Turkish PM Criticizes Israel Over Gaza, Seeks Mediator Role
Speaking on January 4, the Turkish leader called Israel's air and ground offensive "unacceptable." He also said that "Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."
His remarks on Turkish television echoed statements he made last week during a tour of four Middle Eastern countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria -- as he called for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
But Erdogan has not only expressed his displeasure with words. He pointedly did not visit Israel as part of his Mideast swing. And he has called off Ankara's sponsorship of talks between Israel and Syria, which initially began in secrecy in May.
The question now is whether Erdogan is redefining the Israeli-Turkish relationship in light of the Gaza crisis or merely responding to the strong pro-Palestinian sentiment within the ranks of his own Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Lale Sariibrahimoglu, political and defense analyst for the Turkish newspaper "Today's Zaman," says Erdogan is under popular pressure to scale back ties with Israel. But she says so far he has shown no signs he will do so.
"Street demonstrations are huge and quite widespread in the country, urging decision makers to cancel defense procurement agreements with Israel -- and the last one was signed two days before the Israeli air strikes [began]," Sariibrahimoglu says.
"So far, Turkish officials, when asked on the second day of the Israeli air strikes in Gaza last week, ruled out establishing any linkage between Israel's Gaza strikes and the military agreements with Israel," she adds.
Widening Regional Role
Turkey has been Israel's main regional ally since 1996, when they concluded a military agreement. Their ties include joint training exercises, overflight privileges for the Israeli air force, and Israeli arms sales to the Turkish military.
Sariibrahimoglu says that during 2007, the most recently published figures available, the value of Israeli arms sales to Turkey reached $2 billion.
Still, Erdogan, who became prime minister in 2003, often seems to view Israel and the Palestinian issue differently than does Turkey's secular General Staff.
Erdogan reached out to Hamas in 2006 by welcoming a high-ranking Hamas delegation to Istanbul despite anger from Washington and Jerusalem. His government is one the few in the region that recognizes the Hamas administration in Gaza -- an administration not recognized by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas himself.
Now, Erdogan appears to be using contacts with Hamas, and its backers Iran and Syria, and contacts with Israel and the West, to assume a leading role in trying to broker a cease-fire.
Since the Israeli offensive began, Erdogan has talked by phone to the Hamas political leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyah, and been in touch with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
All this is in line with a policy that has become a hallmark of Erdogan's government in recent years. That is, for Ankara to take a greatly heightened regional profile after decades of seeing its interests almost exclusively in Europe.
Because this foreign policy gives new attention to neighboring Arab states whose land was once part of the Ottoman Empire, some political commentators in Turkey speak of it as "neo-Ottomanism." The policy has also seen stepped-up diplomatic initiatives toward Greece and in the Caucasus.
The architect of the policy is widely considered to be Ahmet Davutoglu, an Erdogan adviser and author of the book "Strategic Depth." Davutoglu met with Hamas leader Khalid Mish'al on the sidelines of Erdogan's recent visit to Damascus.
No End To Alliance
Sariibrahimoglu says Erdogan's government appears to be trying now to position Turkey as a country all sides in the Middle East conflict will view as an honest broker. She says that helps explain why, even as Ankara talks to Hamas, there are no signs Turkey will reduce ties to Israel.
"Turkey's bottom-line policy is that if you are not talking to your enemies or adversaries, how are you going to create a dialogue with them?" Sariibrahimoglu says. "So, in this sense, despite the fact that Turkey reacted sharply with Israel, it doesn't seem likely to cut its ties with this country just for the sake of [appearing] to be an honest broker. This wouldn't help Turkey to be viewed as an honest broker."
In Israel, officials have expressed reservations about Erdogan's comments on the Gaza crisis. The daily "Jerusalem Post" quoted one as saying privately that they are "emotional" and another as saying they are intended to mollify Turkish public opinion.
But Israel may has reasons to welcome Turkey's efforts to be a broker. There is little prospect Israel can solve the Gaza crisis solely by military means, short of permanently re-occupying the Gaza Strip, something Israel says it will not do.
Meanwhile, efforts by other states to mediate, have made little progress. Israel has rejected a French call for a 48-hour truce because it contains no guarantees from Hamas. And Egypt, which often plays the broker role, has disqualified itself in this crisis by its own bad relations with Hamas, as Cairo strongly backs Palestinian President Abbas instead.
What might a Turkish-brokered solution look like? Some signs came from Erdogan's meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo last week.
At a press conference afterward, Egypt's foreign minister said, "We expect the Palestinian side to say that if a cease-fire is announced, we'll stop firing rockets."
The key demand on Israel is likely to be open its border with northern Gaza to commerce, workers, and travelers.
Israel has sought to isolate Hamas since the militant group took power in interfactional fighting in Gaza in 2007. Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.
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Iran Arrests 12 With Alleged European Links: Report
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have arrested 12 alleged members of a European-linked group accused of planning acts of sabotage in the country, Tasnim news agency said. Iran has been rocked by more than two months of what it calls deadly "riots" that it says have been fomented by the United States, its allies, and foreign-based opposition groups. In a statement quoted by Tasnim, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Markazi Province, southwest of Tehran, said it had arrested "a network with 12 members with links abroad."
Prosecutors Seek Life Sentence For Former Russian Lawmaker Arashukov, Father
Prosecutors in Moscow are seeking a life sentence for a former member of the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, Rauf Arashukov and his father, Raul, both of whom a jury found guilty in September of organizing two murders.
The request was made on December 5 at the post-verdict sentencing stage of the trial at the Moscow City Court.
In late September, a jury found Rauf Arashukov guilty of organizing the 2010 murders of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, and Aslan Zhukov, deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region.
The jury also found Arashukov's father, Raul Arashukov, guilty of ordering the two killings. Raul Arashukov was a lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary.
Rauf Arashukov, 36, was detained in late January 2019 at a dramatic session of the upper house, after fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.
The younger Arashukov was also charged with participating in a "criminal community" and witness tampering.
He represented Karachai-Cherkessia in the Federation Council. His membership in the regional branch of the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party was suspended after his arrest.
His 62-year-old father was also arrested at the time along with several other people, including Rauf Arashukov's cousin.
Both Rauf and Raul Arashukov pleaded not guilty. The former lawmaker has insisted that the case against him and his father is politically motivated.
With reporting by RIA Novosti and Interfax
Father Of Jailed Belarusian Opposition Figure Kalesnikava Allowed Brief Visit
Alyaksandr Kalesnikau, the father of jailed Belarusian opposition activist Maryya Kalesnikava, has been allowed to see his daughter for 10 minutes after she spent several days in an intensive care unit following a surgery to save her life.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who was imprisoned for alleged corruption last year, wrote on Telegram that Kalesnikau met his daughter under supervision of guards in the penitentiary's infirmary on December 5, where Kalesnikava was transferred over the weekend. She will remain in the infirmary for at least 10 days.
Babaryka quoted medical personnel as saying that Kalesnikava, who lost a significant amount of weight, had a ruptured ulcer.
Kalesnikava was rushed to the hospital from a prison in the city of Homel, 300 kilometers southeast of Minsk, on November 29.
Kalesnikava rose to prominence after she joined forces with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala to form a trio of women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2020.
Kalesnikava, 40, the only one of the three still in the country, has been imprisoned over her role in the mass protests that have lasted for more than two years. She was arrested in September 2020.
Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 years and 10 years, respectively, in September 2021 after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group.
Both had pleaded not guilty and rejected the charges.
Human rights watchdogs in Belarus have recognized Kalesnikava and two other associates also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.
Drone Strikes Airfield In Russia's Kursk Region, Governor Says
A drone has struck an airfield in the Russian region of Kursk bordering Ukraine, setting fire to an oil storage tank, the regional governor said on December 6. "There were no casualties. The fire is localized. All emergency services are working at the site," Governor Roman Starovoyt said on the Telegram messaging app. Starovoyt did not say who was responsible for the incident. Russia previously accused Ukraine of carrying out drone strikes inside Russian territory, including on December 6. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Russia Deploys Defense Missile System On Kurile Island Near Japan
Russia's Defense Ministry says it has deployed mobile coastal-defense missile systems on a northern Kurile island, part of a strategically located chain of islands that stretch between Japan and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. Japan lays claim to the Russian-held southern Kurile Islands, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories, a territorial row that dates to the end of World War II, when Soviet troops seized them from Japan. The Russian Bastion systems, which have missiles with a flight range of up to 500 kilometers, were deployed on the island of Paramushir, the Russian Defense Ministry said on December 5. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Latvia Cancels License Of Exiled Independent Russian TV Dozhd
Latvia's electronic media authority has revoked the broadcasting license of the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain), the authority's chief announced on December 6.
The decision, due to come into force on December 8, was made "in connection with the threat to national security and public order," National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) Chairman Ivars Abolins said.
The TV channel's management "does not understand and is not aware of the significance and seriousness of the violations, and therefore cannot operate on the territory of Latvia," Abolins said.
Dozhd said in a statement that the move was "unfair and absurd."
"The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube. We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd," Dozhd said on Twitter.
The NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-occupied Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."
The same day, Latvia's state security service said it had launched an investigation in connection with statements "which raise suspicions about the assistance provided by this TV channel to the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine."
Dozhd anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the station's audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes.
In making the request, he said, "We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."
The security service said in a news release, "No provision of support to the aggressor Russia is justifiable," adding that anyone helping the Russian forces was subject to criminal liability.
Other news organizations have also relocated operations to Riga.
Following the forced suspension of its operations in Russia in March, RFE/RL opened a news bureau in the Latvian capital, which is also currently hosting Novaya Gazeta Europe and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle's Moscow bureau.
The city has also hosted independent news website Meduza since 2014.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Bulgaria Rejects Media Report About Refugee Shot At Border
Bulgaria has rejected accusations that its border guards shot a Syrian refugee in October after a video released on December 5 showed a man being fired at on the country's border with Turkey. The footage of an asylum-seeker being hit with live ammunition was part of a joint investigation by several European media outlets including RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, led by Lighthouse Reports. In a separate video recorded days later, the man identifies himself as a 19-year-old Abdullah el-Rustum of Syria. He said he was shot by Bulgarian border guards after his group was caught illegally entering Bulgaria and pushed back to Turkey. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.
Heavy Fighting Continues In East As Ukraine Races To Restore Electricity After Russian Strikes
Ukrainian forces have fought off a fresh round of Russian attacks in the east, Ukraine's General Staff said, as technicians race to restore electricity following Moscow's latest wave of missile strikes that caused power disruptions across the country amid dropping temperatures.
Russian troops continued their relentless offensive in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka areas of Donetsk region, the General Staff said on December 6, adding that tank and artillery bombardment hit some 20 settlements in the area, including Soledar, Verkhnokamyanske, Andriyivka, and Yakovlyivka.
Ukrainian officials warned that critical energy infrastructure continues to be threatened by further Russian strikes and there would be emergency blackouts once again in several regions as engineers work frantically to repair damage from the huge wave of missile attacks the previous day that destroyed homes and knocked out power.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address that four people were killed in Russia's strikes. But "our people never give up," he said late on December 5.
About half the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital will remain without electricity for the coming days after Russian missile strikes on power facilities, the Kyiv regional governor said.
The attacks on December 5, which plunged parts of Ukraine back into freezing darkness, were the latest in weeks of attacks that hit critical energy infrastructure.
Kyiv, a city of about 3 million people, appeared to have escaped serious damage. But the Kyiv region, which does not include the capital and which had a population of about 1.8 million before the war, was badly hit.
"In the coming days, about half of the region will be without electricity," Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram late on December 5.
Volodymyr Kudritskiy, the chief of power grid operator Ukrenerho, said Moscow had deliberately launched the attacks as the temperature fell below zero.
"A day or two is necessary to restore normal generation in the system," Kudritskiy told Ukrainian television.
Other regions sustained damage as well, with all water pumping stations and reserve lines in the Odesa region losing power and water supply being cut.
In the eastern city of Kramatorsk, which remains under Ukraine's control, 370 apartment blocks were without heat because of electricity outages, the city's mayor said.
In Russia's Kursk region across the border from Ukraine, an airfield was targeted by a "drone attack," according to Governor Roman Starovoyt, who did not specify where the drone originated.
"As a result of a drone attack in the area of the Kursk airfield, an oil storage tank caught fire," Starovoyt said on social media, adding that there were no casualties.
The December 6 incident comes a day after Moscow accused Ukraine of carrying out deadly drone strikes on two other airfields.
The information could not be independently confirmed.
Separately, Reuters reported that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is convening a virtual meeting on December 8 with oil and gas executives to discuss how the Washington can support Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Romania Starts Sending Natural Gas To Moldova Through Pipeline
Romania has started transporting natural gas to Moldova, which is struggling to meet energy demand amid Russia's war against Ukraine. Gas began arriving on December 3 through a pipeline connecting Iasi in eastern Romania with the Moldovan border town of Ungheni, state news agency Agerpres reported, citing Romanian gas distributor Transgaz. The 43-kilometer pipeline, unveiled in 2014 to reduce dependence on supplies from Russia, has not been used until now. Moldova connected it in 2019 to supply Chisinau, and the compressor stations were commissioned in 2021. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.
Montenegro Reaffirms Its Support For Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic Path
The prime minister of Montenegro and president of Ukraine have signed a joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic perspective. Dritan Abazovic and Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed the declaration on December 5 in an online meeting. Montenegro is the third country in Europe after Belgium and the Czech Republic to sign the declaration. It reaffirms Montenegro's support for Ukraine's efforts to become a full-fledged part of the Euro-Atlantic society, the government of Montenegro said. Zelenskiy thanked all Montenegrins for their support and for accepting Ukrainian refugees. Abazovic said that Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty and a chance to live in democracy. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
FIFA Announces Probe Into Conduct Of Serbian Team, Fans At World Cup
World soccer's governing body, FIFA, has announced a probe into alleged misconduct by Serbian players, team officials, and fans during Serbia’s World Cup loss to Switzerland last week.
The disciplinary action, which was announced on December 5, comes after complaints from the Football Association of Kosovo about offensive chants against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and family ties to Kosovo. Serbia was eliminated from the tournament in the 3-2 defeat on December 2.
A statement from FIFA said its disciplinary committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia "due to potential breaches of articles 12 (misconduct of players and officials), 13 (discrimination) and 16 (order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code" related to incidents during the match.
It is the second time that FIFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian team during the 2022 World Cup. The first occurred after a flag showing Kosovo as part of Serbia allegedly was displayed in the Serbian locker room after the match on November 26 with Brazil.
Serbian team manager Dragan Stojkovic, speaking at a press conference on December 5 after the national team returned from Qatar, said he had no comment on the latest actions by FIFA.
The Football Association of Kosovo had complained to FIFA about the alleged incidents, judging them to be nationalistic.
"It's good that FIFA dealt with this and that it took it seriously," Agim Ademi, the president of the Football Association of Kosovo, told RFE/RL.
The Football Association of Serbia and the Serbian Sports Ministry did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment about the disciplinary charges.
The Football Association of Kosovo had demanded a reaction from FIFA, due to "severe insults by the coach of Serbia and racist actions of Serbian fans" during the match against Switzerland, which was captained by Granit Xhaka, and in which Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal. Both players have roots in Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovar sovereignty more than a decade after the mostly ethnic Albanian province declared independence. Kosovo has been a member of FIFA and UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, since 2016.
FIFA’s announcement said that "racist calls against Albanians were heard during the entire match" and "slogans with political messages” were also heard.
Several Serbian players also encroached onto the field when the referee didn't use a video review to study a claim for a penalty kick in the second half.
FIFA gave no timetable for the disciplinary case. Any punishments could apply when Serbia next plays competitive games in March in a European Championship qualifying group.
The Football Association of Kosovo demanded investigation and sanctions against the Football Association of Serbia “so that once and for all fascist chants disappear from football stadiums and events such as the World Cup."
The association said in a statement that teams and fans “with behavior and a philosophy of hatred should not have a place at such important sports events as the World Cup in Qatar."
With reporting by AP
International Criminal Court's Prosecutor Opposes EU Plan For Special Ukraine Tribunal
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has denounced a European Union proposal to create a UN-backed special tribunal to prosecute crimes in Ukraine, saying his court was capable of effectively dealing with war crimes committed there. On December 5, Karim Khan pushed back against the plan that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last week to establish a special court to prosecute Russia’s invasion. The Hague-based ICC has launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine but cannot prosecute the crime of aggression because Russia is not a signatory to the treaty that created the court. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Automobile Traffic Reopens On Part Of Bridge Linking Russia To Crimea
Two-way traffic has been restored on a Russian-built bridge that connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. An explosion believed to be from a truck bomb caused heavy damage to road and railway sections of the bridge in October. The attack infuriated the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials have not said who carried it out. Russian state television channel Rossia-24 showed video of President Vladimir Putin driving a vehicle across the bridge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Russian Prosecutor Seeks 9-Year Prison Term For Politician Ilya Yashin Over YouTube Posts
Russian prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence opposition politician and Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to nine years in prison for purportedly spreading false information about the Russian military amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Yashin, who was arrested in July, is one of the few prominent opposition politicians still in Russia. The charge against him stems from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. Yashin's trial started on November 23. The maximum sentence for such an offense is 10 years. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Iranian Official Appears To Admit To Killing Of Women, Children On Recording
A leaked audio recording from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, appears to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during a bloody crackdown in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30.
The document was published on December 4 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.
In the meeting involving the alleged admission of random killings, Reza Davari, the secretary of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, said that an agent who was on top of the police station "mistakenly" targeted an area where a number of people, including women and children, were killed.
"They were not even part of the protests," Davari added.
Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
Last month, Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran's Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in Zahedan.
He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency published by Black Reward shows Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Putin Signs Controversial Law Banning 'LGBT Propaganda'
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that expands an existing ban on promoting "LGBT propaganda" to children by prohibiting it among people of all ages. Under the new law, which Putin signed on November 5, any event or act regarded as an attempt to promote homosexuality -- including online, in film, books, advertising or in public -- could incur a heavy fine. Human rights defenders and activists working with LGBT+ groups believe that the new law will make it impossible for public organizations that help LGBT+ organizations to function. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Enlargement On The Agenda As EU Prepares Western Balkans Summit
As European Union leaders and officials from the Western Balkans prepare for a regional summit in Tirana, Albania, on December 6, enlargement tops the agenda, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told AP on December 5. The EU has promised Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia closer relations, but the integration process has been stalled for years. The EU last admitted a new member, Croatia, in 2013. EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said during a recent visit last week enlargement “is among the top three priorities for EU leaders.” To read the original story from AP, click here.
Angry Iranians Launch Three-Day Protest As More Death Sentences Issued
Iranian protesters have begun three consecutive days of protests and nationwide strikes as the judiciary continues to follow through on a government crackdown by issuing three more death sentences in its response to unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
Reports from across the country on December 5 said shopkeepers and businesses had stopped working in dozens of Iranian cities in a concerted effort to bolster the daily demonstrations that have erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran.
The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported that several protest rallies have taken place in the center of Iranian capital on December 5, with protesters chanting slogans against the ayatollah and the government forces that have carried out a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead.
Security forces reportedly raided a market in the south of Tehran early on December 5 in an apparent attempt to try to prevent businesses there from joining the nationwide strikes.
Iran's state media, meanwhile, has reported that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei has been sealed for joining the three-day strikes in Iran.
Since the start of the protests, Daei, a former forward with German soccer giant Bayern Munich and a former Iranian national team captain, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters and has repeatedly criticized government officials for suppressing the protests.
At the same time, the head of Iran’s judiciary announced at his weekly news conference the imminent execution of some protesters.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Iranian authorities have threatened to carry out death sentences for protesters arrested during the unrest. Several death sentences have been handed out already for some of those arrested in protests, but it has not been announced if the penalty has been carried out.
In October, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-line parliament urged the judiciary to approve death sentences for some of the protesters arrested.
Human rights organizations strongly object to the issuance of death sentences, which they say were issued without valid proceedings and in a short time.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
EU Commission To Try To Limit Illegal Migration In Western Balkans
The European Commission launched an action plan on December 5 detailing how it plans to clamp down on illegal migration into the European Union via the Western Balkans. The commission wants to increase border management in the region, continue work to align visa policies, and support asylum seekers' registrations, said Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas. The EU executive arm is acting in the wake of more than 22,000 illegal border crossings attempted in the Western Balkans in October -- 159 percent more than in 2021 -- according to data from Frontex, the EU border protection agency.
Russia Defiant As Oil Price Cap, Embargo Come Into Effect
A price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries came into effect on December 5, as Russia remained defiant and said it would not recognize the restrictions.
The EU also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that took effect on December 5.
The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.
It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.
A similar price cap on Russian petroleum products is scheduled to take effect on February 5.
Russia said on December 4 that it rejects the price cap and will not sell oil below market prices, even if that means reducing production targets.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 5 that a response to the price cap "is being prepared."
"One thing is obvious: We will not recognize any price caps," Peskov said, adding that the price cap will not have any impact on Russia's war against Ukraine.
Moscow reportedly was considering issuing a decree that would ban the sale of any petroleum products to any country applying the price cap.
The price cap will be reviewed every two months with the first review set for January.
G7 and EU countries set the cap fairly close to market prices in the expectation that Russia would accept lower profits and continue selling oil.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for the international community to set the price cap at $30 per barrel in order to ramp up pressure on the Russian economy. He said that if Russia agrees to sell oil at $60 per barrel, it would still bring in about $1 billion in annual oil revenues.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 5 said Beijing will continue its "mutually beneficial" energy cooperation with Russia, which is the world's second-largest oil exporter.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
Georgia's Ex-Leader Saakashvili 'Poisoned' In Prison, Doctors Say
Georgia's jailed ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was "poisoned" in custody by heavy metals and risks dying without proper treatment, according to a medical report distributed on December 5 by his legal team. The 54-year-old was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated. In a report distributed by Saakashvili's legal team, U.S.-based toxicologist David Smith said "testing has revealed the presence of heavy metals" in Saakashvili's body and the pathological symptoms he displays "are the result of heavy metal poisoning."
Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched
Residents of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine scrambled for cover on December 5 as Russia launched another deadly barrage of missiles at the country after explosions were reported at two airfields in central Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said four people were killed in the attacks, but said Ukrainian air defense forces had been able to shoot down most of the missiles launched.
"Every Russian missile shot down is concrete proof that terror can be defeated," he said in his evening video address.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told RFE/RL earlier that Ukrainian air defenses were able to shoot down over 60 of the more than 70 missiles launched.
He said 38 cruise missiles were fired from Tu-95 bombers based in the Caspian Sea region and the southern Russian region of Rostov, which borders on Ukraine to the east. Another 22 Kalibr missiles were fired from ships in Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
"We also have information on the use of Tu-22 M3 bombers with rocket launchers, which are the most powerful in terms of combat weight," Ihnat said. "Guided air missiles were also launched from Su-25 fighters."
Air-raid sirens lasted for three hours as officials warned people to take shelter.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, told Ukrainians to heed the alarm. Reports on social media showed hundreds of people sheltering in subway stations in the capital, Kyiv.
The missile strikes injured one person in Odesa and hit energy infrastructure in the city, where all substations and backup lines were not working and where there is no water supply.
In Kryviy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, critical infrastructure has been damaged and large-scale blackouts are possible, authorities said. Electricity was turned off as a precaution in the northern Sumy region, and possible disruptions were reported in the northern Chernihiv region and the western Ternopil region.
Zelenskiy said engineers had already started to restore electricity, and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that, despite being hit by Russian missiles, Ukraine's energy system "functions and will remain intact."
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the latest Russian strikes, calling them a reminder of Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutality. The United States is in constant contact with Ukraine and will continue to provide Kyiv with everything it needs for its defense, Kirby said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on December 5 after the Russian missile strike. Reznikov said he and Austin discussed further steps to strengthen Ukrainian air defense and thanked the U.S. for its continued support.
Earlier on December 5, at least one large explosion occurred at a Russian military air base in the Saratov region, about 600 kilometers east of Ukraine, while another blast was reported by Russian state media at an airfield outside Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.
Social-media posts by residents in the cities of Engels and Saratov seemed to show a large explosion at the Engels-2 air base at about 6 a.m. local time on December 5.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the attacks were carried out by Ukrainian drones. The ministry confirmed news reports of damage to two Tu-95 strategic bombers and the deaths of Russian servicemen. The ministry also claimed that both drones were shot down.
Ukrainian authorities have not publicly commented on the blasts, but a senior Ukrainian official quoted anonymously by The New York Times, said the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least two planes were destroyed at one of the Russian bases and several more were damaged.
The latest volley of Russian strikes against Ukraine came the same day that a price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries took effect.
The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.
It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.
The EU has also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that also took effect on December 5.
Moscow remained defiant over the move and said it would not recognize the restrictions.
The United States doesn't expect that Russia's threats to have any long-term impact on global oil prices, Kirby said.
The cap will lock in the discount on Russian oil, and countries like China and India will be able to bargain for steep price reductions, he said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and The New York Times
Mission Of Iran's Morality Police Has Ended, But New Methods Sought To Enforce Hijab Law
The spokesman for Iran's morality police has said that the mission of the police unit has ended but new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law.
The spokesman, Ali Khan Mohammadi, said in an interview published on December 5 that various institutions in the country are looking into having appropriate mechanisms to be able to deal with the issue of veiling.
"For us, the basis is that it should be within the framework of Shari'a, and at the same time, our people must adhere to the law so that we can create a peaceful atmosphere," Mohammadi said in the interview, which was published on the website Entekhab though it was not clear that he spoke with that news outlet.
He noted that a discussion of chastity and the hijab is currently popular in the country and decisions are being made “in a more modern framework.” He didn’t elaborate but mentioned the use of technologies.
The status of Iran's morality police has been unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said the notorious force had been closed in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on December 3 as saying the morality police "had been closed," but a day later the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying that "the morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary" after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.
Prior to the interview with Mohammadi, there had been no word from officials -- including the Interior Ministry -- on the status of the controversial morality police, which began patrols in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country's Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.
The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.
Montazeri also was quoted on December 3 as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."
The Iranian government has said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini’s death in September. Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than double that, while the United Nations has said more than 300 have been killed as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
While the government had taken a hard line in its stance toward the protests over the past several months, some officials have started to strike a more conciliatory tone as they talk about problems being experienced in Iran, which is struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
In a December 4 interview with Iran’s state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.
"This is an issue but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."
President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.
"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.
Russia's Kudrin Accepts Role As Adviser To Tech Giant Yandex
Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. Yandex last month announced a review of a possible sweeping governance overhaul that would leave its major business units in Russia under new ownership. The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of two of the company’s best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges. To read the original story from Reuters, click here. To read a previous RFE/RL story on the Yandex shakeup, click here.
Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Reported Killed
A Chechen opposition Telegram feed has reported that prominent dissident Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov has been killed.
The 1ADAT channel on December 5 cited unidentified sources as saying Abdurakhmanov had been shot dead and that his brother, Mukhammad, was under police protection.
Anzor Maskhadov, a prominent leader of the Chechen diaspora, confirmed the information, adding that Abdurkhmanov had been killed by several unknown assailants.
Neither 1ADAT nor Maskhadov said the purported killing took place in Sweden, where Abdurakhmanov lived and had political asylum.
Swedish police have refused to confirm the media reports and speculation.
“The Swedish Police Authority is aware of media reports about a killing of a person who is residing in Sweden,” police press officer Irene Sokolow said in a written response to RFE/RL’s Caucasus.Realities. “The Swedish Police Authority can’t confirm these media reports nor give any further comments.”
Reports that Abdurakhmanov, 36, had been killed emerged on social media on December 1 but could not be confirmed. RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities and Chechen opposition groups reported they were unable to contact the blogger and that his representatives said they had not been in contact with him or his brother.
Swedish officials told RFE/RL on December 2 that they had no information about Abdurakhmanov’s whereabouts.
In January 2021, two Russian citizens from Chechnya were given long prison sentences in Sweden after being convicted of attempting to kill Abdurakhmanov in February 2020.
One of the men, Ruslan Mamayev, testified that he had been acting on the behest of Chechen authorities who promised to pay him 50,000 euros ($50,000).
Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007 with a cult of personality around him, is frequently accused by Russian and international human rights groups of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and targeting the LGBT community.
Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.
He has not posted on his Telegram channel since the evening of November 30. "Normally, Tumso warns when his Telegram channel won't be active, but yesterday he did not," one commentator wrote below the post.
Abdurakhmanov’s last YouTube video was posted several weeks ago.
Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Reported Killed2
Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched3
Killing In Kherson: A Self-Made Partisan Describes His Role In The Resistance To Russia's Occupation4
'Only The Dead Are Not Afraid': Civilians Evacuate As New Battle Lines Emerge In Ukraine's East, South5
Russian Businessman Mikhail Fridman Reportedly Detained In London On Money-Laundering Suspicions6
Tens Of Thousands Of Dead Dolphins Among Environmental Casualties Of Ukraine War7
Russian Soldier Says Commander Stabbed Ukrainian Woman To Death8
Gepard Antiaircraft Systems From Germany Target Iranian Drones Over Ukraine9
Kyrgyz Politicians Annoyed Over Russian Anger At Possible Soviet-Era Name Changes10
Kyiv Claims Russia Used Banned Chemical Weapon