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Boycott, Walkout Mar UN Racism Conference

EU delegates leave the assembly room during Ahmadinejad's speech.
EU delegates leave the assembly room during Ahmadinejad's speech.
Delegations from a number of countries have walked out of a UN conference on racism during remarks aimed at Israel by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The five-day gathering opened in Geneva amid controversy over a boycott by a number of Western countries prompted by fears that Iran's president would use his address to launch a verbal attack on Israel.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad accused Israel of being a "most cruel and racist regime" and said it was created "on the pretext of Jewish suffering" during World War II.

Some 40 delegates stood and exited the hall amid a mixture of outraged shouts and encouraging applause from the floor and spectators' sections.

Washington had announced "with regret" on April 18 that it would boycott the Durban Review Conference, which already has seen much of the bickering and political infighting that marred the previous conference in South Africa in 2001, and was soon joined by a handful of other Western governments.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose country is not participating, has strongly condemned Ahmadinejad's presence and praised the countries who boycotted the event.

"Six million of our people were murdered in the Holocaust. Not everyone has learned the lesson, unfortunately," Netanyahu said. "While we commemorate their memory, a conference purporting to be against racism convenes in Switzerland. The guest of honor is a racist, a Holocaust-denier, who makes no secret of his intention of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. I commend those nations that boycotted this hate summit."

Boycott 'Disappointment'

The event is the UN's first global racism conference in eight years.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned at the conference's outset that racism was one of the most pressing issue facing humanity.

"Racism is a denial of human rights, pure and simple, and may be institutionalized, as the Holocaust will always remind us," Ban told attendees. "Ultimately it may express itself less formally, as the hatred of a particular people, or a class, as anti-Semitism, for example, or the newer [phenomenon] Islamophobia."

While France and Britain planned to attend the meeting, several other countries -- including the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland -- are boycotting the conference due to objections to a conference draft declaration they consider unacceptable.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on April 19 that he would be happy to attend a conference that addressed the issues of racism and discrimination around the globe. But he added that the concessions over the language of the draft document were insufficient.

Ban said before the gathering that he was "profoundly disappointed" by the boycotts.

"Some nations, who by right should be helping to forge a path to a better future, are not here," Ban said. "Outside these halls, interest groups of many political and ideological stripes shout against one another in acrimony. They, too, should be with us, talking together."

The draft text is a watered-down version of an earlier document that removed many controversial phrases and sections.

But critics say it still implies criticism of Israel and contains an attempt by Muslim governments to ban criticism of Islam. The draft retains a clause about the incitement of religious hatred that many Western countries consider a curtailment of free speech.

Juliette De Rivero, Geneva advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that her group believes the draft text is a strong document against racism that strengthens freedom of speech.

"This document does not go beyond established international norms, and in fact recognizes that incitement to hatred can constitute a violation when incitement leads to violence," De Rivero said. "And this is something that is contained in international human rights instruments so this is not a reason for pulling out of the conference."

EU Walkout

Ahmadinejad's invitation to address the conference on its opening day led to unease within some circles. Ahmadinejad has in the past called the Holocaust a myth and said that Israel should be transferred to Europe or Alaska.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad after a bilateral meeting in Geneva with Ban Ki-moon
Israel and Jewish groups have expressed concern that his presence would turn the conference into an anti-Semitic gathering.

Hours ahead of the gathering, Israel ordered its ambassador to Switzerland to return home for "consultations" to protest the conference in Geneva. Israeli officials also voiced anger at a meeting that Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz held on April 19 with Ahmadinejad.

Ahead of Ahmadinejad's speech, French Foreign Minster Bernard Kouchner warned that Europeans would walk out of a the UN antiracism conference if the Iranian president makes "anti-Semitic accusations" during the event.

EU delegates left the hall after Ahmadinejad made remarks that were seen as directed at Israel.

"After World War II, using the excuse that Jews were victimized and abused during the Holocaust, they made a nation homeless, and they transferred [people] from Europe, the United States, and other countries to their land, and they created a racist government in the occupied Palestinian territories," Ahmadinejad told the conference to a mix of shouts but also applause from some delegates.

"It is a pity that Mr. Ahmadinejad is trying to take this conference hostage," said French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei. "We are ready for serious discussion but this is beyond what should have been expected."

Spirited Debate

De Rivero said governments have the right to react to Ahmadinejad if he makes statements that are offensive and contrary to the spirit of the conference.

But she added that his presence should not jeopardize and put into question months of negotiations and the results of the conference.

"I think it's an opportunity to raise our concerns about what is happening inside Iran and what is happening with religious minorities such as the Baha'is in Iran who are oppressed," De Rivero said. "And it's an opportunity to send a clear message to Ahmadinejad about how he goes about protecting rights in the fight against racism."

Amnesty International has said it is "dismayed" by the boycott and urged governments not to "politicize" the meeting.

"True conviction in combating racism requires governments to be there to stand up for what is right and to reject forcefully what is objectionable," the group said in a statement.

The UN organized the Geneva meeting to help heal the wounds left by its last race summit, in South Africa in 2001. The United States and Israel walked out of that conference after Muslim states sought to define Zionism as racist.

Delegates at that 2001 meeting did not include any language about Israel and racism in their final text.

written by RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari; with additional wire reporting

More News

Another Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting With Russian Troops In Ukraine

Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.
Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.

The Osh regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on June 24 that a lower court had sentenced a local man, whose identity was not disclosed, to five years in prison two weeks earlier for joining Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. In April, Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia. On June 22, the chairman of Russia's National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, said that Kubanyuchbek-uulu signed a new contract with the Russian military to fight in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

North Korea's 'Deepening Military Cooperation' With Moscow Condemned

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan have condemned the deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, while a top North Korean military official has reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow's war against Ukraine.

The three Western allies said in a joint statement on June 24 that the increasing ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, including arms transfers that aid Russia's war in Ukraine, serve to "prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian people, violate multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and threaten stability in both Northeast Asia and Europe."

The statement also said that the recent signing of a strategic partnership treaty between Russia and North Korea during Russian President Vladimir Putin's June 19 visit "should be of grave concern to anyone with an interest in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal aggression."

The three allies reaffirmed their intention to strengthen diplomatic and security cooperation to counter threats posed by North Korea to regional and global security, the statement said.

Washington and Seoul have accused Russia and North Korea of violating international law by trading arms, including the provision of North Korean missiles and munitions used on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The Washington Post reported on June 22 that Russia may have received about 1.6 million artillery shells from North Korea, while military analysts have said that North Korean missiles have been fired by Russian forces at Ukraine.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any such arms transfers.

The pact signed last week by Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commits each side to provide immediate military assistance if either state comes under armed aggression.

On June 24, a top North Korean military official criticized Washington for its military assistance to Ukraine and reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow in the war, according to state media.

Pak Jong Chon, one of North Korea's top military officials, said that Russia had the "right to opt for any kind of retaliatory strike" should it be attacked, and warned that Washington could provoke a "world war" should it continue pushing Ukraine into a "proxy war" against Russia.

Last week, Washington said that Ukrainian forces had the green light to use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike Russian forces anywhere across the border into Russia.

With reporting by Reuters

Three Police Officers, Suspect, Civilian Killed In Shoot-Out In Baku

Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)
Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)

Azerbaijani officials said on June 24 that five people, including three police officers, were killed during the arrest of a suspect being detained for unspecified crimes. The incident took place in the Suvalan neighborhood of Baku's Xazar district, where a suspect with a criminal record, identified as Rovsan Allahverdiyev, resisted arrest and opened fire on police while "using relatives as human shields." The suspect, three police officers, and a civilian were killed in the shoot-out. No further details were given by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Interior Ministry also did not elaborate on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Catholic Priest In Belarus Not Released After Serving 45-Day Jail Term

Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)
Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)

Catholic priest Andzhey Yukhnevich was not released over the weekend after serving a 45-day jail term on a charge of "violating regulations for holding pickets," and instead had his incarceration extended for unspecified reasons until July 2. The charge against the priest stemmed from his post on Facebook of a picture, showing him holding a Ukrainian national flag, and the historical flag of Belarus. The white-red-white flag was used by the short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918-1920 and reinstated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1995, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, replaced the historical flag with one similar to that used in the Soviet era. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

EU Approves New Sanctions To Limit 'Russia's Criminal Actions Against Ukraine'

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."

The European Union's 27 members agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with the target being "high-value sectors" including energy, finance, and trade.

The package, the bloc's 14th against Russia, also seeks to make it more difficult for third parties to circumvent all of the measures put in place against Moscow since February 2022, when Russian troops poured over the border, setting off Europe's worst conflict since World War II.

"Our sanctions have already significantly weakened the Russian economy and prevented Putin from accomplishing his plans to destroy Ukraine, although he still continues the illegal aggression targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief.

"The 14th package of sanctions demonstrates our unity in supporting Ukraine and seeking to limit Russia's criminal activities against Ukrainians, including efforts to circumvent EU measures."

The package includes restrictive measures on additional 116 individuals and entities "responsible for actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," the bloc said, adding that it was also "equipping itself with additional tools to crack down on circumvention."

Since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, the United States, Britain, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and Japan have imposed thousands of sanctions on Russia.

The main target of the measures has been Russian finances, especially the networks that fund Moscow's war effort.

Amid the grinding conflict that's claimed tens of thousands of lives, the companies, entities, and individuals connected to Russia's defense and security sector have been added to ever-growing lists compiled by Brussels, Washington, and their partners meant to curb Moscow's capacity on the battlefield.

But as the war enters its third year, a growing body of evidence shows Moscow can circumvent many of these sanctions and get key items for its military from third countries despite Western attempts to stop those efforts.

The EU's sanctions list now includes more than 2,200 entities and individuals.

In the energy sector, the bloc said reloading services for Russian LNG in EU territory for the purpose of transshipment operations to third countries is banned.

The new package outlaws the use of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), a specialized financial-messaging service developed by the central bank of Russia to neutralize the effect of restrictive measures.

It also forces EU operators transferring industrial know-how for the production of battlefield goods to third-country commercial counterparts to include contractual provisions to ensure that such know-how will not be used for goods intended for use in Russia.

Earlier this month, the United States issued new sanctions targeting hundreds of individuals and companies for helping Moscow circumvent Western blocks on obtaining key technology, including seven Chinese-based companies.

Russia Blames U.S. For Ukrainian Missile Strike On Occupied Crimea

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack
A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack

Russia has said the United States was responsible for a Ukrainian missile strike on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the June 23 strike involved five longer-range missiles that the United States began supplying to Ukraine this year.

Four of the ATACMS missiles were downed by Russian air defenses, according to the Defense Ministry, while it said the fifth detonated in midair.

Russia said that falling debris from the missiles near the southwestern port city of Sevastopol killed four people, including two children, and injured 151. Sevastopol's Russian governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said that five people died.

Video footage aired by Russian media and posted on social media showed vacationers running to safety and injured people being evacuated from a beach said to be on the north side of the city, which is a popular tourist destination and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russia seized and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and installed a local government, although the territory is still officially part of Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kyiv has vowed to restore control of its territory and has targeted key Russian military and naval installations in Crimea.

Amid outrage in Russia following the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry accused the United States of culpability, claiming that U.S. specialists had set the missiles' flight coordinates based on information gathered from U.S. satellites.

"Responsibility for the deliberate missile attack on the civilians of Sevastopol is borne above all by Washington, which supplied these weapons to Ukraine, and by the Kyiv regime, from whose territory this strike was carried out," the ministry said.

The Defense Ministry vowed to respond to the attack, without elaborating.

Neither the United States nor Ukraine has commented on the attack, which came as Russia continues to pound Ukrainian energy infrastructure and strike the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia.

At least two people were killed and more than 50 were injured on June 22 when an apartment building was struck by a Russian bomb. On June 23, the air strikes on the city continued, killing one person.

Russian military bloggers sharply criticized the Russian Defense Ministry and occupying authorities in Crimea following the missile strike near Sevastopol, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In a June 23 report, the ISW said that "Russian sources criticized Russian authorities for not using air-raid sirens to alert civilians to seek shelter."

The U.S. think tank also said that Russian authorities were criticized for "failing to detect and destroy all the missiles before they approached Sevastopol."

North Macedonia's Parliament Elects New Right-Wing Government

North Macedonia's parliament session for the election of the government
North Macedonia's parliament session for the election of the government

North Macedonia's parliament on June 23 approved a new coalition government led by Hristijan Mickoski’s right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party.

A total 77 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of the new government; 22 voted against. The remaining 21 lawmakers were absent during the balloting.

Including the 46-year-old Mickoski as prime minister, there will be 24 ministers in the government, five of whom will be deputy prime ministers.

Sixteen of the cabinet members are from the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition Your Macedonia, six from the coalition Vredi block of Albanian opposition parties, and two from the political party Znam.

Mickoski's VMRO-DPMNE received 43 percent of the vote on May 9, winning 58 seats -- three short of a governing majority -- and driving out the Social Democrats (SDSM) after seven years in power.

Mickoski then struck a deal to form a government with the ethnic Albanian parties and the left-wing nationalist Znam party, which together have 20 seats.

In his closing remarks before the vote, Mickoski told the parliament that the citizens of North Macedonia “are fed up with bickering" and "need work, dedication, accountability, and concrete projects."

He pledged to raise standards in the first 100 days and announced tax cuts, an increase in pensions, a 250 million euro ($267 million) project for municipalities, new foreign investments, and front against corruption.

After the government was elected, Mickoski and his cabinet made a statement in which the leader of VMRO-DPMNE used the constitutional name Republic of North Macedonia.

Referring to the word North as a “shameful adjective,” he said he would “do everything I can as long as I live to right this injustice,” but added that he is “powerless at this point” and must “capitulate…and say it."

Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the president of North Macedonia, angered opposition leaders when she refused to use the country's full official name at her inauguration on May 12.

Explainer: Why Won't North Macedonia's New President Say The Country's New Name?
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Mickoski in his speech referred to the negotiating framework with the EU and the need for constitutional amendments to continue the accession process.

Mickoski, a former professor, has pledged to continue his efforts to shepherd North Macedonia into the European Union, but VMRO-DPMNE’s questioning of key agreements with neighboring Bulgaria and Greece -- both which can block North Macedonia’s accession -- could affect North Macedonia’s chances.

Defending the composition and program of the new government, deputies in the ruling majority described the vote as "huge" and "historic."

The opposition in turn criticized the new government, saying its platform is far from the promises made by VMRO-DPMNE during the election campaign. SDSM deputies criticized it as manipulative and expressed doubts that the promised projects would come to fruition.

The new government's first working day will be June 24 when the new prime minister and ministers are expected to take office. Mickoski announced a "furious start to projects," including the promotion of new investments.

Tajik Scientist Released In Australia After Being Jailed On Charge Of Inciting Terrorism

Abdusalom Odinazoda, a Tajik scientist who has completed his prison sentence for inciting terrorism in Australia (file photo)
Abdusalom Odinazoda, a Tajik scientist who has completed his prison sentence for inciting terrorism in Australia (file photo)

A Tajikistan-born scientist and former researcher at the University of Western Australia has been released after serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for inciting terrorism.

Abdusalom Odinazoda confirmed in an interview on June 23 with RFE/RL that his sentence concluded on June 19. He was released on June 22.

Australian authorities alleged that Odinazoda had shared numerous videos on his YouTube channel between January 2019 and his arrest at the end of 2020 in which he advocated for the overthrow of the Tajik government and the establishment of a caliphate.

Odinazoda told RFE/RL that authorities investigated 16 of his videos and concluded they contained “terrorist propaganda.”

Court records indicate that Odinazoda extensively discussed the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. These videos garnered more than 1.6 million views, largely from people located in Russia and Tajikistan.

Odinazoda at the time of his sentencing in August 2022 was considered by the authorities in Western Australia to be one of the state’s most dangerous people.

He was due to stand trial on three charges in 2023, but prosecutors dropped two of the charges after Odinazoda agreed to plead guilty to one count of inciting terrorism.

In the interview with RFE/RL, Odinazoda did not fully accept the accusation that he incited terrorism, but he admitted to having crossed a "red line" at that time.

Odinazoda stated his intention to continue his activities on social networks but expressed a commitment to exercising greater caution.

Prior to his arrest in December 2020, Odinazoda, 56, worked as a biochemist at the University of Western Australia for a decade.

"Given my criminal record, there is no possibility of returning to university employment. Currently, I rely on state aid provided to unemployed individuals," he said.

Odinazoda emigrated to Australia years ago and obtained citizenship. He briefly returned to Tajikistan for work but subsequently returned to Australia. He is also sought in Tajikistan on charges of "extremism."

Gunmen Kill At Least 19 In Attacks In Russia's Daghestan

Emergency services personnel work at a local synagogue in Derbent set on fire early on June 24.
Emergency services personnel work at a local synagogue in Derbent set on fire early on June 24.

At least 19 people were killed, including civilians and police officers, when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, at least one synagogue, and a police station in separate attacks in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan.

Four of the victims were civilians, according to investigators, while earlier reports had suggested that 15 police officers were killed in the June 23 attacks.

Sixteen people were hospitalized, according to the regional Interior Ministry, including 13 police officers and three civilians.

Regional Governor Sergei Melikov, in a video statement posted on Telegram early on June 24, said that among the civilians killed was 66-year-old Father Nikolai, who served for more than 40 years in the Orthodox church in Derbent.

Melikov said that six "bandits" were "liquidated" by security forces.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee declared the security operation over by the morning of June 24.

Among those detained was Magomed Omarov, the head of the central Sergokala district and secretary of the local branch of the United Russia party, whose home was searched. Omarov was expelled from the party for actions discrediting the organization, United Russia's press service in Daghestan said.

Three of the attackers who were killed have been identified, according to Interfax, which quoted an unidentified source as saying two of Omarov's sons and one of his nephews were among the slain attackers.

The attacks came just three months after 145 people died and hundreds were injured when Islamic State (IS) extremists opened fire in a crowded concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia's worst terrorist attack in years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility by IS or any other groups for the attacks in the volatile North Caucasus region on June 23.

"This is a day of tragedy for Daghestan and the whole country," Melikov said after officials announced three days of mourning for the region.

According to a local religious organization in the majority Muslim region, the attacks occurred on a religious holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The radicals want to pit us against each other with all their might and burn interfaith bridges. But they won't succeed," the organization said.

The chairman of the public council of Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, said on Telegram that synagogues in both cities caught fire during the attacks.

"Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard," Gorin said.

Derbent is home to an ancient Jewish community and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The attack on the police station occurred in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, 125 kilometers north of Derbent.

Unknown assailants attacked a traffic police post, and according to the Interior Ministry of Daghestan, two assailants were killed in Makhachkala, whose airport in October was shut down for several days when a mob shouting anti-Jewish epithets stormed it after the arrival of a flight from Israel.

Anti-Jewish protests broke out in several cities in the region after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Months later, after the deadly March 22 massacre at the Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained four people in Daghestan suspected of providing financing and weapons to participants.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by an offshoot of IS known as Islamic State-Khorasan. Russian investigators said the assault was carried out by four men, all Tajik nationals.

Russian authorities arrested 11 Tajik citizens and a Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen in connection with the attack, Russia's worst terrorist attack in two decades.

Albanian Forward Daku Gets 2-Game Suspension After Leading Offensive Chants At Euro 2024

Albanian forward Mirlind Daku during the UEFA Euro 2024 match against Croatia
Albanian forward Mirlind Daku during the UEFA Euro 2024 match against Croatia

Albania forward Mirlind Daku has been suspended for two games for leading his team's fans in offensive chants about Serbia and North Macedonia at Euro 2024. Daku used a megaphone for joining in the chanting of slogans against the two countries following his side's 2-2 draw with Croatia on June 19 in Hamburg. He later apologized. UEFA said in a statement on June 23 that the Daku had violated the basic rules of decent conduct. It added that an investigation into potential racist and discriminatory conduct by fans at the match was ongoing.

Police In Pakistan's Swat District Arrest 22 Following Mob Killing, Rioting

The aftermath of the June 20 mob violence in the Swat District
The aftermath of the June 20 mob violence in the Swat District

Twenty-two people have been arrested in the restive Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province following mob violence and the killing of a local tourist accused of blasphemy. Bacha Hazrat, the head of the Swat Police investigative unit, said on June 23 that those arrested are being investigated for murder and terrorist acts in connection with the killing and the subsequent storming of a local police station on June 20. Hazrat also said that a charge of blasphemy had been filed against the victim, who was beaten and set alight after he was accused of defiling a local shrine. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.

Anniversary Of Prigozhin Mutiny Marked By Detention Of Media Ally

Members of Prigozhin's Wagner mercenary force are seen in southwestern Russia as they marched toward Moscow last year.
Members of Prigozhin's Wagner mercenary force are seen in southwestern Russia as they marched toward Moscow last year.

On the anniversary of the mutiny carried out in Russia by the late mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained a top manager of his purported “troll factory.” Ilya Gorbunov, a former top manager of Patriot media, was detained on June 22 in St. Petersburg, according to the local newspaper Fontanka. Gorbunov has reportedly been accused of extorting money from a member of the Public Chamber and former director of the St. Petersburg television channel. Gorbunov was allegedly responsible for covering the march on Moscow by Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary force on June 23, 2023. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Metropolitan Ionafan, Imprisoned By Ukraine For Supporting Russia, Being Sent To Moscow

Metropolitan Ionafan
Metropolitan Ionafan

Metropolitan Ionafan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), who was sentenced to five years in prison in August for his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has reportedly been released and will be sent to Moscow following the intervention of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The development regarding Ionafan of the UOC, formerly known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), was announced on June 22 by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The separate Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) gained its ecclesiastical independence from the UOC-MP and the Russian Orthodox Church in 2019. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, authorities in Kyiv have accused some UOC-MP clerics of supporting Moscow in the war.

Metropolitan Ionafan, or Anatoliy Yeletskykh, was accused last year of distributing pro-Russian leaflets to his congregation, posting statements on his diocese’s website declaring the primacy of the UOC-MP over the OCU, and of supporting the Russian invasion.

Ionafan was sentenced on August 8 to five years in prison after a court in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsya found him guilty on four counts, including calling for the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, taking actions against Ukraine’s constitutional order, and the premeditated violation of citizens’ rights.

Ionafan was the first working UOC diocese head to be sentenced to a prison term in Ukraine in relation to the war. A former metropolitan, Iosaf, was previously sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for distributing pro-Russian propaganda.

Ionafan had been under house arrest following his appeal of his sentence and reportedly suffered a stroke during his incarceration. On June 18, an appeals court upheld his original sentence.

The UOC-MP said that Ionafan had lost his Ukrainian citizenship and would “soon arrive in Moscow,” without providing further details of his release.


Russia Targets Kyiv Region As Moscow Says 4 Killed In Attacks On Sevastopol, Belgorod

Residential buildings damaged during a Russian missile strike are seen in the Kyiv region on June 23.
Residential buildings damaged during a Russian missile strike are seen in the Kyiv region on June 23.

Russia launched three missiles targeting Kyiv region in an early morning strike on June 23 after at least two civilians were killed when a residential building was struck by a Russian bomb in the northeastern city of Kharkiv a day earlier.

Ukraine’s Air Force said that two of the three missiles fired at the Kyiv region on June 23 were downed. It was unclear whether the third missile caused any injuries or damage.

The strike came on the same day that Russian officials announced that Ukraine had launched dozens of drones and missiles targeting Russian-occupied territory on Crimea and the southern Russian city of Belgorod.

Russian Strike On Kharkiv Apartment Building Leaves Dead, Injured
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Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean Peninsula, said three people were killed and more than 100 injured in the strike on the peninsula. Razvozhayev said missile fragments fell near a beach on the north side of Sevastopol in a park.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired five long-range missile systems known as ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System. It said four were shot down and the fifth exploded in midair.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

In Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, one person was killed and three were injured by Ukrainian drones, said regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

More than 30 drones were reportedly destroyed over Russia’s western Bryansk, Smolensk, Lipetsk, and Tula regions, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

No casualties were reported by Russian authorities in the two regions.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s’ Armed Forces said on June 23 in its afternoon report on fighting that Russian troops made 81 attempts to advance, most of them in the areas around Kupyansk and Pokrovskiy, where 17 attacks were ongoing as of 4 p.m. local time.

Russia's attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv earlier on June 23 came a day after Russia launched a large-scale missile and drone attack on Ukraine’s battered energy infrastructure. The strikes damaged power transmission systems in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya and western Lviv regions, Ukrenerho said.

Ukrenerho said the attack was the eighth large-scale strike targeting the country's energy grid over the past three months. Rolling electricity blackouts will be imposed nationwide throughout June 24 as a result of the attack, Ukrenerho announced.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on June 22 that three people were killed in the Kharkiv bombing and at least 56 were injured. The State Emergency Service on June 23 issued revised the figures downward to two killed and 53 injured, including three children.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has called in recent days for measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, said during his nightly televised address on June 22 that Russia has dropped more than 2,400 guided bombs on Ukraine this month, including about 700 on Kharkiv alone.

Zelenskiy repeated his plea for additional air defenses from his Western allies and for decisions that would allow Ukraine to destroy Russian combat aircraft "where they are."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP

Thousands Gather In Sofia For Annual LGBT Celebration

Bulgarians participate in Pride events in the capital, Sofia, on June 22.
Bulgarians participate in Pride events in the capital, Sofia, on June 22.

Thousands of people gathered in central Sofia on June 22 for the annual LGBT Pride celebration in the Bulgarian capital. "I would define Pride as a celebration of freedom and acceptance. An opportunity and an invitation to be ourselves, not to judge, not to hate, and to love a little more," host Karina Okolies said during the opening of a concert at the event. The LGBT community in Bulgaria has been subject to frequent homophobic attacks in recent years. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) obliged Bulgaria to provide legal recognition for same-sex relationships. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Thousands Join Budapest Pride March To Protest Anti-LGBT Policies

People attend the annual Budapest Pride march on June 22.
People attend the annual Budapest Pride march on June 22.

Carrying rainbow flags and dancing through the streets, thousands of Hungarians celebrated the annual Budapest Pride parade on June 22 and vowed to keep protesting the government's anti-LGBT policies. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in power since 2010, promotes a Christian-conservative agenda and in 2021 banned the "promotion of homosexuality" among under-18s despite strong criticism from rights groups and the EU. Gay marriage is not recognized in Hungary and only heterosexual couples can legally adopt children. Orban's government has redefined marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the constitution and has limited gay adoption.

North Macedonia's Parliament Begins Debates Ahead Of Vote On New Government

North Macedonia's parliament meets on June 22 ahead of its vote on a new government.
North Macedonia's parliament meets on June 22 ahead of its vote on a new government.

North Macedonia's parliament on June 22 began debates ahead of voting on the formation of a new government in the NATO-member nation. The right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party won a clear victory in both presidential and parliamentary elections on May 9, raising concerns of colder relations with Balkan neighbors and more difficult membership negotiations with the European Union. In line to become prime minister after voting concludes on June 23 is Hristijan Mickoski, 46, a former professor who has vowed to continue North Macedonia's efforts to join the EU, although he has suggested he might seek a renegotiation of terms over issues relating to the small nation's ethnic Bulgarian minority, moves that likely would anger Sofia. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Kazakh Authorities Say Suspect Arrested In Attempt In Kyiv On Activist's Life

Aidos Sadyqov is an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his government.
Aidos Sadyqov is an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his government.

One of two suspects wanted in connection with the attempted murder in Kyiv of Kazakh opposition activist and journalist Aidos Sadyqov was arrested by Kazakh authorities after turning himself in, Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office said on June 22.

Sadyqov, an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his government, was shot on June 18 while he was in his car in the Ukrainian capital and is currently in intensive care. His wife, Natalya Sadyqova, who is also a journalist, was in the vehicle during the attack but was unharmed.

Ukrainian police said investigators established that Sadyqov was shot by two Kazakh suspects -- Altai Zhaqanbaev, born in 1988, and Meiram Qarataev, born in 1991 -- who were added to an international wanted list.

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement on June 22 that Zhakanbaev on June 21 "contacted the internal affairs bodies of the Republic of Kazakhstan on his own and was questioned about the circumstances of the case. On the same day, he was arrested on suspicion of committing this crime."

Kazakh Authorities Arrest Suspect In Connection With Journalist's Shooting In Kyiv
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The statement did not say where the arrest took place or in whose custody Zhakanbaev was, adding that it would not release more details "in the interest of the investigation."

It said investigations are under way "to determine the location" of the second suspect, Meiram Qarataev.

Sadyqova has said that Qarataev worked as a police officer in the northern Qostanai region. The Kazakh Interior Ministry, however, claimed that Qarataev had been sacked from the police force in 2019.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Zhaqanbaev and Qarataev arrived in Ukraine on June 2 from Poland, renting an apartment and buying a car in Kyiv, after which they surveyed Sadyqov's daily routines.

"On June 18, one of the suspects approached [Sadyqov's] car and shot him, while his accomplice was near the building to act as a lookout. After that, they fled the crime scene," the statement said, adding that the two suspects then left Ukrainian territory via the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

It was not immediately known who may have ordered the attempt on Sadyqov's life.

The Sadyqovs, along with their children, moved to Kyiv in 2014 after Kazakh authorities launched a case against Sadyqova, who worked as a journalist for the independent Respublika newspaper at the time. She was accused of slander.

Natalya Sadyqova said the attempted assassination against her husband appeared to be a "professional" operation.
Natalya Sadyqova said the attempted assassination against her husband appeared to be a "professional" operation.

On June 19, Sadyqova told RFE/RL that, hours before the attack, she and her husband had issued a new video titled Toqaev Is Putin's Puppet on their YouTube channel.

The video criticizes Toqaev's "pro-Russian politics" and looks at the activities of Russian oligarchs and agents of influence in Kazakhstan, some of whom obtained Kazakh citizenship after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

She added that Toqaev would have stood to gain from her husband's killing but did not present any evidence that connected the president in any way to the shooting.

Toqaev's spokesman, Berik Uali, said on June 21 that the Kazakh president "had ordered law enforcement entities to find the two suspects' whereabouts and undertake corresponding measures."

"Kazakhstan's side is ready to cooperate with Ukraine's law enforcement structures, including via Interpol," Uali said.

Sadyqov used to lead a branch of the opposition Azat Social Democratic Party in his native Aqtobe region in Kazakhstan's northwest until 2010. He later headed a group that was a major force for establishing a union to defend the rights of Kazakh workers at the Chinese-owned CNPC-Aktobemunaygaz oil company.

Iran's Supreme Court Overturns Rapper's Death Sentence

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been sentenced to death for "corruption on Earth." (file photo)
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been sentenced to death for "corruption on Earth." (file photo)

Iran's Supreme Court has overturned popular rapper Toomaj Salehi's death sentence, his lawyer said on June 22.

In April, Salehi was sentenced to death by a court in Isfahan on a new charge, "corruption on Earth," as he was serving a six-year prison sentence for his involvement in the 2022 protests that rocked Iran for months.

"As expected, the Supreme Court avoided an irreparable judicial error," Salehi's lawyer, Amir Raisian, wrote on X. "The death sentence was overturned and, based on the appeal decision of the Supreme Court, the case will be referred to a parallel branch for reconsideration."

Salehi, 33, was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the protests that had erupted the previous month following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died while in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.

After spending much of his pretrial detention in solitary confinement, he was sentenced to six years in prison but released after the Supreme Court, on appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence." His case was sent back to a lower court for reexamination and possible retrial.

He was temporarily released on bail in November after spending over a year in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, but then was rearrested shortly after publicly talking about his alleged torture in prison in a video.

Raisian said on June 22 that the Supreme Court also annulled the previous six-year sentence because "it is in excess of legal punishment."

Salehi gained prominence for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran.

His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing the authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

Ex-Marine Paul Whelan Urges U.S. To Step Up Efforts To Free Him From Russian Prison

Paul Whelan marked 2,000 days in Russian detention by speaking with CNN by telephone from prison. (file photo)
Paul Whelan marked 2,000 days in Russian detention by speaking with CNN by telephone from prison. (file photo)

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia on charges he and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated, has asked the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to step up pressure on Russia to secure his release and that of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Whelan, 54, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in May 2020 following a trial that was condemned by the United States as a "mockery of justice.”

As he marked 2,000 days in Russian detention, Whelan on June 21 told CNN by phone from prison that the U.S. government should take more decisive action to secure his and Gershkovich's release, possibly in a prisoner exchange.

"The U.S. needs to go out and do something, fill up Guantanamo Bay [detention facility] with Russian officials, arrest Russian spies -- do something that makes the Kremlin sit up and take notice and say, 'OK, yeah, right. Now it's time that we're gonna get Evan [Gershkovich] and Paul back and then we want back what you've got of ours, and we'll call it a day,'" Whelan told CNN.

Gershkovich became the first U.S. journalist arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War when he was detained in March 2023 and charged with trying to obtain military secrets. He and his employer have vehemently denied the charges as politically motivated.

Gershkovich, who like Whelan has been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained," is being held in pretrial detention and is due to go on trial on June 26.

Gershkovich is one of two American reporters currently being held by Russian authorities. The other is Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist who holds dual Russian-American citizenship.

Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan in October and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been 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 reprisals for her work as a journalist for RFE/RL in Prague.

Unlike Whelan and Gershkovich, Kurmasheva has yet to be designated as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation would ensure that her case would be assigned to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of her situation and allowing the Biden administration to allocate more resources to securing her release.

Russia Prosecutes Artists, Historian For Alleged 'Foreign Agent' Violations

Russian pop singer Monetochka
Russian pop singer Monetochka

Moscow's Prosecutor-General's Office has demanded that Russia's Investigative Committee open criminal cases against three women who have been on placed on the "foreign agent" register: singer Monetochka, actress Yana Troyanova, and historian Tamara Eidelman. Monetochka, whose real name is Elizaveta Gyrdymova, is accused of continuing to distribute materials on social networks without indicating that she is on the "foreign agent" list. Troyanova is accused of inciting hatred or enmity on the basis of nationality after giving an interview to Novaya Gazeta Europe. Eidelman is accused of “voicing clear disrespect" for Russia's military in her regular YouTube history program. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Former Regional Governor In Russia Released After Serving 8-Year Term

Former Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh attends a court hearing in Moscow on April 27, 2018.
Former Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh attends a court hearing in Moscow on April 27, 2018.

The former governor of Russia's Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, was released from prison on June 21 after serving an eight-year prison term on a bribe-taking charge that he has rejected.

Belykh's lawyer, Andrei Grokhotov, said his client will attend a hearing in five days into an appeal filed by prosecutors and Belykh's defense team regarding a court ruling last year on a different case against the former governor.

In late December, a court in the Kirov region sentenced Belykh to an additional 2 1/2 years in prison on a charge of abuse of power but spared him from serving the punishment citing the statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, prosecutors sought an additional 12 years for Belykh on two charges of abuse of power, but the judge acquitted Belykh of the more serious of the two charges due to lack of evidence, handing him only a 2 1/2-year sentence on the lesser of the two charges. Statute of limitations deadlines also mean he won't serve that prison term.

The 12 years requested by prosecutors would have included the time Belykh had already served, meaning the additional charges filed against Belykh in 2021 would have added about four years to his prison time.

However, Belykh's eight-year prison term was not changed.

One of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in office since President Vladimir Putin was first elected in 2000, Belykh maintained his innocence, saying he is the victim of a provocation by law enforcement authorities.

Once a leader of a liberal opposition party, the Union of Right Forces, Belykh was one of the few provincial governors in Russia not closely allied with Putin.

Before serving as Kirov governor, Belykh was a deputy governor of Perm Oblast and a lawmaker in the Perm Oblast Legislative Assembly.

He conducted several political campaigns in opposition to Putin's policies and was sharply criticized by liberals, such as former ally Boris Nemtsov -- who was assassinated in February 2015 -- when he accepted the appointment in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin fired Belykh in July 2016, shortly after his arrest.

Russia Adds Director Roman Kachanov, Others To 'Foreign Agent' List

Russian film director Roman Kachanov
Russian film director Roman Kachanov

Russia's Justice Ministry has added prominent film director Roman Kachanov, who has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, to its "foreign agent" list, the ministry's website said. The ministry also added to the list St. Petersburg regional politician Nikita Kirillov, political strategist Sergei Antonov, and St. Petersburg municipal deputy Vladimir Volokhonsky, who had been previously included by Rosfinmonitoring on a list of “extremists and terrorists.” Another new name on the list is French political scientist Laurent Vinatier, who was arrested in Moscow earlier this month and is now in pretrial detention on a charge of violating the "foreign agent" law. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Kyiv Reports 'Massive' Attack Targeting Energy Infrastructure; 3 Killed In Kharkiv

Rescue workers remove the body of a local resident killed by a Russian air strike in the center of Kharkiv on June 22.
Rescue workers remove the body of a local resident killed by a Russian air strike in the center of Kharkiv on June 22.

Ukraine's Energy Ministry and the national grid operator Ukrenerho say the country's battered energy infrastructure was targeted again in a large-scale Russian missile and drone attack early on June 22.

Separately, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said that at least three people were killed and at least 38 injured in a Russian bomb attack on a civilian site in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city some 30 kilometers from the Russian border.

“There are dead and wounded. The strike hit a residential building,” Terekhov wrote on Telegram.

Regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram that "doctors are fighting for the lives of four of the patients -- two women and two men, who are in serious condition."

The latest series of strikes damaged power transmission systems in the Zaporizhzhya and Lviv regions, Ukrenerho said in a statement on Telegram, adding that two employees needed hospitalization after sustaining injuries in the attack in the Zaporizhzhya region.

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The Energy Ministry said that, because of the attack, the overhead power lines in eastern Ukraine were disconnected, which led to a decrease in energy supply in the region.

Ukrenerho said the attack was the eighth large-scale strike targeting the country's energy grid over the past three months.

Ukraine's military, meanwhile, said its air defense systems shot down 12 of 16 missiles and all 13 drones launched by Russia overnight.

Russia's Defense Ministry has not commented on the attack, which was the second one in as many days.

In the June 21 attack, five residents of the Donetsk region were killed and seven others were wounded, the head of the regional military administration, Vadym Filashkin, announced on June 22 on Telegram.

Over the past several months, Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine's critical energy infrastructure, causing enormous damage and triggering rolling blackouts affecting the civilian population.

According to estimates, about half of Ukraine's power-generating capacity has been destroyed.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address of June 22 that Russia has fired 2,400 guided bombs against Ukraine this month, including some 700 against Kharkiv alone.

The president repeated his constant plea for additional air defenses from his Western allies.

"We need strong decisions from our partners so that we can destroy Russian terrorists and Russian combat aircraft where they are," he said. "We are grateful for the approved [weapons] packages, but we need them in full supply and on the battlefield – without delays."

Zelenskiy said during a June 20 meeting with senior Ukrainian military officials that he hopes to develop a renewable energy infrastructure to offset the energy crisis caused by the Russian attacks.

In return, Ukrainian drones have struck deeper inside Russia, damaging energy facilities critical for Moscow's military effort, mainly oil installations.

On June 22, Russia's Defense Ministry said its air defense systems downed five Ukrainian drones over the Sea of Azov and the Bryansk and Smolensk regions. It did not say if the Ukrainian attack had caused any damage or injuries.

On June 21, Ukraine's military said its long-range attack drones had struck four oil refineries and radar stations inside Russia.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Balkan Nations Work To Restore Electrical Supplies Following Major Power Outage

A massive Balkan power outage caused traffic lights to go dark in Sarajevo on June 21.
A massive Balkan power outage caused traffic lights to go dark in Sarajevo on June 21.

Authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and Albania are working to stabilize electrical supplies following a major power outage on June 21. Montenegrin Energy Minister Sasa Mujovic said the shutdown was caused by a sharp increase in electricity consumption due to high temperatures, but also by the heat itself. Electricity distribution systems are interconnected in countries across the Balkans. Enver Kreso, the former director of the Electric Power Industry of Bosnia-Herzegovina, told RFE/RL that "if the problem persists, there will be big consequences. Hospitals are switching to generators, traffic is in trouble, the consequences can be very big. There will be problems with communications, but also with water supply," Kreso said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

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