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Blinken Tells Lavrov Russia Must De-Escalate Ukraine Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged the "immediate" de-escalation and withdrawal of troops by Russia from areas near Ukraine's borders.

In a statement issued after Blinken spoke on February 1 with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said the top U.S. diplomat further reiterated Washington's commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of all countries to determine their own foreign policy and alliances.

"The Secretary urged immediate Russian de-escalation and the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Ukraine’s borders," the statement said.

"He emphasized that further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path," it added.

Russia has amassed tens of thousands of soldiers along the border with Ukraine, sparking concern that an invasion of Ukraine by Moscow is imminent. Russia has denied it intends any incursion into its neighbor.

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White House Announces New Military Aid Package For Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on May 31.

The White House on May 31 announced another aid package for Ukraine that includes up to $300 million worth of air-defense systems, ammunition, and other defense equipment. The security assistance package represents the 39th drawdown of equipment from the Defense Department inventories, the Pentagon said. The package includes Patriot air-defense batteries, Stinger antiaircraft systems, tank ammunition, and other equipment. In total, the United States has committed more than $37.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office Requests Permission To Prosecute Opposition Leader

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office wants to prosecute MP Adakhan Madumarov on charges of abuse of power and preparing to seize power by force. (file photo)

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office on May 31 formally asked lawmakers to allow the prosecution of the leader of the opposition Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan party over alleged attempts to seize power. The chairman of the Kyrgyz parliament said that the Prosecutor-General's Office has received a proposal to bring Adakhan Madumarov, who is also a member of parliament, to criminal responsibility. A parliamentary commission of inquiry was formed following a vote by lawmakers. Possible charges include abuse of power and preparing to seize power by force. Madumarov, 58, said the move was politically motivated and punishment for his criticism of authorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Judiciary Chief Defends Executions Of Protesters

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

The head of Iran’s judiciary has staunchly defended issuing death sentences for several demonstrators involved in nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was detained by morality police for allegedly violating the mandatory hijab law.

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

Iran has so far executed at least seven protesters, sparking outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Amnesty International in a recent report warned about the imminent execution risk of seven more detainees from the protests. The human rights group named the seven as Ebrahim Naroui, Kambiz Kharot, Manochehr Mehmannavaz, Mansoreh Dehmardeh, Mohammad Ghabadlo, Mujahed (Abbas) Korkor, and Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi Rigi.

Mohseni-Ejei characterized the civil resistance against mandatory hijab, which has been led by Iranian women, as a "challenge of chastity and hijab" while claiming that such resistance has been influenced by the "hand of the enemy."

He did not elaborate, but Iranian officials have consistently blamed the West for the demonstrations -- the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution -- and have vowed to continue to crack down hard on protesters.

Last November, Mohseni-Ejei's defense of the execution of Mohsen Shekari, a young protester accused of waging war against God for "closing a street and injuring a Basij paramilitary member," has been met with fierce criticism.

Legal experts have decried the imposition of the death penalty for the charge of "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

Responding to the worrying trend, six prominent legal scholars and an Iranian human rights lawyer penned a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to express their grave concern over the escalating number of executions in Iran.

The signatories cited the abuse of national sovereignty principles by the Islamic republic to justify widespread executions, resulting in limited global capacity to prevent these inhuman actions effectively.

Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.

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

Four Crimean Tatars Sentenced To Long Prison Terms For Ties To Islamic Group Banned In Russia

The four Crimean Tatars stand in a defendents' cage at a court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on May 31.

A court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced four Crimean Tatar activists to lengthy prison sentences for organizing and participating in the activities of the Islamic political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir.

One of the four men, Dzhebbar Bekirov, received a 17-year prison sentence for his work with Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned by Russia as a terrorist organization since 2003 but remains legal in Ukraine, and for preparing for the seizure of power.

The other three -- Zaur Abdullayev, Rustem Murasov, and Rustem Tairov -- received 12 years each on the same charges, according to the Crimean Solidarity group on May 31.

All four will spend the first four years of their sentences in prison and the remainder in a maximum-security penal colony. The court also added a year and a half of restrictions to Bekirov to be served after his release and a year of restrictions for the others, also to be served after their release, Crimean Solidarity said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the "falsified and worthless" sentences show that Russia is resorting to all kinds of crimes in the temporarily occupied territories with the aim of destroying centers of freedom of thought and religion that are not under the control of its punitive bodies.

"Violence and repression cannot be the answer to the right to express one's beliefs and protect one's identity," the ministry said on its website.

The sentences were announced one week after the same court sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Ernes Seytosmanov to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges for his involvement in the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement. Seytosmanov was also found guilty of participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and preparing for a violent seizure of power. His lawyer, Aleksei Ladin, said the court's ruling will be appealed.

Bekirov, Tairov, Murasov, and Abdullayev were detained in August 2021 in Russian-controlled Crimea after their homes were searched.

Since Russia illegally seized Crimea in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges that rights organizations have called trumped up.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and those who have spoken out against Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.

Russia claimed control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries.

Since January 2015, criminal cases related to the Hizb ut-Tahrir have been initiated in Crimea under the de facto control of Russia. In Ukraine, the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir are not prohibited.

Human rights activists say members of the organization are being persecuted not for preparing to seize power but for public actions against political repression in Crimea, criticism of Russian authorities, and for mass disloyalty in response to the events of 2014 as well as to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.

War At 'Important Moment' Ahead Of Ukraine's Expected Military Push, Potential Peace Talks, Macron Says

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Paris on May 14. Macron said on May 31 that Europe needed to "provide clear and tangible security guarantees" to Ukraine.

BRATISLAVA -- Ahead of a looming counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces on the battlefield, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for advancing peace negotiations on the war in Ukraine on Kyiv’s terms.

Speaking at the GLOBSEC security conference in Bratislava on May 31, Macron said there should be no compromises in terms of Ukraine's territorial integrity and that Kyiv has battlefield momentum on its side.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"This is a very important moment," the French president said about the expected military moves by Kyiv. "Whatever happens, I do believe they [the Ukrainians] will deliver."

Macron, however, cautioned against expecting that the military push would create a breakthrough in terms of diplomatic negotiations with Moscow to end the war.

The counteroffensive "will not create de facto acceptance from the Russians to negotiate," Macron said.

Despite expressing caution toward diplomatic talks with the Kremlin, Macron said "a new energy" to engage in diplomacy from countries in the Global South is under way and that it could lead to a "conclusive" peace process that is "not a cease-fire" in the coming months.

"If we accept a cease-fire or a frozen conflict [in Ukraine], time will be on Russia's side," Macron said.

The comments come after The Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine and its allies are planning a summit of global leaders that would exclude Russia and would be aimed at garnering support for Kyiv's terms for ending the war.

The report, which cited senior Ukrainian officials and European diplomats, said plans for the summit were in the preliminary stages and Macron had lobbied to also include countries that have sided with Russia or declined to take a position on the war such as China, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.

In response to a question from the audience while on stage at the GLOBSEC conference, Macron said Europe needed to "provide clear and tangible security guarantees" to Ukraine and progress could be achieved at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius in June, although he cautioned that he does not expect the meeting to reach a consensus.

"I think this debate will happen in Vilnius, and this is what we will discuss with [German] Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz next week and other players," Macron said. "But we need a path toward [NATO] membership" for Ukraine.

Gunmen Kill Soldier In Attack On Polio Workers In Pakistan

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar, Pakistan, on May 22.

Gunmen killed one soldier and wounded another on May 31 when they opened fire on security forces escorting a team of polio workers during a door-to-door inoculation campaign in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border, police said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. It came days after the government launched the latest polio eradication campaign, said Aslam Riaz, a police officer in the region. He said the polio workers escaped unharmed and the attackers fled the scene. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Germany To Shut Down Russian Consulates In Tit-For-Tat Move

The Russian Embassy in Berlin will remain operational. (file photo)

Germany said on May 31 it would shut down four out of five Russian consulates by revoking their licenses, a tit-for-tat move after Moscow's decision to limit the number of German officials in Russia to 350. The move represents a sharp downgrading of bilateral ties amid a collapse in relations since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government would still be allowed to operate its embassy in Berlin and one general consulate. Germany expects the rest to cease operations by the end of the year. Russia denounced the proposed closures as ill-conceived and provocative and said it would respond. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Hague Panel Rejects Appeal By Milosevic Spymasters, Lengthens Prison Sentences

The former head of the Serbian Interior Ministry's State Security Service, Jovica Stanisic, appears in court at The Hague on May 31.

A panel of United Nations judges on May 31 have rejected the appeals by two former Serbian intelligence officers against their convictions two years ago for murder, crimes against humanity, and other offenses in western Bosnia during the 1992-95 war there, and expanded their sentences in the process.

Jovan Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were each sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2021 in a retrial that followed acquittals in 2013. They were convicted of crimes that included murder, deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution in what prosecutors called brutal "ethnic cleansing" at Bosanski Samac in 1992.

Prosecutors asked that Stanisic and Simatovic be convicted of crimes of which they were previously acquitted in addition to additional actions in Croatia.

They also say both men oversaw the establishment of training centers throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and that the brutal crimes of Bosanski Samac reflected a pattern used for months at other locations.

The judges on the Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (UNIRMCT), the successor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), agreed with the prosecutors, lengthening the sentences to 15 years in the final case the panel will hear concerning the regime of the late Yugoslav and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Franko Simatović listened to the verdict from prison in The Hague.
Franko Simatović listened to the verdict from prison in The Hague.

"The Appeals Chamber granted part of the Prosecution’s appeal, finding that the Trial Chamber erred in not convicting Mr. Stanisic and Mr. Simatovic under the mode of joint criminal enterprise liability," the panel said in a statement.

"The Appeals Chamber determined that the Trial Chamber erred in assessing Mr. Stanisic’s and Mr. Simatovic’s other contributions to the common criminal purpose. The Appeals Chamber also found that they shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose," it added in an explanation for the decision.

Stanisic was head of the Serbian Interior Ministry's State Security Service in 1992-98.

Simatovic commanded an elite special forces unit within the Yugoslav State Security Service in 1991-98.

Stanisic's defense lawyers argued that he became "a key peacemaker" who contributed to ending conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Stanisic and Simatovic were detained in 2003 and their initial trial lasted from June 2009 until January 2013.

EU Places Sanctions On Seven For Destabilizing Moldova, Doubles Macroeconomic Support

Marina Tauber and Ilan Shor (file photo)

The European Union has announced sanctions on seven individuals accused of destabilizing actions against Moldova and that it was doubling its grant of macroeconomic support to 290 million euros ($310 million).

Among those hit with EU sanctions are Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, seen as the main organizer of a $1 billion fraud in 2014-2015; and Moscow-backed tycoon Ilan Shor, the head of the Shor Party now in Israel; and Marina Tauber, a vice president of the Shor Party who has been behind mass anti-government protests in the capital, Chisinau.

Shor was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Moldovan court last month.

The others are fugitive former acting police chief Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, wanted in Moldova for aiding Shor in organizing the violent Chisinau protests; Grigore Caramalac and Aleksandr Kalinin, accused of actions against Ukraine; Russian businessman Igor Chaika, the son of Russian Prosecutor-General Igor Chaika, accused as acting as a "piggy bank" for Russia's Federal Security Service actions against Moldova.

Chaika is the only non-Moldovan citizen on the list.

Shor, Plahotniuc, and Chaika have already been put under sanctions by the United States and Britain.

The EU assets of those on the sanctions list were frozen and they are banned from traveling to and through the bloc.

The announcement was hailed by Moldova's pro-Western president, Maia Sandu.

"Moldova is not alone in its effort to keep the country safe & stable. I welcome the EU’s decision to sanction those who endanger our democracy, stability & security. Together, we will ensure a strong & prosperous future for Moldova, Sandu wrote on Twitter.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the seven were "responsible for actions aimed at destabilizing, undermining, or threatening the sovereignty and independence" of Moldova and Ukraine.

"Moldova is one of the countries most affected by the consequences of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. There are serious, intensified, and persistent attempts to destabilize the country," Borrell said.

Moldova, a country of 2.6 million that is among the poorest in Europe, has received hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees after Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The EU announcement about the sanctions came two days ahead of Moldova's hosting the first summit of the European Political Community, where Sandu wants to secure promises that Moldova will soon start membership negotiations with the 27-member bloc.

Moldova was invited together with Ukraine to open accession negotiations with the EU in June last year, just months after Russia invaded.

The 44-member European Political Community, the creation of which was the idea of French President Emmanuel Macron, is meant to improve cooperation between the EU and nonmembers, including aspiring countries in the Western Balkans and the Caucasus region.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

EU Commissioner Urges Extension Of Ukraine Grain Import Ban

Janusz Wojciechowski (file photo)

The EU agriculture commissioner says it is necessary to extend Ukraine grain-import restrictions until at least the end of October, despite fierce opposition from Kyiv. The restrictions followed complaints from EU countries that surplus Ukrainian grain was driving down local prices and impacting local farmers. The EU made an agreement with the five states involved -- Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia -- to allow them to block the import of grain from Ukraine. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said at a press briefing May 31 that "we need to prolong, best to the end of the year but minimum to the end of October."

Former Senior Russian Police Officer Fined For Criticizing War Against Ukraine

Viktor Lavrentyev

A court in the Russian city of Tomsk has fined a retired police lieutenant colonel 1 million rubles ($12,350) in a case of alleged military "fakes" for anti-war posts he made on social media. The Oktyabrsky district court fined 60-year-old Viktor Lavrentyev and barred him from speaking publicly, including posting on social networks, for one year. Lavrentyev has repeatedly criticized the actions of the Russian army and Russian authorities over the invasion of neighboring Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kazakh Activists Cancel Event On Political Persecution After Detentions

Organizers said they would try again on September 27.

Activists in Kazakhstan have cancelled a planned parade on May 31 to mark the Day of Remembrance of Political Persecution, saying police had detained several of their colleagues and created other impediments to holding the event. Organizers said they would try again on September 27. Police did not comment but the Prosecutor-General's Office had warned people not to attend the rally, saying those who violated the law on peaceful assembly would face up to 25 days in jail. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Woman Who Accused Biden Of Sexual Harassment Says She's Moving To Russia

An American woman who accused U.S. President Joe Biden of sexual harassment when she worked in his Senate office says she is moving to Russia. Tara Reade made the announcement on May 30 at an event sponsored by a Russian propaganda outlet. "I feel very surrounded by protection and safety," Reade said. She was joined at the live-streamed event by Maria Butina, a Russian who served nearly 18 months in a U.S. prison accused of being an unregistered foreign agent. Biden has repeatedly denied the accusations. Multiple media outlets investigated Reade's claims, but were unable to corroborate them.

Kosovo Olympic Committee Seeks IOC Disciplinary Proceedings Against Djokovic

Novak Djokovic plays in the first round of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 29.

Kosovo Olympic authorities have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against Novak Djokovic, accusing him of stirring up political tensions by saying "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" at the French Open. Djokovic wrote the message on a camera lens following his first-round win, the same day 30 NATO peacekeeping troops were hurt in clashes with Serbian protesters in the Kosovo town of Zvecan, where Djokovic's father grew up. Serbian authorities said 52 protesters were wounded in clashes after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo's Serb-majority area following elections that were boycotted by the Serbs. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Zelenskiy Says 371 Children Deported By Russia Have Been Returned To Ukraine

A woman holds her daughter and son, who went to a Russian-organized summer camp from nongovernment-controlled territories and were then taken to Russia, after they returned via Belarus in Kyiv in April.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says 371 Ukrainian children have been returned to Ukraine after being deported by Russia during the war. Zelenskiy made the announcement as he launched the Center for the Protection of Children's Rights in Ukraine. The office also announced the Bring Kids Back UA plan, which combines the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities, partner countries, and international organizations to return the Ukrainian children deported by Russia. "The first step has been taken -- 371 children are at home in Ukraine," Zelenskiy said. Ukrainian authorities say almost 20,000 Ukrainian children have been documented as deported by Russia from occupied Ukrainian territories. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.


U.S. Announces More Military Aid For Ukraine Amid Uptick In Attacks Inside Russia

Ukrainian soldiers fire a Caesar self-propelled howitzer toward Russian troops near Avdiyivka on May 31.

The United States on May 31 announced an aid package for Ukraine that includes Patriot air-defense batteries, ammunition, and other defense equipment as Ukrainian authorities said attacks by Russian troops killed one person in Ukraine's Donetsk region and one person in the Kherson region.

The security assistance package worth up to $300 million was announced by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. It represents the 39th drawdown of equipment from the Defense Department inventories, the Pentagon said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

In addition to the Patriots, the package includes Stinger antiaircraft systems, missiles for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), tank ammunition, and other equipment.

Indiscriminate Russian shelling earlier on May 31 killed one person and wounded one in Chasiv Yar near Horlivka, Donetsk regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said, adding that another 10 civilians were wounded across the region.

Russian troops also attacked a community in the Kherson region, killing one person, said Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the regional military administration.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian forces repelled 22 Russian attacks in the east, the General Staff said in its daily update, although the intensity of Moscow's offensive in and around the Donetsk city of Bakhmut appeared to have subsided, according to Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.

Malyar said that in Bakhmut, which has been the epicenter of the monthslong war in the east, Russian troops have not been conducting infantry operations, apparently regrouping their forces, but have been continuing shelling and launching air strikes on Ukrainian positions.

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander in chief of Ukrainian forces, said he spoke by phone with U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the situation at the front, further plans for the liberation of Ukrainian territory, and the possible actions of the enemy.

Zaluzhniy said on Telegram on May 31 that he and Milley discussed weapons supply, including ammunition, and the need for long-range projectiles. They also discussed the importance of working to strengthening Ukraine's air defense and F-16 fighter jets, he said, adding that they agreed to continue the dialogue.

Early on May 31, the governor of Russia's Krasnodar region, Venyamin Kondratyev, said an alleged drone attack caused a fire at an oil refinery. There were no casualties in the attack, part of an uptick in attacks on Russian territory.

WATCH: Amid a new wave of Russian drone attacks on Ukraine, analysts in Kyiv are gaining useful intelligence from a collection of downed Russian aerial weapons.

Ukrainian Analysts Studying Downed Russian Missiles, Drones
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Russia on May 30 launched a fresh wave of drone strikes on Kyiv -- the fourth attack in three days -- killing at least one person and wounding several others, but Ukrainian authorities said most of the drones were shot down by the capital's air defenses.

Late on May 30 the governor of Russia's Belgorod region said one person was killed and six were wounded in shelling of a temporary shelter for civilians. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov blamed Ukrainian armed forces for artillery fire that hit the shelter, which he said housed displaced people, including elderly civilians and children.

On the same day, Moscow was subjected to a rare drone attack that damaged several buildings. The Russian Defense Ministry said eight drones were shot down or jammed over the Russian capital in what it said was a "terrorist attack" by the "Kyiv regime."

Russia's Investigative Committee said no one was wounded. Ukrainian denied any involvement, and White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on May 31 that the Biden administration does not know who is responsible for the attack. He added that the United States does not tell Ukraine where to strike.

Moscow-installed authorities in Ukraine's Luhansk region, which is almost completely occupied by Russia, said on May 31 that five people were killed and 19 wounded by Ukrainian shelling that hit a poultry farm in the village of Karpaty.

The information could not be independently confirmed, and there was no immediate reaction from Ukraine.

Both sides say they are targeting the buildup of military equipment and troops ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

EU Intensifies Effort To Calm Crisis In North Kosovo As Serb Protesters Rally

A U.S. member of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) stands guard near a municipal building in Leposavic, northern Kosovo, on May 31.

European Union officials met on May 31 with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Bratislava as part of international efforts to end a crisis in Kosovo that for days has drawn ethnic-Serb demonstrators into the streets of northern towns in the former province of Serbia.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Kurti on the sidelines of a security conference in Bratislava to discuss the tensions.

"The current situation is dangerous and unsustainable," Borrell said on Twitter. "We need urgent de-escalation and a solution through the Dialogue to return to our work on implementing the Agreement reached."

Kurti, who was also to meet with Miroslav Lajcak, the EU envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, has rejected a demand by the protesters in ethnic Serb-majority northern Kosovo to remove ethnic Albanian mayors whose forced entrance into municipal buildings in three towns in the region triggered a standoff after violent clashes with Kosovar police and KFOR troops.

Ethnic Serb demonstrators gathered again on May 31 in Zubin Potok and Zvecan after clashes two days earlier in Zvecan and a vow from the largest Kosovar Serbian party to continue protests over the presence of the mayors, who were recently elected in a vote boycotted by ethnic Serbs.

The Belgrade-backed Serbian List (Srpska Lista) said the protests will stop only when their demands for the removal of Kosovar Albanian mayors and the withdrawal of special police units from the north are met.

Amid the presence of Kosovo police and KFOR troops, who have installed barbed-wire barricades around municipal buildings to keep protesters at bay, the situation in Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok was calm on May 31.

NATO announced the day before plans to deploy 700 more troops to Kosovo to help stop the violent protests, and the leaders of France and Germany announced plans to meet top Serbia and Kosovo officials on June 1 at a summit in Moldova.

Despite appeals by the United States and the European Union to return to dialogue, Kurti has insisted that the ethnic Albanian mayors have the legal right to take over municipal buildings in the towns where they were elected.

Mayors of the three towns were sworn in despite a turnout of under 3.5 percent in the April 23 by-elections amid the Serb boycott.

WATCH: Ethnic Serbs unfurled a massive Serbian flag during a protest on May 31 in the town of Zvecan in northern Kosovo, where violent clashes earlier in the week reportedly left some 30 NATO peacekeepers with injuries.

Kosovo Serbs Continue Protests As NATO Bolsters Peacekeeping Force
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The United States has proposed allowing the mayors to work from locations other than the municipal buildings, but Kurti told RFE/RL in a brief interview in Bratislava before his meetings with the European leaders that such an order would be regarded as proof of a parallel structure being created within Kosovo.

"What I am doing is my duty. There are parallel structures in the northern part of our country. If I would now order mayors to leave that office to another office somewhere elsewhere, it would be as if I am engaging in creating sort of a parallel structure to parallel structures, copying [Kosovo's Serb leaders] method. I would join their illegality. I cannot do that," he said, referring to Serbian structures that have been operating in the north of Kosovo since the 1998-99 war that led to Kosovo declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.

Kurti made the comments after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on both Kosovo and Serbia to return to the European Union-mediate dialogue on the normalization of relations.

Blinken reiterated that the Kosovar government's decision to forcefully install the mayors had escalated tensions "sharply and unnecessarily."

Kurti and his government "should ensure that elected mayors perform their interim duties from alternative locations, outside municipal buildings, and withdraw police forces from there," Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken also said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Serbian government "should downgrade the security status of the Serbian Armed Forces and call on the Kosovo Serbs to stop defying KFOR and refrain from further violence."

U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said the decision of Kosovar authorities to forcibly install Albanian mayors led NATO to cancel Kosovo's participation in the alliance's largest military exercises in the Balkans.

The NATO exercises began in Kosovo on May 21 and were set to last until June 2.

Kurti decried the move as "unfortunate and unfair" in a statement to RFE/RL but reiterated that Washington remans an indispensable ally for Kosovo.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Bratislava, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and AP

IAEA Chief Outlines Principles To Prevent Nuclear Catastrophe At Zaporizhzhya

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (file photo)

UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi has urged Ukraine and Russia to adhere to five principles to prevent nuclear catastrophe at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on May 30 outlined the principles to the UN Security Council in New York during a briefing on safety at the plant, which has been a concern since Russian forces seized it shortly after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

"The nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhya NPP...continues to be extremely fragile and dangerous. Military activities continue in the region and may well increase very considerably in the near future," he said in an apparent reference to Ukraine's expected counteroffensive.

Grossi told the Security Council that "there should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant" and said that it should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons such as multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and munitions, and tanks, or for military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant.

He also called for off-site power to the plant to remain available and secure, for all its essential systems to be protected from attacks or acts of sabotage, and for no action to be taken that undermines the principles.

"I respectfully and solemnly ask both sides to observe these five principles," said Grossi. "These principles are to no one's detriment and to everyone's benefit."

The IAEA intends to start monitoring the principles on-site, he added.

Russia said it would do all it could to protect the power plant, it did not explicitly commit to abide by Grossi's five principles.

"Mr. Grossi's proposals to ensure the security of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant are in line with the measures that we've already been implementing for a long time," Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Serhiy Kyslytsya said the principles "must be complemented with the demand of full demilitarization and de-occupation of the station," a demand previously made by the United States.

In response to Grossi's statement, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, "It is entirely, entirely within Moscow's control to avert a nuclear catastrophe and to end its war of aggression against Ukraine."

Grossi has been trying for months to establish an agreement to reduce the risk of a nuclear accident caused by military activity at Europe's biggest nuclear power plant.

The plant, which is not generating electricity, has been affected multiple times by shelling that has caused outages of electrical power, which the plant needs to maintain the cooling of its reactors.

The plant, located in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhya, supplied around 20 percent of Ukraine's electricity before power production was halted late last year.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Russian Governor Says Ukrainian Artillery Fire On Shelter In Belgorod Region Kills One

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov (file photo)

One person was killed and two injured in the Belgorod region of Russia as a result of shelling of a temporary shelter for civilians, the governor of the region said on May 30.

Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov blamed Ukrainian forces for artillery fire that hit the shelter, which he said housed displaced people, including elderly civilians and children.

"A security guard was killed and two people were injured," Gladkov said on Telegram, adding that the two injured people were hospitalized in serious condition.

Gladkov's post included images showing a damaged building, a hole in the ground apparently caused by the impact of a strike, and adults and children boarding buses.

The shelling occurred in the Shebekino district of the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine and has experienced an increase in attacks in recent weeks, prompting residents to seek shelter in temporary accommodation centers.

Gladkov called the situation in the region "actually a war," using a word that Russian authorities have avoided when describing hostilities in Ukraine.

There has been no comment on the shelling from the Ukrainian side.

The Ukrainian government last week rejected Moscow's allegation that a Ukrainian "sabotage group" was responsible for clashes that erupted on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Gladkov said then that eight people were injured on May 22 in the fighting, which he said spilled into the Graivoron district, which borders Ukraine, prompting most of the residents in Graivoron and neighboring villages to evacuate.

A group calling itself the Free Russia Legion, which claims to be made up of Russians cooperating with Ukrainian forces, took responsibility for that attack.

Moscow earlier on May 30 was the target of a drone attack as more Russian territory comes under fire amid expectations of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Five of the eight drones that took part in the raid were shot down, the Russian Defense Ministry said, while three others were jammed and forced to veer off course. Three apartment buildings were lightly damaged in the assault. The information could not be independently verified.

With reporting by AFP

Iran Starts Retrial Of Journalist Who Covered Woman's Death In Morality Police Custody

Niloufar Hamedi (file photo)

A court in Iran on May 30 began the closed-door trial of a female journalist on charges linked to her coverage of a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody last year sparked months of unrest. Niloufar Hamedi, along with another female journalist, Elaheh Mohammadi, who went on trial on May 29, face several charges including "colluding with hostile powers" for their coverage of Amini's death. Hamedi's husband said the trial session "ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Kosovo Tennis Federation Accuses Serbia's Djokovic Of Fueling Tension

Novak Djokovic plays a shot his first-round match of the French Open at Roland Garros stadium in Paris on May 29.

The Kosovo Tennis Federation has accused Serbia's Novak Djokovic of aggravating an already tense situation after the world No. 3 wrote that Kosovo was "the heart of Serbia" on a camera lens following his first-round win at the French Open. "Despite a general message against violence, the statement 'Kosovo is the heart of Serbia' and further statements after the match, made by such a public figure...directly result in raising the level of tension between the two states, Serbia and Kosovo," Kosovo Tennis Federation President Jeton Hadergjonaj said on May 30 in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

NATO Launches Arctic Maneuvers, Vowing To Protect Newest Member Finland

A British Warrior infantry fighting vehicle takes part in the Northern Forest exercises in Rovajarvi, Finland, on May 30.

NATO countries are in the middle of Arctic military maneuvers, vowing on May 30 to defend their newest member, Finland, which is hosting its first joint NATO exercise since becoming the 31st member of the Western alliance in April. Nearly 1,000 allied forces from the United States, Britain, Norway, and Sweden joined some 6,500 Finnish troops for the Northern Forest exercise at an artillery training ground above the Arctic Circle just a two-hour drive from the Russian border. U.S. Army Major General Gregory Anderson is overseeing the exercise, which continues through June 2. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Retirees Join Workers In Fresh Wave Of Protests Over Pensions, Living Conditions

Retirees from the telecommunications sector staged rallies in multiple cities across Iran to protest over economic woes on May 30.

A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights.

Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.

Telecommunications retirees were a large part of the protesters, while in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, workers from the Maad Koush factory, a critical supplier to the Hormozgan Steel Company production chain, joined in as they continued into the third day of their strike despite threats of dismissal and arrest.

Meanwhile, the Nepheline Syenite Complex workers' strike in the city of Kalibar, East Azerbaijan Province, extended into its second day.

Government officials have described the complex in Kalibar as the Middle East's sole nepheline syenite mineral-rock-processing unit, a critical material for aluminum, glass, plastic, and rubber ceramics production.

Worker representatives have warned officials that if their "indifference to workers' demands" continues, the government will be "responsible for any subsequent incident."

In recent weeks, social-security retirees and telecommunications retirees have held numerous gatherings to voice their anger over deteriorating living conditions, the issue of fixed pensions in a high-inflation environment, and the overall mounting costs of living.

The retirees also claim that part of their legitimate benefits, including the payment of welfare and supplies, have been cut off for some time without explanation. They are demanding they be fully compensated.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, protesters gathered outside Khuzestan Province's main Telecommunications Company building on May 29, voicing their grievances with slogans like "Injustice and oppression are enough, our tables have nothing on them."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.

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

Official Warns Iranian Film Industry Over Dissent After Cannes Festival

Cinema Organization chief Mohammad Khazaie (file photo)

The head of the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has warned the country's film industry that dissent will be dealt with harshly after several people from the sector participated in the Cannes Film Festival without obtaining permission from Tehran.

Mohammad Khazaie said on May 29 that the individuals who traveled to the French seaside resort for the festival earlier this month will be barred from operating in Iran's film industry, saying they cannot both "wear the coat of opposition" and work in Iranian cinema.

While only one Iranian film, Terrestrial Verses, was officially entered in the competition, dissident director Mohammad Rasolof, who was recently released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, was asked to be a jury member. However, he was not granted permission to attend the event.

Still, several Iranian-born celebrities attended the festival and made statements calling for an end to oppression in the country and an end to state violence against dissent. One of the most notable statements came from Iranian model Mahlagha Jaberi, whose red-carpet dress featured a noose as the neckline.

Khazaie said he was also concerned over the underground production and distribution of films and noncompliance with religious issues.

"We will cut ties with anyone who, for any reason, works with smuggled and unlicensed films in Iran and abroad, and works against Iran," Khazaie warned.

This includes all elements of the film industry, from actors and producers to technical staff, he added.

Khazaie's comments were likely directed at the film Me, Maryam, The Children, And 26 Others, directed by Farshad Hashemi. The film was shown by the Independent Filmmakers Union of Iran at the Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), despite being made in Iran without observing the Islamic republic's censorship laws, including the mandatory hijab for female actors.

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran -- where the law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public -- since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police on September 16 for an alleged hijab offense.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

Several Iranian cinematographers and prominent public figures have also been summoned by the police or arrested, including director Hamid Porazari.

Other celebrities, including prominent Iranian actresses Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayoun Riahi, and Pantea Bahram, have been interrogated and faced legal action after they made public appearances without wearing the mandatory hijab to show support for the protesters.

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

IMF To Enable $900 Million Disbursement To Ukraine

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission has completed its first review of a $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, and the country has met the required conditions, paving the way for a payout of around $900 million, the IMF said on May 30. IMF staff have also raised their forecast for Ukraine's economic growth this year to a range entirely in positive territory from a previous prediction that was between -3 percent and +1 percent, the IMF said in a statement on the review of the four-year Extended Fund Facility Arrangement approved in March.

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