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Boston Bombing Suspect Appears In Court

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has appeared in court for the first time since being arraigned in July 2013.

Tsarnaev, 21, was making his final pretrial appearance on December 18 before his trial starts next month.

Last July, Tsarnaev, pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges against him. He faces the death penalty if he is convicted.

Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan are accused of planting the bombs in backpacks near the finish line.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police as the brothers attempted to flee the Boston area several days after the bombing.

Tsarnaev's trial is set to start on January 5 with jury selection.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

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Ukraine Strikes Preliminary Deal To Restructure $20 Billion Debt 

The new agreement "allows us to free up resources for our defense, social spending, and reconstruction," Ukrainian Prime Minster Denys Shmygal said on X.
The new agreement "allows us to free up resources for our defense, social spending, and reconstruction," Ukrainian Prime Minster Denys Shmygal said on X.

Kyiv said it reached an agreement in principle with international creditors to restructure government debt worth more than $20 billion, according to a July 22 filing with the London Stock Exchange. Shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the government struck a deal with holders of its international bonds to freeze repayments. However, that deal expires on August 1. The new agreement "allows us to free up resources for our defense, social spending, and reconstruction," Ukrainian Prime Minster Denys Shmygal said on X. The new deal will see creditors, including BlackRock, Pimco, and other major institutional investors, write billions off the nominal value of their holdings and agree to a new payment schedule. The group rejected a June offer by Ukraine that called for even steeper write-downs.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Intercept UAE-Managed Tanker

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intercepted a UAE-managed tanker carrying 1,500 tons of marine gas oil, British security firm Ambrey said on July 22. (file photo)
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intercepted a UAE-managed tanker carrying 1,500 tons of marine gas oil, British security firm Ambrey said on July 22. (file photo)

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have intercepted a Togo-flagged, UAE-managed tanker carrying 1,500 tons of marine gas oil, British security firm Ambrey said on July 22. The vessel was intercepted 113 kilometers southwest of Iran's port of Bushehr en route to the U.A.E. from Iraq, Ambrey said. The owner lost contact with the tanker as it was arrested, but Ambrey said the incident was likely a counter-smuggling operation by the IRGC. Iran has some of the world's cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in the value of its currency, making smuggling for resale on world markets very profitable.

Kazakh Court Commences Trial in High-Profile Prison Torture Case

Kazakh activist Timur Danebaev (file photo)
Kazakh activist Timur Danebaev (file photo)

A dozen former Kazakh prison guards accused of torturing a noted anti-war activist Timur Danebaev and 40 other inmates went on trial on July 22. The probe was launched after a video showing guards severely beating the 39-year-old activist and other inmates circulated online in September 2023. Danebaev was arrested in December 2022 over his online posts condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and criticizing Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev for inviting the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization’s troops to disperse antigovernment protests in January that year. In June 2023, he was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Georgian Opposition Lawmakers Challenge 'Foreign Agent' Law In Constitutional Court

A rally in Georgia protesting the 'foreign agent' law
A rally in Georgia protesting the 'foreign agent' law

Nearly three dozen opposition lawmakers in Georgia said on July 22 that they have taken steps to challenge the recently passed controversial law on "foreign agents" that has jeopardized the country's aspirations to join the European Union.

The opposition lawmakers said they signed a lawsuit to challenge the legislation, a necessary step before it can be submitted to the Constitutional Court.

The "foreign agent" law, analogous to one passed a decade ago in Russia, was pushed through parliament by the ruling Georgian Dream party and adopted in May-June despite a presidential veto and weeks of protests.

The only opposition party represented in the parliament, Girchi, refused to join other opposition lawmakers in the move, saying the Constitutional Court is not independent and there is no sense to appeal the unpopular law with it.

The law's fierce critic, President Salome Zurabishvili, appealed the controversial legislation with the Constitutional Court on July 16.

In May, several nongovernmental organizations in Georgia also said they will challenge the law in question with the Constitutional Court and lodge a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The Georgian Dream-dominated parliament overrode Zurabishvili's veto with an 84-4 vote in the 150-seat parliament on May 28.

On June 4, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, signed the bill into law.

On June 24, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government after it pushed the law through.

"If the government does not change the course of action, Georgia will not progress on the European Union path," Borrell said.

He also said the EU would reconsider its support for Georgia through a military aid fund, the European Peace Facility.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

The law requires civil-society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Both the United States and the European Union have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years.

Georgian Dream has insisted it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements, warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

With reporting by Civil.ge, Apsny.ge, and Interpressnews.ge

Belarusian Woman Gets 6 Years In Prison For Sending Money To Regiment In Ukraine

The Kastus Kalinouski Regiment, consisting of Belarusian citizens, fights on the Ukrainian side against Russian invaders. (file photo)
The Kastus Kalinouski Regiment, consisting of Belarusian citizens, fights on the Ukrainian side against Russian invaders. (file photo)

Prosecutors in the western Belarusian region of Brest said on July 22 that a local woman had been sentenced to six years in prison for sending 4,400 rubles ($1,344) to a regiment of Belarusian soldiers fighting on the side of Ukraine. The Vyasna human right center identified the woman as Natallya Levaya, a 38-year-old resident of Brest. The Brest regional court on July 17 convicted Levaya of financing extremist activities for sending the funds to the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment and attempting to join an armed group in a foreign country. Levaya was also ordered to pay a $40,000 ruble ($12,218) fine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Hungary, Slovakia Seek EU Consultation Procedure With Ukraine Over LUKoil Ban

Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto (file photo)
Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto (file photo)

Hungary and Slovakia will seek a consultation procedure with Ukraine mediated by the European Commission after Kyiv placed Russian group LUKoil on a sanctions list, leading to a halt in deliveries, Hungary's foreign minister said in Brussels on July 22. "I spoke with the Ukrainian foreign minister yesterday, he said they allow every oil transfer through, but it's not true," Peter Szijjarto said. "The commission has three days to execute our request, after which we will bring the issue to court."

Updated

Russian Court Sentences RFE/RL Journalist Kurmasheva To 6 1/2 Years In Prison

Russian-American RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on May 31.
Russian-American RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on May 31.

A Russian court has sentenced Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship, to 6 1/2 years in prison on charges she, her employer, the U.S. government, and her supporters reject as politically motivated.

The court convicted Kurmasheva on a charge of spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

The AP, which first reported the news, cited court records and officials as confirming the conviction was handed down on July 19 after the court held a secret trial in the city of Kazan.

RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus called the trial and conviction "a mockery of justice," adding that "the only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors."

"It's beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family," Capus said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department did not respond to an RFE/RL request for comment on the sentence.

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 has 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 the broadcaster in Prague.

"She’s a dedicated journalist who is being targeted by Russian authorities for her uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth and her principled reporting," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters July 22 after the news of her conviction.

"Journalism is not a crime, as you have heard us say on a number of occasions, and we continue to make very clear that she should be released," he said.

The July 19 verdict came the same day that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was found guilty of espionage charges -- which he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated -- by a court in the city of Yekaterinberg.

A White House statement on July 19 said Gershkovich was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.

Unlike Gershkovich and another American, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, Kurmasheva has not been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of the prisoner's situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing their release.

The U.S. National Press Club -- a professional association of American journalists -- and 18 other media freedom groups called on President Joe Biden in an open letter on May 31 to press for the recognition of Kurmasheva as a "wrongfully detained" person.

"She meets all the criteria. This should happen immediately. It should have happened months ago," the letter said.

"We have listened to the State Department twist itself into a pretzel explaining how there are other factors to be considered besides the criteria, but we have yet to hear a clear reason why State cannot declare her wrongfully detained," it added.

Miller did not address the issue of Kurmasheva's designation with reporters, saying only that the Biden administrations remains focused on her case.

Belarusian Activist On Trial For Helping Families Of Political Prisoners

The Mahilyou regional court (file photo)
The Mahilyou regional court (file photo)

The Mahilyou regional court in southeastern Belarus on July 22 began the trial of activist Alesya Serheyenka for allegedly facilitating extremist activities. The charge stems from her participation in the INeedHelpBY initiative that assisted families of political prisoners with money and food while their loved ones were behind bars. If convicted, the 40-year-old activist faces up to seven years in prison. Serheyenka was arrested in January, one month before her husband, Maksim, was released after serving three years in prison on a charge of insulting senior officials, including the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Human rights defenders recognized Maksim Serheyenka as a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Belarusian Opposition Politician Kazlou Released After 30 Months In Prison

Mikalay Kazlou in the city of Mahilyou in February 2021
Mikalay Kazlou in the city of Mahilyou in February 2021

The former leader of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), Mikalay Kazlou, was released from prison on July 22 after serving 30 months on a charge of disrupting civil order. The charge stemmed from Kazlou's participation in a rally on August 23, 2020, that was attended by at least 100,000 people challenging the results of a presidential election and a brutal police crackdown that started shortly after authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was declared the winner. Belarusian authorities later shut down the AHP -- one of the oldest opposition political parties in Belarus, established in 1995. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Explosion Destroys Shopping Center In Southwestern Russia

Emergency personnel work at the scene of the shopping center in Apsheronsk on July 22.
Emergency personnel work at the scene of the shopping center in Apsheronsk on July 22.

Emergency officials in Russia's southwestern Krasnodar region said on July 22 that an explosion completely leveled a shopping center in the city of Apsheronsk. The regional prosecutor's office said the building was destroyed by a gas explosion. Rescue workers managed to rescue one person from under the debris and are looking for more. At least 15 people who were standing at a bus stop nearby were also injured, of whom three were hospitalized. Russia's southern regions suffered a mass drone attack overnight. At the moment there is no information that the explosion was linked to that attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Head Of Stalin Bust Knocked Off In Town Near Moscow

A bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin being cleaned in Moscow. (file photo)
A bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin being cleaned in Moscow. (file photo)

An unidentified man has used a sledgehammer to knock off the head of a bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the town of Zvenigorod in the Moscow region, videos posted by Telegram channels Beware, News and Zvenigorod appeared to show. A nearby bust of Vladimir Lenin was also damaged in the attack. A criminal investigation into vandalism has been opened, Moscow region police announced, adding that a 43-year-old suspect had been detained and released on bail. He faces up to three months in jail if found guilty. The bust was erected last year without permission from the authorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Tajik, Uzbek Teenagers Charged With Attempted Murder After Brawl With Russian Lawmaker

Police check the documents of migrants in Samara. (file photo)
Police check the documents of migrants in Samara. (file photo)

A Russian court on July 22 sent three teenagers -- two of whom were from Central Asia -- to pretrial detention until September 18 on an attempted-murder charge after a brawl last week with Mikhail Matveyev -- a member of the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma. Matveyev says he was hit in the head with a glass bottle after he tried to stop a brawl in the city of Samara. Tajik-Russian citizen Nekruz Bakhirov and Uzbek citizen Murod Musurov, both 19, as well as a 16-year-old Russian national identified as Artur B., were initially charged with hooliganism. The charge was later changed to attempted murder. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukrainian FM Kuleba To Visit China

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will visit China on July 23-25 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, the Foreign Ministries of both countries said on their official websites on July 22. "During the meetings and negotiations, the parties will exchange views on the current state and prospects for the development of bilateral relations. The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia's aggression [against Ukraine] and China's possible role in achieving a stable and just peace, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Iran Hangs 8 In 2 Days Amid Concerns Over Rise In Executions After Election

Iran executed at least 853 people last year, according to rights groups, most of whom were convicted of narcotics-related crimes.
Iran executed at least 853 people last year, according to rights groups, most of whom were convicted of narcotics-related crimes.

Rights groups say Iranian authorities executed eight people over the weekend, bolstering concerns that the regime may accelerate the carrying out of death sentences after a lull ahead a snap presidential election held earlier this month.

The human rights-focused news agency HRANA reported that four people, including an Afghan national, were hanged on July 21 in Qezel Hesar prison in Karaj. The news agency said they were convicted of drug-related charges.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of Afghans executed in Iran, with activists saying they do not get fair trials.

Separately, the Oslo-based organization Iran Human Rights said four people, including a woman, were hanged on July 20 in a prison in Shiraz. Three of them were convicted of murder and one was found guilty of rape.

Earlier this month, Iran Human Rights said executions had dropped by 30 percent in the first six months of 2024 but warned that it could pick up following the snap presidential election.

Reformist lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian beat ultraconservative rival Saeed Jalili in a runoff vote on July 5.

Human Rights Watch on July 15 urged Pezeshkian to fight the rising number of executions in Iran.

As of July 22, at least 268 people have been executed in Iranian prisons this year, more than half of whom were convicted on drug-related charges, according to Iran Human Rights.

Amnesty International says Iran carried out 853 executions in 2023, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions.

Because the Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, international and Iranian rights groups document cases using open-source data such as state media and human rights organizations.

Warrants Issued For Russian Anti-War Activists In Exile

Lev Gyammer (file photo)
Lev Gyammer (file photo)

A Moscow court on July 22 issued arrest warrants for two members of the Vesna youth movement on charges of organizing an extremist group, distributing false data about Russia's military, calls for anti-government activities, and disrespecting past military glory. Lev Gyammer and Gleb Kondratyev have both fled Russia. Gyammer used to lead late opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's team in the southwestern city of Krasnodar. Vesna was declared extremist and banned in Russia in December 2022 after it organized rallies against mobilization for the Kremlin's war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Jailed Former Daghestani Minister Reportedly Hospitalized After Suicide Attempt

Magomed Magomedov appears in court in Moscow in October 2023
Magomed Magomedov appears in court in Moscow in October 2023

The former sports minister of the Russian North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Magomed Magomedov, was hospitalized over the weekend with what local media reports said were self-inflicted cuts after he attempted suicide in a Moscow detention center. The 67-year-old Magomedov was arrested in October 2023 on embezzlement charges. Magomedov served as Daghestan's sports minister from 2012 to 2021. Before that, he was mayor of the town of Kizilyurt near the regional capital, Makhachkala, and a Daghestani lawmaker. In 2005 and 2011, Magomedov survived two assassination attempts. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Kremlin-Friendly Reporter Expelled From German Investigative Journalism Association

Hubert Seipel (right) interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.
Hubert Seipel (right) interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

Germany's investigative journalism association, the Netzwerk Recherche (NR), has expelled influential broadcaster and author Hubert Seipel after it became known that he received money from Moscow for writing laudative books about Russian President Vladimir Putin. A joint investigation led by German broadcaster ZDF revealed in November 2023 that Seipel, who interviewed Putin and wrote two books about him, received 600,000 euros ($646,000) from Kremlin-linked oligarch Aleksei Mordashov. "Seipel has violated the basic rules of independent journalism with his behavior and has caused enormous damage to the reputation of our profession," NR Chairman Daniel Drepper told ZDF. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Zelenskiy Thanks Biden, Says Ukraine Respects 'Difficult But Strong Decision'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a bilateral meeting during the NATO summit in Washington in July.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a bilateral meeting during the NATO summit in Washington in July.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that Ukraine respects U.S. President Joe Biden's "difficult but strong decision" to withdraw his candidacy for reelection.

Biden, who is 81, on July 21 dropped his bid for reelection in November and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's nominee amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

"Ukraine is grateful to President Biden for his unwavering support for Ukraine's fight for freedom, which, along with strong bipartisan support in the United States, has been and continues to be critical," Zelenskiy wrote on X on July 22.

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.

Under Biden's leadership, the United States has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia's unprovoked invasion and its main provider of military and financial aid.

In what is likely to be one of his enduring legacies as president, Biden was able to quickly unite allies to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military and financial support after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

"Many strong decisions have been made in recent years and they will be remembered as bold steps taken by President Biden in response to challenging times. And we respect today's tough but strong decision," Zelenskiy wrote.

"We will always be thankful for President Biden's leadership. He supported our country during the most dramatic moment in history, assisted us in preventing Putin from occupying our country, and has continued to support us throughout this terrible war."

Former President Donald Trump, who is vying for reelection as the Republican Party's candidate, has repeatedly said that if he was elected president again, he would end the war Russia launched against Ukraine.

Trump repeated the pledge on July 19 in a phone call with Zelenskiy that both men described as good.

Harris has strengthened her international profile during her three years in office and represented the United States at Ukraine's peace summit in Switzerland last month.

In his statement, Zelenskiy voiced hope that Washington would remain at the helm of the Western allies' support for Ukraine's response to Russia's aggression and would not abandon Ukraine.

"The current situation in Ukraine and all of Europe is no less challenging, and we sincerely hope that America's continued strong leadership will prevent Russian evil from succeeding or making its aggression pay off," Zelenskiy said.

Updated

Rosneft Refinery Damaged In Drone Attack, Local Russian Officials Say

Rosneft Tuapse oil refinery in the Krasnodar region reportedly caught fire from drone debris. (file photo)
Rosneft Tuapse oil refinery in the Krasnodar region reportedly caught fire from drone debris. (file photo)

A large Russian oil refinery in southern Russia sustained damage after it was set on fire early on July 22, regional officials said, as the Defense Ministry in Moscow said that it repelled a large Ukrainian drone attack targeting several regions.

Sergei Boyko, the governor of Russia's southern Krasnodar region, said on Telegram that debris from a drone that had been shot down sparked a fire at the oil refinery in Tuapse, Russia's only oil-processing installation on the shore of the Black Sea, which belongs to the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft.

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.

Boyko said the fire was eventually contained and that there were no casualties. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

Ukraine, whose energy infrastructure has been decimated by relentless Russian missile and drone strikes, has increasingly targeted in recent months oil facilities inside Russia that work for the military.

Tuapse, one of Russia's oldest refineries, has been targeted by Ukrainian drones in the past, the most recent attack reportedly occurring in May.

The refinery has a daily processing capacity of 240,000 barrels and produces naphtha, fuel oil, vacuum gasoil, and high-sulphur diesel. It exports a large part of its production to countries such as Turkey and China.

Ukraine has not officially commented on the strike, but a source in the Ukrainian defense sector told AFP that drones linked to the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) were behind the refinery attack.

Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's southern Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said a tractor driver was killed and his wife was wounded in a Ukrainian drone attack.

The claim could not be independently verified immediately.

Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier that its air defenses on July 22 shot down 47 Ukrainian drones over five regions and off the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts.

The ministry said most of the drones were downed over the Rostov, Belgorod, Voronezh, Smolensk, and Krasnodar regions, while 17 were destroyed over the sea.

Separately, Ukraine's air force said its air defenses shot down 16 Russian drones in the south and east of the country.

Regional officials also reported that 10 people were wounded by Russian shelling in Ukraine's southern region of Kherson and two women sustained injuries as a result of Russian bombardment in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

Updated

Biden Shakes Up 2024 U.S. Presidential Election Race By Stepping Down, Endorsing Harris

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (right) and President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February 2023.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (right) and President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February 2023.

WASHINGTON -- With just over 100 days left before U.S. voters cast their ballots in a presidential election, U.S. President Joe Biden dropped his bid for reelection and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's nominee amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

Biden had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with his rival, Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The 81-year-old appeared frail and confused at times during the June 27 debate, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

The president did not give a reason for withdrawing his candidacy, but he immediately endorsed Harris, to be the party’s candidate, which she vowed to "earn and win" as the August 19-21 Democratic National Convention approaches.

"I have decided not to accept the nomination and to focus all my energies on my duties as president for the remainder of my term," Biden, who is recovering at home in Delaware from COVID-19, said, adding he was acting in the "best interest of my party and the country."

Many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, immediately backed Harris to become the Democratic Party's candidate, though it remained unclear whether she would face a challenge to top the election ticket.

The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, said the party would comment soon on the path forward for the nomination process after Biden became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades.

"The bottom line is that it's going to be very hard to dislodge her [Harris] from the top spot for all kinds of reasons," Matthew Dallek, historian and political science professor at George Washington University, told RFE/RL.

"She got Biden's endorsement. She can have access to the campaign infrastructure and the campaign dollars. She's been vice president for four years. There's not a whole lot of time. It would be very hard for the Democratic Party, I think, to replace the first African American woman vice president at the top of the ticket with a white man."

Biden Bows Out Of Election: A Look Back At His Challenging Presidency
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Adding to the situation's urgency, Democrats say too much is at stake -- including democracy itself -- to lose the election.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

During his term in office from 2017-2021, Trump undermined NATO unity, tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, and sought to overturn the 2020 election results.

Biden beat Trump in 2020, narrowly edging him out in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

However, polls showed Trump, 78, expanding his lead over Biden, including in some of those key states, especially after the Republican nominee survived an assassination attempt during a campaign rally on July 13 in Pennsylvania.

Chicago Voters Back Biden Decision To Step Down
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"Biden was really fighting two wars at the same time, one against Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and then one against his own party, the Democrats. I think that that was just too much to keep an election campaign going heading into a general election," Thomas Gift, associate professor of political science at University College London, told RFE/RL.

Republican leaders immediately attacked Harris over the Biden administration's policies, with some saying that if Biden was not fit enough to run for president, he should step down from the position, a move analysts said was unlikely to happen.

"There's been a lot of evidence, I think, that Biden is really diminished as a campaigner. But in terms of his ability to govern and to make decisions, and to make informed decisions, I don't think we've seen that," Dallek said.

If chosen as the Democratic candidate, Harris, a 59-year-old former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history.

Biden Endorses Kamala Harris To Replace Him In 2024 Presidential Race
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Harris oversaw several key issues in the administration, including immigration, voting rights, and reproductive rights. She also strengthened her international profile during her three years in office, making more than a dozen trips abroad and meeting about 150 leaders.

Harris also represented the United States at Ukraine's peace summit in Switzerland last month.

Other names commonly floated as potential contenders for the Democratic nomination have included governors Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Harris shares a similar disapproval rating as Biden. However, experts say she is still not well-known to many Americans and can improve her image as she campaigns around the country.

Biden's backing of Harris gives her a clear path to the nomination, likely avoiding an intraparty brawl, Gift says.

Biden’s Decision To Bow Out Upends U.S. Election As Focus Now Turns To Harris
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"These last few weeks have been bad enough for Democrats. The last thing they needed was a really bruising convention. So I think that it made sense for Biden to go ahead and endorse Harris," he said.

Democrats also risk alienating black voters, a key part of their base, if they pass up on Harris, analysts say.

"He has done one of the most difficult things for any political leader, and has done so in the national interest," presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in a post on X.

Biden's announcement means his political career of more than half a century will finally come to an end in January 2025 when his successor is inaugurated.

In 1972, at the age of 29, Biden won the Delaware Senate race. He held that seat for the next 36 years, serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He ran for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, losing both times.

Obama, considered a novice in foreign affairs, tapped Biden to be his running mate in 2008. Biden served as vice president for the next eight years, overseeing White House policy on Ukraine and making several trips to Kyiv.

Like most vice presidents, Biden wanted to run for the nation's top office in 2016 but was encouraged to make way for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, something he is reportedly still bitter about. She was beaten by Trump in one of the biggest upsets in presidential history.

In his third bid for the presidency in 2020, Biden beat incumbent Trump in a close race, becoming the oldest person to hold the top office. He immediately sought to rebuild relations with European allies damaged under his predecessor.

With Biden bowing out before officially becoming his party's nominee, Trump, 78, is now officially the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history.

In what is likely to be one of his enduring legacies as president, he was able to quickly unite those allies to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military and financial aid when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Russians, Belarusians Among Those Denied Visas To Attend Olympics Amid Spy Fears

France has denied visas to about 100 journalists, therapists, and technical workers seeking to attend the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris amid concerns over espionage, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Le Journal du Dimanche. Those denied visas on those grounds include Russian and Belarusian citizens, he said. The games, which attract hundreds of thousands of foreigners, will be held from July 26 to August 11. Darmanin said France is also concerned about cyberattacks during the games. Russian and Belarusian teams have been banned from participating in the Summer Olympics as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus has supported.

Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan Following Complaints

Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.
Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.

Pakistan on July 21 reopened a key border crossing point with Afghanistan after a nine-month closure following complaints by residents. Pakistan in October closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border that runs through Pashtun communities, ending the century-old Easement Rights, which had allowed certain communities along the 19th-century Durand Line border to cross freely. Pakistan began requiring people show valid documents like passports and visas to cross into Spin Boldak, a district in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, sparking anger. Pashtun communities on both sides of the border argued that it harmed their livelihoods and caused significant financial losses.

Zelenskiy Faces Tough Choices As U.S. Election Looms, Kyiv Mayor Says

Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April
Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces a politically fraught time as the November presidential election in the United States looms, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera. “Should we continue the war with new deaths and destruction, or should we consider a territorial compromise with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?” Klitschko asked. “No matter what step he takes, our president risks ending his life by political suicide.” Klitschko added that Zelenskiy would likely “have to resort to a referendum” to resolve the dilemma, adding it is not possible to make such a decision “without popular legitimacy.” To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Scrambles Fighter Jets To Meet U.S. Arctic Patrol

NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January
NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January

Russia said on July 21 that it scrambled fighter jets to prevent two U.S. strategic bombers from crossing its border over the Barents Sea in the Arctic. The U.S. military routinely carries out flights over international waters, operations that it says are conducted in neutral airspace and in accordance with international law. But Moscow has responded more aggressively to the exercises in recent months, warning in June that U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea risked leading to a "direct" military clash. "As the Russian fighters approached, the American strategic bombers corrected their flight course, moving away, and then turning away from Russia's state border," Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Ukrainian Official Criticizes Red Cross Over Prisoner-Visitation Claims

Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)
Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)

Ukraine’s parliamentary human rights commissioner said the “vast majority” of Ukrainian prisoners who have been returned to the country in exchanges with Russia said they had no communication with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) while they were being held.

“I want to emphasize that, while talking to our defenders who were returned from enemy captivity, I learned that the vast majority of them had not seen or communicated with representatives of the ICRC for the entire time of their detention,” Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on July 20.

Lubinets was responding to recent comments by ICRC Russian delegation head Boris Michel, who told Russian media that ICRC staff had visited “3,100 prisoners in Russia and Ukraine.”

Michel did not specify how many visits were conducted in each country, Lubinets added.

“The reason for this is that almost all the visits in this number were to Russian prisoners of war held by Ukraine, because our country steadfastly abides by the requirements of the Geneva Conventions,” he said.

Lubinets criticized the ICRC for calling on “both sides” to provide access to prisoners without acknowledging Russia’s “practice of not allowing ICRC workers access to the places where Ukrainian defenders are held.”

He urged the ICRC to “operate with true numbers” in order not to mislead the public or the relatives of Ukrainian prisoners.

In comments quoted by Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Michel said he was engaged in “productive dialogue” with Russian officials regarding visits to prisoners.

On July 17, some 95 Ukrainian prisoners were released in the latest exchange with Russia. It was the 54th such exchange since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, resulting in the release of 3,405 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Ukrainian prosecutors have opened more than 450 criminal cases on suspicion of the mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners by Russia.

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