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Turnout Dooms Moldovan Presidential Reform

A voter leaves a booth at a poling station in the village of Dorotskaya during Moldova's referendum on September 5.
Low voter turnout in a referendum in Moldova on direct presidential elections appears likely to kill the initiative.

A "yes" vote would have led to the reintroduction of a popular vote for president to replace the current system, wherein the head of state is selected through a vote in parliament.

Moldova has had an acting president for the last year and parliament has failed twice to choose a successor to two-term President Vladimir Voronin.

One-third of the electorate was required to validate the referendum, which was heavily backed by the four parties in the ruling coalition and was boycotted by Voronin's opposition Communist Party.

But Central Electoral Commission Secretary Iurie Ciocan announced on September 6 in the capital, Chisinau, that voter turnout was just 29.05 percent, more than 4 percentage points short of that goal.

Members of Moldova's Central Election Commission at a news conference in Chisinau on September 6.
About 85 percent of those who voted backed direct elections, according to preliminary results.

But under Moldovan law, it will be impossible to hold another referendum on the question of direct presidential elections for at least two years.

Presidential Gridlock

Final official figures on the referendum are expected on September 8.

The four-party Alliance for European Integration (AIE) had scheduled the referendum in a bid to end the country's long political standoff.

Under the current system, the country's president is selected by a vote of at least 61 of the 101 deputies in parliament. Since preterm legislative elections in July 2009, the AIE parties have held 53 seats and the opposition Communist Party 48.

As a result, the legislature failed to elect a president during attempts in November and December 2009.

The AIE then decided on the referendum as a way to get past the stalemate. But the Communist Party resisted strenuously, filing numerous legal cases against the referendum and calling on supporters to boycott it.

Voronin 'Pleased'

Communist Party leader and former President Voronin told RIA Novosti on September 5 that the vote was "a real referendum of no confidence in the current regime."

Voronin expressed his satisfaction with the results in comments this morning.

WATCH: RFE/RL broadcaster Alexandru Eftode discusses what scenarios are likely to unfold:

Flash Analysis: What Happens Next In Moldova?
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"I am very pleased with the high level of responsibility for the country shown yesterday by our citizens," Voronin said. "That level is much higher than that of the so-called leaders of the country, as they like to call themselves."

Prime Minister Vlad Filat told journalists late on September 5 that "the lack of a coherent message from all those involved in organizing the referendum" was among "several factors" to blame for the low turnout.

He also cited an "aggressive campaign of the Communist Party to boycott the poll."

If the referendum is invalidated, parliament will be dissolved and Moldova will hold yet another set of legislative elections, most likely in November.

written by Rob Coalson, with contributions from RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

More News

Iran's IRGC Says Israeli Air Strike In Syria Kills One Of Its Officers

Milad Haydari was killed in Syria, the IRGC said.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) says an Israeli attack in Syria on March 31 killed one of its officers in a sign of Israel's increasing efforts to counter Tehran's foothold in the country. The IRGC "has announced the martyrdom of guardsman Milad Haydari, one of the IRGC's military advisers and officers," in the attack, a statement said. This was the second attack attributed to Israel in Syria in less than two days. There was no immediate comment from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Spanish PM Says He Encouraged China's Xi To Speak With Zelenskiy

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as they attend an official welcome ceremony in Moscow on March 21.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez encouraged Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 31 to talk to the Ukrainian leadership and learn firsthand about Kyiv's peace formula to help bring an end to Russia's invasion. Sanchez told a news conference in Beijing he had informed Xi, who visited Moscow on March 20-21, that Spain supported the proposals made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They include a demand to restore Ukraine's territory to the status quo before Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Wimbledon To Accept Russian, Belarusian Players As 'Neutral' Athletes

Wimbledon said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.

Wimbledon will allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete at the grasscourt Grand Slam as "neutral" athletes this year under certain conditions, having banned players from the two countries last year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Wimbledon said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government. However, this year's conditions include prohibiting "expressions of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine" and prohibiting entry by players "receiving funding from the Russian and/or Belarusian states." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Police In North Kazakhstan Investigate Group Calling For 'Sovereign Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic'

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev poses with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Astana on October 14, 2022.

Police in the North Kazakhstan region say they are investigating a group in the regional capital, Petropavl, called the People's Council. The group announced its creation days earlier saying it promotes "our independence and sovereignty" and "the unbreakable territorial integrity of the sovereign Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic" -- Kazakhstan's former name when it was part of the Soviet Union. After Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, Kazakh officials launched several probes linked to online expressions of support for Russia and the idea of reviving the Soviet Union by Kazakh citizens. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Former Putin Speechwriter Gallyamov Accused Of Discrediting Russian Armed Forces

Abbas Gallyamov worked as a speechwriter for Putin from 2008 to 2010. He was a deputy chief of the administration of then-President of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov from 2010 to 2014.

A self-exiled former speechwriter of Vladimir Putin, Abbas Gallyamov, whose name appeared in the Russian Interior Ministry's online registry of wanted persons last week, is suspected of discrediting Russia's armed forces, a charge Russian authorities have been using to stifle any criticism of Moscow's war in Ukraine.

The Setevyye Svobody (Network Freedoms) group, which monitors the rights of online journalists, said on March 30 that it had obtained official documents of the probe against Gallyamov stating that the charge against him stems from his interview with Ukraine's 1+1 television's YouTube project.

Gallyamov gave the interview with the outlet on April 9, 2022, discussing alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops in the Ukrainian cities of Bucha and Kramatorsk.

Setevyye Svobody said the investigation against Gallyamov was launched on January 18 and that his name was added to the wanted list on February 17, more than one month before it appeared on the ministry's website.

If convicted, Gallyamov faces up to 10 years in prison. According to Setevyye Svobody, lawyer Alan Gamazov is representing Gallyamov. It is not clear whether he was appointed by Russian authorities or was chosen by Gallyamov to be his legal representative.

On March 24, the Mediazona website said it found the official notice identifying Gallyamov as wanted on unspecified charges on the Interior Ministry's website. The notice was posted a day after RFE/RL published an extensive interview with Gallyamov.

In the interview, Gallyamov suggested that the ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine may lead to a revolution in Russia.

He also reflected on his time as a member of Putin's speechwriting team after Putin became prime minister in 2008. He said that at that time, nobody could have predicted "that Russia would turn into some kind of fascist state, as it is now."

Discrediting Russia's armed forces became a crime under a new law adopted after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Last month, the Russian Justice Ministry added Gallyamov to its registry of foreign agents, saying he has distributed "materials compiled by foreign agents, expressed ideas against the special military operation in Ukraine, participated as an expert, and respondent on information platforms presented by foreign entities."

Gallyamov, 50, is currently residing in Israel. He worked as a speechwriter for Putin from 2008 to 2010. He was a deputy chief of the administration of then-President of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov from 2010 to 2014.


Ukraine Marks Bucha Massacre Anniversary As Russia Shells Cities In East

Graves of unidentified people killed by Russian soldiers during the occupation of the Bucha, outside Kyiv, are seen at the town's cemetery on March 30 ahead of the one-year anniversary of when Russian forces withdrew.

Ukraine on March 31 marked one year since Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, leaving behind hundreds of bodies of murdered civilians on the streets of the commuter town near the capital in what Kyiv said was a massacre and a Russian war crime.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy presided over an official outdoors ceremony in Bucha that was also attended by Moldovan President Maia Sandu and the prime ministers of EU and NATO members Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- Eduard Geger, Robert Golob, and Andrej Plenkovich.

In a video posted on social media, Zelenskiy called the Bucha massacre "a symbol of the atrocities" committed by the Russian military.

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 counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"We will never forgive. We will punish all those guilty," Zelenskiy said in a statement accompanying the video.

As the Russian military was forced to hastily leave Bucha and Irpin, another town on the outskirts of Kyiv, after a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital, images of the dead bodies scattered on the streets of Bucha sparked a wave of shock and condemnation around the world.

Russia has denied committing the massacres and claimed the deaths were "staged" by Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials estimate about 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha, as well as more than 1,000 throughout the region around Kyiv.

Many of the bodies were buried in mass graves.

Ukrainian and international investigators have opened a probe into war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, and other locations in Ukraine where apparent massacres occurred.

"Today the people of Moldova and I stand with the global community in remembering the terror inflicted on the civilians in Bucha one year ago," Sandu wrote on Twitter from Bucha, together with a photo from the ceremony.

"We honor and grieve the innocent. Democracies must work together to ensure that these atrocities are investigated and punished," she added.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the bloc "assists Ukraine to investigate such crimes and collect evidence," while Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Bucha showed the world "the true face of Russian occuption."

"A year ago, Ukraine liberated Bucha and the world woke up to the true face of Russian occupation. Bucha is a crime scene and a symbol for all Russian crimes -- mass killings, deportations, erasing whole cities," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote in a Twitter on March 31. "There's no going back -- Russia will be held accountable."

IN PHOTOS: The photo of a dead woman's hand, her freshly varnished nails standing out against the mud on her skin, became an iconic image of Russian atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha. Months after the picture was taken, her family and friends are struggling to cope with her loss.

Meanwhile, fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces for control of Bakhmut and other key towns in the eastern region of Donetsk continued unabated as the northeastern city of Kharkiv was targeted with missile and drone strikes overnight, the military said on March 31.

Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in the city of Kharkiv with nine missile strikes launched from S-300 air-to-surface systems and 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily report, adding that nine drones were destroyed.

At least five civilians were wounded, authorities said.

"The enemy continues to ignore the laws and customs of war, using terror tactics against the peaceful citizens of our country," the military said.

WATCH: Ukrainian artillery targets Russian armored guns at a range of up to 28 kilometers in the ongoing battle for Bakhmut. Using a captured self-propelled cannon, a Ukrainian artillery crew is also trying to destroy Russian command posts.

Ukrainian Artillery Hunts Russian Howitzers As Battle For Bakhmut Grinds On
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In the southern Kherson region, Russian troops shelled settlements 64 times over the past day, killing one person and wounding two, the regional military administration reported on March 31.

The city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk was also struck by two Russian missiles that damaged eight residential buildings, the military said.

Heavy fighting continued in and around Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian defenders repelled 22 attacks over the past 24 hours, and in Avdiyivka, Lyman, and Maryinka.

A civilian was killed and six others were wounded by Russian shelling the area around Bakhmut, the governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirylenko, wrote on Telegram on March 31.

Bakhmut, a mining city with a prewar population of 70,000 people, has become the epicenter of Russia's offensive for the control of eastern Ukraine. About 2,000 civilians are thought to be left in the city that has been all but razed to the ground.

In southern Ukraine, the city of Zaporizhzhya was targeted by overnight shelling by Russia that damaged civilian infrastructure, the secretary of the Zaporizhzhya city council, Anatoliy Kurtev, reported on Telegram.

Kurtev said no one was injured.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

White House Urges Russia To Act Professionally During UN Security Council Presidency

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya responds as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asks for a minute of silence during a meeting of the UN Security Council to mark a year since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2023.

The White House has urged Russia to conduct itself professionally when it assumes its scheduled UN Security Council presidency next month. "Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on March 30. "We expect Russia to continue to use its seat on the council to spread disinformation" and justify its actions in Ukraine. The presidency rotates to council members month by month. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Azerbaijan Denounces 'Slanderous' Comments By Top Iranian Commander

Iranian commander Kiumars Heydari (file photo)

Azerbaijan has denounced comments by a senior Iranian military commander who said members of the Islamic State militant group had fought for Azerbaijan and were still based in the country. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry on March 30 said the comments made by Kiumars Heydari, head of Iran's regular army ground forces, were "vile, defamatory, and slanderous," adding, "Generally speaking, there are no foreign elements on the territory of Azerbaijan." The ministry's response came a day after security services said they were investigating "a terrorist act" on lawmaker Fazil Mustafa, who has strong anti-Iranian views. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Mideast Envoy Hopeful Saudi-Iran Detente Will Help Region

The Biden administration is hopeful that warming ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia will help de-escalate conflicts and crises across the Middle East, a senior U.S. diplomat said on March 30. The detente between the two regional heavyweights could help bring Yemen's civil war to an end, Barbara Leaf said. Earlier this month, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations -- a move that stirred cautious optimism across the region. "The first order is to see whether Iran will live up to its commitments in terms of Yemen," Leaf said.

U.S. Blacklists Slovak For Allegedly Facilitating Arms Deals Between North Korea, Russia

The United States has imposed sanctions on a Slovakian man who allegedly worked as a broker for Russia in its efforts to purchase arms and munitions from North Korea to support its war on Ukraine.

Ashot Mkrtychev, 56, of Bratislava was involved in arranging sales and barter deals for North Korea to ship weapons and munitions to Russia between late 2022 and early 2023, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a news release.

In exchange, Pyongyang would obtain cash, commercial aircraft, commodities, and raw materials, according to the Treasury Department.

Mkrtychev worked with officials from both sides to makes the deals happen, according to the Treasury.

"Mkrtychev's negotiations with DPRK and Russian officials detailed mutually beneficial cooperation between North Korea and Russia to include financial payments and barter arrangements," the department said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). "He confirmed Russia's readiness to receive military equipment from the DPRK with senior Russian officials."

Although the department did not say if any deals were completed or describe the specific weapons involved, it said its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions against Mkrtychev.

The United States said last year amid an increase in air strikes on Ukraine that Russia has purchased artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said then that North Korea was shipping the ammunition to Russia but making it look like it was sending the arms to the Middle East or North Africa.

Kirby also said North Korea completed an arms delivery to the Wagner mercenary group, which is fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.

Pyongyang has denied the U.S. claims.

Kirby said on March 30 that Russia continues to seek arms from the communist country.

"We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea," Kirby said after the Treasury announced the sanctions against Mkrtychev.

The OFAC blacklist freezes any assets Mkrtychev holds within the jurisdiction of the United States and bans Americans and U.S. businesses, including banks, of having any dealings with him.

The move comes as Washington steps up sanctions targeting Russia's attempts to obtain military equipment to replenish stocks that have been depleted by the war in Ukraine.

"Russia has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of the war, and thanks in part to multilateral sanctions and export controls, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has become increasingly desperate to replace them," U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.

Schemes like the alleged arms deal pursued by Mkrtychev "show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and [North Korea]," she added.

"We remain committed to degrading Russia's military-industrial capabilities, as well as exposing and countering Russian attempts to evade sanctions and obtain military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine," Yellen said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Russian Soldier Jailed In Crimea For Desertion

A court in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea has sentenced a military serviceman to nine years in prison for desertion. The Crimea Garrison Military Court said on March 30 the defendant, whose identity was not disclosed, pleaded guilty and said he desert his unit in Crimea in September because he was unwilling to take part in the war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Russian, 63, Jailed For Seven Years For Anti-War Posts

A court in Moscow has sentenced a 63-year-old man to seven years in prison for two online posts last year condemning Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Timiryazev district court sentenced Mikhail Simonov on March 30 after finding him guilty of "discrediting the Russian armed forces," a charge Russian authorities have been using against any criticism of the war in Ukraine since it was launched by Moscow in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

UN Court Rejects Iranian Bid To Unfreeze Funds But Faults U.S. For Seizing Other Assets

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has rejected Iran's bid to unblock nearly $2 billion in assets belonging to its central bank that were frozen by the United States over alleged terrorist attacks.

The Hague-based court said on March 30 it did not have jurisdiction over $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accumulated interest, that are held in a Citibank account in New York.

But the court simultaneously found that the United States had "violated" the rights of some Iranians and companies whose assets were also frozen. The ruling ordered the United States to pay compensation, but said the amount should be determined through negotiation.

The ruling comes amid strained relations between the United States and Iran over the use of Iranian drones by Russia against Ukraine, attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers, and a deadly strike last week involving Iran-backed militias in Syria and U.S. personnel.

The case before the ICJ, also known as the World Court, was initially brought by Tehran in 2016 claiming a breach of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, which promised friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

The treaty was signed long before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed shah, and the subsequent severing of U.S.-Iranian relations. Washington withdrew from the treaty in 2018.

The ICJ ruled that the treaty was in place at the time of the freezing of the assets of Iranian commercial companies and entities, and therefore Washington violated it.

The United States argued the asset seizures were the result of Tehran's alleged sponsorship of terrorism and said the whole case should be dismissed because Iran had "unclean hands."

The court dismissed this defense and ruled the treaty was valid. It said if the countries fail in the negotiation of compensation, they will have to return to the ICJ for a ruling.

In another decision on the assets held at Citibank, the court ruled it had no jurisdiction over the $1.75 billion in assets from Iran's central bank because that bank was not a commercial enterprise, and thus not protected by the treaty.

The United States has said the money is to be used to pay compensation to victims of a 1983 bombing in Lebanon and other attacks linked to Iran, which denies supporting international terrorism.

The rulings of the ICJ, the United Nations' top court, are binding, but it has no means of enforcing its rulings.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Clerics In Historic Kyiv Monastery Defy Eviction Notice, Deny Officials, Journalists Entry

UOC supporters gather at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv on March 30.

KYIV -- Clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) who have been ordered to leave the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in the Ukrainian capital on March 30 defied the eviction order and refused to allow officials from the Culture Ministry and journalists into the historic Orthodox Christian monastery.

Scuffles between members of the UOC and journalists broke out outside the 11th-century monastery and UNESCO World Heritage site when clerics pushed reporters away from Metropolitan Pavlo, the monastery's abbot.

The UOC clerics refused to communicate with the journalists, who were at the monastery to cover the standoff, which developed after the agency overseeing the property notified the UOC earlier this month that it was terminating the lease as of March 29.

An RFE/RL correspondent's camera was struck and journalists of the Suspilne (Public) television channel were jostled as the clerics attempted to keep the journalists away from Pavlo.

Pavlo, meanwhile, threatened to hit journalists with a stick, urging them "instead of gabbing away" for "seas of money" to do "real" work, like "milking cows, gardening, etc."

The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said on March 30 that journalists' rights were violated as UOC followers did not allow them to use their cameras, covering their lenses with different objects, insulting reporters, and pushing them away from the entrance to the monastery, which is owned by the Ukrainian government.

The UOC is a branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church that was previously under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox patriarch in Moscow. It cut ties with Moscow in May 2022 over Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but it has been accused of maintaining links to Russia.

Metropolitan Pavlo and other UOC officials also did not allow a commission of the Culture and Information Policy Ministry to enter the monastery, where it was scheduled to inspect buildings as the handover of the property was planned to start on March 30.

A day earlier, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said no force would be used to evict the monks from the monastery.

Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko condemned the "brutal" treatment of the commission members. The government filed a complaint with the police, Tkachenko said in a statement, adding that efforts to inspect the buildings would continue on March 31.

In November, Ukrainian security agents conducted a "counterintelligence" operation at the monastery and other UOC facilities as part of a probe into suspected pro-Russian activity.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) is the country's main Orthodox Church. A 2020 survey found that 34 percent of Ukrainians identified as members of the OCU, while 14 percent said they were members of the UOC.

With reporting by Reuters

Siberian Actor Slits Wrist On Stage To Protest Anti-War Director's Firing

Artur Shuvalov slashes his wrist on stage at the Russian Drama Theater in Ulan-Ude on March 29.

ULAN-UDE, Russia -- An actor in a theater in the Siberian region of Buryatia has slashed his veins while on stage to protest the firing of the company's artistic director last year over his stance against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Artur Shuvalov of the Russian Drama Theater in Buryatia's capital, Ulan-Ude, slashed his wrist with a knife at the end of a play on March 29 in front of a live audience, saying that he and his colleagues had been under pressure for their attempts to get the theater's artistic director, Sergei Levitsky, back after he openly condemned the war in Ukraine.

Shuvalov said that hours earlier his wife, Svetlana Polyanskaya, who is an actress in the same theater, filed her resignation after coming under constant pressure from management for urging Levitsky's reinstatement.

Shuvalov is currently hospitalized with wounds to his arms. Buryatia Culture Minister Soelma Dagayeva said Shuvalov's life was not in danger.

Since Levitsky was fired last year, the theater's actors have demanded local authorities reinstate him and have held different types of protest, including removing the symbols of Russia's aggression against Ukraine from the theater's facade and raising awareness of the situation in local media.

The actors also complained that the new art director, Vyacheslav Dyachenko, had called them prostitutes by calling them "representatives of the oldest profession in the world," and demanding they perform "simple plays that are comprehensible to ordinary people."

"I do not want to hear that actors are similar to representatives of the oldest profession. I think our audience deserves smart performances, not those demanded by our artistic director. I am sorry. I am tired. I do not have any other choice," Shuvalov said before slashing his wrist, adding that Dyachenko and the theater's executive director, Natalya Svetozarova, would be responsible for his death.

Buryatia government officials said they were investigating the incident, including "events that preceded the incident."

Dagayeva added that Shuvalov's wife resigned of her own free will.

Tajik Opposition Politician's Son Extradited From Germany Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison

Abdullo Shamsiddin (file photo)

A son of Tajik opposition politician Shamsiddin Saidov, who was recently extradited to Tajikistan from Germany, has been sentenced to seven years in prison in Dushanbe after a trial Human Rights Watch (HRW) called unfair.

According to HRW, a court in the Tajik capital sentenced Abdullo Shamsiddin on March 29 after finding him guilty of "public calls to violent change of the constitutional order of Tajikistan."

"The trial started on March 28 and did not adhere to fair trial standards, including the right of defendants to challenge the evidence used against them, based on information available. Authorities should publicly present the evidence used to justify his conviction and in the meantime he should be immediately released from detention," the HRW's statement said.

Tajik authorities have yet to officially confirm the sentencing but Shamsiddin's father, Shamsiddin Saidov, who is currently residing in the European Union, confirmed to RFE/RL that his son was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Saidov is a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). In January 2018, he was sentenced in absentia in Tajikistan to 15 years in prison on extremism charges.

Saidov said earlier that his 32-year-old son, who had lived in Germany since 2009, was deported from Germany due to his failure to reregister with the country's migration authorities on time.

The IRPT said at the time the decision to deport Shamsiddin might have been because he provided incorrect data to the immigration service.

The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament, was labeled a terrorist group and banned in 2015.

Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Tajik authorities have been criticized for cracking down on dissent for years.

Captured Russian Soldier Given 12-Year Prison Sentence

The soldier, whose identity was not disclosed, was found guilty of intimidating and victimizing Ukrainian civilians near Kyiv as they fled the area in early March 2022, days after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

A court in Ukraine has sentenced a Russian soldier to 12 years in prison on a charge of violating of the laws of war, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office said on March 30. The soldier, whose identity was not disclosed, was found guilty of intimidating and victimizing Ukrainian civilians near Kyiv as they fled the area in early March 2022, days after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukraine handed a similar sentence to Russian Air Force officer Aleksei Loboda for bombing civilian targets in Ukraine's eastern region of Kharkiv in March 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Smaiylov Reappointed Kazakh PM

Alikhan Smaiylov (file photo)

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev reappointed Alikhan Smaiylov to the prime minister's post on March 30 after the newly elected parliament approved his candidacy. A day earlier, Smaiylov's government officially resigned as the parliament that was elected in snap polls on March 19 held its first session. The 50-year-old Smaiylov was promoted to the prime minister's post from the deputy prime minister position in January 2022 after the standing of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev dramatically weakened following unprecedented nationwide anti-government protests that turned to mass unrest, leaving at least 238 people dead. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russia's Ukraine Invasion 'Threatens' European Security, Says Britain's King Charles

King Charles III attends a state banquet held by Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin on March 29.

Europe's security has come under threat amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Britain's King Charles told German MPs on March 30, adding however that "we can draw courage from our unity." "The scourge of war is back in Europe. The war of aggression against Ukraine has brought unimaginable suffering on so many innocent people," he said. "The security of Europe as well as our democratic values are under threat. But the world did not stand idly by.... We can draw courage from our unity."

Russian Actress, Kremlin Critic Akhedzhakova Leaves Moscow Theater Amid Pressure

Ukraine-born Liya Akhedzhakova has been targeted before for her activism. (file photo)

Popular Russian actress Liya Akhedzhakova, known for her open criticism of Kremlin policies including its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has left the prominent Moscow theater Sovremennik (Contemporary) amid pressure from authorities and pro-government activists.

Akhedzhakova told the Novaya gazeta newspaper on March 30 that she submitted her resignation letter 20 days earlier and she now plans to switch to touring activities. The theater has not commented on the issue.

She said she does not plan to leave Russia despite the pressure campaign imposed on her over her stance against Russia's war against Ukraine.

On February 8, the administration of Sovremennik, where Akhedzhakova had performed since 1977, canceled a performance of Playing Genie with Akhedzhakova's participation. The theater explained the move by saying Akhedzhakova was "unwell," a claim Akhedzhakova rejected, telling Novaya gazeta that she wanted to perform.

Akhedzhakova also said the theater's director had complained to her that he was "literally overwhelmed by angry letters condemning her" for her stance against the war in Ukraine.

In December, a theater in St. Petersburg canceled another play Akhedzhakova was scheduled to perform in following her public calls to stop the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine-born Akhedzhakova has been targeted before for her activism.

In 2021, Sovremennik canceled a play in which she had a leading role after the Kremlin-backed Officers of Russia nongovernmental organization accused her of propagating same-sex relations and insulting World War II veterans.

The Sovremennik theater was founded in the late 1950s by a group of young Soviet actors during the Khrushchev Thaw. Dozens of actors who were extremely popular in the former Soviet Union started their careers at the Sovremennik.

With reporting by Novaya gazeta

EU Says China's Role In Ukraine Conflict Is Vital To EU Relations

Ursula von der Leyen

China must play a part in pressing for a "just peace" in Ukraine and its role in the conflict will be vital in shaping relations with the European Union, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. "Any peace plan which would in effect consolidate Russian annexations is simply not a viable plan. We have to be frank on this point," von der Leyen said in a speech in Brussels on the eve of a trip to Beijing. "How China continues to interact with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Four Bankers Who Helped Putin's Friend Set Up Swiss Bank Account Convicted

Sergei Roldugin (file photo)

Four bankers who helped a close friend of Vladimir Putin move millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts have been convicted of lacking diligence in financial transactions. The four were found guilty of helping Sergei Roldugin, a concert cellist who has been dubbed "Putin's wallet" by the Swiss government. The executives -- three Russians and one Swiss -- helped Roldugin, who is godfather to Putin's eldest daughter, Maria, deposit millions of francs in Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016. The men, who cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions, were given suspended sentences of seven months each. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


WSJ Says Putin Responsible For Detained Reporter's Health, Safety

Evan Gershkovich was officially accredited as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and earlier this week was the author of a story focused on the economic slowdown in Russia sparked by Western sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine invasion.

The Wall Street Journal on March 31 accused President Vladimir Putin of escalating "the Kremlin’s habit of taking Americans hostage" with the detention of its journalist on alleged espionage charges -- which the White House calls "ridiculous -- and that the Russian leader is personally responsible for Evan Gershkovich's health and safety.

During a closed-door session a day earlier, the Lefortovo district court in Moscow agreed to a request from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor of the Soviet-era KGB security agency, to hold Gershkovich, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen based in Moscow as a correspondent for the WSJ, under arrest for two months.

The FSB says that on instructions from the United States, Gershkovich "was collecting information about one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex, which constitutes a state secret."

"Russia's arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich escalates the Kremlin's habit of taking Americans hostage, and it's more evidence that Russia is divorcing itself from the community of civilized nations," the newspaper said in an article signed by its editorial board on March 31.

The case is likely to worsen exacerbate already sour relations between the two nuclear powers. The United States has been a major supporter of Ukraine's military as Kyiv battles a Russian invasion and has imposed rounds of unprecedented sanctions on Moscow to try to push it to end the war.

Gershkovich, whose family emigrated from Russia to the United States when he was a child, was officially accredited as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the U.S. and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia. The Kremlin has cowed domestic reporting in Russia, so foreign correspondents are the last independent sources of news," the WSJ said.

"Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest comes days after his byline was on a revealing and widely read dispatch documenting the decline of the Russian economy. The Kremlin doesn't want that truth told," the article said, adding the WSJ denied the "dubious" allegation of spying.

The criminal case for espionage against Gershkovich appears to be the first against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia. The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The Kremlin repeated on March 31 its allegation that Gerhkovich was caught "red-handed" even though no evidence of him committing a crime has been revealed, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying accredited foreign journalists "do not face any restrictions" in the country and can "continue their journalistic activity."

Gershkovich was remanded in custody by the Lefortovo court until May 29. His lawyer was not allowed to be present at the hearing -- another lawyer had been appointed to represent him -- and as of early on March 31 he had yet to be given consular access.

It is not known where Gershkovich is being held, but in similar previous espionage cases heard before the same court, the accused were held at the Lefortovo Detention Center, the infamous former KGB jail where political detainees were held -- and tortured -- in the Soviet era.

Since it launched its unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has tightened censorship laws to stifle dissent by broadening the definition of what constitutes a state secret and setting harsh prison terms for those seen as having "discredited" the country's military.

Some analysts speculated the move may follow a similar pattern to the last American reporter to be arrested in Russia on espionage charges.

In 1986, Nicholas Daniloff was a correspondent for the U.S. News and World Report when he was detained by the KGB. He was held -- without formal charges being laid -- for 20 days until he was swapped for an employee working at the Soviet Union's United Nations mission in the United States who had been arrested by the FBI.

The WSJ pointed out in the editorial that the arrest could also be "a response" to charges brought last week by the U.S. Justice Department against Sergey Cherkasov, a Russian national charged with fraud and of being a foreign agent.

"Mr. Putin often takes hostages with a goal of exchanging them later for Russians who’ve committed crimes in the U.S.," the newspaper said.

The two countries held a prisoner swap in December involving American basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Many analysts said the trade favored the Kremlin since Bout was a convicted global arms dealer while Griner was held on minor drug charges, and that the White House should have forced the inclusion of another American -- Paul Whelan -- being held in Russia on what Washington calls trumped-up charges.

"Thuggish leaders keep doing thuggish things if they think they will pay no price," it added.

Father Of Russian Sixth-Grader Who Drew Anti-War Picture Detained In Minsk

Aleksei Moskalyov

A Russian man sentenced to two years in prison after his daughter's anti-war drawing brought attention to his social media posts against the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been detained in Belarus after escaping house arrest in Russia just before sentencing.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry said on March 30 that Aleksei Moskalyov was detained in Minsk at Moscow's request.

His lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said earlier on March 30 that his client was most likely located and arrested after he switched on his mobile phone in Minsk. Zakhvatov added that Moskalyov's phone currently was not responding.

Moskalyov was sentenced to two years in prison in absentia on March 28 by a court in the town of Yefremov after it convicted him of "discrediting Russia's armed forces," a charge Russian authorities have been using against any criticism of the war in Ukraine.

Moskalyov came to the attention of police after his 12-year-old daughter Maria drew a picture at school last year depicting a woman standing next to a Ukrainian national flag and protecting a child from missiles coming from Russia.

The school's principal reported Maria Moskalyova to the police over her picture, after which law enforcement searched Moskalyov's apartment.

Police then found Moskalyov's online posts condemning the war in Ukraine, which featured a caricature of President Vladmir Putin.

Moskalyov was initially charged with "discrediting Russia's armed forces" and ordered to pay a 32,000-ruble ($415) fine after a court found him guilty. In December, a criminal case was launched against him on the same charge. He was placed under house arrest and his daughter was sent to a shelter, where her phone was confiscated and she was not allowed to communicate with her father.

On March 12, authorities in Yefremov asked a court to deprive Moskalyov of custody over his daughter. The same motion was made against Moskalyov's estranged wife.

Putin signed a law shortly after launching Russia's invasion last February that criminalizes the expression of any thoughts or reports contradicting official statements regarding the full-scale aggression against Ukraine.

Moskalyov is one of dozens of Russian citizens, including politicians, journalists, and rights activists, who have been handed prison terms for voicing dissent since the law was approved.

With reporting by SOTA and Dozhd TV

Pakistani Taliban Kills Four Police Officers In Bomb Attack

The banned Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. (file photo)

Four Pakistani policemen, including a senior officer, were killed and several were wounded in a roadside bomb attack as they were rushing to rescue colleagues besieged by militants in a police station in northwestern Pakistan late on March 29, authorities said.

Gunmen attacked a police station in the district of Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, close to the North Waziristan tribal region, and an intense firefight ensued, district police spokesman Shahid Khan told RFE/RL.

A police team led by deputy superintendent Iqbal Mohmand rushed to the aid of their colleagues but their armored personnel carrier was blown up by a remote-controlled bomb planted by the side of the road some 3 kilometers before reaching their destination.

Four police officers, including Mohmand, were killed and six were wounded in the explosion, Khan said.

The banned Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for both the roadside bomb blast and the attack on the police station.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack.

"Our police officers have made unforgettable sacrifices in the war against terrorism," Sharif said in a statement.

Momand was also a well-known poet who wrote in Pashto.

The TTP in November ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government following more than a year of inconclusive peace talks.

The TTP claimed that promises made during the negotiations had not been fulfilled and announced the resumption of attacks.

The announcement was followed by a wave of deadly attacks targeting Pakistani security forces.

North Waziristan was once the stronghold of the TTP. However, the Pakistani military conducted a massive operation in mid-2014 to expel the militants.

The TTP commanders have reportedly taken refuge across the border in Afghanistan, triggering protests by authorities in Islamabad against Kabul's Taliban rulers.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP

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