Lech Kaczynski was flying to Russia to personally pay homage to the fallen Polish officers, as a president and as a citizen of his country. All Russians share your grief and mourning," Medvedev said.

Medvedev placed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who visited the scene, in charge of the investigation of the crash.

Journalist Marcin Wojciechowski, a correspondent for the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" spoke to RFE/RL from the scene of the crash: "Rescuers are continuing their work. They aren't moving the remains of the dead yet so experts can investigate the causes of the tragedy. Police and prosecutors are on the scene. Firefighters put out the blaze fairly quickly."

In Warsaw, Prime Minister Donald Tusk called an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet. Tusk called the crash, "the most tragic event in Poland's postwar history" and said he would immediately fly to the crash site in Smolensk. He also reassured Poles that despite the loss of so many top officials, the state will continue to function.

Kaczynski's death marked the first time a Polish president has died in office since 1922, when Gabriel Narutowicz was assassinated by a nationalist after being in office for just five days.


In Poland, tens of thousands of mourners have turned out in central Warsaw to lay candles and flowers outside the presidential palace. Black ribbons appeared in many windows in the Polish capital.

Adrianna Parowska was among those who gathered to pay their respects. "I came here and like others from Warsaw, we are all in shock. We are here to be together, to console each other. It's a great shock because the elite of our nation went there to remember the dead from 70 years ago," she said.

"Right now Poland is really in trouble. We are all in shock and our thoughts are with the families of the dead. Actually, it's very hard to say anything."

In Russia, the Rossiya-24 television channel showed hundreds of people around the monument to the victims of the Katyn massacre, many holding Polish flags, some weeping.
Lech Kaczynski

Kaczynski, 60, is survived by his daughter Marta and two granddaughters. He became president in December 2005 after defeating Tusk in that year's presidential election.

Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw have been dominant forces in Polish politics for years. Jaroslaw Kaczynski was not on board the plane that crashed. Polish media said he was due to visit the crash site.

Kaczynski was a one-time ally of Solidarity hero Lech Walesa and a co-founder of the rightist Law and Justice party with his brother. He resigned from the party when he became president in 2005 but continued to support it.

His death brings political uncertainty. A presidential election had been due in October but now must be held within two months, according to the constitution. In a televised address, Poland's acting President Komorowski said he will announce the date of the election after talks with all political parties.

Kaczynski had said that he planned to seek a second term in elections scheduled for October. He was expected to face a difficult race against Komorowski, the candidate of Tusk's governing Civic Platform party.

While the president's role is largely symbolic, the holder can veto government legislation. Kaczynski infuriated the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk several times by blocking key legislation.

Spotty Safety Record

The presidential aircraft, a Tu-154 painted in the official Polish colors of red and white, was at least 20 years old.

Investigators, who have recovered the plane's two flight data recorders, are trying to determine the cause of the crash, which was recorded at 10:50 am local time.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s, including six in the past five years. Russian carrier Aeroflot recently withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service. Polish officials have long sought to replace the ageing planes that carry the country's leaders but said they lacked the funds.

Possible pilot error is being examined. Lieutenant General Alexander Alyoshin, the deputy head of Russia's air force, told Russian news agencies that air traffic controllers had repeatedly advised the pilots to land at another airport, due to the poor visibility. But he said the crew ignored the warnings.

World leaders have expressed shock and sadness over the deaths of President Kaczynski and the Polish delegation, with many statements paying tribute to the Polish leader's patriotism and support for freedom.

Speaking to journalists in Lochgelly, Scotland, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said "the whole world will be saddened and in sorrow" over the deaths of Kaczynski, his wife, and the other passengers on the flight.

The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama has called Tusk -- whom he had just met in Prague on April 8 at a dinner with Eastern European leaders -- to express the "deepest condolences to the people of Poland."

"Today’s loss is devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world. President Kaczynski was a distinguished statesman who played a key role in the Solidarity movement, and he was widely admired in the United States as a leader dedicated to advancing freedom and human dignity," Obama said in a written statement released by the White House.

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Investigative Journalist Says Deal On Swap Involving Navalny Was Close Just Before Kremlin Critic's Death

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on February 23.
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on February 23.

Investigative journalist Christo Grozev told RFE/RL that there was a plan in the works to exchange Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny for convicted murderer and former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Vadim Krasikov.

At least three countries participated in the discussions -- the United States, Germany, and Russia -- Grozev said in an interview on February 27 with RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service.

Grozev’s statements could not be independently verified, but they aligned with the comments of Maria Pevchikh, chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, who on February 26 said Navalny's associates had worked for two years to convince Western officials to negotiate a deal that would include the Kremlin critic and two U.S. citizens held in Russian prisons for Krasikov.

Pevchikh said Putin in early February was offered Krasikov in a swap for two American citizens and Navalny under a plan that Grozev said he and Pevchikh had developed.

“I received confirmation that negotiations were at the final stage in the evening of February 15. On February 16, Aleksei was killed," Pevchikh said in her video.

Investigative Journalist Says He Helped Plan Potential Navalny Prisoner Swap
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Both Pevchikh and Grozev said Russian billionaire Roman Abramavich was the link with Russia. Grozev, who said he also took part in the negotiations, said Russia had given its consent; however, he did not know whether Putin personally approved the exchange.

"But that was the last ingredient everybody was waiting for," he told RFE/RL.

"By the time Navalny died -- or as I believe he was killed -- it seemed like a very optimistic scenario that could work in the coming months," Grozev said.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, attended the Munich Security Conference to secure the final steps needed to swap Navalny, he said. Instead of news about a swap, the news came that he had died suspiciously after taking a walk at the prison colony in the Arctic where he had been held since December.

According to Grozev, the fact that Germany agreed to exchange Krasikov was a signal to the Kremlin that it would swap for not-so-high-ranking prisoners being held in Russia, which is why the Russians withdrew. The calculation on Moscow’s part was that it might be possible to get Krasikov released without having to free the Americans and Navalny.

This same thesis had been put forth by Pevchikh, however, she said Putin had been "clearly told" that the only way to get Krasikov back was to exchange him for Navalny.

In her video, Pevchikh alleged Putin “wouldn't tolerate” Navalny being set free and instead of swapping him, the Russian leader decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip.” She provided no evidence to back up her claim.

Krasikov is serving life in prison for the assassination in 2019 of a Georgian national and former Chechen rebel commander in a Berlin park. German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann on February 26 acknowledged that Germany had been asked about the prisoner swap involving Krasikov and Navalny but said she couldn’t comment.

Neither Pevchikh nor Grozev named the two U.S. citizens to be included in the exchange for Krasikov. Several Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons, including former Marine Paul Whelan, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on February 26 reiterated that the United States in December had proposed a swap to free Whelan and Gershkovich. Miller said the United States would not say more about the negotiations.

The Bulgarian-born Grozev, who lives in the United States, is the executive director and lead Russia investigator for Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group. He also is known for having close ties with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Grozev’s investigations into the identity of the suspects involved in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Britain earned him and his team the European Press Prize for Investigative Journalism.

A court in Moscow in April 2023 issued an arrest warrant for him on a charge of allegedly crossing Russia's border illegally in December 2022. Russia's Interior Ministry also added him to its wanted list on unspecified accusations.

Protesters Boo 'Putin Envoy' Dodik As Montenegro Pro-Russian Party Welcomes Him

Milorad Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Milorad Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russia president of the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, on February 27 visited Montenegro, where he was greeted by hundreds of protesters who booed him as he entered the parliament building.

Dodik, who last week traveled to the Russian republic of Tatarstan for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrived in Podgorica for a meeting with Parliament Speaker Andrija Mandic.

The cabinet of Montenegro's president, Jakov Milatovic, and the government of Milojko Spajic told RFE/RL they had no official information about Dodik's visit or announcements of meetings with officials.

The protesters who gathered at the parliament building criticized Mandic's meeting with Dodik, holding signs reading, "We must say no to Mandic and Dodik!" and waving a banner that included the words, "Putin's envoys are not welcome."

Entering the parliament building, Dodik greeted the crowd with a three-finger salute used by pro-democracy movements and as a symbol of dissent and opposition to authoritarianism. The protesters responded by booing and shouting "fascist."

Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Dodik told Putin that Republika Srpska refuses to join sanctions against Russia despite pressure from Western governments and said he does not want to see Bosnia join NATO.

Two days before his meeting with Putin, Dodik met with Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for electoral irregularities.

Mandic, as one of the leaders of the pro-Russian Democratic Front coalition with two other parties, said it was a great honor to host Dodik, saying his New Serbian Democracy and Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats are sister parties.

“These are primarily Serb parties -- the Serb people of [Republika Srpska] support them, and the Montenegrin people support us," Mandic said.

Mandic said he would discuss a proposed cooperation agreement in the areas of business, sports, education, and culture in accordance with the Dayton agreement with Dodik. Mandic told a news conference the former government had rejected the agreement.

Opposition parties reacted strongly to Dodik's visit.

The pro-European Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said he came with "the task of conveying Putin's messages to his allies in Montenegro."

Abaz Dizdarevic, a DPS member of parliament, said Dodik's visit to Montenegro after his trips to Russia, Belarus, and Serbia confirm that Montenegro's officials are deceiving international partners with their European agenda.

Montenegro’s parliament in October appointed the new government led by Milatovic and Spajic and composed of pro-Europe and pro-Serbia/Russia-friendly parties that is expected to lead the country in its bid to join the European Union.

The Social Democrats said Dodik's visit was a clear indicator to the domestic and the international public what the EU agenda looks like in practice and not "in the artificial and now very distasteful EU narrative" of numerous officials in Montenegro.

The Bosniak Party said Dodik's visit was a clear sign that Montenegro "is becoming a haven for politicians and policies who are proxies of Russian politics in the Balkans and who have undisguised aspirations to dismantle a unified [Bosnia]."

Polish Prime Minister Considers Wider Ban On Ukrainian Food Imports As Farmers Protest In Warsaw

Polish farmers block a motorway to protest against the import of agricultural produce and food products from Ukraine, close to the Polish-German border, near Swiecko, Poland, on February 25.
Polish farmers block a motorway to protest against the import of agricultural produce and food products from Ukraine, close to the Polish-German border, near Swiecko, Poland, on February 25.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on February 27 he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to include other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc's markets. Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw carrying the national flag and blowing horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules. Farmers across Europe have been protesting new regulations in the EU's “Green Deal” and unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.

Navalny's Former Lawyer Detained In Moscow After Helping Mother Press For Release Of Son's Body

Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of the late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and lawyer Vasily Dubkov arrive at the regional department of Russia's Investigative Committee in the town of Salekhard, Russia, on February 17.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of the late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and lawyer Vasily Dubkov arrive at the regional department of Russia's Investigative Committee in the town of Salekhard, Russia, on February 17.

Russian media reports on February 27 said police detained late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's former lawyer, Vasily Dubkov, on unspecified charges. Dubkov accompanied Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, to the Arctic city of Salekhard last week while she was demanding to release her son's body. The body was released to Navalnaya on February 24. Navalny's three former lawyers -- Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster -- were arrested in November on extremism charges. In mid-November, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for another former lawyer for Navalny, Olga Mikhailova, on extremism charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Internet Outages In Russia Hit Some Social Media, But Instagram, Facebook Come Back

Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.
Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.

Telegram, the most popular messaging app used in Russia, suffered a temporary outage on February 27 for unexplained reasons while some previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia. The monitoring center for Russia's public communications network said its specialists had recorded a "massive failure" of Telegram, though it was not immediately clear why. Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Former Lawmaker To Terrorists Registry

Self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov (file photo)
Self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov (file photo)

Russia's Federal Financial Monitoring Service on February 27 added self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov to its list of terrorists and extremists on unspecified grounds. Earlier in the day, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Gudkov's son Dmitry Gudkov, who is also a self-exiled opposition politician, on a charge of distributing "false" information about Russian military involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Both Gudkovs have publicly condemned the invasion and have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government for years. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Two Ethnic Serbs Sentenced For Attack That Injured NATO Peacekeepers In Kosovo

Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping forces scuffle with ethnic Serbs in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.
Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping forces scuffle with ethnic Serbs in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.

A court in Kosovo reached an agreement with two ethnic Serbs on February 27 after they plead guilty to attacking NATO-led peacekeepers. Radosh Petrovic and Dusan Obrenovic admitted to being part of a crowd that attacked KFOR troops in Zvecan, in Kosovo’s north, which is dominated by ethnic Serbs. Petrovic was sentenced to six months in jail but with time served will not have to return to jail. Obrenovic will avoid jail time if he pays a 6,000 euro ($6,500) fine. In May 2023, ethnic Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led peacekeepers, over the validity of local elections. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

After 18 Months Of Detention, Jailed Iranian Rapper Asks To Be Executed

Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.
Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.

Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin, who was detained during the nationwide protests in 2022 and has since detailed harrowing accounts of physical and psychological torture he has endured, has made a plea from prison to Iran's judiciary to "issue my death sentence" rather than continue holding him indefinitely without a trial.

Yasin, who has been incarcerated for 18 months at Karaj's Ghezel Hesar prison amid allegations lacking clear evidence, posted a letter on his official Instagram account saying he does not "understand the reason for all this anger, harassment, and torment from the judicial authorities toward me."

"Please tell me what crime I have committed?" he wrote.

"I am asking you to execute me, I don't know how to endure prison and uncertainty for a crime that neither you nor I know. Please issue my death sentence, I have no objection and I consent in writing with my fingerprints and signature.... Take my life, get it over," he added.

Initial reports suggest Yasin was first taken to a local police station during nationwide protests in September 2022 before being transferred to Evin prison and subsequently to the Greater Tehran prison.

The judiciary's news agency has reported that Yasin was accused of "waging war against God," a charge that led to a death sentence from the Tehran Revolutionary Court. However, the Supreme Court accepted Yasin's appeal for a retrial and referred his case back to the Revolutionary Court. A retrial has yet to take place.

Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.

Yasin has consistently maintained his innocence, releasing multiple audio files to publicize his claims. He has also reportedly launched at least one hunger strike in protest.

"My life fell apart, you took away my mental and physical health, you artificially executed me, you took me to a mental hospital, what is left to bring upon me that you have not brought? Take my life too! I've been living with your fake and false promises for 18 months, I'm tired, finish it!" he wrote in the February 26 social media post.

Since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in custody after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranians have flooded the streets across the country to protest a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The judiciary, at the urging of lawmakers, has instituted harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for offenders.

Meanwhile, judges have also begun sending offenders to psychiatric centers as part of their punishment, a move prominent psychiatry boards in Iran have said is an abuse of judicial authority.

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

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Discusses Peace Plan, Return Of Captives In Talks With Saudi Crown Prince

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is welcomed upon arriving at an airport in an unknown location in Saudi Arabia on February 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is welcomed upon arriving at an airport in an unknown location in Saudi Arabia on February 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy held talks in Saudi Arabia on February 27 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman devoted to the course of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter, that the primary topics would be Kyiv's peace formula for ending the invasion, as well as the return of captives and deported people. The Saudi state news agency said during the talks that the crown prince "affirmed the Kingdom's keenness and support for all international endeavors and efforts aimed at resolving the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, reaching peace, and continuing efforts to contribute in alleviating the resulting humanitarian impacts.

Polish Farmers Rally In Warsaw Against EU Policies, Ukraine Imports

Polish farmers rally in Warsaw on February 27.
Polish farmers rally in Warsaw on February 27.

Thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw on February 27 carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest which started in early February against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules. Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU's 'Green Deal' regulations, which are meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine. The Polish farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then the prime minister's office.

Anti-War Teen Activist Sent To Pretrial Detention On Charge Of Discrediting Russian Military

The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.
The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A court in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has sent an 18-year-old activist to pretrial detention on a charge of repeatedly discrediting Russian armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.

Kozyreva was detained on February 24, on the day of the second anniversary of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, after she glued a poster on a monument of prominent Ukrainian writer, poet, and thinker Taras Shevchenko with an excerpt of his well-known poem My Testament.

"Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained."

The poster was so strongly glued that police as unable to remove it and had to cover it with a black plastic bag.

Kozyreva was initially charged with vandalism in January last year after she left a comment in December 2022 on an art installation symbolizing "friendship" between St. Petersburg and Ukraine's city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by Russian bombs during Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The investigation of that case is still under way.

On December 18, 2022, less than a week after the installation was unveiled in St. Petersburg's Palace Square, the words "Murderers, you bombed it to ruins yourselves!" appeared on the installation.

Kozyreva was expelled from St. Petersburg State University last month after she was found guilty of discrediting Russian armed forces and ordered to pay a 30,000 ruble ($320) fine in December.

That charge stemmed from Kozyreva's online posts in 2022 criticizing Russian laws on discrediting Russian armed forces that were introduced shortly after Russia launched its full-scale unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.

Tajik Prosecutor Seeks 20 Years In Prison For Police Officer Charged With Kidnapping, Murder

Former Tajik police officer Akmal Yusufzoda (right) is accused of abducting Ismoiljon Rahmonov (left) and killing him. (composite file photo)
Former Tajik police officer Akmal Yusufzoda (right) is accused of abducting Ismoiljon Rahmonov (left) and killing him. (composite file photo)

A Tajik prosecutor asked the country's Supreme Court on February 26 to sentence former police Colonel Akmal Yusufzoda to 20 years in prison on a charge of kidnapping and murdering a university teacher. Ismoiljon Rahmonov died in June last year after unknown individuals kidnapped him and threw him with his hands bound into a river. Yusufzoda was arrested along with a relative, Ismoiljon Shukurov, for their alleged involvement in the crime. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Shukurov to 12 years on a charge of aiding in Rahmonov's abduction. Investigators say Yusufzoda's actions were motivated by jealousy as he suspected Rahmonov had an affair with his wife. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Navalny Associates Face Problems Finding Location To Bid Farewell To Kremlin Critic

Late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny
Late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Associates of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny say they can't find a location in the Russian capital that will allow them to organize a public farewell ceremony for the Kremlin critic after his mother said she was being blackmailed by officials to hold a secret commemoration.

"We have called the majority of private and state funeral agencies, commercial entities, and funeral halls. Some say the premises are booked, some refuse to talk after they hear Navalny's name," spokeswoman Kyra Yarmysh said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on February 27.

"At one place, they directly said to us that they had been ordered not to collaborate with us. No results a day after we started looking for a site for a farewell ceremony," Yarmysh added a day after publishing a post saying Navalny's team was looking for a location to hold a public farewell "at the end of this working week."

Navalny's relatives have yet to confirm any details of a farewell ceremony and funeral for the anti-corruption crusader.

On February 26, the Baza Telegram channel said, citing unnamed sources at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, that its employees had started preparations for Navalny's burial overnight, adding that the preliminary date for a ceremony was set for February 29.

Baza also published a video it received from a subscriber showing that a parking place at the Borisovskoye cemetery was thoroughly cleared of snow the previous night with a large number of police vehicles present. The video was not independently verified.

Several Telegram channels mentioned possible sites where Navalny may be buried, including the Borisovskoye, Khovanskoye, and Troyekurovskoye cemeteries. All are in Moscow.

Navalny's body was released to his mother Lyudmila Navalnaya on February 24, more than a week after his suspicious death in an Arctic penal colony. No cause has been made public for the demise of the 47-year-old.

Before the body was released, Navalnaya said authorities were setting conditions on where, when, and how her son should be buried.

“They want it to do it secretly without a mourning ceremony,” she said.

Hundreds of Russians have been arrested as people continued to honor Navalny’s memory at sites across the country.

Navalny's relatives, associates, and Western officials have blamed President Vladimir Putin for his death. Russian officials have said no foul play was involved and called the international outrage over Navalny's death while in prison "hysterical."

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a self-exiled leading Russian opposition figure said in an interview with RFE/RL earlier that a public funeral could trigger “large-scale confrontations” between Navalny supporters and law enforcement.

Navalny died while serving a 19-year prison term on charges including extremism that he, his supporters, Western officials, and rights watchdogs called politically motivated.

Moscow Court Freezes Bank Accounts Of Wife Of Self-Exiled Anti-War Writer Akunin

Russian writer Boris Akunin (file photo)
Russian writer Boris Akunin (file photo)

A Moscow court has frozen bank accounts with 6 million rubles ($64,400) belonging to Erika Chkhartishvili, the wife of prominent Russian writer Boris Akunin, which is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili.

The Basmanny district court ruled on February 27 that the cash in Erika Chkhartishvili's accounts "was jointly earned by the couple and used to commit crimes."

In early February, the same court issued an arrest warrant for Akunin on charges of calling for terrorism and disseminating "false information" about the Russian Army.

Last month, Russia's Interior Ministry put Akunin on an international wanted list for alleged criminal activity, although specific charges against him were not listed.

Akunin, 67, who currently lives in London after leaving Russia in 2014 following Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, has openly criticized Moscow's unprovoked invasion of its western neighbor.

Earlier this month, the Russian Justice Ministry declared Akunin a "foreign agent," along with several other additions to the punitive list broadly applied to target regime critics.

Last month, Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, added Akunin to its list of terrorists and extremists without any explanation, but media reports said an investigation into charges of discrediting Russian armed forces had been launched against the writer.

That move came less than a week after one of Russia's largest book publishers and the country's biggest bookstore chain announced that they had dropped Akunin and another popular writer, Dmitry Bykov, over their pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian comments.

In October, all Russian theaters staging plays based on Akunin's works removed his name from posters.

Akunin was among dozens of Russian writers who openly condemned Moscow's aggression against Ukraine. On February 24, 2022, immediately after the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion, he wrote on Facebook that "a new horrible epoch had started" in Russia.

"Until the last moment I could not believe that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would launch this absurd war and I was wrong. I have always believed that in the end, common sense will win, and I was wrong. Madness won," Akunin wrote.

Bosch, Sony Closing Their Last Specialized Stores In Russia, Says Report

Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms such as Sony, stopped supplying inventory to Russia. (file photo)
Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms such as Sony, stopped supplying inventory to Russia. (file photo)

Electronics giants Bosch and Sony are closing their last specialized stores in Russia, Kommersant reported on February 27. A Sony representative said the company was closing its stores due to supply shortages, but will keep three outlets open in Moscow until summer to sell off the remaining inventory. Bosch has closed all stores except one, where they also plan to sell off remaining stock. Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms including Bosch, Sony, and South Korean electronics giant LG stopped supplying inventory to Russia. LG has already announced that all its stores in Russia have closed. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Boxer Replaces Nazarbaev's Son-In-Law As President Of Kazakh Olympic Committee

Former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin (file photo)
Former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin (file photo)

The Kazakh National Olympic Committee said on February 26 that former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin has replaced ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, as its president. Billionaire Kulibaev had led the committee since 2015. Nazarbaev, his relatives, and close associates have lost influence in the country following unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022 that turned deadly after security forces used firearms to disperse demonstrators. Golovkin, known as "Triple G," has held multiple middleweight world championships and is a two-time former unified champion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Veteran Rights Defender Oleg Orlov Sentenced To 2 1/2 Years In Prison

Russian rights activist Oleg Orlov (file photo)
Russian rights activist Oleg Orlov (file photo)

The Golovinsky district court in Moscow sentenced Oleg Orlov, the co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Memorial human rights center, to 2 1/2 years in prison for "repeatedly discrediting" Russian armed forces involved in the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov, 70, refused to take part in closing arguments on February 27 and asked his defense team not to invite their witnesses to the stand, saying that they may be labeled "foreign agents" if they testify. Orlov was labeled a "foreign agent" in early February.

In his final statement shortly before the verdict and sentence were pronounced, Orlov reiterated his innocence, stressing that Russian authorities have banned "any independent opinion."

"[Russian officials'] children or grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers served and what they did. And the same will happen to those who, by carrying out orders, are committing crimes in Ukraine. In my view, this is the worst punishment, and it is inevitable," Orlov said,

"The punishment for me is clearly inevitable as well, because in today’s circumstances, hoping for an acquittal on this charge would be the highest level of naivete. And now, very soon, we will see what the verdict is. But I have nothing to regret or repent."

In October last year, the court fined Orlov 150,000 rubles ($1,590) on a charge that stemmed from several single-person pickets he held condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine, along with an article he wrote criticizing the Russian government for sending troops to Ukraine that was published in the French magazine Mediapart.

In mid-December, the Moscow City Court canceled that ruling and sent Orlov's case back to prosecutors, who had appealed, saying the sentence was too mild.

Earlier this month, investigators updated the charge against the rights defender, saying that his alleged misdeeds were motivated by "ideological enmity against traditional Russian spiritual, moral, and patriotic values."

Memorial has noted that the case was reinvestigated hastily, while Orlov said he thinks the investigators received an order to move quickly with the case to allow for the retrial.

Orlov gained prominence as one of Russia's leading human rights activists after he co-founded the Memorial human rights center following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2004-2006, Orlov was a member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights Institutions.

For his contribution to human rights in Russia, in 2009, Orlov was awarded the Sakharov Prize, an international honorary award for individuals or groups who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 for its longtime "fight for human rights and democracy."

With reporting by Mediazona

Ukraine Shoots Down Russian Su-34 Fighter Jet, Says Air Force Commander

A file photo of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber
A file photo of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber

The Ukrainian military has shot down another Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber jet, the commander of Ukraine's air force said on Telegram on February 27. "Minus one Su-34 in the eastern direction," General Mykola Oleshchuk said, without giving details. Russia has not commented on Ukraine's claim, which could not be independently verified immediately. Oleshchuk previously reported the downing of a Su-34 fighter-bomber on February 21. That claim could also not be independently confirmed. To read the original story by RFE/ RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrant For Self-Exiled Opposition Politician Dmitry Gudkov

Dmitry Gudkov (file photo)
Dmitry Gudkov (file photo)

A Moscow court on February 27 issued an arrest warrant for self-exiled opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov on a charge of distributing "false" information about Russian military forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The case against Gudkov was launched in October. The charge against the Kremlin critic stemmed from a video Gudkov placed on YouTube that was critical of the war in Ukraine. In December, the Interior Ministry added Gudkov to its wanted list. Last February, Gudkov was labeled "a foreign agent." If he returns to Russia and is convicted, Gudkov faces up to 15 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Court In Chechnya Sentences Teenager To More Than 3 Years In Prison For Burning Koran

Nikita Zhuravel (file photo)
Nikita Zhuravel (file photo)

A court in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya sentenced a teenager on February 27 to 3 1/2 years in prison and 300 hours of community work for publicly burning a Koran. Nikita Zhuravel, 19, who set fire to a Koran in the Russian city of Volgograd, was found guilty of "insulting believers' feelings" and "religious hatred-based hooliganism." In August, video showing Adam Kadyrov, the 15-year-old son of Chechnya's authoritarian ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, beating Zhuravel while in custody caused public outrage. Rights defenders have questioned the legality of Zhuravel's trial being held in mostly Muslim-populated Chechnya instead of the Volgograd region, where the incident took place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Independent Pakistani Journalist In Police Custody; Media Watchdog Calls For His Release

Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor (file photo)
Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor (file photo)

Popular independent Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor was arrested late on February 26 after he was ordered to appear for questioning in connection with an alleged “explicit and malicious” campaign against Supreme Court judges. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it spoke to Toor's lawyer, Imaan Mazari-Hazir, who confirmed the news. Toor was arrested in the capital, Islamabad, by the FIA’s cybercrime wing. The CPJ called on authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release" Toor, and "to cease harassing him for his journalistic work."

Azerbaijani Journalist Sentenced To 9 Years In Prison On Charges He Rejects

Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli (file photo)
Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli (file photo)

A court in Baku on February 27 sentenced independent Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli to nine years in prison on corruption charges that he and his supporters have rejected as motivated by his journalistic work.

Zeynalli, the editor in chief of Khural (Parliament) TV, a leading independent Azerbaijani Internet TV station, has been in pretrial detention since September 2022, when he was arrested together with human rights lawyer Elchin Sadygov.

The two were arrested after a pro-government news organization claimed that they had extorted 20 thousand manats ($10,845) from the wife of imprisoned businessman Rasim Mamedov in exchange for favorable coverage of his case.

Mammadov is the former head of the steelmaking plant Baku Steel Company LLC. In February 2021 he was detained on charges that included the embezzlement of some 55 million manat (more than $32 million). He was defended by Sadygov.

Later in September 2022, the Baku Court of Appeal transferred Sadygov to house arrest, separating his case into a different proceeding.

Zeynalli has rejected the charges, saying that the state prosecution did not provide any reliable evidence confirming his guilt. In his final address to the court on February 26, he said that he was a prisoner of conscience, and the case against him was prompted by his journalistic work.

Zeynalli also told the court that he did not know 31 of the 38 witnesses produced by the prosecution in his case.

The court also ruled to confiscate 16,000 manat seized during the search of Zeynalli's house on the day of his detention in September 2022.

It was the second time that Zeynalli was sentenced on bribery-related charges.

In 2011, he was detained on allegations of extorting and accepting a bribe from former parliament deputy Gulyar Ahmadova.

Zeynalli pleaded not guilty at his subsequent trial in 2013, saying the case against him was connected with his work as a journalist.

He was sentenced to nine years in prison but was released a year later in 2014.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Azerbaijani authorities to release Zeynalli and Sadygov and drop all charges against them.

“Bribery charges against Avaz Zeynalli, a critical journalist whom authorities have previously jailed for his work, and Elchin Sadygov, a lawyer who regularly defends journalists against state repression, are concerning, especially as pro-government media made the accusations,” said CPJ's Gulnoza Said in September 2022.

“Azerbaijani authorities should free Zeynalli and Sadygov, drop the charges against them, and refrain from jailing members of the press and their advocates in retaliation for their work.”

Russian Metals Tycoon's Assets Nationalized Days After Putin Criticized Operations At Chelyabinsk Plant

Metals tycoon Yury Antipov (file photo)
Metals tycoon Yury Antipov (file photo)

A Russian metals tycoon's assets in a company that produces a key component in making steel have reportedly been nationalized days after President Vladimir Putin criticized his management of his company.

Yury Antipov, 69, the owner of Russia’s largest ferroalloy company, was also questioned by investigators in Chelyabinsk, the Urals industrial city where his company is based, and released on February 26, according to local media.

Earlier in the day, the government seized his shares in Kompaniya Etalon, a holding company for three metals plants that reportedly produce as much as 90 percent of Russia’s ferroalloy, a resource critical for steelmaking.

Russia’s Prosecutor-General Office filed a lawsuit on February 5 to seize Etalon, claiming the underlying Soviet-era metals assets were illegally privatized in the 1990s. It also said the strategic company was partially owned by entities in “unfriendly” countries.

While campaigning for a presidential vote next month, Putin criticized Antipov on February 16 without naming him during a visit to Chelyabinsk, whose working-class residents are typical of the president’s electoral base.

Putin told the regional governor that the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant, the largest of Etalon’s five metals factories, had failed to reduce dangerous emissions as agreed in 2019 and the asset would be taken over even though the court had yet to hear the case on privatization.

“I think that all the property should be transferred to state ownership and part of the plant -- [where there is ecologically] harmful production -- should be moved outside the city limits,” Putin told Governor Aleksei Teksler.

In a closed hearing, a Chelyabinsk court approved the transfer of Etalon’s assets to the state, a move potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Antipov ranked 170 on Forbes 2021 list of richest Russians with a net worth of $700 million.

The nationalization of a domestic company owned by a Russian citizen is the latest in a series of about two dozen by the state since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Prosecutors have based their cases on illegal privatization, foreign ownership, criminal activity, or a combination of the three. A rare-metals producer whose owner had been critical of the war effort was among the other assets seized. l

The seizures contradict Putin’s repeated promises in the nearly quarter century he has been in power that he would not review the controversial 1990s privatizations. In return, businessmen were expected to be loyal to the Kremlin and stay out of politics, experts say.

That unofficial social contract had more or less functioned up until the war. Now businessmen are also expected to contribute to the war effort and support the national economy amid sweeping Western sanctions, experts say.

The current trend of state seizures has spooked Russian entrepreneurs and raised questions about whether that social contract is still valid.

U.S. Ties

Antipov began his business career in the 1990s selling nails, fertilizer, dried meats, and other goods. In 1996 he and his business partner plowed their profits into the purchase of the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant and subsequently purchased four more metals plants in the ensuing years.

The plants sold some of their output in the United States, where the firm had a trading company.

Antipov received full control of the metals holding in 2020 when he split with his business partner. That year he put 25 percent of the company each in the names of his wife and two eldest sons, Sergei and Aleksei Antipov, according to Russian business registration records.

In 2022, the metal assets were transferred to the Etalon holding company, whose ownership was hidden. Ferroalloy prices surged in 2022 as the war triggered a spike in commodity prices.

A hit piece published by The Moscow Post in December -- six weeks before prosecutors launched the privatization case -- claimed Antipov paid himself a dividend of more than $300 million from 2021-2023 using a structure that avoids capital gains taxes. RFE/RL could not confirm that claim. The Moscow Post is a Russian-language online tabloid that regularly publishes compromising and scandalous stories.

According to public records, Antipov’s two sons own homes in the United States and may be U.S. citizens. Sergei Antipov founded the trading company around the year 2000 in the U.S. state of Indiana. If he and his brother together still own 50 percent of the company, prosecutors could potentially have grounds for seizure.

Russia has changed some laws regulating the purchase of large stakes in strategic assets since its invasion of Ukraine.

One is a 2008 law that requires foreign entities to receive state permission to buy large stakes in strategic assets. An exception had been made for foreign entities controlled by Russian citizens.

Under the change, a Russian citizen with dual citizenship or a residence permit in another country may be considered a “foreign” owner and must receive permission to own an asset.

Nationalization is among the punishments for failure to do so. Thus, if Antipov’s two sons are U.S. citizens or if they have U.S. residency permits, their combined 50 percent stake in the company could be seized.

This already happened to a Russian businessman from St. Petersburg. His business was determined to be strategic and seized after he received foreign residency.

Ukrainian Air Defenses Down 11 Russian Drones, Two Cruise Missiles

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 out of the 13 drones launched by Russia early on February 27, the country's air force said. (file photo)
Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 out of the 13 drones launched by Russia early on February 27, the country's air force said. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 of 13 drones launched by Russia at targets inside Ukraine early on February 27, the country's air force said. It added that two cruise missiles out of a total of six had also been destroyed. "Fighter aircraft, antiaircraft missile units, mobile groups, and electronic warfare equipment were involved in repelling the attack," the Ukrainian military said, adding that the drones and missiles were shot down over the Kharkiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Khmelnytskiy and Kirovohrad regions. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.


Russia Warns Of Direct Conflict With NATO If Troops From Alliance Members Fight In Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron

The Kremlin has warned Kyiv's European allies that sending troops to fight in Ukraine would lead to the "inevitability" of war between Russia and NATO after France said that, despite a current lack of consensus, "nothing," including sending Western forces to fight on the Ukrainians' side, should be ruled out in terms of preventing a Russian victory in Ukraine.

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.

Speaking after a summit of continental leaders in Paris on February 26, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was a "broad consensus to do more and quicker" for Ukraine as participants agreed to create a coalition to supply Ukraine with medium- and long-range missiles and bombs to back Kyiv's efforts to stave off Russia's invasion.

Macron told a news conference that "no consensus" existed on the sending of European ground troops to Ukraine, but added, "nothing should be excluded to achieve our objective. Russia cannot win that war."

Asked about Macron's remark, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 27 that "the very fact of discussing the possibility of sending certain contingents to Ukraine from NATO countries is a very important new element."

"We would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability [of a direct conflict between Russian and NATO]," Peskov said.

The United States said it had no plans to send ground troops to Ukraine, while Germany, Britain, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic distanced themselves from any suggestion they might commit ground troops to the fight.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who attended the Paris gathering, told journalists that what has been agreed among the allies is "that there will be no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European states or NATO states."

In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his visiting Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, said their governments were not contemplating such a move.

"I am convinced that we should develop the paths of support that we embarked on after Russia's aggression," Fiala told a news conference alongside Tusk.

"I believe we don't need to open some other methods or ways," he added.

"Poland does not plan to send its troops to the territory of Ukraine," Tusk said.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the AP on February 27 that “NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, but there are "no plans for NATO combat troops on the ground in Ukraine.”

Seeking to clarify Macron's remarks, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said the president had in mind sending troops for specific tasks such as helping on mine clearance, production of weapons on site, and cyberdefense.

This could require a military presence "without crossing the threshold of fighting," Sejourne told French lawmakers.

Zelenskiy, who addressed the Paris meeting virtually, called on European leaders to ensure that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot destroy our achievements and cannot expand his aggression to other nations.”

Ukraine relies heavily on advanced weaponry and ammunition supplies from its Western allies, mainly from the United States, to resist increasingly intense assaults by Russian forces who have superiority in manpower and a large supply of ammunition.

Outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian troops have been recently forced to withdraw from some of their defensive positions in the east as a critical U.S. military aid package worth $61 billion remains blocked in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

U.S. President Joe Biden called a meeting of top congressional leaders at the White House, warning of the dire cost of failing to give Ukraine military aid.

The meeting escalated his efforts to unlock the stalled assistance as well as to avert a looming government shutdown as a March 1 deadline on an appropriations bill approaches.

"On Ukraine, I think the need is urgent," said Biden, who was joined at the meeting by Vice President Kamala Harris. The "consequence of inaction every day in Ukraine is dire," he added.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana), an ally of former President Donald Trump who leads a razor-thin Republican majority in the House, has refused to allow a vote on the bill that includes the new aid to Ukraine.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters and dpa

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