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Thousands Of Refugees Return As Kyrgyzstan Prepares For Referendum

A mother and her child, who fled their home city during the violence, sit in a bus with "Osh" written on the window as they prepare to return home.
Kyrgyz officials say more than half of the ethnic Uzbeks who fled Kyrgyzstan's Osh and Jalal-Abad regions amid this month's clashes have returned from refugee camps in Uzbekistan.

Some 70,000 Kyrgyz nationals have returned so far, they say.

The deputy head of the Kyrgyz border service, Cholponbek Turusbekov, earlier told journalists that more than 10,000 had returned within the previous 24 hours alone.

As many as 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks are estimated to have fled Kyrgyzstan for Uzbekistan in the wake of clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh and Jalal-Abad that began on June 10. The official number of dead from the violence has risen to 251, but interim leader Roza Otunbaeva has said that the death toll is probably closer to 2,000.

The number of returnees could not be independently verified, but a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uzbekistan, Natalia Prokopchuk, confirmed that "significant numbers of refugees" were returning.

Welcoming Neighbors

Reuters said Uzbek soldiers called names over a loudspeaker as women and children collected their belongings and boarded buses for the short ride from their camps to the border-crossing point.

One returnee who'd fled to Uzbekistan with her three children, 40-year-old Jamilya Khaidarova, spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service after coming back to her home in the Jalal-Abad region.

"Now we are staying in our home town of Bazar Korgon, in Kyrgyzstan," Khaidarova said. "Roads are open and our neighbors were very happy to see us; they have been waiting for us. We were 78 people coming together in one bus. We safely came back together with all relatives. Our houses haven't been destroyed and we found that everything is OK here."

Another Bazar Korgon resident, Asanbay ajy Khabirov, said most of his neighbors had come back and that "our life is getting better. We regularly get humanitarian aid such as oil, rice, flour."

"Our family members came back safely home," he said. "Eighty percent of the people have been back to the mahallas [local communities] and only 20 percent remain [away]. The situation is good; all people are friendly to each other."

Another returnee was more apprehensive.

Minura Valiyeva, who was among the refugees returning to their burned-out homes in the city of Osh, spoke to Reuters in the village of VLKSM on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

"[We are returning full of] bitter feelings," Valiyeva said. "We are afraid that the same might happen again; we don't wish anybody anything like this."

She added that she was uncertain of what she would find in Osh.

Jalal-Abad Oblast Governor Bektur Asanov, who visited refugee camps in Uzbekistan's southeastern Andijon region on June 22, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that assistance would be provided to the returned refugees.

"I can guarantee as governor of the Jalal-Abad region -- please don't trust any provocative statements -- that hopefully everything will be good," Asanov said. "It has been decided from the financial side that all people whose houses were burned down or destroyed will receive compensation money. We've got around 500 tons of food in Jalal-Abad, and we are giving it to all those who are returning. Those people whose houses were burned down are getting tents and mattresses. Next week we will start giving out construction materials and money."

The Toll Of Violence

As refugees begin to trickle back into their ruined neighborhoods, the cash-strapped Kyrgyz government faces the massive cost of reconstruction.

Aid agencies have said up to 1 million people may have been affected by the violence, including 300,000 displaced internally and 100,000 who fled to Uzbekistan.

The United States has announced that it intends to provide a total of more than $48 million to programs for humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and community stabilization in Kyrgyzstan and the border region of Uzbekistan. More than $20 million of that total has been provided or authorized so far.

Large-scale unrest has ceased in the country's south. But Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on June 22 that insecurity and ethnic tensions were hindering humanitarian operations in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Separately, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it was leading talks involving European Union foreign ministers on the possible deployment of a police force in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Kimmo Kiljunen, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's special representative for Central Asia, told reporters in Bishkek that an international police operation would create an "atmosphere of trust."

Some fear a constitutional referendum on June 27 could trigger new violence. The referendum, if passed, would reduce the president's powers and strengthen the parliament. But opponents of holding the plebiscite note that many people in Osh will simply be unable to vote.

The OSCE said it will not send short-term observers to monitor the referendum due to "the current security situation." However, it said 13 election experts based in Bishkek and 12 long-term observers deployed across the country would monitor the vote. Kyrgyzstan election commission member Galia Alymbekova said about 100 foreign observers were expected to arrive to monitor the voting.


Reuters quoted Akylbek Sariev, the chairman of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission, as saying that six ethnic Uzbek women working in preparation for the referendum were briefly held hostage in Osh on June 21 before being released unharmed.


The interim government that took power after President Kurmanbek Bakiev's ouster in April has accused his supporters of fueling the recent violence in an attempt to derail the referendum.

At a press conference on June 23 in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, where he has sought refuge, Bakiev said he had "no intention" of influencing Kyrgyz politics or the referendum.

"In no way am I trying to influence [Kyrgyz] politics, or the referendum, or anything else, or even pass judgments, but still they blame us for everything," Bakiev said. "I'm not going to take any part in what's going on in Kyrgyzstan today."

Bakiev also denied accusations that he funneled money stolen from Kyrgyzstan to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to help pay for Belarus's Russian gas debt.

Kyrgyz authorities announced on June 22 that they were seeking to move parliamentary elections forward by a month to early September in a bid to ease tensions. The deputy head of the interim government, Omurbek Tekebaev, said on national television that "legitimate organs of power must be formed with the least possible delay."

Meanwhile, officials in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-Abad Oblast say they have detained 12 suspected organizers of the ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

written by Antoine Blua based on reports by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Gulaiym Ashakeeva and Bohdan Andrusyshyn of RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Kyrgyz Crisis Coverage

Clashes In Kyrgyzstan

Full RFE/RL coverage of the ethnically charged violence that has shaken southern Kyrgyzstan since June 10. More

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Moscow Court Launches Bankruptcy Proceedings For RFE/RL's Entity in Russia

RFE/RL had to close its Moscow bureau in March after 30 years operating in the Russian capital.

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has begun bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity, RFE/RL LLC, after local tax authorities initiated the process earlier this year, a move that prompted the broadcaster to suspend operations in the country.

The Arbitration Court of Moscow ruled on August 15 to start bankruptcy proceedings, which were initiated by the Federal Tax Service on March 4, saying that RFE.RL LLC owes some 7 million rubles ($112,000) to the tax authorities for 2021.

RFE/RL LLC in Moscow represents RFE/RL's interests in Russia. It was established in 2020 due to Russia's controversial law on "foreign agents."

The bankruptcy proceedings stem from Russian media regulations requiring that RFE/RL and other outlets deemed “foreign agents” mark themselves as such with a lengthy notice in large text for all written materials, an audio statement with all radio materials, and a text declaration with all video materials.

They also coincided with a new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that took effect on March 5 and allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who distribute "false news" about the Russian Army at a time when Moscow had invaded neighboring Ukraine.

RFE/RL has refused to comply with this mandate and since last year Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has filed more than a thousand administrative charges against RFE/RL LLC and its director, ordering them to pay almost 1 billion rubles ($16 million) in fines.

The official start of the bankruptcy proceedings was sparked because RFE/RL LLC was unable to pay its taxes because its bank accounts were blocked by court bailiffs last year.

RFE/RL considers Russia's law on foreign agents to be an expression of political censorship that does not allow journalists to carry out their professional activities. RFE/RL has appealed the Russian authorities' moves against its activities with Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Many international journalist organizations and foreign governments have expressed support for RFE/RL and freedom of speech in Russia.

In March, after 30 years of operations in the Russian capital, RFE/RL had to close its bureau there. Some 27 journalists contributing to RFE/RL's programs currently are listed in the Justice Ministry's registry of foreign agents.

Websites of RFE/RL's Russian Service and several of its projects, as well as their accounts on social networks, have been blocked in Russia.

Despite that, the popularity of RFE/RL's Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, remains very high.

In March, days after Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, more than 18 million Internet users visited Radio Svoboda's sites.

Since January, more than 100 million users have visited the sites.

Kyrgyz Blogger Detained Over Post Questioning Development Of Iron-Ore Mining

Kyrgyzstan's Jetim-Too mountain region

BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz blogger has been detained on a charge of making public calls for mass disorder and violence after he posted online materials questioning the legality of the government's plans to develop iron-ore mining in the Central Asian nation's Jetim-Too mountain region.

The Interior Ministry said on August 15 that 19-year-old Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev was detained a day earlier after investigators questioned him regarding his post on a Facebook account called Polit Uznik (Political Prisoner).

The ministry did not specify which post sparked the teen's detention, saying only that "recently, many disputes appear regarding the development of iron-ore mines at Jetim-Too," adding that the Polit Uznik account in Facebook distributes "controversial, false information."

Polit Uznik posted a handwritten statement from Jekshenaliev while in custody in which he calls the case again him "100 percent politically motivated."

Polit Uznik also said the post in question was an old video in which a former security chief raises environmental issues when talking about the government’s

On August 14, President Sadyr Japarov condemned unspecified "defenders" of the environment in the region, calling them "false patriots and liars."

Japarov, who initiated the project to develop iron-ore mining in Jetim-Too, called on law enforcement "to work" with such persons. He did not elaborate.

Tehran Says It Will Respond To EU's 'Final Text' Of Nuclear Deal By Midnight

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Iran says it will respond to the "final text" put forward by the European Union before midnight on August 15 as Tehran and world powers scramble to revive a crippled nuclear deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the coming days were important in finding a solution to the remaining issues holding up a final deal and called on Washington to show some "flexibility" to allow the talks to move forward.

"We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months, or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.... We have told them that our red lines should be respected," Amir-Abdollahian said, according to the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

EU foreign policy chief and negotiations coordinator Josep Borrell said on August 8 that a 25-page draft had been delivered to the capitals involved for decisions on acceptance.

The draft, according to Borrell's spokesman, was a "final text" that needed a yes-or-no answer from all of the participants, as there was "no more space for negotiations."

A State Department spokesman has said the United States is ready to "quickly conclude a deal" to revive the 2015 agreement based on the EU proposals.

The spokesman said Washington will wait to see if Tehran's "actions match their words" following repeated signals that Iranian officials might endorse the deal.

Iran has so far said it is considering the draft amid "more comprehensive discussions in Tehran."

"We will need more talks if Washington does not show flexibility for resolving the remaining issues.... Like Washington, we have our own Plan B if the talks fail," Amir-Abdollahian said on August 15.

Enrique Mora, the European Union’s top negotiator, has said he's “absolutely” optimistic about the talks’ progress.

Iran struck the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Washington unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear pact under then-President Donald Trump in 2018. Iran reacted by gradually backtracking on its obligations under the deal, such as uranium enrichment.

Negotiators from Iran, Russia, and the EU -- as well as the United States, indirectly -- resumed talks over Tehran’s nuclear deal on August 4 after a months-long standstill in negotiations.

With reporting by Fars and Reuters

Kosovo Energy Company Limits Power To Customers Due To High Import Costs

KEDS noted that under the system, consumers will receive electricity for six hours, then supplies will be cut for two hours. (file photo)

Kosovo's electricity distribution company KEDS says it will limit the power supply to customers from August 15 due to flagging local production and the high cost of importing electricity from abroad.

KEDS said in a statement that it was informed by the national grid operator KOSTT that the cuts are necessary because it will have to rely solely on domestic production for supplies.

"[We] no longer have the financial means to get energy outside of that which is produced by local generators. This situation has arisen due to high prices on international markets and the inability to cover these costs through our system," it said.

KEDS noted that under the system, consumers will receive electricity for six hours, then supplies will be cut for two hours.

Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants rely mainly on two aging coal-fired power plants for domestic electricity production. Some of the output has been limited due to scheduled summer maintenance at the plants.

European electricity prices reached record highs in the first week of August as a prolonged heat wave across the continent disrupted power markets that were already under strain from Russia’s cuts to the continent’s gas supplies amid its war with Ukraine.

With reporting by Koha

Heavy Shelling Reported In Donetsk Region As Ukrainian Forces Make Gains In Kherson

Ukrainian soldiers fire toward Russian troops at a position in the Donetsk region on August 12.

Heavy shelling by Russian forces in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk was reported overnight, with officials in Kyiv saying they are managing to repel many of the attacks while recapturing ground in the southern Kherson region.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his overnight address late on August 14 that despite the heavy and constant bombardment by Russian forces, "We must fight at all levels and on all fronts, strengthen our state as much as possible, preserve our unity, and attract even more countries to our anti-war coalition.

"The stronger Ukraine will be, the weaker Russia will be, and therefore, the less time this war will last," he said in the address, noting Kyiv is pushing for new sanctions against Russia by the international community, especially ones that target the movement of Russian citizens.

For several weeks, Ukraine's military has tried to lay the groundwork for a counteroffensive to reclaim southern Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea and fell to the Russians soon after the February 24 invasion.

Particularly heavy fighting has focused on the village of Pisky, near Donetsk Airport, according to the British Defense Ministry, which said on August 15 that it is likely Moscow is in the advanced planning stages to hold a referendum aimed at making the region part of Russia, "though it is unclear if the final decision to go ahead with a vote has yet been taken."

"The Kremlin will likely see the military’s failure to occupy the entirety of Donetsk Oblast thus far as a setback for its maximalist objectives in Ukraine," it said in a daily statement on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant -- Europe's largest nuclear power station -- continues to be a source of major concern for the international community.

Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation.

Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," a statement by 42 nations worldwide that was published by the European Union on August 14 said.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Updated

Tehran Blames Rushdie For Attack; Blinken Slams 'Despicable' Iranian Press

Hadi Matar, 24 (center), listens to his public defense attorney, Nathaniel Barone (left), address the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, on August 13.

Tehran says Salman Rushdie is to blame for the stabbing that left the award-winning author seriously wounded as Washington slammed Iranian state media for its "despicable" reaction to "this heinous attack."

In its first reaction to the stabbing, Tehran on August 15 "categorically" denied any link with the attack that occurred three days earlier in the western part of New York state.

Rushdie was taken off a ventilator on August 14 and was able to speak after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack as he was preparing to speak at a panel on the topic of freedom of creative expression at the Chataqua Institution.

Tehran was initially silent on the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran's state media for its reaction.

"Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life," Blinken said in a statement issued late on August 14. "This is despicable."

The man accused of attacking the author of the novel The Satanic Verses has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime.

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment. A judge ordered him held without bail.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye in the attack. He is likely to lose the injured eye.

Rushdie has faced years of death threats for The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims see as blasphemous.

Matar, 24, is accused of running onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Rushdie at least 10 times in the face, neck, and abdomen.

NBC News quoted a law enforcement official as saying that Matar's social media accounts showed him to be sympathetic to Shi'ite extremism and the causes of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

There are no definitive links to the IRGC, but the initial assessment indicates he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, the official said, according to NBC.

"More than a literary giant, Rushdie has consistently stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press," Blinken said in his statement.

"While law enforcement officials continue to investigate the attack, I am reminded of the pernicious forces that seek to undermine these rights, including through hate speech and incitement to violence," he added.

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told AP on August 13

Flags of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group Hizballah are visible across the village, AP reported, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini, and slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

At Least Six Dead, 16 Still Missing As Yerevan Market Fire Rages On

An unknown number of people were trapped under rubble after a blast and subsequent fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan. 

Firefighters are still battling a blaze at a large market in Yerevan a day after an explosion triggered the fire, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others.

Rescue operations at the site continued on August 15, according to Gary Armaghanian, an official with Armenia's Ministry of Emergency Situations, with 16 people still unaccounted for.

"At the moment, firefighting and search-and-rescue operations are continuing. The fire is not yet contained. The search operations are continuing," he told RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

Yerevan Market Ablaze As Fireworks Storage Explodes
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An unknown number of people were trapped under rubble after a blast and subsequent fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan.

The market is about 2 kilometers south of the center of the Armenian capital.

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

Dozens Of Countries Call On Russia To Withdraw Troops From Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant

The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhya region.

Forty-two countries from around the world have signed a statement urging Russia to withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, saying their presence poses "a great danger."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The statement, released on the European Union's website on August 14, condemns Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and says the presence of Russian military forces at the plant -- Europe's largest nuclear power generation station -- prevents authorities from maintaining nuclear and radiation safety obligations.

"It is undeniable that Russia’s invasion and its continued presence at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities significantly raise the risk of nuclear incidents and accidents," the statement says.

"We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its military forces and all other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, its immediate surroundings, and all of Ukraine so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities can resume their sovereign responsibilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and the legitimate operating staff can conduct their duties without outside interference, threat, or unacceptably harsh working conditions," the statement continues.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation. Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.

The situation at the plant has caused heightened alarm at the United Nations and the UN's nuclear energy watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Both have said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the plant, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a demilitarized zone to be set up around it.

"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," the statement added.

This statement was issued on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union.

Iran's Top Automaker Eyes Russian Market Following Western Pullout

Iran Khodro new crossover model, the Rira

Iran's leading automaker is seeking to grab a share of the Russian market after Western producers halted output or exited the market following sanctions.

Iran Khodro CEO Mehdi Khatibi made the announcement on August 14 as he unveiled the company's latest model -- the crossover Rira.

"We are going to pay special attention to the Russian market, and we are also thinking of partnering with Russian investors," he said.

"The Russian market, with its capacities, will be one of our important markets," Khatibi added.

Iran Khodro will begin exporting to Russia this year, he said.

Khatibi said he had been in negotiations "with Moscow," but he did not clarify whether the talks just revolved around exports or also included possible local production.

Iran Khodro had briefly exported cars to Russia during the 2000s, according to Iranian media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Iran in July to meet his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Moscow is seeking to enhance economic ties with Tehran after the West imposed punishing sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Iran is also under wide-ranging Western sanctions.

Russian auto production has plummeted since the imposition of sanctions, because manufacturers can no longer import microprocessors and other parts needed for final assembly.

Several Western and Asian companies have idled their Russian plants for the time being while some have announced they are permanently leaving the market.

Exports of Western cars to Russia have also sunk sharply.

Khatibi did not say how many cars he expects to export this year to Russia.

While the exit of Western models opens a door for Iran Khodro, Russia's economy is expected to contract sharply in the coming years, hurting demand for big-ticket items like cars.

With reporting by AFP

Ship Carrying Grain For Ethiopia Sets Sail From Ukraine

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

A United Nations-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain has set sail from a Black Sea port for Ethiopia, the first shipment of its kind in a program to assist countries facing famine.

The Liberian-flagged Brave Commander departed from the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne, east of Odesa, on August 14, according to regional Governor Maksym Marchenko.

The ship is expected to sail to Djibouti, where the grain will be unloaded and transferred to neighboring Ethiopia under the World Food Program initiative.

Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey on July 22 to restart Black Sea grain deliveries after a five-month stoppage triggered by Moscow's invasion.

Russia's Navy blockaded ports in Ukraine -- one of the world's largest exporters of grain -- amid a large-scale invasion of the country.

The blockade sparked fears of a global food shortage and caused prices of grain to skyrocket, hitting impoverished countries hard.

Ethiopia is one of five countries that the UN considers at risk of starvation.

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

Based on reporting by AP

Moscow Canceling Registrations Of Opposition Candidates By The Dozens As Political Clampdown Intensifies

Maria Volokh (right) already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Moscow has been canceling en masse the registration of opposition candidates for municipal elections next month as the Kremlin clamps down on dissent.

Russian authorities have historically not concerned themselves much with municipal elections because they tend to focus on very local issues, such as apartment building repairs and park improvements.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has intensified his crackdown on any sign of dissent since he launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and it is now filtering down to the lowest levels of government, opposition members say.

Vladimir Zalishak, a deputy representing Moscow's Donskoi district, told RFE/RL that nearly a hundred would-be opposition candidates had been disqualified by local election commissions on the alleged violation of a controversial administrative clause.

He said the clampdown on potential municipal candidates was a sign that the authorities are "hysterical and panicking."

Zalishak said police were launching administrative investigations into would-be candidates on the ground that they had publicly demonstrated "prohibited symbols." Those found guilty are banned from running for office for a year.

Russia last year jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, outlawed his Anti-Corruption Foundation on extremism charges, and banned symbols associated with his group.

Police are now scrolling through the social media accounts of opposition members looking for old posts that contain the symbols before they were banned, he said.

Zalishak said his registration was canceled after police found a Navalny-related symbol on a post from 2019.

Maria Volokh, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, did not have any posts on her social media but the authorities still found a way to cancel her registration, she told RFE/RL.

The police sent a letter to Volokh's local election commission, claiming falsely that she had Dutch citizenship. Volokh studied in the Netherlands for several years but never received citizenship.

She said she intended to contest the decision.

Volokh was seeking to run for a seat on the council representing Moscow's Tver district.

Volokh already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Zalishak said most of the individuals who had their candidacy canceled were opponents of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Russian Demand For Schengen Visa Surges Amid Calls For European Travel Ban

Russians are racing to secure Schengen visas amid calls for a ban on travel to Europe, the daily Kommersant has reported, citing executives at tour agencies.

Marina Shirokova, a manager at Vizakhod, told the Russian newspaper that demand for Schengen visas had surged about 40 percent over the past two weeks as fears grow that European travel could soon be off-limits.

A Schengen visa is a 90-day visa that allows a person to travel to any of the 26 European members of the Schengen area for tourism or business purposes. Each member country of the Schengen zone can issue Schengen visas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on August 8 called on the European Union to ban Russian tourists to punish Moscow for its brutal invasion, now in its sixth month.

Three days later, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that his country will bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by Estonia from entering the Baltic country because of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

However, he said it will still remain valid for entry into other member countries.

Russians are already facing difficulties in traveling to Europe amid a backlash over the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. Several countries have stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians in a sign of protest.

Moreover, the EU has closed its airspace to Russia.

As a result, many Russians with Schengen visas having been flying to Europe via the Baltics or Finland. Now that path could become more difficult if Estonia moves ahead with its plan.

The number of Russians traveling to Europe is down about 90 percent compared with the prewar period, Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, told Kommersant.

She said Russians seeking Schengen visas were mainly interested in traveling to resort destinations in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece.

Germany, Europe's largest country, has come out against a blanket visa ban on Russians. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it would hurt "innocent people."

Updated

One Dead After Fireworks Blast Starts Fire At Armenian Market

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

At least one person is reported dead and some 20 injured after a strong explosion hit a fireworks storage area at a large market in Armenia's capital on August 14, triggering a blaze.

The city mayor's office said there were an unknown number of people trapped under rubble. The blast and fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan.

Yerevan Market Ablaze As Fireworks Storage Explodes
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Rescue workers were struggling to pull people out of the rubble, a spokesman for the Yerevan mayor's office told RFE/RL. The explosion was in an area where fireworks are stored, he added.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said at least one person was killed and 20 others were injured.

The ministry earlier said firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze.

The market is about 2 kilometers south of the city center.

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

Ukraine Targets More Russian Arms Depots As Safety Fears Grow At Occupied Nuclear Plant

This house was damaged on August 12 in a Russian rocket attack in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region. The strike killed three people and wounded 13 others, according to the mayor.

Ukrainian officials have reported that more Russian munitions depots were targeted by the military amid mounting safety concerns over a Russian-occupied nuclear plant in the south of the country.

"Large" depots in the Kherson region were destroyed overnight, Yuriy Sobolevskiy, the first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, said on August 14.

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"There is confirmed information about the destruction of objects both in Nova Kakhovka and in Muzykivka. Quite large military warehouses with weapons and ammunition were located there. Military equipment was also stored there," he told Ukrainian media.

For several weeks, Ukraine's military has tried to lay the groundwork for a counteroffensive to reclaim southern Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea and fell to the Russians soon after the February 24 invasion.

A local Ukrainian official reported on August 13 that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper River in the region, further crippling Russian supply lines.

The British Defense Ministry said on August 13 that damage to bridges across the Dnieper meant that "ground resupply for the several thousand Russian troops on the west bank is almost certainly reliant on just two pontoon-ferry crossing points."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian forces not to use the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant for military purposes.

In his regular nightly address late on August 13, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would target Russian soldiers who either shoot at or from what is Europe's largest nuclear power plant.

"Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots using the plant as cover, must understand that he becomes a special target for our intelligence agents, for our special services, for our army," Zelenskiy said.


Zelenskiy said recent shelling at the plant had increased the threat of a radiation leak, and that Ukrainian diplomats and partner states "will do everything to ensure" that new sanctions block the Russian nuclear industry.

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Zelenskiy, who did not give any details, repeated accusations that Russia was using the plant as nuclear blackmail.

The G7 group of advanced economies has called on Moscow to withdraw its forces from the power station.

Ukraine's defense intelligence agency earlier warned of fresh Russian "provocations" around the plant, while the exiled mayor of the town where the plant is located said it had come under fresh Russian shelling.

But local Russian-installed official Vladimir Rogov wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces were shelling the plant.

The UN nuclear chief warned on August 11 that "very alarming" military activity at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant could lead to dangerous consequences for the region and called for an end to attacks.

Rafael Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine, who blame each other for the attacks at the plant, to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess damage and evaluate safety and security at the sprawling nuclear complex where the situation "has been deteriorating very rapidly."


Elsewhere, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on August 13 that its forces had taken control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the main city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, most of which Moscow-backed separatists have controlled since 2014.

Russian troops and separatist forces are trying to seize Ukrainian-held areas north and west of the city of Donetsk, but the Ukrainian military said on August 13 that its forces had prevented an overnight advance toward the smaller cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Reuters, and AP

Rushdie Off Ventilator And Able To Talk After Knife Attack

A banner saying "the execution verdict of Salman Rushdi will be carried out" is hung at Tehran University in 2012. A year after Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death.

Salman Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and is able to speak after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack.

Rushdie's agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed the information on August 13 to U.S. media without providing further details.

Earlier in the day, the man accused of attacking him on August 12 at a nonprofit education and retreat center in western New York pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a "preplanned" crime.

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. A judge ordered him held without bail.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye in the attack. He was likely to lose the injured eye, Wylie said after the attack.

Rushdie has faced years of death threats for his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims see as blasphemous.

Matar, 24, is accused of running onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Rushdie at least 10 times in the face, neck, and abdomen.

There was no official reaction to the attack in Iran, but several hard-line newspapers praised the attacker.

"A thousand bravos...to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York," wrote the Kayhan newspaper, whose editor in chief was appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed."

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran's leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran's government has distanced itself from Khomeini's decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book's Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn't focused on the writer.

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution's website.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the "vicious attack" and praised Rushdie for his "refusal to be intimidated or silenced."

In a statement on August 13, Biden said that he and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, "together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery."

He added that Rushdie "stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear."

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told the AP news agency on August 13

Flags of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group Hizballah are visible across the village, AP reported, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini, and slain Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Two More Ships Loaded With Grain Leave Ukrainian Port, Turkey Says

A Turkish-flagged bulk carrier leaves the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk on August 5, one of 16 that have left the country loaded with grain in the two weeks since a UN-brokered deal to ensure safe passage.

Two more ships carrying tons of grain left a Ukrainian Black Sea port on August 13, the Turkish Defense Ministry has said.

The Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey's southern Iskenderun Province, the ministry said.

The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey's Tekirdag carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds, it added.

The departure of the two ships brings to 16 the number of vessels that have left the country loaded with grain in the two weeks since a UN-brokered deal to ensure safe passage for the vessels went into effect, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that in less than two weeks, Ukraine had managed to export the same amount of grain from three ports as it had done by road for the whole of July.

"This has already made it possible to reduce the severity of the food crisis," he said in his nightly video address on August 13.

Before the UN-brokered deal, the blockage of Ukrainian ports trapped tens of millions of tons of grain in the country, raising fears of severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Hungary Says Russia Delivering Extra Gas

A general view of Hungarian oil and gas group MOL's main Danube refinery in Szazhalombatta

Russian state-run natural gas giant Gazprom has started delivering additional gas to Hungary, the country's Foreign Ministry says.

The ministry said trade negotiations with Moscow led to an agreement that resulted in Gazprom starting to deliver "above the already contracted quantities."

"It is the duty of the Hungarian government to ensure the country's safe supply of natural gas, and we are living up to it," ministry official Tamas Menczer said on Facebook on August 13.

An additional volume of 2.6 million cubic meters per day are to arrive from the south through the TurkStream pipeline until the end of August, he said. Negotiations were under way for September deliveries, he added.

The agreement that Menczer referred to was linked to Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto's visit to Moscow in July to discuss the purchase of an additional 700 million cubic meters of natural gas.

"In light of what is known about the current European market conditions, it is clear that the acquisition of such a large amount is impossible without Russian sources," Menczer said, mentioning Szijjarto's visit.

The European Union last month approved a plan under which countries are expected to voluntarily reduce their natural gas consumption by 15 percent between August 1 and March 31 compared to the average consumption over the same period the past five years.

The plan is intended to prepare the bloc for a possible halt in Russian natural gas supplies.

The plan, published as a European Council regulation on August 8, will apply for one year. Hungary, which relies on gas piped in directly from Russia, had demanded some exceptions to the voluntary rule.

The rule says Russia’s “military aggression against Ukraine…has led to gas supplies declining markedly, in a deliberate attempt to use gas supply as a political weapon.”

Based on reporting by AFP
Updated

Suspect In Rushdie Attack Charged With Attempted Murder As Author Remains Hospitalized

Iranian women are seen holding banners that read "Holly Koran" and "Kill Salman Rushdie" during a demonstration in Tehran on February 17, 1989.

The suspect in an attack on author Salman Rushdie has been charged with attempted murder and attempted assault and is being held without bond, authorities in the western New York community where the attack occurred said on August 13.

Hadi Matar, 24, was arraigned late on August 12 on charges of attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree, New York state police said in a statement.

An attorney for Matar entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Jason Schmidt, the district attorney in Chautauqua County, said state and federal law enforcement agencies were working on the investigation.

Matar, a resident of New Jersey, was taken into custody at the scene. Investigators are working to understand the planning and preparation that preceded the attack and determine whether additional charges should be filed, Schmidt said.

Rushdie remained hospitalized on a ventilator with a damaged liver and nerve damage, his agent, Andrew Wylie, said. Wylie added that he was likely to lose an eye.

Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel The Satanic Verses drew death threats from Iran's leader in the 1980s, was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution, a spiritual retreat center in a rural corner of southwest New York State where he was scheduled to speak.

The center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.

The suspect stormed the stage as Rushdie was being introduced and attacked him and moderator Henry Reese, New York State Police said in a statement.

Eyewitnesses said the attack lasted for nearly 20 seconds, with Hatar allegedly continuing to punch and stab Rushdie even as onlookers rushed to restrain him. Reese suffered a minor head injury.

There was no official reaction to the attack in Iran, but several hard-line newspapers praised the attacker.

"A thousand bravos...to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York,"
wrote Kayhan newspaper, whose editor in chief was appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed."

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran because many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran's leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran's government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book's Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn't focused on the writer.

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution’s website.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the "vicious attack" and praised Rushdie for his "refusal to be intimidated or silenced."

In a statement on August 13, Biden said that he and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, "together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery."

He added that Rushdie "stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the attack was a strike on the freedom of expression.

"No one should be threatened or harmed on the basis of what they have written. I'm wishing him a speedy recovery," Trudeau said in a tweet.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also condemned the attack.

"What a despicable act," Scholz said on Twitter, adding that he wished the author strength for his recovery.

"The world needs people like you who are not intimidated by hate and fearlessly stand up for freedom of expression," he said.

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Montenegro Declares Three Days Of Mourning For Victims Of Mass Shooting

Emergency service personnel, police, and investigators work at the scene of the shooting in Cetinje on August 12.

The government of Montenegro has declared three days of national mourning for the victims of a mass shooting in town of Cetinje that has shattered the community.

The shooting on August 12 took the lives of 11 people, including the attacker.

The three-day nationwide mourning period, which will last through August 15, was announced on August 13 as new details about the shooting came to light.

Among the dead were two children. Six people were wounded and were still being treated. Three of them have life-threatening injuries.

Police director Zoran Brdanin said it was still not clear what motivated the attack, which began around 3:30 p.m. when a 34-year-old man from Cetinje, identified only by the initials V.B., used a hunting rifle to shoot at a family who were tenants in his house.

The two children, one aged 8 and the other 11, and their mother were the first shot.

The gunman then went into the streets and door-to-door, shooting people using the same firearm. He killed seven more people and injured six before he was shot dead, Brdanin said.

One police officer was seriously wounded in an exchange of fire, Brdanin added.

A police statement said law enforcement officers sent to the scene came under fire from the attacker and responded by firing at him at least 20 times and seriously injuring him.

“It is still being investigated if he died as the result of the serious injury (by police) or as the result of being shot at by a local citizen,” the statement said.

The prosecutor coordinating the investigation, Andrijana Nastic, told journalists on August 12 that the gunman was killed by a passerby and that a police officer was among the wounded.

A government statement said flags will be flown at half-staff on all state buildings and public institutions and public entertainment programs will not be held during the period.

A visit by Patriarch Porfirije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to another town in Montenegro has been postponed out of respect for the mourning period, the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral announced.

Porfirije's visit to the town of Herceg Novi has been pushed back to August 29-30 from its originally planned dates of August 14-15, the church leadership said. The visit was planned on the occasion of the 640th anniversary of the founding of Herceg Novi.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Zelenskiy Says Ukrainian Forces Will Target Russian Troops Who Shoot At Nuclear Power Plant

Kyiv and Moscow continue to trade accusations about the dangers of fighting near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, Europe's largest.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukrainian forces will target any Russian soldiers who shoot at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant as the two sides continue to trade blame over recent incidents of shelling at the plant.

"Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots using the plant as cover, must understand that he becomes a special target for our intelligence agents, for our special services, for our army," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on August 13.

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The situation at the plant caused heightened alarm this week at the United Nations and the UN's nuclear energy watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Both have said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the plant, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a demilitarized zone to be set up around it.

Zelenskiy in his nightly address said recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation, and he said Ukrainian diplomats and partner states "will do everything to ensure” that new sanctions block the Russian nuclear industry.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its forces from the plant, which has been under Russian control since shortly after the February 24 invasion. Ukrainian engineers are operating the facility under Russian supervision.

Ukraine's defense intelligence agency earlier on August 13 warned of fresh Russian "provocations" around the plant, while the mayor of the town where the plant is located said it had come under fresh Russian shelling.

Russia has disputed the claims, saying Ukrainian forces fired nine artillery shells at the area near the plant. Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that the strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.

On the battlefield, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on August 13 to have taken full control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of Donetsk, while Ukraine's military command said later that "fierce fighting" continued in the village.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Ukraine's military, meanwhile, said it struck a fourth bridge spanning the Dnieper River.

British military intelligence said in its daily assessment on August 13 that the strike further crimped Russia’s ability to resupply forces on the river’s northwest, or right, bank.

General Valery Zaluzhniy, commander of Ukraine's armed forces, said he spoke by phone about Russian casualties in the war with U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Zaluzhniy reported on Facebook that one-fifth of the Russian units involved in the hostilities in Ukraine had been defeated.

"We note that the enemy is suffering significant losses, primarily in manpower," Zaluzhniy said.

He also reported that active fighting continued along the 1,300 kilometers of the front line.

The mayor of Mykolayiv said his city was one of those shelled on August 13.

"Near 8 o'clock in the evening, Mykolayiv was shelled. In one of the districts, a rocket exploded near a residential building," Mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych said. "Currently, we know about one wounded person," he wrote on Telegram.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military reported fierce battles took place on August 13 in the Avdiyivka direction, where Russian troops tried to break through Ukrainian defenses.

The General Staff also reported that in the Slovyansk direction Russian troops tried to break through Ukrainian defenses but were unsuccessful and withdrew.

With reporting by Reuters

Flow Of Russian Oil To Czech Republic Resumes, Pipeline Operator Says

Oil supplies through the pipeline were suspended on August 4 to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Russian oil flows to the Czech Republic through the Druzhba pipeline resumed on August 12 after more than a week, Czech pipeline operator MERO said.

Oil supplies through the pipeline were suspended on August 4 to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said the reason was Western sanctions prevented paying transit fees to Ukrainian transit company Ukrtransnafta.

"Supplies of Russian oil through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline on the Czech territory resumed at 8 p.m. today," MERO said in a statement.

Czech refiner Unipetrol confirmed its refineries again started receiving oil through Druzhba, and added that the weeklong outage had not affected its operations.

Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said earlier that the resumption followed a resolution of the issue with fees.

A European bank agreed to process the payment for the transit, removing the cause of the stoppage.

Flows to Hungary and Slovakia were restarted on August 10 after Hungarian refiner MOL and its Slovak unit Slovnaft found a workaround by paying the fee to Ukrtransnafta themselves.

Central European countries are partially dependent on Russian oil and have secured exemptions from the European Union's incoming ban on imports until they adjust their shipping routes and refineries so that they can receive oil from other sources.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Shelling Hits Towns Near Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine Says, As Russian Troops Remain At Facility

UKRAINE – Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near the city of Enerhodar, Zaporizhia region. July 2019

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster by shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which the United Nations says should have a demilitarized zone declared around it.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, but there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in on the situation, echoing Guterres in saying the power plant must not be used as part of any military operation.

"I support call for demilitarisation of area starting with full withdrawal of Russian forces, and urge the @iaeaorg to visit," he said on Twitter, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Russia must immediately hand back full control to rightful sovereign owner Ukraine," he said.

Ukraine's Enerhotam agency said the Zaporizhzhya complex in south-central Ukraine was struck five times on August 11, including near where radioactive materials are stored. The governor of the Zaporizhzhya region said the plant was hit again on the evening of August 12.

Russian-appointed officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of shelling the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, the state-run TASS news agency said.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that Ukraine's strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.

The Ukrainian military denies having struck the plant, saying Russian troops struck it themselves and are using it as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby towns and cities.

Shelling overnight of one of those towns, Marhanets, injured three civilians, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Ukrainian forces control Marhanets and other towns and cities on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, and they have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side in recent days.

A UN Security Council meeting on August 11 discussed the situation, and Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

The United States backed the call for a demilitarized zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Speaking at the Security Council meeting, he said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe" comparable in scale with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.

Ukrainian UN Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of using "elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups" to stage the shelling, which he said poses "an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, to Europe, and the world as a whole."

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, meanwhile, on August 12 reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.

Other parts of the main front line have been comparatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has been intensifying in anticipation of a planned counteroffensive in the south.

In the province of Mykolayiv, the governor’s press officer said the region is still experiencing shelling, but it has become "a little quieter."

Dmytro Pletenchuk, the press officer of the Mykolayiv military administration, said this is because there is currently a shortage of ammunition in the Russian military.

Ukrainian forces have hit Russian ammunition warehouses, and the Russian forces have now switched to more outdated weapons systems, he said on Ukrainian television.

"Now the situation has changed. There is a shortage of ammunition among the Russians. And that is very good. We feel the result of the work on their warehouses -- it has become a little quieter in Mykolayiv, but the region is being shelled," he said.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, shelling killed two civilians and wounded 13 others in Kramatorsk, the last major city under Ukrainian control in the eastern Donetsk region.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Facebook the bombardment damaged at least 20 buildings and caused a fire to break out. He called for remaining residents to evacuate.

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

Relatives Of Victims Of Ukrainian Airlines Flight Shot Down By IRGC Begin March To Ottawa

People hold placards with photos of the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as they gather to take part in a march to mark its first anniversary, in Toronto on January 8, 2021.

Several relatives of victims of a passenger flight that was shot down in Iran in January 2020 by missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have set off on a 400-kilometer protest march in Canada.

The march started on August 10 in Toronto and is scheduled to end in 15 days in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, in front of the Canadian prime minister's office.

The march started at a cemetery in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill in which some of the people who were on the flight are buried.

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, spoke at the cemetery, emphasizing that the families remain determined to bring justice after 31 months of struggle.

"These families have spent this time fighting against an inefficient oppressive government," Esmaeilion said, "The families want justice for their loved ones and all those who were killed that day in a vicious and planned crime."

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed on January 8, 2020, while en route to Kyiv, killing all 176 people onboard.

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 top IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad.

The victims were mostly Iranians and Canadians. Their 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.

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

Shooting Rampage Leaves 11 Dead After Family Dispute In Montenegrin Town

Police cordon off the crime scene after the August 12 shooting rampage in Cetinje, southwestern Montenegro.

A man went on a shooting rampage in a town in Montenegro, killing 10 people before he was shot dead in a gun battle with police, state television reported.

Montenegro state TV quoted police as saying that six other people, including a policeman, were wounded. The shooting occurred after a dispute within a family, the police said. They said children were among the 10 people killed.

The violence occurred on August 12 shortly after 4 p.m. local time in Cetinje, a town of about 18,000 in southwestern Montenegro.

The attacker, who was initially counted as one of the victims, was identified as being 34 years old.

Two people were treated at a hospital in Cetinje. Several others were brought to a hospital in Podgorica, according to news reports. The senior state prosecutor is on the scene along with the emergency services and the police.

The Montenegrin police administration has not yet released a statement on the incident.

Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said the shooting was a tragedy worse than any in the collective memory of Montenegrins.

"I call on all the citizens of Montenegro to be with the families of the innocent victims, their relatives, friends, and all the citizens of the capital of Cetinje," Abazovic said on Telegram.

With reporting by AP

Russia-Backed Separatists In Ukraine Set Date For Trial Of Foreigners Accused Of Being Mercenaries

Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities" in June.

Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk have set August 15 as the date for the trial of five foreigners accused of joining Ukrainian armed forces as mercenaries.

The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic said on August 12 that Matias Gustavsson of Sweden, Vjekoslav Prebeg of Croatia, and Britons John Harding, Andrew Hill, and Dylan Healy will face trial.

According to the separatists, the five men are charged with being mercenaries, preparing for terrorist activities, and conducting activities aiming to seize power. If found guilty, the men may face the death penalty.

Last month, Britain's Foreign Office condemned what it called the "exploitation" of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes following the capture of Healy and Hill. Another Briton, Paul Ury, who was captured along with Healy and Hill, died in July while in the separatists' custody.

In early June, two other Britons -- Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner -- and a Moroccan national -- Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities."

All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by pro-Russia separatists while fighting Russian forces.

Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany condemned the death sentences.

The European Court of Human Rights on June 30 intervened in the case and warned Moscow it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.

The British government insisted that as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion that was launched in February or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians forced to flee their homes.

With reporting by Interfax

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