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UN Appeals For More Aid For Pakistan

Pakistanis reach for food distributed from a truck in a village in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab Province.
Pakistanis reach for food distributed from a truck in a village in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab Province.
The United States has announced it will send an additional $60 million in aid to help besieged victims of the worst flooding in Pakistan's history.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement at a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on August 19 that focused on the international aid response to the flooding.

"On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I want to state our resolve to help Pakistan meet the immediacy of this crisis and then to recover from it,” Clinton said.

"I want the people of Pakistan to know that the United States stands with you during this crisis, that we will be with you as rivers rise and fall, we will be with you as you replant your fields and repair your roads. We will be with you as you meet the long term challenges to build a stronger nation and a better future," she added.

The new amount brings the U.S. aid contribution to $150 million. But the UN says the total amount raised is far from enough.

Breaking Point

Weeks of heavy rains have flooded fully 20 percent of the country and left more than four million people without shelter, according the UN figures. As estimated 8 million people need immediate assistance and are in life-threatening situations, from disease or starvation.

In total, some 20 million people have been affected by the rising waters. As the crisis has deepened, the government's capacity to provide help has been pushed to the breaking point. Islamabad has been heavily criticized for failing to respond quickly enough.

Local aid groups, the Pakistani Army, and international aid agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people obtain food, shelter, water and medical care, but the distribution has been chaotic and reached only a fraction of those who need help.

Milan Sima, a Czech journalist on assignment in Sukkur, a large city in northern Sindh Province, said he saw people fighting over the little aid that was available.

"We witnessed that some there wasn't enough food for some of them. Then they brought them blankets -- these people have nothing so they fought to get one blanket -- the government car that had brought the aid had to leave because there was such a [chaos]," he told RFE/RL.

"It was so disorganized, they didn't even manage to distribute all the blankets. They had to leave because of the crisis situation that ruled there, I almost got beaten up there," he added.

Sima said he had asked an aid coordinator if people could expect to receive fresh water, or any kind of help, from the government and was told that the aid worker had nothing to offer "but moral support."

Pakistan's 'Hour Of Need'

In an emotional speech at the UN, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country was facing "a natural calamity of unprecedented proportions."

"Pakistanis are a resilient people. We are no strangers to challenges and difficulties," he said. "This is a nation that suffered the ravages of the 2005 earthquake and bravely bore the loss of 80,000 of our brethren. We are the people who have borne the brunt of the international fight against terrorism and extremism with relentless courage and determination."

But now, he said, Pakistan is looking to the international community in its "hour of need."

"We are the people that the international community looks towards as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism," he said. “This is the nation that now looks towards the international community to show a similar determination and humanity in its hour of need."

The UN has made a flash appeal for aid to its members to give as generously as they can, but the response has been much less than it was for other recent natural disasters, like the South Asian tsunami and Haiti earthquake.

Islamist Threat

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the international community is "is only now beginning to understand the true scope of this disaster," and that the floodwaters were "a slow-motion tsunami" whose destructive power would continue to grow.

"International humanitarian organizations are straining every muscle to deliver," Ban said. "But they need massive additional support. Eight million people need food, water, and shelter. Fourteen million need health care with a special emphasis on children and pregnant women."

The Asian Development Bank has just announced it would redirect $2 billion of existing and planned loans for reconstruction. Saudi Arabia said it would donate $80 million, making it the second largest donor, behind the United States. The EU has pledged to send an additional $38 million on top of a previous package of some $50 million worth of aid.

Ban urged donors to follow their pledges with action. "We have issued an emergency appeal for $460 million over next 90 days. We already have more than half, about 60 percent, thanks to the generosity of key donors," he said. "But all of these resources are needed and they are needed now. Your pledged today must be followed up with action -- action that delivers change on the ground."

The humanitarian suffering has been compounded by fears that insurgents will take advantage of the chaos and misery to increase their numbers. Islamist charities -- at least one of which has alleged links to terrorism -- have been active in the flood-hit areas.


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has warned that the catastrophe "give[s] strength to forces who do not want a state structure."

written by Heather Maher and Golnaz Esfandiari in Washington, D.C., with agency reports

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Ukraine Downs 13 Russian Drones

Air-defense systems shot down all 13 drones launched by Russia at Ukraine's territory on April 18, Ukraine's air force said. Most of the drones were launched at infrastructure targets in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk. Russian news agency RIA Novosti claimed the drones struck Ukrainian military installations in Ivano-Frankivsk, but the mayor of the regional capital, Ruslan Martinskiv, told RFE/RL that only civilian infrastructure had been targeted. Martsinkiv said debris from the drones caused a fire that was put out. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Social Media Platform X Pledges To Work With Pakistan Amid Service Disruption

The Pakistani government shut down the social media platform X in the country two months ago, citing threats to national security.
The Pakistani government shut down the social media platform X in the country two months ago, citing threats to national security.

Social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has pledged to work with Pakistan's government "to understand its concerns" after authorities said an ongoing two-month shutdown of the site in the country was based on national security threats. "We continue to work with the Pakistani Government to understand their concerns," X's Global Government Affairs team said in a post late on April 17. It was the company's first public comments on the move since the site was disrupted on February 17, when jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's party called for nationwide protests against general elections they say were rigged.

After 6 Months In Russian Detention, RFE/RL Journalist Still Making Sense Of It All

Jailed journalist Alsu Kurmasheva (file photo)
Jailed journalist Alsu Kurmasheva (file photo)

For some 25 years, Alsu Kurmasheva worked as a journalist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir service. Then, six months ago, as she says, "in an instant, it turned into a crime."

That instant came exactly on October 18 when Kurmasheva, a Russian-U.S. dual citizen, was arrested in Kazan and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others.

Later, she was charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are a reprisal for her work as a journalist for RFE/RL. She had traveled to Russia to visit and care for her elderly mother and was initially detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at Kazan airport, where her passports were confiscated.

U.S. Journalist Detained In Russia Defiantly Insists She Will Walk Free
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"On October 18 last year, I was imprisoned on charges that still don’t make sense inside my head," she wrote in a recent message published by a Tatar-language monthly in Kazan.

Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague with her husband, Pavel Butorin, who is also a journalist for RFE/RL in Prague, and their two daughters, ages 12 and 15, described her prison conditions as poor and said her health has deteriorated as she has been unable to access treatment.

Alsu writes that "some illnesses have intensified," but medication and regular exercise "give me the strength to hold on and endure the pain."

"She's being held in inhumane conditions for the mere fact of being an American," Butorin said.

"I want the Russian government to explain to me and my children why exactly Alsu is being held hostage. She's not an opposition politician. She's not an activist. She's not a criminal. Her detention is wrongful. She doesn't belong in jail."

Minimal Health Care, No Room To Move: Jailed RFE/RL Journalist Describes Russian Prison
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Many critics and rights groups say the so-called foreign agent law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

Moscow has also been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

"Russian authorities are conducting a deplorable criminal campaign against the wrongfully detained Alsu Kurmasheva," according to RFE/RL President Stephen Capus.

Another U.S. journalist, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, has been held in detention since March 2023 on spying charges both he and the newspaper vehemently deny, saying the 32-year-old was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

In February, 23 countries nominated Kurmasheva for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano 2024 World Press Freedom Prize.

The prize, created in 1997, is an annual award that honors a person or a group of people who make an "outstanding" contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom across the globe despite the "danger and persecution" they face.

For Kurmasheva, awards are something she has little time to focus on.

Instead, her goal, she says, is simple: "My greatest wish is to come out of here alive and well."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service

Senior Kosovar Police Official Detained By Serbia At Border

Deputy police commander Dejan Jankovic, a Kosovo Serb, has been held since the morning of April 17 "without any explanation," the ministry said in a statement.
Deputy police commander Dejan Jankovic, a Kosovo Serb, has been held since the morning of April 17 "without any explanation," the ministry said in a statement.

A deputy chief of the Kosovar police and four other police officers have been detained by Serb authorities at the border, Kosovo's Internal Affairs Ministry said late on April 17.

Deputy police commander Dejan Jankovic, a Kosovo Serb, has been held since the morning of April 17 "without any explanation," the ministry said in a statement.

Jankovic, who comes from the municipality of Strpce, was stopped at the Jarinje border crossing with Serbia in northern Kosovo and sent for interrogation the southwestern Serbian city of Raska.

The ministry said that initially, Serbian authorities detained "10 members of the Kosovo Police (both Albanians and Serbs)." Five of them were subsequently released, but the other five are still in custody. All 10 Kosovar police officers were off duty.

The detentions came after at least six buses from Kosovo were earlier stopped for hours by Serbian police at a border crossing with Croatia and Hungary, according to passengers, before being allowed to continue their trips.

Serbia said the delays were caused by additional security measures at the border, but that Kosovar citizens' movement has not been restricted.

The tightening of border controls by Serbia came shortly after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recommended on April 16 that Kosovo be invited to become a member of the Council of Europe, a European human rights body.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani said the stopping of buses was a retaliatory measure by Belgrade, and directly accused Serb President Aleksandar Vucic of ordering the move.

"Serbia is retaliating against Kosovar citizens, one day after PACE’s CoE vote, by holding many hostage at border crossings, intimidating, confiscating docs & depriving them of food," Osmani wrote on X, formerly Twitter, adding, "One man is responsible for this: Vucic."

Kosovo's Foreign Ministry also said in a statement Serbia had stopped the buses as a "a sign of retaliation against the PACE's support for Kosovo's membership in the organization."

Kosovo, a mainly ethnic Albanian former Serb province, declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Kosovo's independence has not been recognized by Belgrade.

With reporting by Reuters

U.S. House To Vote On Ukraine, Israel Aid Despite Hard-Line Objections

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson gives a weekly press conference from Capitol Hill on April 16.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson gives a weekly press conference from Capitol Hill on April 16.

The U.S. House of Representatives will have its long-awaited vote on aid for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific as soon as this weekend, Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said, paving the way for its possible passage despite fierce objections from the right wing of his conference. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled legislation providing more than $95 billion in security assistance, including $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, of which $23.2 billion would be used to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks, and facilities. The Israel bill totals $26.38 billion, some of which will cover the cost of U.S. military operations responding to recent attacks.

U.S. Envoy On Ukraine's Economic Recovery Says Reconstruction Process Already Under Way

Penny Pritzker said it’s important to start now because a functioning Ukrainian economy is key both to its war effort and to achieving its Euro-Atlantic goals.
Penny Pritzker said it’s important to start now because a functioning Ukrainian economy is key both to its war effort and to achieving its Euro-Atlantic goals.

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Ukraine’s other partners have already started working on Ukraine’s economic recovery even as Kyiv focuses on defending itself because both Kyiv and its partners know that "part of Putin’s war strategy is to try and destroy Ukraine’s economy,” said the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine’s economic recovery.

Penny Pritzker, a former U.S. commerce secretary who was appointed to the post by President Joe Biden, told a briefing in Washington on April 17 that she and other partners have been working with Ukrainians and Kyiv’s allies in both the public and private sectors to strengthen the economic environment to enable private sector investment.

She said it’s important to start now because a functioning Ukrainian economy is key both to its war effort and to achieving its Euro-Atlantic goals.

“In order to defeat [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, it is not only going to take a sustained commitment from governments but also increased private sector engagement like a business advisory council to be more agile and responsive to the complex and rapidly changing environment in Ukraine,” said Pritzker, who served as commerce secretary from 2013 to 2017.

Among the work already complete is the creation of a Multi-Donor Coordination Platform (MDCP) that last week held its first steering committee meeting in Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, she said, saying the group is a testament to what the international donor community can do when it collaborates.

The MDCP is on track to launch a business advisory council at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in June. The conference, which will be hosted by Germany and held in Berlin, will be an opportunity for Ukrainians to showcase their progress on various reforms.

It also will provide an opportunity for partner countries to highlight the support they have available and for the private sector to showcase what it can bring to the table, she said.

The conference “has the potential to be an important moment in both envisioning and bringing to reality some of the future ideas about Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction,” Pritzker told reporters.

Pritzker also noted that the Ukrainian economy “just like its military remains alive active and resilient.” The country’s GDP is expected to grow at around 4 percent in 2024 after 5 percent growth last year, and state revenue increased 25 percent in January 2024 over the same month the previous year, she said.

Last year Ukraine saw investment increase by 17 percent, with more than 37,000 new businesses registered -- more than half founded by women, she added.

“Such results do not just happen. They are the result of close collaboration and partnership across governments, international financial institutions, NGOs, the private sector, and more,” she said.

As a sign of the progress thus far, Pritzker said a $156 million deal was announced last week in Kyiv to provide 40 diesel locomotives for Ukraine’s national railway in what she said was the first such deal since the invasion.

Pritzker said she has made two trips to Ukraine in the past two weeks and knows how dire the situation is as it struggles to defend itself with supplies of air defense munitions and artillery shells dwindling. She joined a chorus of Biden administration officials who are calling for the U.S. Congress to pass a multi-billion dollar aid package that has been held back in the House of Representatives by a small group of Republicans.

“Let me be clear: 784 days into Russia’s full-scale invasion, the House must act to provide the crucial security, economic, and humanitarian lifeline that Ukraine needs and they must act now,” she said. “The American people support Ukraine and we cannot abandoned them in their time of need.”

Iranian Political Prisoners Launch Hunger Strike Over Wave Of Executions

Inmates at Iran's in Ghezel Hesar prisone have been holding regular protests against exeuctions since February 29. (file photo)
Inmates at Iran's in Ghezel Hesar prisone have been holding regular protests against exeuctions since February 29. (file photo)

A group of Iranian political prisoners around the country have launched a hunger strike to protest a wave of death sentences that could push Iran's execution rate even higher, human rights activists reported.

The hunger strike, which includes prisoners at the notorious Evin and Ghezel Hesar prisons, coincides with the 12th consecutive week of the "No to Execution Tuesdays" campaign, which has been ongoing in Iranian prisons to protest against the regime's use of the death penalty.

Sources within the prisons said that in recent days the government has quietly executed a large number of nonpolitical prisoners across the country as Iranians focus on rising tensions with Israel after Tehran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Iran's sworn enemy in an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil.

The sources added that many inmates also have been moved to solitary confinement in Ghezel Hesar and other prisons, a sign more executions could be carried out soon in what the protesting prisoners describe as a "new wave of repression and intimidation by the judicial and security apparatus."

Prisoners in Ghezel Hesar have been actively protesting through the "No to Execution Tuesdays Strike" campaign since February 29, aiming to draw attention to the widespread executions.

The campaign has gained momentum, with inmates from prisons such as Evin, Khorramabad, Karaj Central, Khoy, Naghadeh, Mashhad, and Saqqez joining in support.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of the widespread protests following the September 2022 death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was being held for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Two weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted that at least 853 executions were carried out in Iran in 2023, marking a 48 percent increase from the previous year. The organization attributes this rise to the government's strategy of instilling fear among the populace against regime opposition.

In response to these ongoing issues, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva renewed its special rapporteur's mandate on Iranian affairs on April 4, 2023.

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

Turkmenistan Opens Section Of Ashgabat-Turkmenabat Highway

Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov (left) attended the opening ceremony for the new highway section on April 17.
Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov (left) attended the opening ceremony for the new highway section on April 17.

Turkmenistan has opened a section of the Ashgabat-Turkmenabat highway linking the cities of Tejen and Mary in southeastern Turkmenistan. President Serdar Berdymukhammedov attended the ceremony on April 17 to open the highway, which officials hope will cut journey times and boost trade between Asia and Europe. "The construction of this highway is further evidence of the revival of the Great Silk Road," Berdymukhamedov said, referring to the trade route that crossed Central Asia for centuries. Construction of the 600-kilometer-long Ashgabat-Turkmenabat highway began in 2019. The Tejen-Mary section, which is 109 kilometers long, was the second section to be opened. To read the full story on RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, click here.

Head Of Anti-Graft Agency In Montenegro Arrested On Suspicion Of Abuse Of Office

Jelena Perovic, the director of Montenegro's Anti-Corruption Agency, is escorted by investigators in Podgorica on April 17.
Jelena Perovic, the director of Montenegro's Anti-Corruption Agency, is escorted by investigators in Podgorica on April 17.

The director of Montenegro’s Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) has been arrested after a search of the ACA's offices and vehicles in Podgorica in the latest in a series of measures aimed at curtailing graft and abuse of public office at the highest levels of the Montenegrin justice system.

Jelena Perovic was escorted out of the ACA building in handcuffs as the searches were taking place on April 17, according to an RFE/RL reporter who was at the scene. She was taken to the Special Police Team building for questioning.

The search was ordered by the Special State Prosecutor's Office, which announced that Perovic is suspected of abuse of office over a prolonged period starting last year. The office said police officers also searched her apartment and "other premises."

There was no official confirmation that charges had been filed. Her lawyer, Nikola Martinovic, said that her arrest was in connection with her alleged misuse of a state car.

Perovic has been accused by parties in the Montenegrin ruling coalition of failing to be transparent in her work, taking selective action in checking the assets of public officials, and protecting some officials, including former President Milo Djukanovic.

In addition, she has been accused of giving herself and some employees pay increases in violation of the law.

The nongovernmental Network for the Affirmation of the NGO Sector, which goes by the acronym MANS, announced that it has made criminal complaints to Montenegrin authorities, including the Prosecutor-General's Office, seeking charges against Perovic for abuse of office, including using an official vehicle for private purposes.

Perovic has denied the allegations. She was questioned by the police in February but there were no grounds for suspecting that she committed any crime, ACA said at the time.

Perovic, who was appointed ACA director in July 2020, said the agency is the target of nonstop political attacks and claimed that the work of the ACA is in line with the law and conducted without bias.

Perovic is the third current or former government official arrest in the last four days as Montenegro forges ahead in its fight against corruption and organized crime.

The other two were former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic and former deputy police director Zoran Lazovic, who were arrested on April 14.

The Special State Prosecutor's Office said the two are charged with forming and participating in a criminal organization and abuse of office. A Montenegro court on April 16 ordered them held in pretrial detention for up to 30 days.

In its latest report on Montenegro, the European Comission said the Balkan country had made only limited progress in preventing corruption.

The results achieved by the ACA improved in quantitative terms, but added that the ACA’s "independence, accountability, impartiality, and proactiveness should be further ensured.“

Indictments were previously brought against the former president of the Supreme Court, Vesna Medenica; former police directors Veselin Veljovic and Slavko Stojanovic; deputy police director Dejan Kneževic special prosecutor Sasa Cadjenovic; and others.

With reporting by Milos Rudovic

Kyrgyz Ministry Reportedly Asks Internet Providers To Limit TikTok Accessibility

(file photo)
(file photo)

Media reports in Kyrgyzstan cited the Digital Development Ministry as saying that it had instructed Internet providers to limit access to TikTok as of April 18. The ministry reportedly explained the move by citing a letter by the State Committee for National Security expressing concerns over the content on TikTok that may negatively affect children. In November, Kyrgyzstan's Culture Ministry blocked access to TikTok, citing the platform's effect on the mental health of children. TikTok was later unblocked after talks were held between the video-hosting serice and Kyrgyz authorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Memorial Human Rights Group Recognizes Imprisoned Bashkir Anti-War Activist As Political Prisoner

Activist Ramila Saitova (file photo)
Activist Ramila Saitova (file photo)

The Memorial human rights group has recognized activist Ramila Saitova (aka Galim) from Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan, who was sentenced in December to five years in prison for her online post protesting Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, as a political prisoner. Saitova was arrested in May 2023 and charged with "public calls for actions aimed against the country's security." Saitova rejected the charge, which stemmed from her online video address to men mobilized in Bashkortostan, calling on them "to be brave and openly say 'I do not want to kill.'" To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Raisi Reiterates Warning As Israel Mulls Response To Weekend Air Attack

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a military parade alongside high-ranking officials and commanders during a ceremony marking the country's annual National Army Day in Tehran on April 17.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a military parade alongside high-ranking officials and commanders during a ceremony marking the country's annual National Army Day in Tehran on April 17.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has reiterated his warning to Israel that "the tiniest invasion" would trigger a swift and severe response amid global concerns over how the Jewish state will retaliate following a drone and missile attack on it orchestrated by Tehran over the weekend.

Speaking at a National Army Day parade on April 17 that was relocated without explanation, Raisi called the massive drone and missile attack in the early morning hours of April 14 a "limited action" and that an Israeli response on Iranian soil would be met with a "massive and harsh" answer. He made no further comment on what such a response would entail.

"If we had carried out a heavier operation, nothing would be left of Israel. But it was supposed to be a limited action," he said

Almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

An attack by Tehran had been widely anticipated in Israel following a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, early last month that killed two brigadier generals.

Since then, diplomats and politicians around the world, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, have urged restraint as they await Israel's response.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on April 17 that Israel will decide how and whether it will respond to the unprecedented attack on its soil.

“I want to be clear: we will make our decisions ourselves. The state of Israel will do whatever is necessary to defend itself,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on April 17.

Netanyahu's statement came after the British and German foreign ministers said during separate visits to the Middle East that, while they were in solidarity with Israel in its right to respond, restraint is needed as well.

“Everyone must now act prudently and responsibly. I’m not talking about giving in. I’m talking about prudent restraint, which is nothing less than strength,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

“Because Israel has already shown strength with its defensive victory at the weekend,” she added.

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

Water Level Rising 'Dangerously' In Tobol River Crossing Russia, Kazakhstan

A dog is rescued from a flooded street in the Russian city of Orenberg amid heavy flooding in Russia and Kazakhstan.
A dog is rescued from a flooded street in the Russian city of Orenberg amid heavy flooding in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Water levels in the Tobol River in the Russian region of Kurgan have risen "dangerously," amid flooding in the border region with Kazakhstan caused by heavy rains and a massive snowmelt sparked by unseasonably warm weather.

Regional authorities said on April 17 that the level of the river that crosses West Siberia and into Kazakhstan’s northern region of Qostanai, where it is known as Tobyl, had reached almost 11 meters in one place and around 10 meters in other places.

They called on residents of several towns and villages located on the river's banks to evacuate as soon as possible fearing water levels could rise even higher.

More than 13,000 people have been evacuated in the Kurgan region due to flood danger. Most of those have gone to stay with relatives in other regions, while some 900, including more than 200 children, have been placed in temporary shelters.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, the Emergencies Ministry said that 116,000 people have been evacuated from the areas affected by the floods, adding that more than 5,800 houses and 1,350 households remain under water in the regions of Aqmola, Aqtobe, Atyrau, Qostanai, and North Kazakhstan.

At least five people have died and four remain missing since the floods hit the country's northern regions in late March.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev visited the North Kazakhstan region on April 16, where he said that each of the Central Asian nation's richest individuals had been ordered to take responsibility for rescue operations in every district and region affected by the high waters.

The presidential office added that Toqaev had ordered the government to suspend as many projects and programs as possible to "save money" for urgent rescue efforts related to the ongoing floods.

70 killed As Afghanistan Hit By Heavy Rains

An Afghan motorcyclist drives through a sodden street following heavy rains and flash flooding in the Guzara district of Herat Province earlier this week.
An Afghan motorcyclist drives through a sodden street following heavy rains and flash flooding in the Guzara district of Herat Province earlier this week.

Around 70 people have been killed by heavy rains lashing Afghanistan over the past five days, the government's disaster management department said on April 17. Afghanistan was parched by an unusually dry winter, which desiccated the earth, exacerbating flash flooding caused by spring downpours in most provinces. Disaster management spokesman Janan Sayeq said "approximately 70 people lost their lives" as a result of rains between April 13 and April 17.

Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Faces Brutal Prison Transfer, Says Lawyer

Imprisoned Russian oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)
Imprisoned Russian oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)

Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza faces a long and arduous transfer from a Siberian penal colony to a Moscow court to appeal against his 25-year sentence on treason and other charges, his lawyer said on April 17. Maria Eismont told reporters that the conditions of the transfer would amount to torture for Kara-Murza, 42, who suffers from a serious nerve condition. Eismont said transferring Kara-Murza from Omsk to Moscow was likely to take at least three weeks, during which time he would have no contact with his family or lawyers.

U.K. Says Israel 'Making Decision To Act' As Iran Vows To Respond To Any Incursion

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (file photo)
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (file photo)

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on April 17 that Israel “is making a decision to act” in response to Iran's missile and drone attack over the weekend, while Iran warned that even the “tiniest” invasion of its territory would bring a “massive and harsh” response. Israel has vowed to respond to Iran's unprecedented attack without saying when or how, leaving the region bracing for further escalation after months of unrest linked to the ongoing war in Gaza.

Iran Says UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief Will Visit Tehran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi (center) looks on during a news conference with the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, as they meet in Tehran in March 2022.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi (center) looks on during a news conference with the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, as they meet in Tehran in March 2022.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, will shortly be travelling to Tehran to resume nuclear talks with the Iranian side, a top Iranian official said on April 17. "We have good cooperation with the IAEA and the IAEA chief will also come to Tehran soon to continue the bilateral talks and update them, so to speak," Iran's nuclear boss, Mohammad Eslami, said, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA. Grossi said in an interview with CNN on April 16 that he was "considering" visiting Tehran.

Another Tajik Arrested In Connection With Moscow Terrorist Attack

Ashurov is accused of illegally registering two foreign nationals, Aminjon and Dilovar Islomov (from left, with father Isroil), at his residence.
Ashurov is accused of illegally registering two foreign nationals, Aminjon and Dilovar Islomov (from left, with father Isroil), at his residence.

Russian authorities have arrested a dual Tajik–Russian national in connection with the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow that left 144 people dead.

The suspect, identified only by his surname, Ashurov, has been placed under arrest for illegally registering two foreign nationals at his residence, a court in the city of Tver said on April 16.

The two foreigners -- Aminjon and Dilovar Islomov, brothers from Tajikistan -- are currently in Russian custody along with their father, Isroil Islomov, for allegedly aiding the suspects who are accused of carrying out the deadly attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue.

Prior to Ashurov's arrest, Russian authorities had arrested 10 Tajik citizens and a Kyrgyz national in connection with the attack, Russia's worst terrorist attack in two decades. Responsibility was claimed by an offshoot of the Islamic State extremist group.

Russian investigators have said the assault was carried out by four men, all Tajik nationals. Other detainees are being held for aiding and abetting the attackers.

On April 17, a Moscow court upheld the arrest of the Kyrgyz suspect, Alisher Kasimov, who had appealed against his arrest.

"The ruling of Moscow's Basmanny district court of March 26, 2024, has been upheld, and the appeal has been dismissed," a Moscow court official was quoted as saying by Russian state media.

A similar ruling was passed by the same court for Aminjon Islomov, who had also appealed his detention. The Islomovs have been charged with providing an apartment and vehicle to the attackers, and transporting cash for them. They have denied the accusations.

The Basmanny court also said that another suspect, Lutfulloi Nazrimad, a 24-year-old Tajik national, filed an appeal on April 15 against his arrest.

Nazrimad was taken into custody on March 23 with investigators claiming he knew about the planned terrorist attack and helped the attackers. In a closed-door hearing on March 29, the court extended Nazrimad's detention until May 22.

Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin on April 12 condemned the treatment of the Tajik suspects amid allegations that they were tortured in custody.

Several Tajik suspects showed signs of abuse when they appeared in court in Moscow following the attack.

The four accused gunmen had bruised and swollen faces and showed other signs of having been severely beaten. There were unconfirmed reports that one of them had his ear cut off during his arrest.

"The use of torture in the form of bodily mutilation is unacceptable," Muhriddin said. "The price of confessions extracted in this way is well known to everyone."

Muhriddin said that Russian security authorities should respect the rights of the Tajik suspects and adhere to the principles and norms of international law in their investigations into the massacre, especially regarding the presumption of innocence and the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

Speaking in Minsk at a meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Muhriddin also criticized what he said was a media campaign to slander Tajiks.

Kremlin Confirms Russian Peacekeepers Leaving Nagorno-Karabakh

Russian peacekeepers park at a checkpoint on a road in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020.
Russian peacekeepers park at a checkpoint on a road in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020.

The Kremlin has confirmed that Russian peacekeepers are leaving Azerbaijan's once-breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. On April 17, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Azerbaijani media reports saying that Russian troops had started leaving the region were true. Armenia has criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed to the once mostly ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh for failing to stop Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September 2023 that ended with Baku regaining control over the region that for three decades had been under ethnic Armenians’ control. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Protesters Give Georgian Government Ultimatum To Pull Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Law

Demonstrators hold a Georgian national flag as they protest against a controversial "foreign agents" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 17.
Demonstrators hold a Georgian national flag as they protest against a controversial "foreign agents" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 17.

TBILISI -- Thousands of Georgians rallied in front of parliament demanding the government immediately withdraw a controversial "foreign agents" bill being pushed through the legislature after lawmakers approved the first reading of it despite warnings from civil society groups and several Western governments that the bill is a replica of Russia's law on foreign agents, which Moscow has used for years to muzzle dissent.

Poet Rati Amaglobeli, one of the speakers at the rally on April 17, said the government had one hour to revoke the bill or face "the unbreakable will of the Georgian people." Just hours earlier, 83 lawmakers supported the legislation in its first reading while no votes were cast against.


There was no immediate comment from government officials, nor from the ruling Georgian Dream party that reintroduced the bill that would force foreign-funded entities to register as foreign agents -- a move that many liken to similar legislation enforced in Russia that has been used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offences.

"I ask, is it our request today to withdraw this law today?! Yes, today! They should make a political statement today, as they did a year ago," Amaglobeli told the crowd. He did not say what the protesters planned to do if the bill is not revoked.

Georgian Riot Police Use Pepper Spray, Detain Protesters
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The final reading of the bill is scheduled to be debated on May 17 and Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, told BBC News that she will veto it if it’s approved in its final reading.

Zurabishvili said that her major concern is the fact that the bill in question is "exactly a copy of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's law."

However, Zurabishvili said that the ruling Georgian Dream party has enough lawmakers to override her if she does use her veto.

The EU High Representative Joseph Borrell and Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Verhelyi issued a joint statement shortly after the first reading, calling the lawmakers' move "a very concerning development" that may "negatively impact Georgia’s progress on its EU path” if endorsed into law.

"Georgia has a vibrant civil society that contributes to the country’s successful progress towards EU membership. The proposed legislation would limit the capacity of civil society and media organizations to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatize organizations that deliver benefits to the citizens of Georgia," the statement said,

It urged Tbilisi "to refrain from adopting legislation that can compromise Georgia’s EU path, a path supported by the overwhelming majority of Georgian citizens."

Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman at the U.S. State Department, said Washington remains "deeply concerned that this bill, if passed, will stigmatize civil society organizations that work to improve the lives of Georgian citizens and the media that provide information to the public."

Putin's Classmate Named Russian Supreme Court Chair

Irina Podnosova (file photo)
Irina Podnosova (file photo)

The Russian parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, on April 17 voted to appoint Irina Podnosova, who in 1975 graduated from the Leningrad State University's law school along with Vladimir Putin, to the post of chairwoman of the Supreme Court. The 70-year-old Podnosova replaces Vyacheslav Lebedev, who died in February at the age of 80. Lebedev had occupied the post since 1989. The Kommersant daily said that Podnosova was considered an influential person among Russian judges, as "everyone understood who stands behind her." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kazakh Judge Excludes Russian Forensics Experts' Conclusion From Ex-Minister's Murder Trial

Quandyq Bishimbaev is accused of viciously beating his wife to death in a restaurant in November.
Quandyq Bishimbaev is accused of viciously beating his wife to death in a restaurant in November.

Judge Aizhan Qulbaeva on April 17 ruled to exclude Russian forensics experts' conclusion from the high-profile trial of former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev, who is accused of beating his wife to death. The judge rejected the defense team's move, saying that the Russian experts were not present at the victim's autopsy. The Russian experts suggested that Bishimbaev's wife, Saltanat Nukenova, might have died of a subdural hematoma not caused by beating. Bishimbaev, who is accused of viciously beating his wife to death in a restaurant in November, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Jailed Kazakh Journalist Mukhammedkarim Launches New Hunger Strike

Duman Muhammedkarim (file photo)
Duman Muhammedkarim (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is on trial for what he says are politically motivated charges of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, has launched another hunger strike to protest against the delay of an investigation into a complaint he filed against jail guards, whom he accused of torture.

Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeisov, said on April 16 that his client launched the hunger strike three days earlier.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken critic of the government, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was declared extremist and banned in March 2018.

As Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12, he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch a probe into the matter. The trial was postponed indefinitely to allow for the investigation.

Mukhammedkarim and his defense team insist that it's illegal to keep him behind bars for such a long period with his trial on hold.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international right organizations have urged the Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and release him immediately. Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a political prisoner.

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off and denied there are political prisoners in the country.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan consider the reforms announced by Toqaev cosmetic, as a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Russia Adds Journalist Marshenkulova To Wanted List

Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)
Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)

Russia's Interior Ministry on April 17 added Zalina Marshenkulova, an activist journalist in exile, to its wanted list on unspecified charges. Last week, media reports said Marshenkulova was charged in absentia with justifying terrorism, adding that the charge stemmed from her online post last year in which she called the death of pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant in St. Petersburg after an explosive device in a gift handed to him detonated, "appropriate." Marshenkulova, a native of Russia's mostly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria region, has a Telegram channel, Women’s Power, with around 30,000 subscribers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Crew Of Ship Seized By Iran Safe, Operator MSC Says

MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities were in progress to secure their earliest release. "We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged," the company said. Portugal's Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's ambassador to condemn a weekend attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged container ship. MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

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