Romanian President Basescu Narrowly Reelected
The Central Election Bureau said today that final results from the December 6 poll show that center-right Basescu had 50.3 percent of ballots cast, while Geoana, a Social Democrat and former foreign minister, had 49.6 percent.
Geoana has not conceded defeat, however. The Social Democrats said a large number of annulled ballots and evidence of multiple voting may force them to contest the results.
If confirmed, Basescu will be tasked with naming a new government that can restart talks over a stalled 1.5-billion-euro rescue loan deal from the International Monetary Fund.
Ironically, the final result of the race -- the hardest-fought in postcommunist Romania -- was influenced decisively by the Romanian diaspora and by Moldovans holding Romanian passports, who voted overwhelmingly for Basescu.
Both Basescu and Geoana claimed victory the moment the polls closed, even as most exit polls indicated Geoana had won by 2 or 3 percentage points.
In scenes of parallel reality, puzzled viewers watched on split TV screens as both candidates, surrounded by supporters, claimed victory.
An ebullient Geoana, surrounded by family and supporters, was shown jumping repeatedly with happiness, before thanking Romanians for what seemed like a victory.
But Basescu, in a scene reminiscent of the previous presidential runoff in December 2004, ignored the exit polls and claimed victory.
"Victory in this election is thanks to the Romanian people," Basescu said. "Five million Romanians showed they had a clear choice, in favor of modernizing Romania."
'We Must Contest'
As in the 2004 runoff, the Social Democratic candidate's claim of victory soon appeared to be premature. As time passed, updated exit polls and parallel vote tallies showed Geoana’s projected lead narrowing by the hour. Overall turnout was 56 percent – some 3 percent larger than in the first round.
A senior Social Democratic official, Liviu Dragnea, said the party is considering contesting the results, alleging massive fraud had taken place.
"Based on the exit-poll results, based on the large number of void ballots when compared with the [actual] difference between the two candidates as shown by the Central Election Bureau, based on records which were modified by regional electoral bureaus without verifying the number of valid ballots, based on massive electoral tourism [people who voted in stations other than their local ones], as well as based on other things which we have noticed, we must contest this election," Dragnea said.
But it was unclear whether an official complaint would be lodged.
A report by the OSCE's monitoring mission said the vote was "generally" in line with the organization's standards. The report called on authorities to investigate reports of irregularities, most of which were tied to claims of media bias, "without delay."
Basescu’s hard-fought victory ends a turbulent two-month period in Romanian politics that brought the country to a virtual standstill. A coalition of center-left and center-right parties in parliament brought down center-right Prime Minister Emil Boc in October, leaving Romania without a functioning government.
A top priority for the president, therefore, will be to quickly appoint a new prime minister after consultations with parties. Basescu last week said, should he win, he would opt for a center-right coalition government comprising his former party, the Liberal Democrats (PDL), and the National Liberals (PNL).
Basescu’s statement came in spite of the fact that PNL leader Crin Antonescu, who came third in the first round of the presidential vote on November 22, enthusiastically supported Geoana’s candidacy in the runoff. Basescu lead the first-round vote with more than 32 percent of the vote, but was forced into a runoff because he failed to garner more than 50 percent.
The top priority of a new government will be to unlock a $2 billion International Monetary Fund bailout loan which was put on ice amid the government crisis.
Ironically, it was Romanian citizens living outside its borders who appear to have given Basescu the decisive edge in his last-gasp triumph.
According to complete results, Basescu won by a mere 78,000 votes. The final count from the Romanian diaspora showed that some 115,000 Romanians living abroad voted for Basescu -- four times more than those who chose Geoana. Romanians living and working outside the country have been instrumental in sustaining the Romanian economy via remittances.
That number also included some 12,000 Moldovans who hold Romanian passports -- 94 percent of the votes cast by Moldovans. Some of their support may be explained by the fact that, during the only direct TV debate between Basescu and Geoana last week, Dorin Chirtoaca, the pro-Western mayor of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, was featured prominently among the president’s supporters.
"I especially want to thank Romanians beyond our borders," Basescu said today in Bucharest. "I am thinking of Romanians from Spain, from Italy; Romanians from France, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, but also Romanians from the Republic of Moldova. Last but not least, I am grateful for the effort put in by Romanians from North America."
Modernize And Reform
Basescu, a formidable and charismatic candidate, ran a campaign centered around his efforts to modernize and reform Romania, and, in the first round, scored a considerable victory by pushing through a referendum to change the constitution to scrap the bicameral parliament and reduce the number of members of parliament from 471 to 300.
But Basescu’s main target during the campaign was a group of what he sees as corrupt oligarchs and media moguls who control large swathes of Romania’s economy and who, he alleges, maintain ties to Geoana and his party.
The incumbent president’s 11th-hour victory came as a particular surprise because he had serious trouble getting his message across to voters, amid a hostile media campaign led by several private television stations -- -- a factor acknowledged in the OSCE report. The only exceptions were a couple of niche televisions channels which had limited reach within Romania but, importantly, were available via satellite to Romanians living abroad.
Public television, in turn, chose largely to ignore Basescu’s campaign, while giving extensive coverage to Geoana’s camp.
Basescu's victory is likely to have a large impact on Romania’s neighbors, mainly Moldova. Basescu came out strongly against Moldova’s Communist rulers after this spring’s postelection violence in Chisinau. His reelection is likely to be regarded as a much-needed boost for Moldova’s pro-Western liberal coalition, which today failed again in choosing a head of state due to a Communist boycott in parliament.
In Ukraine, where President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in 2004 at almost precisely the same time as Basescu -- and under the same orange colors as Basescu’s party -- the outcome in Romania might likewise give a boost to pro-Western forces in the run-up to the January election.
Basescu’s expanded stay at the Cotroceni Palace is also likely to convince Moscow that the Romanian president is a leader worth talking to, after years of cold relations.
Relations with Russia have always been a sore spot for Romanians, and it seems that the most serious tactical mistake Geoana may have made before the campaign was to go to Moscow on as many as three secret visits.
All Of The Latest News
U.S. Basketball Star Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty To Drug Charges In Russian Court
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges in a Russian court in the latest hearing in her prosecution, a case that has sparked back-and-forth sniping by American and Russian officials.
Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
She was arrested earlier this year after Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage when she passed through Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. She was returning to play for a Russian team in the off-season of the U.S. Women's National Basketball Association.
Griner was escorted into the Khimki City Court courtroom on July 7 dressed in a red T-shirt and pants and wearing handcuffs.
"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said, speaking English, which was then translated into Russian. "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare," she added.
The next court hearing was scheduled for 14 July.
Griner's case has drawn increasing public attention and involvement by top U.S. officials, who say she has been wrongfully detained.
A day earlier, the White House released a statement saying President Joe Biden had called Griner's wife, Cherelle, promising he was working to free her and one other American.
The other U.S. citizen whose detention has drawn vocal U.S. protests is Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine and private-security consultant who was detained in December 2018, accused of espionage.
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
Russia has repeatedly signaled its interest in exchanging detained U.S. citizens for Russians held in U.S. prisons.
In late April, Moscow released another former U.S. marine, Trevor Reed, in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been jailed on drug-trafficking charges in the United States.
Earlier on July 7, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov complained that the "hype" around Griner's case does not help.
"Attempts by the American side to make noise in public...don’t help in the practical settlement of issues," he was quoted as saying.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and TASS
Finland Moves To Fortify Border With Russia
Finland moved toward fortifying its border with Russia, as lawmakers authorized barriers and allowed the closure of the entire 1,300-kilometer border under exceptional circumstances.
The July 7 vote by the Finnish parliament comes as the country moves rapidly to join the NATO alliance, abandoning decades of neutrality in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The legislation, which passed by a supermajority, gives the government authorization to build fences or other barriers near Finnish borders. It also restricts all asylum applications to be processed at designated border crossings, such as an airport.
Finland, along with Sweden, last month gained formal approval from the alliance to join. Now each of the 30 members must ratify the accession protocol, something that is already under way in several countries.
Public opinion in both Sweden and Finland shifted drastically in favor of NATO membership after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Russia has angrily condemned the moves by Stockholm and Helsinki and threatened unspecified retaliation.
For that reason, some alliance members have pushed for quick accession, saying the two Nordic nations would be in danger in the interim period leading to their protection under NATO's Article Five -- the clause that stipulates that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members.
With reporting by Reuters and Helsingin Sanomat
Russia Says Warplane Hits Snake Island After Ukrainian Forces Raise Flag There
Russia's military said a Russian jet attacked Snake Island overnight, after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag on the strategic Black Sea outpost.
Тhe attack occurred early on July 7, “destroying” part of the Ukrainian detachment on the island, said Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman.
"At about 5 a.m., several Ukrainian servicemen landed on the island from a motorboat and took pictures with the flag. An aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces immediately launched a strike with high-precision missiles on Snake Island, as a result of which part of the Ukrainian military personnel was destroyed," Konashenkov said in a video.
Serhiy Bratchuk, the head of the Odesa regional administration, confirmed that the island had been attacked, though did not provide details of damage or casualties.
The tiny island has strategic importance because of its proximity to the sea lanes to Ukraine's port of Odesa. But it also has symbolic importance in the nearly five months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian forces withdrew from it on June 30 after coming under heavy bombardment from Ukrainian artillery.
On July 7, video of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island was posted to several official Telegram channels, including that of Andriy Yermak, chief of staff for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
It was unclear when the video was filmed.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, authorities again called on people in the eastern Donetsk region to flee, as Russian forces continued their slow, grinding advance that has taken more territory and taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian troops.
Ukrainian military commanders said on July 6 that they had repelled Russian advances in several locations in and around the administrative border between Luhansk and Donetsk, the two regions located in the Donbas region.
Russia earlier this week claimed control over the entire Luhansk region, after pushing Ukrainian forces out of the cities of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk. Russian commanders have then pushed further west and south, advancing toward the city of Slovyansk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also declared the complete seizure of Luhansk.
However, Luhansk’s administration chief, Serhiy Hayday, denied that the Russians had completely captured the province, and he said there was heavy fighting in villages around Lysychansk.
“The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian Army," Hayday said in a televised interview. “Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times.”
Ukrainian commanders claimed to have repelled Russian attacks on a town and village north of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, not far from the Russian border.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk military administration, urged the province's more than 350,000 remaining residents to flee earlier this week
In his nightly video address on July 6, Zelenskiy said that of all the battles in his country, “the most brutal confrontation” is raging in the Donbas. He also said that Western artillery and rocket systems were having a “very powerful” effect on the battlefield.
Russia's Defense Ministry also claimed that Russian rockets had destroyed two HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems that the United States had supplied to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military denied Moscow’s claims.
Russian forces made no claimed or assessed territorial gains “for the first time in 133 days of war,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
“Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings,” the institute said in its daily assessment on July 6.
With reporting by AP
British Ambassador Says Diplomat Whom Tehran Allegedly Arrested Left Iran Last Year
Britain's ambassador to Iran said a diplomat whom Tehran claimed it had detained on spying charges had in fact left the country late last year.
Simon Shercliff's remarks, in a post to Twitter on July 7, followed contradictory reports about the status and whereabouts of Giles Whitaker, Britain's deputy chief of mission in Tehran, and several other foreigners.
Iranian state-affiliated media on July 6 reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, known as the IRGC, had detained several foreign nationals, including Whitaker, over accusations of spying.
The IRGC said the foreigners, who reportedly included Polish and Austrian citizens, were observed by drones taking soil samples in a prohibited area in the central desert of Iran.
The IRGC said the group was arrested but did not say when or whether they were currently in custody.
The semiofficial Fars news agency also published a photo showing four people in a desert setting that it identified as the group that had been detained. Fars also said Whitaker had been expelled from Iran after apologizing.
Britain's Foreign Office on July 6 rejected the reports that a diplomat had been arrested, calling it "completely false."
"These reports that our Deputy Ambassador is currently detained are very interesting," Shercliff wrote on Twitter on July 7. "He actually left Iran last December, at the end of his posting."
Neither Shercliff nor the Foreign Office indicated whether Whitaker had been detained prior to his departure.
Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and those with Western ties, often on espionage charges, and leveraged them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues, such as nuclear negotiations.
Talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers have been stalled for months.
A recent effort to break the deadlock between U.S. and Iranian negotiators ended last week without a breakthrough.
Also on July 7, the British Defense Ministry announced that British naval ships had raided Iranian vessels earlier this year and seized weapons in waters south of Iran.
The seizures occurred on two separate occasions -- January 28 and February 25 -- and involved Royal Marines who "approached the vessels on two Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats before securing and searching the vessels."
On one occasion, it said, a U.S. naval helicopter was indirectly involved as well.
Weapons seized included "multiple rocket engines" for an Iranian cruise missile and 358 surface-to-air missiles," the ministry said.
No further details were given, and it was unclear why the ministry made the announcement on July 7, months after the two incidents, although the timing suggested a coordinated effort by London to send a warning to Tehran.
With reporting by Fars and Reuters
Kazakh President Calls For New Oil Export Routes After Russia Suspends Key Pipeline
Kazakhstan’s president called for diversifying the country’s oil supply routes, a day after a Russian court suspended operations on a major export pipeline.
The comments by Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on July 7 highlighted Kazakh worries about getting its oil--which is a major source of government revenue--out to world markets. It also underscored potential tensions between Kazakhstan and Russia, whose relationship has turned prickly amid the Russian war against Ukraine.
Around 80 percent of Kazakhstan's oil exports flow via the Caspian Pipeline to the terminal in the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.
On July 6, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, whose members include U.S. oil giants Chevron and ExxonMobil, and other international companies, said Russian regulators had been ordered to inspect the facilities of the Russian part of the consortium.
Authorities originally gave the consortium until November 30 to correct the violations in how it deals with oil spillage. But regional regulators unexpectedly demanded the closure of a Russian terminal on July 6, which a local court then approved, Russian news agencies reported.
In his comments to Kazakh officials on July 7, Toqaev ordered a study on the possibility of building a pipeline under the Caspian Sea, a previously proposed project that would allow Kazakh oil to be exported to Western markets while bypassing Russia.
The pipeline disruption comes with global energy prices soaring, due in large part to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the Western sanctions that were imposed in punishment.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Russian oil but has said flows from Kazakhstan through Russia should run uninterrupted.
Any lengthy suspension to the Caspian pipeline, which carries around 1 percent of all global oil supplies, would further strain the global oil market.
Kazakhstan and Russia are major trading partners and share a lengthy border. Longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbaev cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Toqaev, who succeeded Nazarbaev in 2019, has shown signs of cooler ties, particularly since the Ukraine invasion.
The most recent sign of tensions came last month at an economic forum in St. Petersburg when Toqaev reiterated Kazakhstan’s refusal to recognize what he called "quasi-state" entities in eastern Ukraine -- comments he made while seated alongside Putin.
At the forum, Toqaev also criticized Russian politicians and commentators, whom he accused of sowing "discord" between the two countries by launching public attacks on Kazakhstan.
With reporting by Reuters
UN: Inflation Has Pushed More Than 71 Million People Into Poverty Since Ukraine Invasion
Soaring food and energy prices have pushed more than 71 million people worldwide into poverty since late February when Russia launched its war on Ukraine, a United Nations agency said.
The report by the UN Development Program, released on July 7, also warned of the danger of social unrest in some places due to the economic turmoil
Achim Steiner, the administrator of the agency, said an analysis of 159 developing countries showed that spiking commodity prices this year was slamming parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, Asia, and elsewhere.
"This cost-of-living crisis is tipping millions of people into poverty and even starvation at breathtaking speed," he said in a statement accompanying the report. "With that, the threat of increased social unrest grows by the day."
Ukraine is a major grain producer and exporter, and its food shipments are critical to many countries in the Middle East and Africa. But its Black Sea ports have been blockaded by Russian forces, driving up food prices, and pushing tens of millions into poverty.
Russia and Ukraine combined accounted for almost one-quarter of global wheat exports and more than half of sunflower oil exports.
Energy prices have also shot up amid uncertainty over the war, but also as Russia has cut back on some oil and gas exports. Before the war, Russia was the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second-biggest exporter of crude oil.
Western sanctions on Russia, to punish Moscow for the Ukraine invasion, have also exacerbated inflationary pressures.
Some of the countries hardest hit by inflation, according to the UN agency, include Haiti, Argentina, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, the Philippines, Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.
In countries like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Yemen, the impacts of inflation are even harder for those already at the lowest poverty line.
The total number of people living in poverty, or who are vulnerable to poverty, stands at over 5 billion, or just under 70 percent of the world’s population, according to the UNDP.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Britain Says Iranian Media Reports On Arrest Of British Diplomat 'Completely False'
Britain's Foreign Office said on July 6 that reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran "are completely false."
Iranian media reported earlier that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) detained several foreign nationals, including Britain's second-ranking diplomat, over accusations of spying.
The IRGC identified and arrested the foreigners, saying they were observed by drones taking soil samples in a prohibited area in the central desert of Iran, the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency said.
The country's state-run IRNA news agency reported that the foreigners had been arrested but did not say when or whether they were currently in custody.
Britain's deputy ambassador is among the people who went to the Shahdad desert with his family as a tourist, Fars reported.
A photo accompanying the Fars report showed four people in a desert setting. Another photo showed two people who appear to be looking for soil samples after parking their bicycles.
"These spies were taking earth samples in Iran's central desert where the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace missile exercises were conducted," state TV said.
Fars claimed the British diplomat, Giles Whitaker, was expelled from the country after apologizing.
A spokesperson for Britain's Foreign Office said: "Reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false."
State TV also identified Maciej Walczak, a Polish scientist at Kopernik University in Poland, as one of the accused foreigners. The report said another of the detained individuals is the husband of Austria's cultural attache in Iran.
It said their sample collection coincided with a missile test in Iran's southern Kerman Province.
The United States earlier on July 6 designated 15 individuals and entities for alleged engagement in illegally selling and shipping Iranian oil and oil products.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement that the entities -- located in Iran, Vietnam, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong -- "have supported Iranian energy trade generating millions of dollars' worth of illicit revenue."
The U.S. Treasury Department said the entities and individuals used a web of Persian Gulf-based front companies to facilitate the delivery and sale of the Iranian oil and oil products from Iranian companies to East Asia.
"While the United States is committed to achieving an agreement with Iran that seeks a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will continue to use all our authorities to enforce sanctions on the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals," Brian Nelson, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said.
Talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal have been stalled for months. Iran has said it is ready for new indirect talks to overcome the last hurdles to revive the 2015 nuclear deal amid a growing crisis over the country’s nuclear program.
With reporting by Reuters, Fars, and AP
Iranian Lawmaker Says Explosions At IRGC Base Were Sabotage
A member of Iran's parliament has confirmed that explosions that occurred last week at an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) base in Tehran were sabotage.
A video published on social media showed at least two explosions inside the Malik Ashtar base compound in the southeast of Tehran.
At the same time, the official website of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) published the news of the explosions at 9:15 p.m. on July 1.
Esmail Kosari, a member of parliament and former IRGC commander, confirmed on July 5 that the explosions occurred in the IRGC base.
Kosari did not mention any casualties from the two explosions and played down the incident.
"First of all, it was not an explosion, but two very weak, improvised explosive devices detonated," the Khabar Online website quoted him as saying.
The MKO "use internal agents with promises. It was Friday and a day off. They came at 9 p.m., using the darkness, they did such a move and took a video," Kosari added.
There have been several assassinations and deaths in recent months in Iran under unclear circumstances. Officials have blamed some of them on Israel.
The MKO has also increased its activities inside Iran in recent months and carried out cyberattacks on the country's infrastructure.
In the latest incident, the MKO-affiliated group Rise to Overthrow on July 3 claimed that it hacked and disabled the website of the Islamic Culture and Communication Organization.
Ukrainian Airline Sues Iran Over Shooting Down Of Passenger Jet
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) has filed a lawsuit against the Islamic republic over the 2020 shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The lawsuit, seen by Radio Farda, filed in a court in Ontario, is dated January 2022. It lists the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IRGC as the two defendants and demands compensation from Iran.
UIA flight PS752 crashed on January 8, 2020, while en route to Kyiv, killing all 176 people on board.
After days of official denials, Iran admitted that an IRGC unit had inadvertently shot down the plane amid heightened tensions with the United States over the U.S. drone assassination of a top IRGC commander, Qasem Soleimani, near Baghdad.
Most of the victims were Iranians and Canadians but 11 were citizens of Ukraine. The families have demanded transparency and accountability.
The Iranian government has allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.
Canada said last year that it found no evidence of premeditation in the downing of the airliner. A Canadian court awarded $84 million and interest to the families of six of the victims.
On June 28, the Group of Seven industrialized economies, at the end of their three-day summit in southern Germany, said in a joint statement that Iran should be held accountable for the shooting down of flight PS752.
"We continue to support international efforts to hold Iran accountable for the illegal downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752", the statement said.
With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi
EU's Von Der Leyen Warns Of Danger Of Complete Cutoff Of Russian Gas
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said that the European Union needs to make emergency plans to prepare for a complete cutoff of Russian gas in the wake of the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine.
Von der Leyen said the commission plans to announce EU-wide emergency plans in mid-July to ensure "gas flows towards where it is most needed" in the event of a complete end to Russian gas deliveries.
The EU has already imposed sanctions on Russia, and is moving away from Russian-controlled deliveries. But the head of the EU's executive branch said the bloc needed to be ready for shock disruptions coming from Moscow.
"We also need to prepare now for further disruption of gas supply and even a complete cutoff of Russian gas supply," von der Leyen told the EU legislature on July 6 in Strasbourg, France.
"It is obvious Putin continues to use energy as a weapon," she said, adding that Russia had already cut gas deliveries to 12 EU member states. "We need to make sure that in case of full disruption, the gas flows towards where it is most needed. We have to provide for European solidarity."
Russia's unprovoked war in Ukraine has prompted the 27-member bloc to rethink its energy policies and reduce purchases of Russian energy.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also accused Russia of using energy as a weapon and said Germany had relied too long on energy supplies from Russia.
"Today we have to realize: Russia is using energy as a weapon. No one believes that Russia is reducing its gas supplies for technical reasons alone," Scholz said on July 6 at a gathering of the German Renewable Energy Association.
Russia cited technical matters last month when it severely curtailed gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline.
The problems could get worse after annual maintenance work on Nord Stream 1 begins on July 11. The main worry is that Russia will not turn on the gas tap after the maintenance is completed.
The German government has already started planning for the "worst case" by ensuring that gas storage facilities are being filled and that investments are being made in terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Scholz went on to say that the German government will go into "turbo gear" in expanding renewable energies.
"Every wind turbine, every photovoltaic plant, every biomass plant is a step on the way to making our energy supply more independent and sustainable to ensuring that it is secure and remains affordable," he said.
With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP
Belgium Provisionally Clears Iran Prisoner-Swap Treaty
Belgian lawmakers have given initial clearance to a prisoner-exchange treaty with Iran that could pave the way for the release of an Iranian diplomat convicted of planning to bomb the rally of an exiled opposition group outside Paris.
The Foreign Relations Committee of Belgium's lower house of parliament debated the treaty over two days before finally approving it on July 6.
The measure still needs to be put before the full 150-member lower house, most likely in the next two weeks, but the chamber normally follows the votes of its committees, given that they have similar party compositions.
The prisoner exchange might secure the release of a Belgian aid worker who was detained in Iran in February. It could also help Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who has taught in Belgium and been sentenced to death in Iran.
Iran has called for the release of Assadollah Assadi, sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium in 2021 for a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, near Paris in June 2018.
Several lawmakers voiced concern that the treaty, as proposed, might lead to "hostage diplomacy" and put other Belgians at risk of detention.
Amnesty International called on Belgium to ensure that the bill is fully consistent with the country's obligations under international human rights law.
"In particular, the bill should include adequate judicial safeguards to prevent the treaty being used to grant impunity for state officials and agents responsible for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law," the London-based rights group said on July 5.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Iran Accuses Detained French Couple Of 'Undermining' Security
Iran has accused a French couple detained in May of "undermining the security" of the country.
The pair stand "accused of association and collusion with the aim of undermining the security of the country", judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told reporters in Tehran on July 6.
French teachers' union official Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris, were arrested in early May in Tehran while on vacation sightseeing in the Islamic republic. They are accused by the authorities of seeking to stir up labor protests.
Iran said they were accused of "entering the country to sow chaos and destabilize society."
The French government has condemned their arrest as "baseless" and demanded their immediate release.
"These two people are currently in police custody," Setayeshi said, adding that "the prosecution is dealing with this case."
In June, Iranian authorities announced they had arrested a left-wing activist on suspicion of working to "incite sedition and turmoil among the working class," and who they said was suspected of meeting the French couple.
Teachers have in recent months taken to the streets on several occasions to protest their conditions and demand higher wages. They have also called for the release of their jailed colleagues.
In April, a court sentenced Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of the teachers' union and a civil activist, to five years in prison after convicting him of illegal assembly and propaganda.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said Bodaghi had been sentenced solely for "peaceful activism."
Kohler and Paris are among the latest Western citizens to be detained in Iran.
Western countries and rights groups have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage.
With reporting by AFP and ISNA
Russian Court Orders Caspian Pipeline Consortium To Suspend Operations
A Russian court has ordered the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which brings oil from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea, to suspend activity for 30 days.
The CPC, which handles about 1 percent of global oil and includes U.S. majors Chevron and Exxon, said on July 6 the ruling to suspend its operations concerned issues related to the handling of oil spills and that the consortium had to abide by the ruling.
In a statement posted on its website, the CPC added that it planned to appeal against the decision.
"The Caspian Pipeline Consortium acts within the legal framework of the Russian Federation and is forced to execute the court ruling. The ruling will be appealed in accordance with the procedure established by law," the CPC said in the statement.
Some 80 percent of Kazakhstan's oil exports flow through the terminal in Russia's southern port city of Novorossiisk. The terminal can transport 67 million tons of oil annually.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Russian oil over the Kremlin's unprovoked war on Ukraine but has said flows from Kazakhstan through Russia should run uninterrupted.
The CPC said on July 6 that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko ordered regulators, including industrial safety regulator Rostekhnadzor, to inspect the facilities of the Russian part of the consortium.
It said that the inspection had found some "documentary" irregularities on plans how to tackle oil spills. An oil spill occurred at the terminal last year.
An inspection by Russian authorities found that documentation for emergency plans to deal with oil spills was incomplete, the CPC said.
The authorities originally gave the CPC until November 30 to correct the violations, but the regional transport regulator unexpectedly demanded the terminal's closure on July 6, which the court approved.
The court said the stoppage was necessary to prevent possible environmental damage, Interfax reported late on July 5.
The pipeline's operations have already been interrupted by damage to the Black Sea's terminal equipment this year.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa
Western Artillery Has 'Worked Very Powerfully,' Zelenskiy Says, Amid Stepped-Up Calls For Evacuations
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video message late on July 6 that artillery that Ukraine has received from Western partners has had an effect on the battlefield.
"Finally, it is felt that the Western artillery -- the weapons we received from our partners -- has worked very powerfully,” he said, praising its accuracy.
The Ukrainian military has inflicted “very noticeable blows on warehouses and other points that are important for the logistics of the occupiers,” he said. “And this significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian Army.”
Ukrainian forces are currently advancing in several directions, including in the south in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, he said.
"We are fighting for our entire south, for the entire Ukrainian Donbas," he said, noting a "most brutal confrontation" near Slovyansk and Bakhmut and adding that Ukrainian forces also are fighting for the Kharkiv region.
"Let the occupiers not think that their time on this land is long, and the superiority of their artillery is eternal," Zelenskiy said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 6, and they "coordinated steps to accelerate the delivery of heavy weapons from the U.S. and other partners."
Kuleba said he had a similar conversation with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in which he emphasized the urgent need to increase supplies of German self-propelled howitzers and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials earlier called on civilians to urgently evacuate the city of Slovyansk and other parts of the Donetsk region as Russia escalates its offensive in the east.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said in a Telegram post that two people died in the city of Avdyivka, which is north of the regional capital.
The Donetsk cities of Slovyansk, Krasnohorivka, and Kurakhove each reported one civilian killed on July 6.
Slovyansk has been subjected to "massive" Russian bombardment in recent days, with at least two people killed and seven others wounded in an attack on a marketplace on July 5, officials said.
"Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain a civilian," Kyrylenko said on Telegram. "I call on everyone to evacuate. Evacuation saves lives."
Moscow-backed separatists in the region said attacks by Ukrainian forces killed four civilians. The claims could not be independently verified.
An intelligence report from the British Defense Ministry on July 6 said that "there is a realistic possibility that the battle for [Slovyansk] will be the next key contest in the struggle for the Donbas."
"Russian forces from the Eastern and Western Groups of Forces are likely now around 16 km north from the town of [Slovyansk]," the intelligence report said.
Speaking on July 6, officials said Ukraine had so far thwarted an attempted Russian advance into the north of the Donetsk region. Russia-backed separatists and Russian forces are already in control of the southern part of the Donetsk region.
"We are holding back the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region," Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Hayday told Ukrainian television.
He said Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent there in an apparent effort to cross the Siverskiy Donets River and that two small settlements just inside Luhansk's borders were the scene of fierce fighting.
"Luhansk region even now is fighting. Almost all the territory has been captured, but in two settlements fighting is ongoing" he told a video briefing.
Vadym Lyakh, the mayor of Slovyansk, told a video briefing on July 6 that the city had been shelled for the last two weeks.
"The situation is tense," he said.
The southern port city of Mykolayiv was also being heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, told a briefing. Russian forces were using multiple-launch rocket systems to shell the city, which has shed about half of its prewar population of half a million people, he said.
"There are no safe areas in Mykolayiv," he said. "I am telling the people of the city that they need to leave."
To the north of Donetsk, Russian forces also hit Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, with missile strikes overnight, the regional governor said on July 6 on Telegram.
Three districts of the city were targeted, Oleh Synyehubov said. Three people, including a toddler, sustained injuries, he added.
Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces killed up to 100 Ukrainian troops and destroyed four armored vehicles in Kharkiv, and in the Mykolayiv region struck a Ukrainian air-defense radar and a camp housing foreign fighters.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said air-launched high-precision missiles also destroyed two HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems sent by the United States along with ammunition for the systems. The Ukrainian military denied Moscow's claims.
Zelenskiy, speaking at a briefing in Kyiv with visiting Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, said the terms of how the war will end depend on international sanctions pressure on Russia and the supply of weapons to Ukraine.
He said the answer to how long the war will last depends on "how quickly we can make Russia think about peace because we believe that they have not even begun to think about it."
Russia has yet to feel the effects of powerful sanctions in part because "unfortunately, there are still some allies who help the Russian Federation or their business," he added.
Martin used the visit to restate Ireland's full backing for continued sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime and for Ukraine's path to membership in the European Union.
"I am grateful that Ireland stands by our side in this crucial time for our country," Zelenskiy told Martin.
Ireland has taken in more than 36,000 Ukrainian refugees and has given 20 million euros ($20.4 million) in humanitarian support and assistance to the country in addition to health equipment and medical donations worth more than 4.5 million euros.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and TASS
UN, U.S. Demand Independent Probe Into Deadly Unrest In Uzbekistan
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet and the United States have called for an independent investigation into the deaths of at least 18 people in protests in Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan region.
"The reports we have received about serious violence, including killings, during the protests are very concerning. I call on the authorities to exercise utmost restraint," Bachelet said in a statement on July 5.
"I urge the authorities to immediately open a transparent and independent investigation into any allegations of criminal acts committed in that context, including violations by agents of the state."
The United States separately voiced concern and urged all sides to seek a "peaceful resolution" to the tensions and refrain from violence.
"We urge authorities to pursue a full, credible, and transparent investigation into the violence, consistent with international norms and best practices," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on July 5.
Authorities in Uzbekistan said on July 4 that 18 people died in clashes in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region when demonstrations erupted over planned constitutional changes affecting the territory's status.
The unrest, pitting protesters against security forces, represented the most significant challenge yet to the rule of President Shavkat Mirziyoev since he rose to power from the post of prime minister in 2016 following the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov.
Large protests broke out in the regional capital, Nukus, and other cities after changes initiated by Mirziyoev were proposed on June 27 to the Uzbek Constitution, including removal of language that guaranteed the right of Karakalpakstan to seek independence should citizens choose so in a referendum.
On July 2, Mirziyoev backed off the plans and said the language would not be removed from the constitution.
He said on July 6 that the commission appointed to investigate the unrest will include members of the public and independent activists. He also said that possible use of excessive force against protesters will also be investigated.
Bachelet said more than 500 people were detained and voiced concern that one person had already been charged, and could face up to 20 years in prison.
"People should not be criminalized for exercising their rights," the former Chilean president said.
"Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uzbekistan is a state party, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to participate in public affairs."
All detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer, and their due process and fair trial guarantees must be ensured, said the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
Bachelet urged the Uzbek government to lift the Internet shutdown immediately, saying the measure had an indiscriminate reach and broadly impacted upon the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to access information.
She also reminded the authorities that the restrictions under emergency law must abide by international law, and be necessary, proportionate, and nondiscriminatory. They also need to be limited in duration and key safeguards against excesses must be put in place.
With reporting by AFP and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
U.S. To Seek G20 Pressure On Russia To Open Sea Lanes
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will call on Group of 20 members this week to put pressure on Russia to support UN efforts to reopen sea lanes blocked by the Ukraine conflict and repeat warnings to China not to support Moscow's war effort.
Blinken heads to Asia on July 6 for a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Bali on July 8. He is due to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, but no meeting is expected with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Ramin Toloui, the assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, told reporters Blinken would raise energy security and a UN initiative to try to get Ukrainian and Russian foodstuffs and fertilizer back to global markets.
"G20 countries should hold Russia accountable and insist that it support ongoing UN efforts to reopen the sea lanes for grain delivery," he said. "Whether that happens at the level of the G20, or the level of individual G20 countries, that's an important point that Secretary Blinken will make," Toloui said.
Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing its grain during the invasion and blockading its ports to keep grain from leaving the country, which has helped contribute to a global food shortage.
Ukraine, said this week it is holding talks with Turkey and the United Nations to secure guarantees for grain exports.
Moscow has denied taking Ukrainian grain but satellite images and GPS data have been used to back up the allegations that Russia has been transporting grain out of Ukraine through the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said he expected a "candid" exchange on Ukraine in Blinken's talks with China's Wang.
"This will be another opportunity...to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine," he said.
China has refused to condemn Russia's actions and has criticized the sweeping sanctions. U.S. officials have warned of consequences should China start offering material support for Russia's war effort.
"It's absolutely critical that we have open lines of communication with our Chinese counterparts, particularly at the senior level...to ensure that we prevent any miscalculation that could lead inadvertently to conflict and confrontation," Kritenbrink said.
Lavrov and Blinken have not met since before Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said now was not the right time for another meeting. "We would like to see the Russians be serious about diplomacy. We have not seen that yet," he said.
Price did not rule out the possibility of a chance Blinken-Lavrov encounter in Bali, which would be their first since they last met in Geneva in January. Price declined to discuss what he called the "choreography" of the G20.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Biden Says Working To Free U.S. Basketball Star, Other Americans 'Wrongfully Detained' In Russia
U.S. President Joe Biden has told the wife of women's basketball star Brittney Griner that he is working to free her and another American who the United States says are being "wrongfully detained" by Russia.
Biden called Cherelle Griner to reassure her that he was "working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible," the White House said in a statement.
The statement added that Biden read her a draft of a letter he plans to send later on July 6 to Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and a star of the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison on drug-possession and smuggling charges. Her trial began last week and is scheduled to resume on July 7.
Authorities said they found cannabis oil in vape cartridges in Griner's luggage in February when she passed through Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport while returning to play for a Russian team in the WNBA's off-season.
Biden's call with Cherelle Griner followed Brittney Griner's personal appeal to the president in a handwritten letter passed to the White House on July 5.
The letter was passed to the White House by the player's representatives, who said she feared she might never return home and asked that Biden not "forget about me and the other American detainees."
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner's agent, said on July 5 the letter was delivered on July 4. Griner's representatives shared a few lines from the handwritten note.
"As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," Griner wrote.
Griner said on the U.S. Independence Day holiday her family normally honors the service of people who fought for freedom as soldiers in the U.S. military, including her father, a veteran of the war in Vietnam.
"It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year," she said, appealing to Biden to use his presidential powers to bring her home.
The White House statement said Biden called Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world."
Cherelle Griner said for her wife to reach out directly to Biden is an indication of just how afraid she is.
The U.S. State Department in May classified Griner as "wrongfully detained" and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week said U.S. Embassy officials attended Griner's hearing on July 1 and reiterated that her return is a top priority.
Blinken also mentioned Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is being held in Russia on spy charges the United States has repeatedly described as unfounded.
"We won't stop working until they are reunited with their loved ones," he said on Twitter.
Some have suggested Moscow is seeking to swap Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trader currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
Uzbekistan Says Missiles Fired From Afghanistan Damaged Houses
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry has said that five missiles fired on July 5 from Afghanistan at a city in southeastern Uzbekistan caused no injuries but slightly damaged four homes.
The missiles landed in Termez, a city on the Amu Darya River in the Surxandaryo region.
The ministry said that Uzbek authorities were attempting to clarify the cause of the incident with the Afghan side.
There has been no official comment on reports that Uzbek fighter planes took off after the incident. Nor has there been official comment on a video purporting to show one of the damaged houses.
The shelling was unrelated to unrest in the Central Asian country that left 18 people dead in the restive autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on July 4 that the people were killed during unrest over the weekend.
Protests broke out last week after changes initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoev were proposed to the constitution, including the removal of language that guaranteed the right of Karakalpakstan to seek independence should citizens choose to do so in a referendum.
Mirziyoev has since backed off the plans and said the language would not be removed from the constitution.
North Macedonia Has 'Historic Opportunity,' EU's Michel Says Amid Protests
SKOPJE -- European Council President Charles Michel has urged North Macedonia to back a French-proposed compromise on ending a dispute with neighboring Bulgaria that has blocked the country's bid to join the European Union.
Michel told a news conference in Skopje on July 5 that long-delayed talks to admit North Macedonia into the EU could begin immediately if it accepted the proposal.
"Together we are on the verge of a possible breakthrough in your country's EU accession process," Michel said, speaking alongside Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski.
Michel said the country had a "historic opportunity" to agree to the beginning of negotiations and again become a "champion of enlargement."
Kovachevski reiterated his support for the "balanced proposal," adding that "our aim is to start membership talks."
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the proposal last week, saying he believed a compromise agreement was near.
But the center-right VMRO-DPMNE opposition party and other right-wing opponents reject the French plan, saying it concedes too much to Bulgaria in the dispute over history, language, identity, and culture.
VMRO-DPMNE has attacked the French proposal as a "legalization of the assimilation of the Macedonian people," accusing Kovachevski's government of accepting "humiliations and distortions of identity."
North Macedonia's president, Stevo Pendarovski, and the government have backed the proposed deal, which calls for the country to acknowledge in its constitution the existence of an ethnic Bulgarian minority. It would also provide for regular reviews on how the bilateral dispute is being addressed.
Violent protests against the proposal erupted over the weekend in Skopje. Tensions escalated during a new protest against the proposal on July 5.
Around 100 demonstrators threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, and other objects at the fence surrounding the parliament building and at the policemen defending it. Several policemen were hurt, but the police forces eventually pushed back and arrested several demonstrators.
Thousands of people protested the proposal the night before in Skopje. Some of the protesters threw paper towels, plastic bottles, water balloons, and eggs at government buildings in the capital.
Police prevented the crowd from forcing their way into government offices.
Bulgaria, which has already formally accepted the French proposal, insists that North Macedonia formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots, acknowledge a Bulgarian minority, and quash "hate speech" against Bulgaria.
North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years. Bulgaria has been able to block the start of accession talks because unanimity is required under EU rules.
Before Bulgaria raised its objections, North Macedonia settled a decades-old dispute with Greece, another EU member, by adding the word "north" to its name. Greece had complained that the name Macedonia implied claims on its own territory, history, and cultural heritage.
The dispute with Bulgaria has also stalled the progress of Albania toward EU membership because the bloc has tied its accession talks to those of North Macedonia.
With reporting by AP and dpa
International Ice Hockey Upholds Ban On Russia, Belarus Amid Calls For Sports Suspension
The disciplinary board of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has dismissed the appeals of Russia and Belarus against the IIHF's decision to ban them from competition over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The board's decision on July 5 came the same day that 35 allies of Ukraine called for the sports governing bodies of Russia and Belarus to be suspended from international sport federations.
The IIHF board said in a statement on July 5 that it agreed that the decision of the IIHF Council on February 28 "was not a sanction but was a safety policy."
The board also said the policy was not discriminatory and was proportionate.
The IIHF's decision to suspend all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from participation in international competitions was announced four days after Russian troops went into Ukraine.
The IIHF said at the time that the policy was to ensure the safety of players, fans, and other tournament participants.
"The independent board supported our view that it would have been an unacceptable safety risk to either host the [world junior championship] and [world championship] in Russia or to have the Russian and Belarusian teams currently participating in IIHF competitions," IIHF President Luc Tardif said.
Russia and Belarus could still take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Neither Russia nor Belarus played at the men's world championship in May, which host nation Finland won.
Russia was also stripped of the right to host next year's men's world championship, which was to be played in St. Petersburg.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it and several other allies of Ukraine, including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, called for the suspension of Russian and Belarusian sports governing bodies.
The statement said sports organizations should also consider suspending the broadcast of competitions into Russia and Belarus.
The joint statement reaffirmed a statement issued on March 8 saying Russia and Belarus should be barred from hosting international sporting events and its athletes subjected to other restrictions.
The July 5 statement said that in cases where sports organizations permit athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete, it should be made clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states. The use of Russian and Belarusian flags, emblems, and anthems should be prohibited.
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a number of sporting bodies have banned athletes representing Russia and Belarus, which has not sent troops but has backed Russia's military aggression. Among the most notable was FIFA, which suspended Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from international soccer.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Jailed Iranian Activist Says He Will 'Never' Ask For Pardon
Jailed Iranian civil activist Zartosht Ahmadi Ragheb has said in a message that he rejected a proposal by prison officials to seek a pardon.
In a message published online on July 4, Ragheb, who is imprisoned in Rajaeeshahr prison, west of Tehran, said that a delegation from the prosecutor's office visited him twice last week and asked him if he wanted to apply for a pardon. "Never," he said he replied.
Ragheb is a former employee of the fire department who has been arrested several times due to his peaceful activism.
He is also one of the 14 civil and political activists who published a statement in June 2018 demanding the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and asking for fundamental change of the constitution.
Ragheb, who has been in prison for the past four months, underwent stomach surgery in June and was returned to prison despite not completing his treatment.
With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi
Schools, Government Offices Shut Down In Several Iranian Cities Over Air Pollution
Government offices and educational centers have been shut down in parts of Iran due to high levels of pollution, state media report.
Authorities decided to close offices and educational centers in 16 cities in Isfahan Province, which is home to around 5 million people, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported on July 5.
The Air Pollution Emergency Task Force in Yazd Province also announced late on July 4 that "due to the prediction of dust stability by the General Meteorology Department," all offices and educational activities in this province will be closed on July 5.
At the same time, the director-general of environment of the southern province of Khuzestan also said in an interview, "All offices of Khuzestan Province were closed on July 5, due to the severe dust phenomenon."
On July 4, following the intensification of air pollution, the offices, schools, and universities of Tehran and Alborz provinces, the offices of four cities in Khuzestan Province, as well as educational, sports, and production activities in Isfahan Province were closed.
Climate change, the increasing frequency of droughts, improper management of water and soil resources, deforestation, and theunscientific exploitation of agricultural lands are the most important factors of soil erosion and the occurrence of dust storms in Iran.
With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi
U.S. Envoy Says Iran Added Demands In Nuclear Talks
U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley says Iran has added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks in Doha aimed at breaking an impasse in negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
"They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they've wanted in the past," he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
"The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we're prepared to have that. It's between Iran and itself. They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal," Malley added.
He said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Two days of indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States ended in Qatar on June 29 after failing to make significant progress.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to limits on its controversial nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But the arrangement began to fall apart in 2018 when then- U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal.
Washington subsequently reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, while Tehran gradually backed away from some of the commitments in the deal.
Iran has been engaged for more than a year in negotiations in Vienna with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China directly -- and the United States indirectly -- to revive the deal.
Negotiators were reportedly close to a new agreement in March, but the talks abruptly stalled in April, with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for failing to make the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.
With reporting by Reuters
Iran Shuts Three Cafes In Qom Over Unveiled Women
Authorities in Iran have closed three coffee shops in the central city of Qom because female customers were not wearing their head scarves, local media report.
"Three coffee shops were closed in Qom due to numerous violations, including women's lack of veils and other issues," said a July 4 statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps published in the newspaper Hamshari.
"The owners of the cafes were summoned by police before legal action was taken," the statement added.
The holy Shi'ite city of Qom is home to dozens of religious seminaries and senior clerics.
Under Islamic law enforced in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women must wear a hijab that covers the head and neck while concealing their hair.
Many have pushed the boundaries over the years by allowing their head coverings to slide back and reveal more hair, especially in Tehran and other major cities.
Recently, the government has reportedly renewed its crackdown on women who are deemed insufficiently veiled.
Based on reporting by AFP and Hamshahri
Ukraine, Allies Adopt Principles For Reconstruction
Dozens of countries have committed to support Ukraine through what is expected to be a long and expensive recovery, and agreed on the need for broad reforms to boost transparency and battle corruption.
Wrapping up a two-day conference in the southern Swiss city of Lugano on July 5, leaders from some 40 countries signed on to the Lugano Declaration, laying out a set of principles for rebuilding Ukraine.
Signatories, including the United States, Britain, France, and Japan, condemned Russia's military aggression against Ukraine "in the strongest terms" and urged Moscow to withdraw its troops without delay.
Swiss President Iganzio Cassis, who co-hosted the conference with Ukraine, hailed the declaration as a "key first step on the long road of Ukraine's recovery."
"Our work prepares for the time after the war even as the war is still raging," he told the closing ceremony.
"This should give the people in Ukraine hope and the certainty that they are not alone."
The signatories welcomed commitments to provide political, financial, and technical support and launched the "Lugano principles" to guide the reconstruction effort, which Kyiv says could cost up to $750 billion.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on July 5 that the declaration was "definitely the start of our long-distance" process.
"We have to make everything that was destroyed better than it was," he said.
Scott Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, urged allies of Ukraine to help not only with longer-term rebuilding but also with more immediate needs.
“While we recognize the importance of preparing for Ukraine’s future, all of us must also deliver on our commitments to provide Ukraine its immediate and urgent needs," he said.
Many attendees pointed out that rebuilding efforts were likely to take many years. Some called for support for Ukraine along the lines of the U.S. Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II.
The Lugano principles stress that "the recovery process has to contribute to accelerating, deepening, broadening, and achieving Ukraine's reform efforts and resilience in line with Ukraine's European path."
"The recovery process has to be transparent and accountable to the people of Ukraine," the document says.
It also calls for the recovery process to be "inclusive and ensure gender equality," and for Ukraine to be rebuilt in a "sustainable manner."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Russian Conscript Captured In Ukraine Faces Uncertain Future Back Home2
Deadly Russian Strike Hits Market In Eastern Ukraine's Slovyansk3
Civilians Urged To Evacuate Donetsk Region In Eastern Ukraine After Deadly Russian Strikes4
No Gold Future? Struggling Russian Far East Port May Lose Investment Project As Sanctions Bite5
Protesters Rally In Skopje For Third Night Against Compromise With Bulgaria6
'Shocking. Terrifying. Hopeless.' Searing New Film Documents How The Ukraine War Is Tearing Russian Families Apart7
Western Artillery Has 'Worked Very Powerfully,' Zelenskiy Says, Amid Stepped-Up Calls For Evacuations8
Russian Court Orders Caspian Pipeline Consortium To Suspend Operations9
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine10
Putin Orders Russian Troops To Press On With Offensive After Capture Of Luhansk