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Turkey Seeks Strong Regional Pressure On Israel

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on June 8.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on June 8.
Turkey is expected to seek the backing of its Middle Eastern and Asian neighbors at a regional summit to step up pressure on Israel over the killing of nine Turks on an aid ship bound for Gaza.

Several heads of state, including the presidents of Iran and Syria, are attending the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The 20-member group was set up in the late 1990s to discuss conflicts in the Asian region.

The normally little-noted forum has taken on a new importance since the tragic May 31 seizure of the "Mavi Marmara" as it attempted to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today. He met with the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria on June 7.

compiled from Reuters reports

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Georgian NGOs To Challenge 'Foreign Agent' Law At Constitutional, European Courts

Demonstrators have rallied in support of Georgia's EU membership and against the "foreign agent" law. (file photo)
Demonstrators have rallied in support of Georgia's EU membership and against the "foreign agent" law. (file photo)

Several Georgian NGOs say they will challenge domestically and internationally the so-called "foreign agent" law pushed through parliament by the ruling Georgian Dream party despite a presidential veto and weeks of protests against the law, seen as mirroring a repressive Russian measure and jeopardizing the country's hopes to join the European Union.

The group of NGOs announced on May 30 that they were going to file a lawsuit with Georgia's Constitutional Court to contest the legality of the measure, while at the same time lodging a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

After the Georgian Dream-dominated parliament on May 28 overrode President Salome Zurabishvili's veto with an 84-4 vote in the 150-seat parliament, the law is now expected to land back on the president's desk within three days.

Once she receives it, Zurabishvili has five days to sign it. But the-pro-Western president, who has been at odds with Georgian Dream over the bill and sided with the protesters, has given no indication she intends to do so.

However, if she refuses as expected, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, can sign the law and publish it.

"Georgian NGOs continue their legal struggle against the 'Russian law.' We will not live by the norms of the 'Russian law' and will use all domestic and international mechanisms to impede its operation until the law is unconditionally repealed," the group of NGOs said in a statement read out at a joint news conference in Tbilisi on May 30.

"The Constitutional Court can act with the powers granted by the constitution and suspend the operation of the relevant articles of the law," the NGOs continued.

"We do not consider the Constitutional Court the only way of our legal struggle. If it does not act in a timely manner and within the constitutional framework, we will use an alternative legal mechanism," they added. "We are preparing to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”

The authors of the statement note that "all nongovernmental and media organizations can become participants in this fight.”

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

The law requires civil-society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Both the United States and the European Union have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements, warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

German Ambassador to Tbilisi did not mince words in an interview with Georgian media on May 29.

"Georgia is a [EU] candidate country. This was a huge historic step for both the EU and Georgia. The next step should have been to open accession negotiations, all countries are ready to start negotiations, however, the Georgian government passed a law that does not meet EU standards. As long as this law is in force, we will not open negotiations with Georgia."

European Council President Charles Michel also warned that overriding Zurabishvili's veto was a "step backward" for Georgia's European aspirations.

"The European Council decided in December to grant Georgia candidate status on the understanding that Georgia undertakes the relevant steps and necessary democratic reforms," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on May 28.

"The adoption of the transparency law in the parliament is a step backward and takes Georgia further away from its EU path. The Georgian people have clearly chosen a future in the EU and we will do everything to support their ambitions," Michel said, adding that the issue will be on the agenda of the next European Council meeting.

A day before the vote, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

A State Department spokesman said the United States condemns the parliament's decision and told reporters that the party's actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten Georgia's democratic trajectory.

Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland), chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Georgian Dream vote was a "sad day for Georgia," and reaffirmed Washington's determination to back the aspirations of the Georgian people.

"The people have demonstrated that they will not allow Ivanishvili to destroy their democracy & take away their European future. We stand with them," Cardin said on X.

Zurabishvili, meanwhile, has urged Georgians to gear up for the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year.

"We must now do everything we can to prepare for October 26, which will be our answer to today. Are you angry today? Get angry, but let's get down to business," she said, calling for a campaign to collect signatures for an EU referendum.

New Charges Filed Against Jailed Iranian Women's Rights Activist And Her Brothers

Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)
Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has filed new charges against Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent opponent of the Islamic republic, and her two brothers, who are also imprisoned, for "insulting" current and former leaders of the Islamic republic.

Asghar Sepehri, Fatemeh's brother, revealed the charges on social media, saying they were added to their case files by Ali Soleymani Marshk, an investigating judge in Mashhad, after a court session on May 6.

Details of the charges were not immediately available.

The charges for being critical of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini follow the arrest of the siblings in October 2023, just a day before Fatemeh Sepehri was scheduled for surgery at Ghaem Hospital in Mashhad.

In September 2023, her brothers Mohamad-Hossein Sepehri and Hossein Sepehri were detained.

Fatemeh Sepehri, a vocal critic of the Iranian regime, has been detained for more than 20 months.

Her family has reported that her communications from prison are heavily monitored.

Fatemeh Sepehri is one of 14 activists in Iran who have publicly called for Khamenei to step down. She has been arrested and interrogated several times in recent years.

Sepehri and the other activists have also called for a new political system within the framework of a new constitution that would secure dignity and equal rights for women.

Criticism of Khamenei, who has the last say on almost every decision in Iran, is considered a red line in Iran, and his critics often land in prison, where political prisoners are routinely held in solitary confinement and subjected to various forms of torture.

Sepehri was arrested in September 2022 as protests erupted across the country over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was taken into custody by the morality police for allegedly violating the country's hijab law and died while in detention.

In March 2023, a Mashhad Revolutionary Court sentenced her to 18 years in prison on various charges, including "collaboration with hostile states" and "propaganda against the regime."

The sentence was upheld on appeal, but according to Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, only 10 years of her sentence are enforceable.

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

Prison Sentences Of Iranian Women's Rights Activists Upheld On Appeal

The 11 activists were detained in August 2023 in the northern province of Gilan.
The 11 activists were detained in August 2023 in the northern province of Gilan.

Eleven women's rights activists cumulatively sentenced to more than 60 years in prison have lost their appeal, a lawyer for one of the campaigners said on May 29.

Ramin Safarnia said an appeals court in the northern city of Rasht on May 28 had upheld the preliminary verdicts handed to each activist. He vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In a post on Instagram, activist collective Bidarzani accused the judge, Mohammad Sadeq Iran-Aqideh, of issuing the ruling "without holding a court session."

Based in the northern province of Gilan, all 11 activists were detained in August 2023 on various security-related charges, including "assembly and collusion to disrupt national security," "propaganda against the establishment," and "membership in an illegal group."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, a source close to the activists said the Islamic republic had increased the pressure on independent women's rights groups in the wake of the Women, Life, Freedom movement.

The movement was born out of the nationwide antiestablishment protests in 2022 following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who had been detained for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code for women. More than 500 protesters were killed and thousands arrested during the months of unrest.

"They try to suppress [the groups] as much as they can, and they have had some success, but the resistance continues," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zohreh Dadras was sentenced to more than nine years in prison on two separate charges.

Forugh Sami'nia, Sara Jahani, Yasamin Hashdari, Shiva Shahsiah, Negin Rezai, Matin Yazdan, Azadeh Chavoshian, and Zahra Dadras were each handed a total of six years and three months in prison on two separate charges.

Jelveh Javaheri and Human Taheri each received a one-year sentence.

A source previously claimed to Radio Farda that the some of the activists had been "beaten and put under pressure during interrogation."

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, concluded in his report in March that the actions of the Iranian authorities since the 2022 protests pointed to "the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution."

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

Ukraine Says Naval Drones Destroy Two Russian Boats In Crimea

A Ukrainian Magura V5 naval drone (file photo)
A Ukrainian Magura V5 naval drone (file photo)

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) has said its naval drones destroyed two Russian "Tunets" boats in Crimea. "On May 30, HUR's special unit Group 13, with the help of Ukrainian Magura V5 maritime attack drones, once again successfully attacked the ship depot of the aggressor state of Russia in the temporarily occupied Crimea," HUR said in a statement, adding that Russian troops used several attack helicopters to in an unsuccessful attempt to repel the attack. The Tunets is an 8.8-meter-long and 2.5-meter wide diesel boat mainly used by Russian border guards. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Candidate Registration Opens For Iran's Presidential Election

A journalist sits in front of the pictures of late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) and other officials during the first day of registration for the presidential election at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on May 30.
A journalist sits in front of the pictures of late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) and other officials during the first day of registration for the presidential election at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on May 30.

The registration of candidates for the presidential election next month began on May 30 as Iran looks to fill the vacancy left by the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. The registration period runs for five days, with the election scheduled for June 28. The IRNA state news agency reported that around 25 potential candidates have already submitted their registration requests, but all have been rejected. A final list of approved candidates will be announced on June 11 by the Guardians Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Russian Jailed For 13 Years For Urging Russian Troops To Surrender

Russian reservists called up for mobilization undergo training at a training ground near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in October 2022.
Russian reservists called up for mobilization undergo training at a training ground near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in October 2022.

A military court has sentenced a resident of the western Russian region of Chelyabinsk to 13 years in a maximum-security prison and fined him 200,000 rubles ($2,245) on a charge of high treason for calling on those mobilized to the military to surrender to Ukrainian forces. Investigators said the calls, posted on social media, had been made on instructions from "a representative of a foreign state." The man, whose name was not made public, was also charged with justifying terrorism for allegedly posting a comment on a social network in which he approved of the explosion on the Crimean Bridge that occurred in October 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Hague Officials Reject Move To Name Street After Navalny

A sign left outside the Russian Embassy in The Hague
A sign left outside the Russian Embassy in The Hague

City officials in The Hague have turned down a request by activists to rename a street in the Dutch city in honor of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who died in February under suspicious circumstances in an Arctic prison. Sergei Gorbunov, the representative of Navalny's team in the Netherlands, told The Insider that 85,000 signatures had been collected in favor of renaming the street where the Russian Embassy is located after Navalny. The Hague city council responded that renaming the street would cause difficulties, since not only the Russian Embassy is located there. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

NATO Ministers To Discuss Further Aid For Kyiv As Russia Pounds Ukraine Again

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky speak to the media before signing an agreement ahead of the NATO meeting in Prague on May 30.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky speak to the media before signing an agreement ahead of the NATO meeting in Prague on May 30.

Foreign ministers from NATO's 32 member countries are gathering on May 30 to discuss a fresh military aid framework for Ukraine as the war-ravaged country struggles to cope with a wave of Russian strikes on civilian targets and advances by Moscow's forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

As the two-day informal meeting of the alliance is set to kick off in Prague, Russia launched a large-scale attack early on May 30, targeting military and civilian infrastructure in nine Ukrainian regions, causing casualties and damage.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Russian missiles struck two locations, wounding seven people, six of them women, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov reported.

"A two-story administrative building was hit, resulting in partial destruction, followed by a fire. Six women and one man received minor injuries," Synyehubov said.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, is located just 35 kilometers from the Russian border and has been repeatedly pounded by Moscow's artillery and air strikes over the past several weeks as Ukraine's depleted air defenses and ammunition face increasing difficulties in repelling such attacks.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov earlier said critical infrastructure, including a gas pipeline, was damaged in the strikes that also triggered a fire.

Separately, the Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down all 32 drones and seven of the 19 cruise missiles launched by Russia.

The missiles and drones were shot down over the Khmelnytskiy, Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Zaporizhzhya, Odesa, Kherson, Kyiv, and Vinnytsya regions, the air force said.

The NATO gathering in the Czech capital, which will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is to discuss an aid package for Ukraine that would be presented at NATO's summit in Washington in July.

Talks are scheduled on a plan presented by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in April on a framework that would transfer responsibility for military and civilian aid for Ukraine from an informal, U.S.-led group to the formal structures of the alliance.

The ministers are also likely debate whether to allow Kyiv to use Western-provided weapons to strike targets inside Russia. The United States and Germany have been opposed to allowing such a move, while Britain and France have been in favor.

Stoltenberg and the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, have also voiced their approval of allowing Ukraine to use Western arms to hit military objectives on Russian territory under certain conditions.

Large Fire Breaks Out In Eastern Moscow Area

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A large fire broke out early on May 30 in the eastern part of Moscow in a production building and a warehouse, Russia's Emergencies Ministry said on Telegram. The fire that broke out on Martenovskaya Street has engulfed an area of about 22,000 square meters, the ministry said, and 120 firefighters and 40 fire engines were working to contain the fire. Efforts to extinguish the fire are being complicated by the existence of containers with flammable liquid inside the building, it said. The cause of the fire was not immediately known. To read the original story by Curent Time, click here.

U.S. Army Opens New 155mm Artillery Munitions Plant In Texas

An employee handles 155mm caliber shells after the manufacturing process at the the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 16.
An employee handles 155mm caliber shells after the manufacturing process at the the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 16.

The U.S. Army inaugurated its new Universal Artillery Projectile Lines facility in Mesquite, Texas, on May 29, marking a significant step in producing more 155mm artillery and modernizing domestic munitions production capabilities. The plant is part of a broader effort by the army to update its industrial base and achieve a goal of making 155mm artillery shells at a rate of 100,000 a month. Demand for 155mm artillery rounds has soared in the wake of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and as allies' own supplies have depleted as they have rushed shells to Kyiv. The more than $500 million facility features advanced manufacturing technologies and automation for producing large-caliber metal parts.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Visits Belarus Despite EU Sanctions, Talks About Expanding Ties

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meet in Minsk on May 29.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meet in Minsk on May 29.

Hungary's top diplomat visited Belarus on May 29 for talks on expanding ties despite the European Union's sanctions against the country. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto declared that "our position is clear: The fewer sanctions, the more cooperation." Belarusian and Hungarian officials signed an agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy that envisages training personnel and handling radioactive waste. Hungary is working with Russia on adding a new reactor to its Paks nuclear facility, which is expected to go online by the end of the decade. Belarus also has a Russian-built nuclear power plant.

Zelenskiy Says Russia Trying To Thwart Upcoming Peace Summit In Switzerland

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses a press conference with the Portuguese prime minister on May 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses a press conference with the Portuguese prime minister on May 28.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 29 that Ukraine continues to counter Russia's attempts to "weaken" a peace summit that is set to take place in Switzerland in two weeks.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that Russia is putting pressure on leaders and "openly threatens various countries with destabilization."

He said this was a consequence of the world giving Russia too much time.

"Unfortunately, evil knows how to adapt and is now using all its resources to divide the world and prevent the world from forcing Russia to make peace," Zelenskiy said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Despite these efforts, nearly 100 states and international organizations are associated with "global efforts" to resolve the conflict, he said.

Zelenskiy wants the summit, scheduled for June 15-16 in Switzerland, to produce an international front to exert pressure on Russia and advance his "peace formula," which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

Moscow has dismissed Zelenskiy's plan as unworkable and Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that Russia is prepared to negotiate an end to the conflict but said it would be possible to return to talks "only based on today's realities in the special operations zone."

Zelenskiy has rejected Moscow's preconditions, including allowing Russia to retain the territory its forces have taken thus far in the war.

Switzerland has not invited Russia to the summit, and Moscow dismisses the meeting as pointless without its participation. Ninety countries have agreed to attend, according to Zelenskiy.

Earlier this week Zelenskiy played down potential peace talks with Russia after a report that the European Union plans to organize a meeting in Saudi Arabia later this year with Russia's participation.

The meeting would come after the peace summit in Switzerland.

"There is no faith in Putin," Zelenskiy said on May 27 during a press conference in Spain.

The Ukrainian president said his country had held around 200 rounds of talks with the Kremlin and there were "no results." Many of the sessions took place long before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Kosovo, Serbia Urged To Further Probe Attack On KFOR Peacekeepers In Northern Kosovo

Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) scuffle with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.
Soldiers of NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) scuffle with ethnic Serbs in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.

One year after an attack on Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers in northern Kosovo there are renewed calls for Pristina and Belgrade to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

On May 29, 2023, members of the NATO-led mission were attacked in Serb-majority Zvecan during violent protests by Serbs who opposed the new ethnic Albanian mayor taking office in the municipal building. The new mayor had been elected weeks before in an election boycotted by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.

Some of the 93 KFOR officers who were attacked suffered life-altering injuries.

"We take very seriously the attacks carried out on KFOR peacekeepers in Zvecan. These were unacceptable and perpetrators must be held accountable," a NATO official said in a written statement to RFE/RL.

Major General Ozkan Ulutas, commander of KFOR, said in a separate news release that the peacekeepers' courage helped to stabilize the situation in the area and prevented a further escalation of violence.

However, little has been achieved in reaching justice.

The Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo, which is conducting the investigation, and the Basic Court in Pristina did not respond to RFE/RL's question about how far the criminal prosecution of the suspected perpetrators has gone. The High Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade also did not respond to questions by RFE/RL.

What is known is that about 10 people were arrested, most of whom were released. Four were charged, but two were acquitted. In addition, two citizens of Serbia were expelled from Kosovo after their six-month prison sentence was replaced by a fine.

RFE/RL asked the High Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade if it is investigating the attack and whether it has started proceedings against the individuals who participated in the attack who are now in Serbia. However, the office did not respond.

Ehat Miftaraj of the Kosovo Institute for Justice said the Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo has taken appropriate and effective actions to prosecute the attackers of the KFOR members and the journalists who also were attacked while reporting on the crisis.

However, there is a lack of cooperation with Serbia for the arrest and extradition of those who have committed criminal offenses in the territory of Kosovo and are not available to the responsible institutions, he said.

"Unfortunately, Serbia has turned into a safe haven for criminals who have committed crimes in Kosovo, providing them with complete institutional impunity," Miftaraj told RFE/RL.

He added that Kosovo's institutions should increase cooperation with KFOR and international partners when it comes to actions in northern Kosovo and thus build trust among the Serbian majority population there.

"In addition, KFOR and the international community must exert greater pressure on Serbia to extradite to Kosovo all those who participated in the aggression against Kosovo so that such actions are not repeated," Miftaraj said.

Last year's crisis in northern Kosovo culminated on September 24 when an armed group of Serbs attacked the Kosovo police in the town of Banjska near Zvecan, killing Sergeant Afrim Bunjaku. Three Serbs also were killed.

Kosovo blamed Serbia for the attack, which Belgrade denied. The responsibility was claimed by the former vice president of the Serbian List political party, Milan Radoicic. It is believed that he and other members of the armed group that took part in the attack are in Serbia.

NATO has sent around 1,000 additional troops and heavy armored equipment to Kosovo since the attack. This was the biggest reinforcement of KFOR troops in Kosovo in a decade. Currently, there are more than 4,500 KFOR troops in Kosovo. The security situation continues to be fragile, according to KFOR's assessment.

Every NATO Step To Support Ukraine Will Help Contain Russia, Czech Minister Says

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (file photo)
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (file photo)

NATO needs to send a signal that it will contain "Russian imperialism" and every move to aid Ukraine will help it do this, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said on May 29, as the military alliance meets this week to discuss support for Kyiv. Foreign ministers of NATO's 32 members will gather in the Czech capital Prague on May 30-31 to hammer out agreements for later when NATO leaders meet in Washington in July, focusing on putting support for Ukraine on a more stable long-term footing.

Putin Gives Rostelecom Go-Ahead To Buy Nokia Out Of Joint Venture

Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland
Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has authorized a subsidiary of telecoms firm Rostelecom to buy Nokia Solutions and Networks' stake in a software joint venture between the companies, according to a decree. Nokia said in April 2022 that it would exit the Russian market after Moscow launched its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In a statement on May 29, Rostelecom said that its previous business model had become impossible after Nokia left the Russian market. "The transaction will be completed shortly," Rostelecom said. "Other details are not being disclosed."

Russia Adds Actor Aleksei Panin To List Of Extremists

Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.
Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.

Rosfinmonitoring, Russia's agency for countering money laundering and terrorism financing, said on May 29 it has added noted actor Aleksei Panin to the register of terrorists and extremists. No reason was given for adding Panin, who left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States, but a year ago he was placed on the wanted list after a probe against the actor was launched on a charge of "justifying terrorism." The charge stems from an online post that Panin published in October 2022 in which he expressed his support for an explosion that seriously damaged the Kerch bridge connecting Ukraine's Russian-annexed Crimea with Russia's Taman peninsula. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Dodik Says Bosnian Serb 'Foreign Agent' Bill Pulled Back For 'Harmonization' With EU Laws

Milorad Dodik (file photo)
Milorad Dodik (file photo)

Milorad Dodik, the Russian-friendly president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-led entity, said the sudden withdrawal from parliament of a controversial "foreign agent" bill was prompted by the need to harmonize it with EU legislation "since Republika Srpska is committed to the European path."

The law, initiated by Dodik himself back in 2022, was withdrawn without explanation from the agenda of the National Assembly on May 28, the same day Georgian lawmakers pressed ahead with similar legislation, overriding a presidential veto and ignoring weeks of mass protests against what is seen as a measure tailored on a repressive Russian law.

The withdrawal of the bill was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Milos Bukejlovic, who is also justice minister.

Dodik later explained on X, formerly Twitter, that the bill had been pulled back because "certain objections are visible, and they concern European norms, and since the Republika Srpska is committed to the European path, we agreed to withdraw it and additionally harmonize it...with European legal practice."

Bosnia became a candidate for EU membership in 2022, but the 27-member bloc said in December that accession negotiations will only begin "once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved."

One of the main stumbling blocks in Bosnia's progress toward the EU has been Dodik's separatist statements and actions. His statement on X did not mention the Bosnian state and did not explain how Republika Srpska can pursue European integration outside the Bosnian state.

Dodik, who is on friendly terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been placed under sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's civil war in 1995 and led to the formation of a Bosnian state consisting of two entities -- a Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska -- tied together by a weak central government.

Last week, Dodik announced a formal proposal to "disassociate" his entity from the Bosnian state, a move that prompted a stark warning from the U.S. ambassador to Sarajevo, Michael Murphy, who called the proposal "secession by another name" and accused Dodik of pursuing "a dangerous path."

Dodik's "agents of foreign influence" bill is aimed at NGOs and other organizations that deal with political activities or that attempt to influence public opinion and those that "violate the integrity and constitution of the Republika Srpska."

The bill was introduced in parliament in March, one month after Dodik held talks with Putin during his fourth visit to Moscow since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The draft law calls for the surveillance of NGOs and other organizations that receive funding from abroad and requires registration, financial reporting, and a ban on political activities.

A written request from 46 NGOs was sent to deputies to vote against the law, which would open the way to repressing everyone "who fights for human rights and against corruption."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also warned last week that the bill contradicts the constitutions of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and the country's international obligations to respect human rights.

Research conducted by RFE/RL showed that the draft law is similar to one that has been in effect for more than a decade in Russia, where the Kremlin uses it to silence political opponents and stifle independent media.

The U.S. Embassy previously told RFE/RL that the draft law was "repressive and undemocratic” and, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska.

The Office of the High Representative to Bosnia also asked for the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliamentary schedule, saying it was intended to scare civil society organizations into submission.

Chinese-Led Consortium To Build Massive Port Project On Georgia's Black Sea Coast

Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.
Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.

TBILISI -- Georgia has announced that a Chinese consortium submitted the sole bid to build a sprawling deep-sea port in Anaklia, ending a multiyear political saga over the megaproject that puts Tbilisi's growing ties with Beijing in the spotlight.

Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Levan Davitashvili made the announcement at a May 29 press conference, where he said the government had received bids from a Swiss-Luxembourg consortium and a joint offer from China Communications Construction Company Limited and the Singapore-based China Harbour Investment Pte. Ltd.

"The application is complete, the relevant bank guarantees have been presented," Davitashvili said. "In a few days, we will have clarifications, after which the Chinese consortium will be announced as the winner."

He added that China Road and Bridge Corporation and Qingdao Port International Co Ltd will serve as subcontractors to build the port.

After months of consultations with both bidders, Davitashvili said that Tbilisi only received a final proposal from the Chinese consortium, which now looks set to build the country's first deep-sea port.

The announcement brings an end to a controversial political struggle over who would build Georgia's strategically important port, while the winning Chinese bid highlights Tbilisi's burgeoning relationship with China.

A previous attempt to build the port in Anaklia by a consortium formed between Georgia's TBC Bank and U.S.-based Conti International was canceled by the government in 2020 after years of political controversy that saw TBC co-founders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze facing money-laundering charges.

Following the charges, the American investor pulled out and the project ground to a halt until the government canceled the $2.5 billion port contract. In 2022, a court found Khazaradze and Japaridze guilty of fraud, but they were both released without prison time.

Khazaradze has claimed the authorities were trying to sabotage the project and that the real issue behind the dispute was his personal conflict with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire former prime minister who leads the Georgian Dream party that has been in power since 2012.

The government announced plans to revive the project in 2022 and opened up a call for bids, saying that Tbilisi planned to hold a 51 percent stake in the port.

Georgia's strategic location on the eastern edge of the Black Sea has made it particularly crucial for the Middle Corridor, a trade route between China and Europe bypassing Russia that has grown in importance and usage since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But the megaproject has been at the center of geopolitical jostling, with European Union-based and Chinese companies said to have been in the running. Political observers and officials said that Tbilisi's choice of winner for Anaklia would be a bellwether for where the country was leaning in its future political orientation.

"If what is chosen is not in line with the EU -- a club that Georgia wants to join -- then that should help tell us about the direction this government is heading towards,” Asuncion Sanchez Ruiz, deputy head of mission of the EU delegation to Georgia, told RFE/RL in 2023.

Davitashvili's announcement also comes one day after parliament pushed through an override of a presidential veto of a controversial "foreign agent" law that has been criticized by Western governments and faced widespread protests at home.

In recent years, the government has pushed connectivity to the top of Georgia's foreign policy agenda and looked to capitalize on newfound interest in the Middle Corridor.

But the country has a dearth of high-quality infrastructure, which has so far held back its transit potential, with long lines of trucks at its borders and ports at Batumi and Poti operating near capacity as trade along the route has steadily increased since 2022.

This has led to organizations like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank warning that without a deep-sea port in Georgia -- which would allow larger ships to transport increased volumes at a more efficient rate -- neither the country nor the Middle Corridor will be competitive as a global trade route.

Georgia has increasingly turned to China for infrastructure projects, with one study by the Tbilisi-based Civic Initiative for Democratic and Euro-Atlantic Choice saying that since 2021, every infrastructure project worth more than $100 million has involved Chinese companies.

Written by Reid Standish in Prague with reporting from RFE/RL’s Georgian Service in Tbilisi

Iranian Rights Activists Slam UN For Planning Memorial For 'Butcher' Raisi

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.

The United Nations has announced plans to hold a memorial ceremony for the late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, this week, sparking sharp criticism from rights activists, who decried a move to honor a man they refer to as the "Butcher of Tehran."

UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis said he will convene the tribute on May 30, with member states "encouraged" to deliver statements at the meeting "to pay tribute" to Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several other officials, died in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The tribute has sparked a wave of criticism from activists who refer to Raisi's alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In addition, they said that as president he oversaw a brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown on dissent during protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation when she died.

"When the governments of the world elevate a blatant human rights violator and butcher from Iran's history to a position of honor, as if mourning a peace-loving and democratic figure, they set a dangerous precedent," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi wrote from her prison cell in Tehran.

The UN has already been sharply rebuked by rights groups for observing a moment of silence for Raisi on May 22, and for flying its flag at half-mast in honor of the Iranian president.

Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for Francis, said paying tribute to the memory of a deceased head of state is a diplomatic practice.

But Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi argued that the UN's decision flies in the face of its own protocols, as Raisi was not Iran's highest-ranking official, while pointing out that a UN fact-finding mission recently said that "crimes against humanity" were committed by the Iranian regime during the crackdown on protesters in 2022.

"[Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei is the highest political and military official in the Islamic republic. Whenever they die, the United Nations can hold a quadruple memorial ceremony for them along with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hitler," Ebadi said in a post on Instagram.

“I want the respected Secretary General and President of the General Assembly to recognize Ebrahim Raisi as the people of Iran called him, the 'Executioner of Iran' and the 'Butcher of Tehran' after his death.”

The UN has also implicated Iranian officials in the "physical violence" that lead to Amini's death, raising further questions over honoring Raisi at the United Nations.

A group of 23 LGBTQ+ rights organizations also issued a statement condemning the UN's actions, describing them as a "disgrace to the body of the global community."

The group said Raisi played a role in the execution and killing of members of their community and that many Iranians "consider the likes of Ebrahim Raisi among the murderers, torturers, and violators of their loved ones.”

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

Execution Spike In Iran Boosts Global Total To Highest In Almost A Decade, Amnesty Says

Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.
Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.

Executions around the globe rose to their highest number in almost a decade, spurred by a spike in cases of the death penalty being carried out in Iran, according to a new report by watchdog Amnesty International.

In the report, released on May 29, Amnesty said a total of 1,153 executions took place in 2023 -- not including the thousands believed to have been carried out in China -- marking an increase of more than 30 percent from 2022.

In particular, Amnesty highlighted Iran, where the authorities intensified their use of the death penalty "to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power" by carrying out at least 853 executions, a 48 percent rise from the previous year.

"The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran. The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran's most marginalized and impoverished communities," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

"Despite the setbacks that we have seen this year, particularly in the Middle East, countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated. Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty."

Amnesty chided Iran for the high number of executions -- at least 545 -- that were carried out "unlawfully" for acts such as drug-related offenses that under international law are not punishable by the death penalty.

The rights group said executions "disproportionately impacted" Iran's Baluch ethnic minority, who accounted for 20 percent of recorded executions even though they make up only around 5 percent of Iran’s population.

At least 24 women and at least five people who were children at the time they are accused of committing a crime were executed, the Amnesty report said.

Despite the higher overall total of executions, Amnesty said progress on stopping the usage of the death penalty was made.

Executions were carried out in only 16 countries last year, it said, the lowest total ever recorded.

Belarus, Japan, Myanmar, and South Sudan, all of which carried out executions in 2022, did not register any last year, Amnesty said.

"The inherent discrimination and arbitrariness that marks the use of the death penalty have only compounded the human rights violations of our criminal justice systems. The small minority of countries that insist on using it must move with the times and abolish the punishment once and for all," Callamard said.

YouTube Confirms Iranian Foreign Ministry Account Closed Over U.S. Sanctions

Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)
Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)

Internet video platform YouTube has confirmed terminating an account run by Iran's Foreign Ministry to comply with U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"Google is committed to compliance with applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, and enforces related policies under our Terms of Service," YouTube spokeswoman Alzbeta Houzarova told RFE/RL in a written statement on May 28.

"If we find that an account violates our Terms of Service, we take appropriate action," she added.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the account had been suspended after posting a video in English in support of Palestinians amid Israel's war against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, in the Gaza Strip.

State-controlled IRNA accused YouTube, which has been banned in Iran since 2009, of "violating freedom of speech."

Asked about IRNA's claim that a pro-Palestinian video had resulted in the account's removal, Houzarova reiterated that U.S. sanctions were the reason for the channel's suspension.

The account "will remain terminated," according to YouTube, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet.

"Due to established U.S. sanctions, Iran's state-owned channels are not permitted on YouTube," the platform said.

Iran has blocked all major social media platforms and outlawed the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the ban. However, the authorities themselves continue to use the blocked platforms.

Iran has for years tried to encourage the public to use domestically developed alternatives to popular social media platforms, with little success. A survey in January by the state-affiliated ISPA polling agency found that Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram -- all of which are blocked -- are the most popular platforms among Iranians.

YouTube has previously suspended other Iranian state-owned accounts, including the English-language news service Press TV and the Spanish-language Hispan TV.

In February, Instagram removed accounts run by the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Instagram and Facebook for posts in support of Hamas.

A spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company, Meta, told RFE/RL the accounts had been shut down for "repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations & Individuals policy."

The policy includes organizations backlisted by the U.S. government.

Updated

Russian Shelling Kills Several In Ukraine As Sweden Donates Modern Radar Planes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.

NATO member Sweden on May 29 announced its largest military aid package for Ukraine so far will include modern radar surveillance planes as Russian attacks continued to target civilians, killing several people in three Ukrainian regions.

Two people were killed and three wounded early on May 29 when Russian troops shelled Krasnopil in the northeastern region of Sumy, the regional military administration reported on May 29.

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Vadym Filashkin, the governor of the eastern region of Donetsk, said on May 29 that three civilians were killed and six were wounded by Russian bombardment the previous day.

In the northern region of Chernihiv, one person died in the hospital after being wounded by Russian shelling the previous day in Semenivsk, near the border, Ukraine's Interior Ministry reported on May 29.

Ukraine's air defense said it shot down 13 of the 14 drones launched by Russia early on May 29 at three of its regions -- Mykolayiv, Kirovohrad, and Rivne. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily summary on May 29 that the heaviest fighting had been observed in the areas around Kupyansk and Pokrovsk. It also said Russian forces continue their assault in the Vovchansk region, where Russian ground units were supported by guided aerial bombs launched from planes over Russia.

Russian troops "significantly intensified" their attack in the area around Kurakhiv, the General Staff noted, but the area around Pokrovsk continued to experience the largest number of clashes.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said in two separate statements on May 29 that planes from its Black Sea Fleet had destroyed three Ukrainian Crimea-bound sea drones in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.

In Stockholm, the Swedish government announced a package of 13.3 billion Swedish crowns ($1.3 billion) in military aid for Ukraine -- the 16th since the start of Russia's invasion and the largest so far.

The package includes two Swedish-made SAAB ASCC airborne early-warning-and-control aircraft.

Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonsson said the two planes would have the "greatest effect on the Ukrainian air defense," complementing and supporting the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets pledged by several countries.

Stockholm has provided 43.5 billion Swedish crowns ($4.1 billion) in military aid to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The Swedish donation was the third secured by Ukraine this week, following similar packages pledged by Spain and Belgium during visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Belgian donation included a pledge of 30 F-16s to be delivered to Kyiv by 2028, with the first aircraft expected to arrive later this year.

Ukraine's air defenses have been struggling with insufficiently modern air-defense systems and dwindling supplies of antiaircraft ammunition needed to counter an increasingly intense Russian bombardment, mainly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed Moscow wants to establish a "buffer zone" against cross-border Ukrainian attacks on military targets inside Russia.

Ukraine has complained that some donors, chiefly the United States and Germany -- have banned the use of modern Western missile systems by Ukraine to attack targets inside Russia.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have been in favor of such strikes on military facilities located just across the border and used by Russia to bomb Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.

However, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, on May 29 told Bloomberg that Kyiv had used British-supplied missiles on targets inside Russia after securing London's approval.

"We already have a precedent. For example, Great Britain -- they have already allowed Ukraine to use the long-range Storm Shadow missiles that they supply. And we successfully use them," Sak said.

Former Putin Bodyguard, Kremlin Aide Dyumin Elevated To Key Position

Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.
Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.

Aleksei Dyumin, a former bodyguard to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was recently named a top Kremlin aide, has been appointed secretary of the State Council.

Dyumin's appointment to the council, an advisory board consisting of governors, top parliament deputies, the prime minister, and other regional officials, was the latest indication of his growing clout within the Kremlin.

Though not as powerful as the Security Council, the council is nevertheless a highly public venue that analysts say is used by Putin to build support among regional officials and business elite.

The Kremlin made the announcement on May 29, but gave no other details.

A former governor of the Tula region, home to a sizable number of defense industries, the 52-year-old Dyumin was named as an aide to Putin earlier this month amid a wide-ranging shuffle of top Defense Ministry and Security Council positions.

Dyumin had previously worked as a bodyguard for Putin as part of the powerful Federal Protective Service, Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.

In a 2016 interview with the newspaper Kommersant, he described how once, when he was serving on Putin’s security detail, he scared off a bear that had approached a presidential residence where Putin was sleeping.

A recipient of Russia's highest honor and regular ice hockey teammate of Putin, Dyumin has also served as deputy defense minister and was instrumental in the 2014 operation to occupy Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was subsequently annexed.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Dyumin in 2018, citing his role in the Crimea annexation.

He's also frequently been on Kremlin watchers' short list of possible successors to Putin.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported that Dyumin may have been instrumental in the creation of the Wagner mercenary group.

The company's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in August 2023 two months after he staged an unprecedented mutiny that openly challenged Putin and Russia's military leadership.

During the June 2023 mutiny, Dyumin reportedly played a key role in persuading Prigozhin to back down.

Afterwards, Dyumin publicly praised Prigozhin as "a true patriot, a decisive and fearless man."

Putin recently began a reshuffle of top defense-related jobs, including relieving his close ally, Sergei Shoigu, of his duties as defense minister. The appear to underpin an attempt by the Kremlin to crack down on corruption in the sector.

In his appointment as a Kremlin aide earlier this month, Dyumin was given oversight of Russia's military-industrial complex, a position Kremlin watchers said was aimed at balancing other powerful business interests, including the state defense conglomerate, Rostekh.

"Apparently, Putin decided that some kind of independent supervision over them was needed," Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who now lives outside of Russia, told Current Time on May 29.

"Dyumin is not from their clan, he is not their enemy, but he is not from their clan. And this independent supervision of an extremely important industry for Putin will be carried out by Dyumin," Gallyamov said.

Poland To Reintroduce Buffer Zone At Belarus Border, PM Says

Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.
Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.

Poland will reintroduce a 200-meter buffer zone at the Belarusian border at the beginning of next week, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 29, after a soldier was left fighting for his life after an attack on the frontier. The border has been a flashpoint since migrants started flocking there in 2021, after Belarus, a close Russian ally, reportedly opened travel agencies in the Middle East to offer a new unofficial route into Europe -- a move the European Union said was designed to create a crisis. Belarus rejects the accusation that it helps to channel migrants to the Polish border.

Eyes On Georgia's President After Lawmakers Nix Her Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Law

President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.
President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.

TBILISI -- Georgia's so-called "foreign agent" law is expected to land back on President Salome Zurabishvili's desk after lawmakers on May 28 overrode her veto, prompting fresh protests against the piece of legislation seen as mirroring a repressive Russian measure and jeopardizing the country's drive toward the European Union.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, as expected, pushed through the override on May 28 with an 84-4 vote in the 150-seat parliament. A simple majority of 76 votes was needed to cancel Zurabishvili's veto.

Most opposition deputies had walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote.

Angry Protests In Tbilisi As Parliament Rejects Veto On 'Foreign Agent' Bill
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Zurabishvili, who has been at odds with Georgian Dream over the bill and sided with the pro-Western protesters, now has five days to sign the measure into law. She has given no indication she intends to do so but if she refuses, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, can sign the law and publish it.

The vote to override Zurabishvili's veto came despite last-minute appeals from the European Union and several member states to Georgian lawmakers as hundreds of mostly young protesters chanted "No Russian law!" and "Slaves!" while waving Georgian and EU flags.

Zurabishvili addressed the crowd massed peacefully at the back entrance of the legislature via video link, urging them not to let the 84 lawmakers who voted for bill have the final say.

The 84 deputies who voted for the law are "nobody compared to those who are here today -- the new Georgia, the Georgia of the future," she said, encouraging demonstrators to save their anger and energy for national elections in October.

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic path.

Both the United States and the European Union have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But European Council President Charles Michel warned on May 28 that overriding Zurabishvili's veto was a "step backward" for Georgia's European aspirations.

"The European Council decided in December to grant Georgia candidate status on the understanding that Georgia undertakes the relevant steps and necessary democratic reforms," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The adoption of the transparency law in the parliament is a step backward and takes Georgia further away from its EU path. The Georgian people have clearly chosen a future in the EU and we will do everything to support their ambitions," Michel said, adding that the issue will be on the agenda of the next European Council meeting.

A day before the vote, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

After the Georgian Dream party pushed the bill through, a State Department spokesman said the United States condemns the parliament's decision and told reporters that the party's actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten Georgia's democratic trajectory.

Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland), chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Georgian Dream vote was a "sad day for Georgia," and reaffirmed Washington's determination to back the aspirations of the Georgian people.

"The people have demonstrated that they will not allow Ivanishvili to destroy their democracy & take away their European future. We stand with them," Cardin said on X.

Zurabishvili, meanwhile, has urged Georgians to gear up for the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year.

"We must now do everything we can to prepare for October 26, which will be our answer to today. Are you angry today? Get angry, but let's get down to business," she said, calling for a campaign to collect signatures for an EU referendum.

The law requires civil society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

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