Assad Receives Annan For Talks In Damascus
The talks on May 29 follow the May 25 killing of at least 108 people, mainly women and children, in the village of Houla.
On May 28, Annan called the massacre "an appalling moment with profound consequences," saying those responsible must be held to account.
He has urged "everyone with a gun" to abide by his six-point peace plan to help end the violence.
The UN Security Council has condemned the Syrian army's use of artillery and tanks at Houla.
Witnesses and opposition fighters have accused Alawite militia loyal to Assad's regime of involvement in the bloodshed.
Damascus has accused opposition fighters of responsibility.
The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights said on May 29 that most of the victims of the Houla massacre were summarily executed in two separate incidents within the Taldo neighborhood of the town.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN body, said fewer than 20 of the 108 killings can be attributed to artillery and tank fire. He said most of the rest were executed.
UN monitors said spent tank and artillery shells, as well as fresh tank tracks on the ground, were clear signs of the Syrian government's involvement.
But the UN monitors said they were unable to confirm who used knives and guns at close range against women and children.
'Message Of Peace'
Upon his arrival in Damascus on May 28, Annan indicated that his talks with Assad would be "serious and frank," and that he would call on Assad's regime to "take bold steps" to signal a serious intention to resolve the Syrian crisis peacefully and "help create the right context for a credible political process."
"This message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone, every individual with a gun," he said. "The six-point plan must be implemented comprehensively and this is not happening today."
Annan's peace plan calls for heavy weapons to be pulled out of towns and cities, followed by an end to fighting, and a political dialogue.
Although Damascus says it withdrew heavy weapons from residential neighborhoods before an April 12 deadline, analysts say the regime's claim is belied by the shelling of Houla, Hama and other Sunni-dominated areas,
Russia and China -- longtime defenders of Assad's regime who have blocked previous moves for UN action -- on Sunday backed a non-binding UN Security Council statement that criticized the Syrian army's use of artillery and tanks at Houla.
In the aftermath of the massacre, China and Russia have both urged a renewed push for the implementation of Annan's peace plan.
China said it was "deeply shocked by the large number of civilian casualties in Houla, and condemns in the strongest terms the cruel killings of ordinary citizens, especially women and children."
Moscow has grown increasingly critical of Damascus in recent months, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's latest comments were seen as being unusually strong.
Although he says opposition forces have "terrorists" among them, on May 28 Lavrov put the blame for the past 15 months of carnage in Syria primarily on Assad's government.
Iran has remained solid in its support for Assad's regime. Tehran has also denied reports that it has been helping Syrian forces crack down on anti-regime protesters.
Ukrainians To Get Millions Of LED Light Bulbs To Ease Energy Shortfall
Ukrainians were urged on January 30 to swap old light bulbs for free energy-efficient LED bulbs under a scheme intended to ease an energy shortfall caused by Russian attacks. Launching a program backed by the European Union and aimed at replacing 50 million light bulbs, Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said all adults would be able to exchange five incandescent light bulbs for five LED bulbs at post offices. The goal is in the next few months to reduce by one-quarter the energy deficit caused by Russian strikes on power infrastructure. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ryanair Hiring Ukraine Staff In Anticipation Of Return After War
Ryanair is hiring significant numbers of Ukrainian pilots and cabin crew so that it will be ready to return to the country when the war with Russia ends, Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said on January 30. "We are very committed to returning to Ukraine as soon as it is safe to do so," said O'Leary, who had said on the eve of the conflict that he was considering basing up to 20 aircraft in the country. Commercial flights are currently not operating in Ukraine due to fighting with Russia after Moscow ordered an invasion of its neighbor. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Tatar Sociologist Faces Hatred Charge Over Analysis Published By RFE/RL
A sociologist in Russia's Tatarstan region, Iskander Yasaveyev, has been charged with inciting social hatred over his analysis of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine published on the website of RFE/RL's Idel.Realities project in June. Yasaveyev wrote on Facebook on January 30 that he was summoned to the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism directorate, where he was informed that the charge was filled against him. He added that some of his belongings that were confiscated during a search of his home two weeks earlier were returned to him while he was at the ministry. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Armenia Tells International Court Of Justice That Azerbaijan Blockade Is 'Ethnic Cleansing'
A representative of Armenia told judges at the International Court of Justice on January 30 that a blockade of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region by neighboring Azerbaijan was designed to allow "ethnic cleansing.” The Lachin Corridor is the only route whereby Armenia can provide food, fuel, and medical supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. The corridor has been blocked since December 12, when protesters claiming to be environmental activists stopped traffic by setting up tents. Azerbaijan denies any blockade, saying the activists are staging a legitimate protest against illegal mining activity. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Self-Exiled Buddhist Leader Of Russia's Kalmykia Resigns Over 'Foreign Agent' Label
The self-exiled supreme lama of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, who was the first religious leader in the country who publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, has announced his resignation.
Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni-Basan Ombadykov, issued a statement on January 29 saying that he was stepping down from the post of the Shajin-Lama, the leader of Kalmykia's Buddhists, after Russia added him to its registry of "foreign agents."
"In the situation that occurred, I consider it reasonable to pass on all the duties related to the position of the Shajin-Lama of the Republic of Kalmykia to the current leader of the centralized religious organization - the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery of Geden Sheddup Choi Korling -- Tendzin Choidak (Mutul Ovyanov) and the administrator Yonten Lodoi (Sergei Kirishov)," Telo Tulku Rinpoche's statement said.
The statement came two days after Russia's Justice Ministry added Telo Tulku Rinpoche to its list of "foreign agents."
Telo Tulku Rinpoche had led Kalmykia's Buddhists since the early 1990s.
The Buddhist monk, who represented the Dalai Lama in the Russian Federation and holds a U.S. passport, fled Russia for Mongolia last fall, where he is helping thousands of Kalmyks who left Russia after Moscow launched its war against Ukraine in late February, 2022.
In early October, he became the first religious leader in the Russian Federation to condemn Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion in Ukraine.
Kalmyks in Russia's southwest and Buryats in Siberia are mostly Buddhist, Mongol-speaking ethnic groups. Tyvans are another mostly Buddhist indigenous people in Siberia, whose language is Turkic.
More Russian Forces Moved To Kursk Region On Ukrainian Border, Says Governor
Russia has moved additional forces and equipment to the Kursk region on the border with Ukraine to protect the frontier and ensure security, regional Governor Roman Starovoit said on January 30, according to the Interfax news agency. Local authorities say that the region has repeatedly been subjected to Ukrainian shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago. Some of Russia's troops entered from the Kursk region, although the areas of northeastern Ukraine that they seized have since been retaken by Kyiv's forces. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Explosion In Residential Building Kills Five In Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan
An explosion in a residential building in Uzbekistan's autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan has killed at least five people. Uzbekistan's Emergency Ministry said on January 30 that the explosion, caused by a gas leak, occurred late in the afternoon of the previous day in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus. Rescue teams continue to search for survivors and casualties under the debris. Gas explosions occur with some frequency in Central Asia due to ageing pipelines and infrastructure, as well as lax safety standards. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Iran Summons Senior Ukraine Diplomat Over Comments On Drone Strike
Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran on January 30 over his country's comments about a drone strike on a military factory in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Slovenia Reportedly Detains Two Foreigners On Charge Of Spying For Russia
Media reports in Slovenia said over the weekend that the Intelligence and Security Service had detained two foreigners suspected of spying for Russia's military intelligence. According to the reports, the suspects detained in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, worked in the country under fake names. One of the suspects holds an Argentinian passport, the reports said. If convicted of spying and lying while crossing the border, the two face up to eight years in prison each. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
At Least 37 Dead, Dozens Wounded In Suicide Bombing At Pakistani Mosque
At least 37 people have been killed and about 150 wounded in an attack witnesses said was a suicide bombing inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that suicide bombers standing in the first row behind the imam detonated explosive vests as worshippers, including many policemen and other officials, had gathered for afternoon prayers at the Police Line Mosque on January 30.
Dozens of the wounded were transferred to nearby hospitals, a police officer said. Several of them were in critical condition, the officer said, raising fears that the death toll might rise further. One hospital official said 10 to 15 people were in critical condition.
AP quoted a Twitter account by Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that claimed responsibility for the attack. The party itself has not commented on the attack.
The radical group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and said “stern action" will be taken against those who were behind it. He ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment to the victims.
RFE/RL correspondents in the area said the mosque has been frequented by police officers and officials from the provincial government whose offices are located in the same area.
Police said rescue crews were working at the scene amid expectations that there are more casualties buried beneath the rubble as the two-story building collapsed following the powerful blast.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the bombing, calling it a "terrorist suicide attack."
"It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering [and] properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism," Khan tweeted.
Peshawar is the capital of the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Kyiv Calls International Olympic Committee 'Promoter Of War'
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak on January 30 called the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a "promoter of war" after the sports body said it was considering ways for Russian athletes to compete. "[The] IOC is a promoter of war, murder, and destruction. The IOC watches with pleasure Russia destroying Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to promote genocide and encourages their further killings. Obviously Russian money that buys Olympic hypocrisy doesn't have a smell of Ukrainian blood," Podolyak said on Twitter.
Russian Business Offers Cash Bounties To Destroy Western Tanks In Ukraine
A Russian company said it will offer 5 million rubles (about $72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture Western-made tanks in Ukraine, after the Kremlin vowed Russian forces would wipe out any Western tanks shipped to Ukraine. The United States, Germany, and several other European countries are lining up to send Kyiv dozens of advanced combat tanks over the next few months to help boost Ukraine's military capacity. The decision has been criticized by the Kremlin as a dangerous escalation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Britain's Boris Johnson Says Putin Threatened Him With Missile Strike
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike during a phone call in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Johnson said Putin had asked him about the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO, to which he had responded it would not be "for the foreseeable future." "He threatened me at one point, and he said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute' or something like that," Johnson said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Says Nuclear Arms Treaty With U.S. May End After 2026
Russia's deputy foreign minister said in an interview published on January 30 that it was "quite possible" the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States would end after 2026. "This is quite a possible scenario," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA news agency. U.S.-Russia talks on resuming inspections under the treaty, which expires in February 2026, were called off at the last minute in November 2022. Neither side has agreed on a time frame for new talks. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Germany Won't Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine, Says Scholz
Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated on January 29 that Germany will not send fighter jets to Ukraine, as Kyiv steps up calls for more advanced weapons from the West to help repel Russia's invasion. Scholz only just agreed on January 25 to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other European countries to send theirs, after weeks of intense debate and mounting pressure from allies. "I can only advise against entering into a constant bidding war when it comes to weapons systems," Scholz said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper. To read the original story from AFP, click here.
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Attacks Idea That Russia Could Compete In 2024 Olympics
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 29 that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris was tantamount to showing that "terror is somehow acceptable." "Attempts by the International Olympic Committee to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. He said Russia must not be allowed to "use [the Olympics] or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Turkey's Erdogan Signals Finland's NATO Bid May Be Considered Over Sweden
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled on January 29 that Ankara may agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm. "We may deliver Finland a different message [on their NATO application], and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did," Erdogan said in a televised speech. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and need the approval of all member countries to join. Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify the Nordic countries' membership. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Friends Mourn Volunteer Who Was Killed Helping Civilians In Ukraine
Friends and volunteers gathered on January 29 at Kyiv's St. Sophia’s Cathedral to say goodbye to Andrew Bagshaw, a New Zealand scientist who was killed in Ukraine with another volunteer while they were trying to evacuate people from a frontline town. Bagshaw, 48, a dual New Zealand-British citizen, and British volunteer Christopher Parry, 28, went missing this month while heading to the town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region, where heavy fighting was taking place. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Over 500 Dead Since Start Of Unrest In Iran, Activists Say
At least 527 people have been killed in Iran since the beginning of the anti-government demonstrations more than four months ago, said a report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency on January 29. Among them were 71 minors and 70 members of the police and other security forces, according to the group's tally. In total, nearly 20,000 people have been arrested. More than 100 of them are facing death sentences. Several demonstrators have already been executed. The Iranian authorities have not yet provided information on the total number of deaths and arrests.
Azerbaijan Evacuating Embassy In Iran After Fatal Shooting
Azerbaijan will evacuate embassy staff and family members from Iran on January 29, the Foreign Ministry said, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism." Police in Tehran have said they have arrested a suspect. Iranian authorities condemned the January 27 incident but said the gunman appeared to have had a personal, not a political, motive. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
At Least 12 Children Dead After Boat Capsizes In Northwestern Pakistan
Pakistani officials say at least 12 children were killed on January 29 after their boat overturned in Tanda Lake, a popular tourist destination in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for local emergency services, said at least five children were rescued but that they are in critical condition. Police said at least 25 children -- students of the Mirbaz Khel religious school -- were on the boat when it capsized. The death toll was expected to rise as rescue efforts continued. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
Ukrainian Tanks Crews Arrive In Britain For Training
Ukrainian tank crews have arrived in Britain to begin training for their continued fight against Russia, the British Defense Ministry said on January 29, just days after Britain and other NATO countries pledged more than 130 tanks to Ukraine.
"The UK will provide Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine alongside global partner nations -- demonstrating the strength of support for Ukraine, internationally," the ministry tweeted on January 29.
The United States and Germany agreed last week to send Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively, to Ukraine, while the United Kingdom earlier in January said it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany also allowed other countries, such as Norway and Poland, to send their German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Poland said it will provide 60 more tanks to Ukraine, in addition to the 14 it has already pledged.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that they need 300 tanks as they seek to drive Russian forces from their territory. Ukraine has lost more than half of its 850 tanks during the 11-month war, according to Oryx, a website that uses open-source tools to count destroyed equipment.
Russia has many more tanks than Ukraine, but its models are inferior in some key respects to Western models.
Both Russia and Ukraine are expected to launch offensives in the coming weeks, with tanks expected to play a vital role in those battles, experts said.
Ukraine needs new weapons and faster deliveries to confront a "very tough" situation of constant attacks by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk region, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on January 29.
"The situation is very tough. In Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region, there are constant Russian attacks. There are constant attempts to break through our defenses," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
"Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies, and open up new weapons options for Ukraine."
Shortly after Zelenskiy spoke reports emerged of a Russian military strike on an apartment building in the eastern city of Kharkiv, triggering a blaze.
The town's mayor Ihor Terekhov indicated there had been casualties.
Earlier, on the ground in Ukraine, Russian invading forces continued to launch attacks on January 29.
Three people were reported killed and six wounded by Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said.
Kherson was occupied by Russian troops from the early days of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine until its recapture by Kyiv's forces in November. Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnieper River.
Meanwhile, the fighting on the front line remains intense, especially in the eastern Donetsk region, with major battles under way for Vuhledar and Bakhmut, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
The head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on January 29 that four people were killed and 17 others wounded in Russian strikes on Bakhmut and Kostyantynivka the previous day.
There were no casualties among the civilian populations as the district’s administrative center, Beryslav, and the villages of Mylove and Tyahynka came under the Russian attack, the district chief, Volodymyr Litvinov, said on Telegram on January 29.
Elsewhere, Ukraine's military said its forces repelled an attack in the area of Blahodatne in the eastern part of the Donetsk region, while Russia's Vagner mercenary group claimed it had taken control of the village.
With reporting by Reuters
Pakistani Government Lifts Price Caps On Gasoline, Diesel Fuel
Pakistan's Finance Ministry announced on January 29 that gasoline and diesel prices would rise by $0.14 a liter after the country's currency plummeted in value this week when price caps were removed. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said he hoped the announcement would dispel speculation on social media of a higher price hike or that gasoline supplies would run dry. He said the hike was recommended by oil and gas authorities due to the higher cost of buying energy in the global market. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Earthquake Strikes Northwestern Iran, Killing At Least Three
A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Iran near the border with Turkey late on January 28, killing at least three people and injuring 816, state media said. The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy in West Azerbaijan Province at 9:44 p.m., the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran said. Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Russia Rules Out Talks With Japan On Fishing Near Disputed Islands
Russia said on January 29 that it will not hold annual talks with Japan on renewing a pact that allows Japanese fishermen to operate near disputed islands, saying Japan has taken anti-Russian measures. The islands are known in Russia as the Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories and have been at the core of decades of tension between the neighbors. Japan imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals and organizations soon after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
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Romania's Traditional Clothing Makers Call For Action After UNESCO Listing9
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'Not Everyone Supports This Crazy War': Life In Russia's Embattled Belgorod Region