COVID-19: Iranian Think Tank Says Infection Figures Likely Much Higher; Turkmen Soccer League Resumes
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 138,000 with over 2 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.
The Research Center of Iran's parliament says the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in the country is likely to be double the official numbers.
According to figures released by the Health Ministry on April 16, the death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 4,869, while the number of infections stands at 77,995, making Iran home to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.
The research arm of the Majlis, Iran's parliament, said in a footnote in a report issued this week and posted on its website that the actual number of deaths could be 0.8 times higher than the official tally and that the number of infections could be eight to 10 times higher than figures released by the Health Ministry.
"In order to have more compatibility between protocol and estimated statistics, it is necessary to increase laboratory and testing capabilities in the country," the report said.
"Needless to say that through increasing the capacities, diagnosis of disease will be more possible and spread of the disease will be more limited," it added.
A number of local officials as well as experts inside and outside the country in recent weeks have questioned COVID-19 figures released by Iran’s authorities, who keep a tight lid on the media, while suggesting that the real numbers are likely to be significantly higher.
Officials have claimed transparency while suggesting that the official tally is based on confirmed cases.
According to the Health Ministry, over 310,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted so far in Iran.
Deputy Health Minister Ali Reza Raisi on April 15 acknowledged that the "limits of testing" faced by his country meant it doesn't have accurate figures of all those infected.
Health officials have not commented on the new estimates.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 15 condemned the continued persecution of Iranian journalists and citizen-journalists who publish information about the coronavirus outbreak without official approval.
The Paris-based media-freedom watchdog said the latest victim of the crackdown was Mahmud Shariri, a former national radio and TV presenter who is now active on social media.
Shariri was arrested by Intelligence Ministry officials in Tehran on April 14 for "publishing false information about the coronavirus" after he posted a video seen by hundreds of thousands of people that referred to a coverup of information about the spread of the virus in early March.
"His criticism of the handling of the health crisis and the lockdown has clearly annoyed the authorities, who have not said where he is being held," RSF said.
The group said Hadi Maharani and Saide Ahmadi, two activists who run news channels in Tehran and the western Kurdistan Province, were arrested earlier in April for posting information about the epidemic.
Two other journalists from Golestan and Kermanshah provinces, Elaheh Ramezanpour and Sharam Safari, are being prosecuted for publishing allegedly false information about the epidemic but have not been detained, according to RSF.
Turkmenistan is set to resume soccer matches with spectators this weekend, despite the novel coronavirus forcing lockdowns across the world.
The Turkmenistan Football Federation (FFT), which suspended its eight-team domestic league last month without providing a reason, said that one match will be played on April 19 between Ashgabat-based Altyn Asyr and its rival, Kopetdag.
Three more matches are planned the following day.
The FTT also said the country's youth league would reopen on April 20.
The authoritarian Central Asia state has not reported any official coronavirus infections as the authorities largely keep quiet about the risk to public health.
However, it has closed its borders and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported that checkpoints have been established in the country, limiting movement and testing people's temperature.
Police have also harassed those wearing face masks or talking about the pandemic, while using restrictions to force people to pay bribes.
In an article posted on its website, the Sports Ministry said the decision to open the domestic league "pleased the army of fans" and was welcomed by players.
"The continuation of the national football championships fully proves that Turkmenistan is a country of inspiration and health," it quoted national team player Didar Durdyev as saying.
Earlier this month, Turkmenistan held a series of public sporting events to mark World Health Day.
On April 15, state media reported that events surrounding Turkmen Horse Day on April 25 would continue as planned.
The Georgian Orthodox Church and the government have reached an agreement that will allow parishioners to attend dusk-to-dawn Easter vigil services on the coming holiday weekend.
The agreement, announced on April 15, provides worshipers a way around a curfew and other restrictive measures that have been put into effect to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Under the agreement worshipers will be allowed to attend services in large cathedrals provided they maintain a distance of 2 meters. Those who attend small churches are to remain outside their church building.
The agreement also says parishioners should arrive for the services before 9 p.m. local time on April 18 and leave after 6 a.m. the following day.
“We made a joint decision with the church so that the law will not be violated and churches will not be shut down [during Easter service],” government spokesman Irakli Chikovani said at a press briefing.
The agreement was reached after two days of consultations between government officials, the prime minister, and the office of the patriarch.
Police officers will patrol church surroundings to enforce strict observance of all public health regulations, including physical distancing, on Easter Eve, Chikovani said.
Andria Jagmaidze, a spokesperson of the Georgian Orthodox Church, said that the church was taking precautionary measures to ensure that traditional Easter services are not suspended, while complying with all public health recommendations. He said nothing about the communal spoon used to distribute sacramental bread and wine to churchgoers.
A Georgian national health official warned after the announcement that Georgia’s coronavirus outbreak would become like Italy’s if parishioners attend the Easter service.
Italy has been badly hit by the coronavirus, suffering more than 21,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Live Map: The Spread Of The Coronavirus
Easter celebrations on April 13 at the Vatican and at other Roman Catholic and Christian churches worldwide were stripped down and closed to the public in the face of the pandemic, which has infected more than 2 million people around the world and killed at least 134,000.
Emergency measures implemented in Georgia because of the health crisis include a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public, the curfew and a stay-at-home order for all citizens without special permit.
The country in the South Caucaus has reported 306 cases of infection by the virus and three deaths from COVID-19, the disease it causes, according to Johns Hopkins University database.
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
DUSHANBE – Tajik authorities in Dushanbe have cancelled public celebrations to mark a national holiday over the coronavirus pandemic, even though the government has not officially registered any coronavirus cases.
RFE/RL's Coverage Of COVID-19
Features and analysis, videos, and infographics explore how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the countries in our region.
Dushanbe’s city hall said on April 16 that all public events organized to mark the country's "Day of the Capital" were canceled "to prevent the coronavirus COVID-19 spread and protect the health" of residents.
Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are two Central Asian nations that have not officially registered any coronavirus cases. But experts are skeptical of the claims given the lack of transparency within their governments and a lack of independent media.
In neighboring Uzbekistan, the number of coronavirus cases reached 1,349, including four deaths, health authorities said on April 16.
In Kazakhstan, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 1,341, with 16 deaths.
In Kyrgyzstan, 466 cases have been officially recorded, including five deaths.
Belarus has delayed the start of its women’s soccer league due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus, although the men’s season has continued.
The women’s league was due to start on April 16, but the Belarus Football Federation said a day earlier that it was now "suspended until further notice."
The federation said "several” female players had contact with "possible carriers" of the coronavirus.
Belarus is the only country in Europe still playing professional men’s soccer games with fans in the stands.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that there is no need for strict measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the country, despite the growing number of confirmed cases and deaths.
Health officials in Belarus said they had recorded 4,204 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus as of April 16, with 40 deaths.
With reporting by Natela Zambakhidze and RFE/RL’s Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services, and AP
All Of The Latest News
Georgian Ex-President's Trial Postponed After Doctors Deny Transfer
Doctors for former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili have recommended against transporting him to the Tbilisi City Court building from a clinic where he has been treated since May despite his desire to take part in a hearing in a case against him.
Saakashvili had expressed his desire to be transferred to the court to attend the hearing on a charge of illegal border crossing filed last year, and it had been expected that he would speak at the trial.
But his attending physician said it would be inappropriate, based on the fact that he could not take responsibility for the possible deterioration of Saakashvili's health during the transfer.
Judge Nino Chakhnashvili decided on another postponement of the trial after receiving the doctors' recommendation.
Court hearings have been repeatedly canceled or postponed because the 54-year-old Saakashvili, who held two separate hunger strikes earlier this year, has been unable to appear in court for health reasons.
Saakashvili, who served as Georgia's president from 2004 until 2013, is the founder of the main opposition United National Movement (ENM) party.
The ENM believes that the authorities are trying to conceal the state of Saakashvili's health. Representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream party disagree, saying that Saakashvili's public appearance would only be a publicity stunt.
Saakashvili, who cannot move independently, had decided that he would arrive at the trial in a special wheelchair, according to one of his lawyers, Shavla Khachapuridze, who added that his condition was "serious" and that his defense team had been told by phone from abroad that arsenic was found in his blood.
Nika Melia, chairman of the ENM, said that had Saakashvili appeared in court it would have confirmed the conclusions of several foreign experts who have spoken about the deterioration of his health and would have confirmed the comments of people who have visited him that his condition has deteriorated sharply since his transfer from prison to the Vivamed clinic.
The authorities do not want this to be disclosed to the public because it would conflict with "propaganda" circulating in the media that Saakashvili and his defenders have exaggerated his condition, Melia said.
Saakashvili was convicted in January 2018 in absentia of abuse of office and sentenced to three years in prison. Later that year he was again convicted in absentia of abuse of office and sentenced to six years in prison.
He was arrested on October 1, 2021, after he returned to the country to rally the opposition ahead of local elections.
Saakashvili and his supporters say all his prosecutions were politically motivated.
Georgia has been plagued by political paralysis and escalating tensions between Georgian Dream and the opposition since parliamentary elections in 2020.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the arrest of Saakashvili, who doctors say suffers from severe post-traumatic stress and anorexia that most likely developed after his hunger strikes. They said in May that he needed urgent and complex neuro-psychological and physical treatment.
Even before Saakashvili was transferred to the Vivamed clinic his relatives, friends, and colleagues demanded the authorities allow him to travel abroad to receive medical treatment.
EU's Varhelyi Optimistic Bosnia Can Achieve Candidate Status In December
EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi says he is optimistic Bosnia-Herzegovina will be granted candidate status to join the bloc next month if it meets several conditions laid out recently by Brussels.
Speaking during a meeting in Sarajevo on November 28 with Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Varhelyi noted the conditions, which include fighting corruption and organized crime, judicial and immigration reforms, and guarantees of freedom of expression and the protection of journalists -- areas that have proven elusive in the highly divided nation.
"The European path is open, but results are expected of Bosnia. It is up to the political leaders for that to become a reality," Varhelyi said after meeting with presidency members Denis Becirovic, Zeljko Komsic, and Zeljka Cvijanovic.
The European Commission in October recommended candidacy status for Bosnia, but attached a long list of conditions designed to bolster democracy in the Balkan country.
But the commission only advises which countries should become EU candidates. The final decision lies with the 27 member states, and they must agree unanimously.
Some countries -- notably Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia -- have pushed for speeding up Bosnia's entry after Moldova and Ukraine were granted candidate status in June.
Others, including the Netherlands, are said to be less receptive to expansion, though Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February has eroded resistance amid security fears for the whole of Europe.
Varhelyi said the European Commission "wants to see clear results it can report to the Council of the EU that is meeting in December," which is supposed to decide on the candidacy status of Bosnia, as "we are in a new geopolitical moment of the war in Ukraine."
"It is in our interest to strengthen our partnerships," he said.
Bosnia comprises a Bosniak-Croatian entity known as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose budget is about four times that of the national government, as well as the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and a tiny self-governing district that acts much like a municipality, Brcko. The federation is further divided into 10 cantons.
Cvijanovic, who holds the Serbs' seat on the Bosnian presidency, said she was committed to work "on matters that we can," while Becirovic, the Bosniak member, said the meeting with Varhelyi was "encouraging and substantial."
"Our candidacy status would be an encouragement to all the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina," he added.
Zeljko Komsic, a Bosnian Croat, is the third member of the presidency.
Bosnia's division into a Bosniak-Croatian federation, and Republika Srpska, came under the terms of the 1995 Dayton agreements that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic that was marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.
NATO Chief Expects Allies To Step Up Air-Defense Support To Ukraine
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says he expects the alliance to step up supplies of air-defense systems to Ukraine in the face of the Russian missile onslaught heading into the winter. Stoltenberg said on November 28 that "one of the messages" from the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest, which begins on November 29, will be the need "to further step" up the provision of more air-defense systems, ammunition, spare parts, and training. With missiles and drones targeting energy infrastructure, Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to "use the winter as a weapon of war against Ukraine," Stoltenberg said.
Iranian Truckers Strike For Third Day In Support Of Protesters
Iranian truck drivers have continued to strike for a third day, with more joining their ranks across the country despite threats from security agents over undelivered cargo.
Trucks in the central Iranian city of Isfahan remained parked while reports published on social media indicated that drivers in the cities of Qazvin, Kermanshah, Marand, and Bandar Abbas joined the protest, sparked by the death of a young woman in Tehran after being detained in mid-September for a violation of the country's strict head-scarf law.
Unrest among workers in many sectors of Iran's economy is causing pressure to mount on the government after a summer of unrest over poor living conditions and a flagging economy wracked by U.S. sanctions imposed because of Tehran's nuclear program.
The death on September 16 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody sparked a new wave of unrest that authorities have met with lethal force across the country.
Strikes have also been reported in several cities in recent days, with reports that workers at the Safe Khodro, an auto manufacturer in the city of Karaj, just northwest of the capital, went on strike on November 27.
Images published on social media also showed that workers at the Pars home-appliance factory in Qazvin were also on strike, chanting, "Workers, shout, shout for your rights."
Meanwhile, three labor organizations, the Haft Tapeh Workers' Union, the Coordinating Committee to Help Establish Labor Organizations, and the Retirees' Union Group issued a joint statement condemning the bloody repression of people in the Kurdish cities of western Iran.
They also demanded the immediate withdrawal of all armed forces from Kurdistan, the unconditional release of all prisoners and those detained, and the cessation of rocket fire into Iraq's Kurdish region.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has accused Kurdish groups of "attacking and infiltrating Iran to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest" amid the protests that erupted over Amini's death.
Her death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread demonstrations represent the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the uprising, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Belarusian Nobel Prize Winner Byalyatski Could Face Up To 12 Years In Prison
The case of jailed 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Byalyatski has been sent to a Belarusian court, with the rights activist and three of his colleagues from Vyasna facing up to 12 years in prison on smuggling and tax-evasion charges that his supporters dismiss as politically motivated retribution on the part of longtime authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
"The 'Vyasna' case was sent to court. Political prisoners of human rights defenders may soon be put on trial," the group said on Twitter on November 28.
The 60-year-old Byalyatski, who has been in custody for more than 16 months, is charged along with Valyantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimer Labkovich, and Zmytser Soloviev for allegedly bringing money into the country for "illegal activities and financing Vyasna," the largest rights body in the former Soviet country and one of the main sources of information on political detentions and arrests.
"They face between 7 and 12 years," Vyasna added in the tweet.
Byalyatski, who has been fighting for democracy and human rights in his beleaguered homeland his entire life, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize along with the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties and the embattled Russian group Memorial.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
He founded the Vyasna Human Rights Center, originally a Minsk-based organization with the name Vyasna-96. In 1999, it was reborn as a national nongovernmental rights organization.
The NGO was outlawed by the Belarusian Supreme Court in October 2003 for its role monitoring the country's 2001 presidential election. It has continued its work, however, as an unregistered NGO.
The main work of the organization has been defending and supporting political prisoners. The group -- and Byalyatski personally -- has regularly been harassed and persecuted by Lukashenka's government since its founding.
Belarusian authorities have moved to shut down critical and nonstate media and human rights bodies in the wake of mass protests that erupted in August 2020 after a presidential election the opposition says was rigged.
The opposition and Western governments say Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was driven into exile, won the vote, which has not been recognized by the United States, the European Union, and several other countries.
Thousands have been detained since the vote and there have been credible reports of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Russia 'Unilaterally Postponed' Talks With U.S. On Nuclear-Weapons Inspections
Russia "unilaterally postponed" talks with the United States aimed at resuming nuclear-weapons inspections that were set to take place in Cairo, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on November 28. The spokesperson said Washington was ready to reschedule at the earliest possible date the meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty that was scheduled to begin on November 29. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Kazakhstan's Toqaev Tells Putin Russia Strategic Partner Despite Ukraine War
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Moscow remains Kazakhstan's main strategic partner despite public disagreements over the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.
Toqaev, who last week at a summit of the Moscow-led CSTO security bloc in Armenia called for "a formula for peace," has allowed tens of thousands of Russians fleeing a military mobilization in Russia into Kazakhstan.
He also declined this summer to recognize the Kremlin's declaration of four partially controlled Ukrainian regions as sovereign states.
But Toqaev said at the start of his meeting with Putin on November 28, the Kazakh president's first trip abroad since being reelected earlier this month, that his choice to visit Moscow was symbolic and the ties between the two countries remained as strong as ever.
"Indeed, my first foreign visit [after being reelected] takes place here, in the Russian Federation, and that in itself has political significance and, of course, a certain symbolism," Toqaev said, sitting next to Putin.
"For Kazakhstan, Russia is and always has been a strategic partner."
Putin told Toqaev that relations between Moscow and Astana had a "special character."
He called for a strengthening of economic ties, saying this was "especially timely now, when international trade is in crisis."
Putin said Russia and Kazakhstan have a "joint desire to develop our relations precisely in the capacity in which they have developed and will, of course, develop in the future."
Russia is Kazakhstan's largest trading partner and Astana has voiced its desire to boost its transit role in the so-called North-South corridor between Russia and Iran.
Kazakhstan and Russia share a 7,600-kilometer border.
Toqaev was reelected for a second term earlier this month, winning by a large margin after facing no real opposition candidates.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Iranian Hard-Liners Propose Punishment For Cooperation With 'Hostile' Countries
Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have proposed a plan to enact harsher punishments against protesters who they say are cooperating with "hostile" foreign countries.
According to the plan, any interaction with any Western institutions and media, including social media, will be considered cooperation and criminalized under the title of "corruption on earth" -- a charge that is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In recent months and especially amid the latest weeks of protests, Iranian legislators have repeatedly tried to facilitate the suppression of protesters by passing harsher and harsher laws while accusing Western countries of being directly involved in fomenting the unrest, despite giving no evidence to back up their claims.
Last month, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-liner-led parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters arrested amid the recent wave of demonstrations.
They also proposed banning student protesters -- who along with women have formed the backbone of the demonstrations demanding more freedoms -- from traveling abroad for 10 years as the Islamic republic struggles to suppress the biggest show of dissent in years.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
An Iranian general was quoted on November 28 by a website close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying that more than 300 people had been killed.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the IRGC, did not provide an exact figure or say where his estimate came from, but he said the 300 killed included what he said were "martyrs," in an apparent reference to security forces. He also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians not involved in the protests.
Hajizadeh also reiterated the official claim that the protests have been fomented by Iran's enemies, including Western countries and Saudi Arabia, without providing evidence.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda. With reporting by AP
Tech Giant Yandex, Battered By Wartime Censorship, Reorganizes, Moves To Leave Russia
Russian tech giant Yandex has said it is reorganizing its operations, moving to cut its ties with Russia in a restructuring that solidifies government control over a company once seen as a bellwether for the country's digital economy.
The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of the two of the company's best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges.
"These are exceptionally challenging times," John Boynton, chairman of Yandex's board of directors, said in a statement released late on November 25.
According to the online news site The Bell, which was first to report on the reorganization, Yandex's parent company, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, will lose ownership and control of all businesses of the Yandex Group.
A new, Russian-incorporated company will take over those operations, with a new board headed by Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime confidant of President Vladimir Putin who currently heads the Audit Chamber, a government fiscal watchdog.
The Bell said Kudrin met with Putin November 25, and that Kudrin would receive 5 percent of shares in the newly reorganized entity. On November 25, hours before the company statement, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Kudrin intended to leave the Audit Chamber before year's end, and join Yandex.
The deal also called for Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire oligarch whose fortune comes from ownership of metals giant Norilsk Nickel, to take a minority position, The Bell said.
In its statement, Yandex said it had "commenced a strategic process to review options to restructure the group's ownership and governance in light of the current geopolitical environment."
"The board anticipates that Yandex N.V. will in due course be renamed, with the business to be divested retaining exclusive rights for the use of the Yandex brand," it said, adding that shareholders must approve any corporate changes.
Under the reorganization, founder Arkady Volozh, who left Russia after the invasion and now lives in Israel, will retain some licensing rights to develop Yandex-originated ventures outside of Russia.
A combination of Google, Uber, PayPal, Bolt, Amazon, and myriad other online businesses, Yandex was the dominant tech company in Russia, employing thousands of engineers, programmers, and designers across its sprawling divisions.
The company, whose U.S.-traded shares were held by major U.S. mutual funds and investment companies, had been under pressure since at least 2019, when it was forced to give state bank Sberbank a veto over major management decisions. The voting power was later transferred to a Russian foundation.
But it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its 10th month, and the Kremlin's censorship of news and debate about the war-- and the rampant problems that Russians forces have faced on the battlefield -- that forced the final, sweeping decision.
Shortly after the February 24 invasion, the Kremlin pushed through legislation that criminalized "discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation" -- a catch-all measure that has allowed the authorities to go after Russians who protest the war, question its motivations, or even criticize the civilian or military leadership. Russian media are barred from calling the conflict a "war," instead using the phrase "special military operation."
Parliament has since tightened those restrictions further.
Yandex's search engine, and its main news page, Yandex News, were the dominant portals used by Russians to search for news, including about the war. But the company began tweaking its algorithms to direct searches toward state-run media around the time of the invasion.
On March 7, two board members quit in protest. A week later, the deputy executive director resigned, after he was hit with European Union sanctions. Volozh resigned in June after he was hit with EU sanctions.
In August, the company announced the sale of Yandex News and another entertainment portal called Yandex Zen to VK, Russia's dominant social-media company, whose control was sold to a Putin ally in late 2021.
Seven Nordic, Baltic Foreign Ministers In Kyiv Despite Russian Air Attacks
Foreign ministers from seven Baltic and Nordic countries were in Kyiv on November 28 in a show of support for Ukraine amid a barrage of Russian air and missile strikes that have crippled much of the country's energy infrastructure. "We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, are in Kyiv today in full solidarity with Ukraine," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on Twitter. "Despite Russia's bomb rains and barbaric brutality Ukraine will win!" he added. (RFE/RL)
To read the original tweet from the Lithuanian foreign minister, click here. https://twitter.com/GLandsbergis/status/1597183680492933121
Trial Of Anti-Regime Protesters Opens in Uzbekistan
The trial of 22 people accused of undermining Uzbekistan's constitutional order for taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests earlier this year has opened in the southwestern city of Bukhara.
Uzbek authorities said 21 people died in Uzbekistan’s Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
Aziz Obidov, a spokesman for the Uzbek Supreme Court, wrote on Telegram that "22 people" were in the dock, of whom 20 were in custody, with one under house arrest and one out on bail.
They are accused of several offenses, out of which the most serious one, "undermining constitutional order," carries a 20-year jail sentence.
The trial was only announced on November 27 in the evening and takes place in Bukhara, around 600 kilometers from both Nukus and the capital, Tashkent. Journalists are allowed to attend.
Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people, out of a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
With reporting by AFP
Kazakh Central Election Commission Sets Schedule For January 14 Senate Elections
Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission has approved the election schedule for Senate elections, which will be held on January 14. The commission said on November 28 that nominations for Senate candidates can be submitted between November 29 and December 14. Candidates must be registered by December 24, when the election campaign kicks off. Campaigning ends on January 13, the commission said. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev set the election date last week after his inauguration, saying it was part of a "systematic process of political modernization" for the Central Asian country. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.
Russia's Gazprom Says It Won't Reduce Gas Supplies To Moldova, But Reserves The Right To
Russian state gas producer Gazprom withdrew a threat to reduce gas supplies to Moldova starting November 28 but said it reserves the right to lower or halt flows in the future if Moldova fails to make agreed payments. Last week, Gazprom accused Ukraine of withholding gas supplies that pass through the country on the way to Moldova -- something Kyiv denied -- and said it could start reducing those flows from November 28. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
Pentagon Mulling Cheap, Precision Strike Weapon For Ukraine As Arms Makers Wrestle With Demand
The Pentagon is considering a Boeing proposal to supply Ukraine with cheap, small precision bombs fitted onto abundantly available rockets, allowing Kyiv to strike far behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more arms. Boeing's proposed system, dubbed Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), is one of about a half-dozen plans for getting new munitions into production for Ukraine and other Eastern European allies, industry sources said. To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
Russia Denies Planning To Leave Nuclear Plant; Zelenskiy Warns Of 'New Russian Strikes' On Power Grid
Ukraine said Russia was "planning new strikes" on the country's power grid, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling on Ukrainians to be prepared to endure more electricity shortages amid plunging temperatures.
"We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down."
The head of the joint coordination press center of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine, Natalya Humenyuk, said a Russian warship capable of firing cruise missiles had recently deployed to the Black Sea with Kalibr-type missiles on board.
"This indicates that preparations were under way," Humenyuk said on November 28.
"It's quite likely that the beginning of the week will be marked by such an attack," she added.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, denied that Russian forces were preparing to leave the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, saying on November 28 that the plant was and would remain under Russian control.
"There's no need to look for signs where there are none and cannot be any," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing on November 28.
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe
Meawhile, in Kyiv, where snow fell and temperatures dropped, people continued to struggle with disruptions to the electricity supply and central heating caused by the waves of Russian air strikes.
City authorities said work was almost completed to restore electricity, water, and heat after waves of Russian strikes, but warned that high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed.
Zelenskiy on November 27 criticized Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko rejected the criticism, saying it was out of place amid Russia's military campaign.
In the south, much of the city of Kherson -- recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces from Russian occupiers -- remained without electrical power as authorities worked to get the grid operational again.
Officials said only about 5 percent of the population has been reconnected and was receiving electricity.
The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on November 28 that Kherson continues to suffer daily bombardments by Russian artillery.
"The city is vulnerable because it remains in range of most of Russia’s artillery systems, now firing from the east bank of the Dnieper River, from the rear of newly consolidated defensive lines," British intelligence said.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces continued to shell civilian areas across the country, hitting a dozen settlements in Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, and several villages in the Nikopol district of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.
The General Staff accused Russian troops of shelling civilian areas and then attempting to shift responsibility to Kyiv's military.
On the battlefield in the east, Ukrainian forces fought pitched battles, repelling 10 Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said on November 28.
Russian forces had launched several failed attacks on the town of Soledar, near Bakhmut, and had taken heavy losses in a separate push towards Avdiyivka, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told Reuters.
The claim could not be independently verified.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Twenty-Five Ukrainian Soldiers Hospitalized After Bus Crash In Latvia
Twenty-five Ukrainian soldiers and an Estonian soldier were hospitalized after their bus collided with a truck in Latvia, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported on November 27. The coach, which was traveling from Tallinn to Riga, was chartered by the Estonian Army, and its driver was killed in the crash, which occurred late on November 26, ERR said. It did not say why the Ukrainian soldiers were in Latvia. The crash was one of several that occurred along the road as ice and snow made driving hazardous. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Kremlin Defends Russian-Led Security Alliance After Criticism By Armenia
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on November 27 said attempts to break up a Russia-led security alliance had always existed and would continue, but he insisted the alliance remained in high demand following criticism this week from Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who questioned the effectiveness of the six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Armenia requested the organization's assistance in September but received only a promise to send observers. Pashinian contrasted that with the alliance's decision in January to send troops to CSTO member Kazakhstan to help President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev survive a wave of unrest. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Somalia Questions Iranian, Pakistani 'Hostages' Found Near Al-Shabaab Territory
Somali police on November 27 launched an investigation after 20 foreigners, who were claiming to be fishermen who had been held hostage for years, were discovered near territory controlled by the Al-Shabaab militant group. Police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said the men -- 14 Iranians and six Pakistanis -- were apprehended for questioning after they wandered from a part of Galmudug state under militant control. "Some of these people were kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in 2014, while others were abducted on the Harardhere coast, near Qosol-tire, in southern Somalia in mid-2019," Dudishe said.
Prominent Iranian Actress Reportedly Released After Arrest For Supporting Protests
Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last week after expressing support for anti-government protesters, has been released from custody, state news agency ISNA reported on November 27.
Ghaziani, a film and theater actress, was arrested by security forces on November 20 along with fellow actress Katayoun Riahi after they removed their head scarves in public in an apparent act of defiance against the regime.
ISNA did not give details of Ghaziani's release or mention Riahi’s status in its report.
Reports by human rights organizations indicate that more than 15,000 people have been detained during protests that have swept the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf.
Authorities have said Amini died from a sudden heart attack while denying claims by activists that she was beaten.
Riahi was one of the first Iranian celebrities to remove her hijab in protest of Amini's death, while Ghaziani published pictures of herself standing on a Tehran street without a hijab and tying her hair in a ponytail. Tying one's hair in a ponytail in public has become an act of defiance in Iran in recent weeks.
Ghaziani and Riahi were detained after being summoned by prosecutors in a probe into their "provocative" social media posts and media activity, the state-run IRNA news agency said at the time.
The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.
Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."
Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."
Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.
Prior to the recent wave of nationwide protests, three prominent Iranian cinematographers -- Mostafa al-Ahmad, Mohammad Rasulof, and Jafar Panahi -- were arrested after they joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following a building collapse in May in the city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.
The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran on October 3 announced a sentence of six years against Ahmad.
Panahi and Rasoulov reportedly have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for several months.
Ukraine's Nuclear Chief Says He Sees Signs Russia May Be Leaving Occupied Nuclear Plant
Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm, said on November 27 that there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the vast Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which they seized in March soon after their invasion. Such a move would be a major battlefield change in the partially occupied southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, where the front line has hardly shifted for months. Repeated shelling around the plant has spurred fears of a nuclear catastrophe. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Iran Arrests Khamenei's Niece After She Condemns 'Murderous Regime'
Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a "murderous and child-killing regime.” Farideh Moradkhani comes from a branch of the family that has a record of opposition to Iran's clerical leadership and has herself been jailed previously in the country. Her brother, Mahmoud Moradkhani, wrote on Twitter that she was arrested on November 23 after going to the office of the prosecutor following a summons. Then, on November 27, her brother posted a video on YouTube in which she condemned the "clear and obvious oppression" Iranians have been subjected to.
Iran Charges Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi With Spreading 'Corruption On Earth'
Iran’s judiciary has charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading “corruption on Earth,” a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic.
Isfahan’s judicial chief, Asadollah Jafari, was quoted on November 27 as saying that Salehi faces other charges, including “propaganda activity against the establishment, forming an illegal group with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, cooperating with hostile governments, and spreading lies and inciting others to commit violence.”
A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.”
But Jafari said no court session has been held so far for Salehi, who was arrested in late October after denouncing the clerical establishment and expressing support for the protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
His detention came shortly after he told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation: "You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation...in order to keep its power, money and weapons."
State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded and apologizing for his words. Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.
Family members have expressed concern about Salehi’s health and the charges against him. Earlier this month, over 100 musicians, poets, artists, and activists called for his release.
Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.
Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.
Salehi is among thousands, including protesters as well as journalists, lawyers, artists, athletes, activists and others arrested in Iran’s ongoing state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months. Iran's judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
With reporting by AFP
At World Cup, U.S. Soccer Scrubs Islamic Emblem From Iranian Flag
The U.S. soccer federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match on November 29. Iran's government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. The decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Russia Not Critically Weakened By War So Far, Estonian Minister Says
Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur does not believe that Russia has been critically weakened, even after nine months of war in Ukraine. "We have to be honest and clear: The Russian Navy and Air Force are more or less as big as they were before the war," Pevkur told dpa during a visit to Berlin. Although the Russian land forces had lost considerable strength, they would "sooner rather than later" have the size they had before February 24 when they launched their offensive -- or even larger. Russia will also learn from its military experience in Ukraine, he argued: "We have no reason to believe that the threat from Russia is somehow reduced or that the threat to NATO is reduced."
Iran Bank Manager Reportedly Fired For Serving Unveiled Woman
An Iranian bank manager who served an unveiled woman has been fired, local media reported on November 27, as demonstrations triggered by the mandatory head-covering rule shake the Islamic republic. Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the dress code rules sparked nationwide demonstrations, which authorities call "riots.” Mehr news agency reported that the bank manager in Qom Province, near the capital, Tehran, "had provided bank services on November 24 to an unveiled woman.” To read the story from AFP, click here.
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Former Estonian Military Chief: 'Ukraine Has Already Won' In War With Russia3
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Pentagon Mulling Cheap, Precision Strike Weapon For Ukraine As Arms Makers Wrestle With Demand5
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