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COVID-19: Olympics Postponed As Iran Rejects Medical Charity Mission

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a Tokyo 2020 kickoff rally in Tokyo in August 2013.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach have agreed to put off the Tokyo 2020 games for one year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move, unprecedented in peacetime, was requested "taking into consideration the current circumstances," Abe said, noting that all parties want a secure and safe environment for the athletes and crowds.

The Olympics, which have been held every four years since 1948, is to date the highest-profile event affected by the virus, which has killed more nearly 19,000 and infected over 422,000 people, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try and slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of other coronavirus developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.


Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the coronavirus, has rejected an offer from a Geneva-based medical charity to set up a 50-bed inflatable hospital in the central city of Isfahan to deal with the epidemic.

The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 during the previous 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on March 24, raising the total figure to 24,811.

The ministry also announced 122 new deaths from the virus, putting the official toll at 1,934.

"We are surprised to learn that the deployment of our treatment unit is canceled," Michel-Olivier Lacharite, who is in charge of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) crisis-response team, said in a statement on March 24.

Lacharite said the organization had been ready to set up the unit at the end of the week after being given prior approval from the authorities.

Alireza Vahabzadeh, adviser to Iran's health minister, tweeted that "it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out."

Vahabzadeh cited Iran's "national mobilization against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces" as the reasons for the refusal.

On March 22, MSF said it was sending a 50-bed inflatable hospital and an emergency team to Isfahan to treat patients critically ill with COVID-19.

An MSF team comprised of nine emergency and intensive-care unit doctors and logisticians was to run the unit to be set up in the compound of the city’s Amin hospital, the organization said.

The announcement stirred opposition from Iranian hard-liners, who alleged that MSF staff would serve as "spies."

Iranian officials have previously rejected the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.

Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile program.

On March 24, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran to be "urgently reevaluated" to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

"At this crucial time, both for global public-health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended," Bachelet said.

More than 50 Iranian medics have died since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country five weeks ago, according to her office.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani on March 24 announced that about half of all government employees were staying at home in a bid to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

Rohani also said the temporary release of prisoners will be extended until the end of the current Iranian month of Farvardin, about April 18.

Iranian authorities say they have temporarily released tens of thousands of prisoners because of the epidemic.


Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned President Vladimir Putin that the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Russia is likely to rise sharply in the days ahead as health officials dramatically increase the number of tests they are carrying out.

Sobyanin, who heads a coronavirus task force at Russia's State Council, told Putin on March 24 that the number of tests performed in Moscow will increase from about 3,000 a day to 13,000 per day by the end of this week.

"The problem is that the volume of testing is very low and no one has a clear picture" of the situation in Russia and the world, Sobyanin told Putin.

"The picture that is unfolding is serious," he said, warning that the number of infected people in Russia was "significantly" higher than official figures.

Russia has registered 495 cases of the coronavirus and maintains that there have not been any deaths from the disease in the country.

One patient with coronavirus died in a Russian hospital, but the authorities are not counting the woman's death as part of its coronavirus toll -- saying she died from a blood clot.

However, a global database maintained by Johns Hopkins University is including that patient in its coronavirus death toll.

Some experts say Russia's relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus infections could be attributed to its slow pace of screening.

Until recently, just one lab in Novosibirsk was analyzing tests from all over Russia.

Russia is now taking steps to open new labs and increase the number of tests being carried out for coronavirus.

Putin, meanwhile, visited a Moscow hospital for coronavirus patients on March 24 -- donning a yellow hazmat suit with a protective mask within an area where patients were being treated.

During his visit to a hospital in the Moscow suburb of Kommunarka, Putin praised doctors for their efforts in treating infected patients, saying they were working "like clockwork, a well-oiled machine."

"I could see how well the seriously ill patients are being cared for with three specialists working on one patient at once," Putin said in comments published on the Kremlin website.

Don't Kiss The Icons: Russian Orthodox Church Moves To Limit Coronavirus Spread
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Armenia has ordered nearly all people in the country to remain at home except to buy food, receive medical care, or to exercise, with only "vitally" necessary workers allowed to go to their jobs as the government steps up measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision announced on March 24 by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian came hours after a government task force ordered a partial closure of virtually all state agencies, allowing only a limited number of employees to show up for work.

Armenia, a South Caucasus country of just under 3 million people, has reported 249 coronavirus cases, a rise of 14 over the past 24 hours.

Interactive Coronavirus Map

Updated constantly with the latest figures

Pashinian said in a nationally televised address that one of the persons infected, a 77-year-old man, was in "extremely grave" condition and that four others were in "grave" condition.

The prime minister added that 868 Armenians remained in quarantine and more than 2,400 others were in self-isolation.

At least 37 people were released from a two-week quarantine on March 24 after testing negative for the virus.

In his address, Pashinian said that the lockdown "means the work of thousands of enterprises will be halted and only vitally necessary entities will be allowed to operate."

He said the measures would be in effect "for at least a week."

"Our fellow citizens taking to the streets will have to clearly explain where they are going and those explanations must fit into the logic of people's vital movements," Pashinian warned.

He said that only people over the age of 65 would be allowed to go shopping between 10 a.m. and noon each day.

As part of the measures, the government earlier ordered the temporary closure of all cafes and restaurants as well as most businesses in the country.

Pashinian urged Armenians to, if possible, use online services provided by state and private entities.

He also stressed that food stores, pharmacies, and bank offices will remain open and that no restrictions will be placed on agricultural work.

"We are overcoming coronavirus step by assured that we will defeat this evil," Pashinian said.

The government on March 16 declared a one-month state of emergency to slow the spread of the disease.

It had previously closed its border with Iran -- one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the virus -- and Georgia.

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan has imposed a state of emergency in the capital and several other cities and regions to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the country's presidential service announced on March 24.

"President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has signed decrees to enact a state of emergency in the cities of Bishkek, Osh, and Jalal-Abad, as well as the Nookat and Kara-Suu districts of the Osh region and the Suzak district of the Jalal-Abad region. The decrees have been sent to parliament," it said.

The decrees were immediately sent to parliament, which unanimously approved them in an emergency session.

Kyrgyzstan's Security Council first recommended the state of emergency on March 22, and the government subsequently imposed some restrictions and took some measures such as placing checkpoints in every region and city.

Tight Restrictions Placed On Kyrgyz Travel In Fight Against Coronavirus
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In the southern district of Nookat, regional officials already declared a local state of emergency on March 21 after three coronavirus cases were reported there.

Under the state of emergency which, after parliament's approval, will come into force on March 25 and will last until April 15, a curfew will be enacted and measures to maintain public order and security at strategic facilities will be stepped up, the statement said.

The decree bans artistic, sports, and other mass events as well as strikes, rallies, meetings, street marches, demonstrations, and pickets.

In line with the presidential decree declaring a state of emergency, the government said all internal flights will be suspended in Kyrgyzstan from March 25.

Exceptions will be made for special flights upon agreement with the country's headquarters for coronavirus actions, according to Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov.

Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry reported 26 more confirmed cases on March 23, bringing the total number to 42.

Tight Restrictions Placed On Kyrgyz Travel In Fight Against Coronavirus
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Tajikistan, which has not reported any coronavirus cases so far, decided to close its border with Kyrgyzstan starting on March 24 "until the situation stabilizes," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The decision does not apply to Tajik citizens returning to their home country, foreigners departing from Tajikistan, drivers of goods vehicles, diplomats and their families, and members of government delegations.

In neighboring Uzbekistan, the capital, Tashkent, went into lockdown on March 24 to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Uzbekistan has 50 confirmed coronavirus cases, all but one in Tashkent, a city of more than 2.5 million.

Uzbekistan closed its borders on March 23 and has already shut down public transit in the capital and ordered most businesses to switch to remote working.


Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the media in Pakistan should temporarily close their bureaus to lower health risks after three TV journalists working in the field tested positive for the coronavirus.

"You cannot rule out the possibility that the three journalists who have tested positive for COVID-19 caught it while reporting in the field," Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement on March 23, a day after it emerged that two journalists with News 24 HD TV and one with AbbTakk TV had tested positive.

The journalists are based in Lahore, the capital of the eastern province of Punjab.

"We ask all of the country's media executives and owners to put their reporters' health first and not send large numbers of them into the field," Bastard said. "Everything must be put in place so that they can work from home and avoid any potential source of infection."

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan has passed 950, with seven deaths.

Pakistani Village Shaken By Country's First COVID-19 Death
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President Klaus Iohannis has said that Romania will deploy the military to help impose a "total quarantine" to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak amid a spike in the number of confirmed cases.

Romania declared a state of emergency on March 16, but the number of cases has continued to rise sharply as many people have been ignoring the government's recommendations to remain indoors.

On March 24, authorities reported 186 more infections -- the highest day-to-day increase so far -- and one more death, bringing the total to 762 confirmed cases and eight fatalities.

Iohannis said in a live televised address that starting from March 25, people will only be allowed to leave home to buy food or medicine, to go to work, or for emergencies. Those over 65 will be completely banned from leaving their homes.

Those who have been placed in self-quarantine will be monitored electronically, Iohannis said. He did not elaborate.

Iohannis said previous recommendations will become mandatory and the army will be deployed to help police the streets.

"The restrictions, dear Romanians, will come into force from tomorrow," Iohannis said.


Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Chicu has imposed further freedom-of-movement restrictions, banning people from visiting parks and other recreation sites in an effort to stem the spread ofthe coronavirus.

"Starting from March 24, city residents are prohibited from visiting parks and other public zones where people gather. This measure is tough, but is necessary for containing the coronavirus. The Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry will be responsible for enforcing these measures," Chicu told a session of the emergency situations commission late on March 23.

Additional measures include shutting down public transportation, outdoor food markets, mail delivery, and the closing of all commercial shops except for grocery stores and pharmacies.

Residents were instructed to stay at home and can only leave for work or to shop for food.

Moldova reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on March 23, bringing the total number of infections to 109.

A national emergency is in place until May 15.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says there is no need yet to declare a national state of emergency even as a leading health official announced 10 more cases of coronavirus.

"At the moment, there is no need to introduce a state of emergency in Ukraine. A state of emergency is introduced when there are extreme events. Today, the development of the coronavirus in Ukraine is quite moderate compared to many European countries," Shmyhal told local television late on March 23.

He added that measures the government is currently taking are ample for the time being, though the situation may change in the coming weeks due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Chief Medical Officer Viktor Lyashko said on March 23 that preliminary tests showed 10 more people have been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Confirmation of their tests is expected on March 24 and could raise the number of confirmed cases to 83. Three deaths have been recorded linked to the virus.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 72,000 Ukrainians have returned from abroad, including from some of the hardest-hit European countries, since a nationwide quarantine was imposed from March 12 to April 3.

Among those diagnosed with the coronavirus are several members of parliament, including Ruslan Horbenko, a member of the ruling party.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged the heads of church confessions to conduct prayer services online and without the presence of people at places of worship.

"I thank those church leaders who understand the danger and conduct divine service online, without people. I am sure other leaders will join these forced measures. After all, today people really need faith, but they equally need basic security," he said.

Ride-Sharing And Home Workouts: Kharkiv Amid Coronavirus
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Since March 17, all aviation, rail, and bus services with foreign countries and within the country have been shut down. Shopping centers, cafes, restaurants, gyms, and other nonessential facilities have been shuttered. Only grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and banks are still open.

The previous day, Kyiv further closed public transportation, allowing only critical personnel to take buses, trolleybuses, and trams. Subway systems were closed in Kyiv, Odesa, and Dnipro on March 17.

Several cities, including Kyiv, have declared states of emergency.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian, Kyrgyz, Moldovan, Romanian, Tajik, Ukrainian, and Uzbek services, Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, IRNA, TASS, Interfax,,, and

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Report: Secretive Real Estate Holdings On Moscow's Outskirts Linked To Putin Family

Russia President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Family members of Russian President Vladimir Putin quietly acquired several plots of real estate in Moscow’s tony western suburbs near his residence, where a series of luxury homes have been built, a new investigation found.

The findings, by the Russian news site Proyekt, were the latest documenting what some experts believe is a vast, secretive, and lucrative network of assets linked to Putin, his allies, and his family.

Putin officially earns an annual salary of around $140,000, while his publicly declared assets include a 75-meter foot apartment, a trailer, and three cars. But some analysts estimate his wealth -- hidden behind complex financial schemes organized by close associates -- at some $200 billion or more.

In its report released on June 1, Proyekt found that, in 2006, several plots of land near the official government residence of Novo-Ogaryovo, where Putin lives much of the time, were acquired by offshore companies based in Panama and elsewhere.

Putin’s two daughters from his now ex-wife Lyudmila later received the real estate as a form of dowry, Proyekt said.

Putin’s eldest daughter, Maria, settled in one of the locations. Maria, who has used the surname Vorontsova, was married to a Dutch man for several years, though they reportedly have since split and she remarried a Russian oil and gas executive.

Kirill Shamalov, the now ex-husband of Putin’s other daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, reportedly received title to another plot, Proyekt said, not long after he and Tikhonova married in 2013. The couple then conducted extensive renovations on the property worth millions of euros.

Among the refurbished house’s decorations were a handmade gilded chandelier with an estimated value of 72,000 euros ($77,576) and a 19th century painting by revered Russian artist Ivan Shishkin, Proyekt said.

Another plot that was titled to Shamalov was expected to have a house built on it for Lyudmila Putin. She and Putin announced in 2013 that they were ending their marriage, and she later remarried.

According to Proyekt’s findings, in 2013, Shamalov sent a power of attorney regarding the plot to the man whom Lyudmila ultimately remarried.

Shamalov and Tikhonova later separated, and Shamalov has since been hit with financial sanctions starting in 2018 by the United States, Britain, and other countries, for his close ties to Putin.

Shamalov then transferred ownership of the plots he owned to a firm allegedly associated with Arkady Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Putin and billionaire businessman.

Shamalov reportedly sold the properties for significantly less than their estimated land values, Prokyekt said.

Putin’s wealth and assets have been the subject of numerous investigations by Western governments, reporters, and other researchers.

Researchers at Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation have documented a massive mansion on the Black Sea that Putin uses regularly.

And the 2016 “Panama Papers” report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found luxuries linked to Putin and his friends and families, including yachts and real estate inside and outside of Russia.

Navalny's Bizarre Requests, Including Pet Kangaroo, Denied By Russian Prison Authorities In Stilted Language

Imprisoned Russian politician and activist Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on June 2 released excerpts of his correspondence with prison administrators, detailing sarcastic demands for outlandish things such as a bottle of moonshine and a pet kangaroo.

Prison officials denied all of his requests, according to the correspondence often in stilted bureaucratic Russian.

Navalny, 46, is serving sentences that add up to 11 1/2 years for violating the terms of a parole, contempt of court, and embezzlement through fraud that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated and designed to silence him.

He is currently in a punitive solitary confinement at a penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.

“When you are sitting in a punishment isolation cell and have little entertainment, you can have fun with correspondence with the administration,” Navalny said on Twitter in a series of tweets posted on June 2 apparently by his team.

Among the items he requested was a megaphone to be given to the prisoner in a nearby cell “so he can yell even louder.” Another was a request for an inmate who “killed a man with his bare hands” to be awarded with the highest rank in karate.

"The question of awarding eastern martial arts qualifications is not handled by the administration," the prison wrote back on April 28.

Prison officials also turned down requests for moonshine, tobacco for rolling cigarettes, a balalaika, and the kangaroo.

In response to his wish for a pet kangaroo, the prison wrote: "The animal identified in your request relates to the double crested-marsupial.... Your request is left without satisfaction."

In mock outrage over the refusal, Navalny said he would continue to fight for his “inalienable right to own a kangaroo." The politician said inmates can have a pet if the prison administration allows it.

Navalny will mark his 47th birthday on June 4, and there have been calls by his team for protests to support him.

Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 following his arrest one month earlier after he returned from Germany where he was treated for a near-fatal poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement.

He and his team have said the charges against him are were trumped-up because of his efforts to expose corruption in the Russian government.

A Moscow court has set a June 6 date for a hearing for a new trial for Navalny on a charge of extremism, which could keep him in prison for 30 years. He also said an investigator told him that he would also face a separate military court trial on terrorism charges that potentially carry a life sentence.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests

The incident took place at Chamran University in the city of Ahvaz. (file photo)

Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.

The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.

The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.

"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.

As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.

The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.

The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.

It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.

Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.

Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.

The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.

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

Belarusian Player Sabalenka Skips French Open Press Conference Citing Mental Health

Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka (file photo)

Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka skipped the post-match press conference at the French Open on June 2, citing mental health reasons. After defeating Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, the world No. 2 instead released an interview with the tournament organizers in which she said she had not felt safe at a press conference two days earlier during which she was asked about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and her country's role as a staging ground for Moscow's troops and weapons. Sabalenka said that her choice not to take part in the press conference was supported by the French Open organizers. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Online Tatar Language School To Close As International Educator Leaves Russia

A screenshot of the webste of the Ana Tele Tatar language school. (file photo)

The popular online Tatar language school Ana Tele (The Mother Tongue) has announced its closure as of June 30. The Education Ministry in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan explained on June 2 that the closure is linked to the international Education First (EF) group's decision to leave Russia. The online school was launched in 2013 on the order of the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov. Hosted by the EF's website, the online school had more than 100,000 users from Russia's regions and various countries who registered to study Tatar, which is a Turkic language. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service. click here.

Ethnic Serbs Again Gather In North Kosovo As West Pushes Diplomatic Solution To Crisis

Members of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force stand guard in Zvecan, Kosovo, on June 2.

Protesters have again gathered in front of municipal buildings in several cities in northern Kosovo as Western diplomats ratchet up pressure on Pristina to hold fresh elections to defuse tensions over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers earlier this week.

The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with overwhelming ethnic Serbian majorities -- Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.

Reports from the towns said hundreds had showed up to protest again, though the situation remained calm four days after violence flared -- injuring dozens, including peacekeepers -- when the new officials were brought to their offices with the help of special police units. NATO's KFOR peacekeeping troops have since erected a cordon to keep ethnic Serb protesters from accessing the buildings.

Kosovo Serb Blockade Turns Violent, KFOR Troops Injured
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The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks on measures to lower tensions between the Balkan neighbors late on June 1, and sources told RFE/RL that the Special Representative of the European Union (EU) for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, and the American envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will visit Pristina and Belgrade next week to push for a diplomatic solution.

The president of Kosovo confirmed that the European Union, France, and Germany have all suggested holding new elections in four municipalities in as a means of defusing tensions over the forced installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors.

So far, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has appeared to be against fresh elections, but on June 2 he acknowledged that another vote could happen at some point.

"Removing violent mobs in front of municipality buildings & full implementation of the [Brussels] Agreement is the way toward de-escalation until new elections," he said, referring to a 2013 deal struck by the country in Brussels to normalize relations some five years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

But later, in a speech at parliament, Kurti seemed to fan the flames by blaming the escalation of the situation on Serbia.

"The escalation of the situation on May 29 was planned, well-organized and had an author," Kurti told lawmakers in parliament.

"The author is official Belgrade," he added.

That prompted an immediate response by the Serb minority political party Serbian List (Srpska Lista).

"How much of a farce is everything that Kurti said today in the assembly, and the fact that he labeled honorable people, women, disabled people, and even some who are in the hospital, and have not been in the north of Kosovo for weeks now, as criminals and protest organizers," the party said.

Kosovo, Serbia Blame Each Other For Tensions At EU Summit
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The by-elections at the center of the current unrest were sparked by mass resignations in November 2022 by influential Serbian mayors, police, and other officials essential to the "parallel system" that helps local Serbs avoid recognizing Kosovar institutions.

The mayoral buildings in all but North Mitrovica have been controlled for years by the so-called "parallel" institutions run by Serbs and backed by neighboring Serbia, which 15 years after Kosovo's declaration of independence still doesn't recognize its former province's sovereignty. Neither do Russia or China.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic used a major rally in Belgrade last week to condemn Kosovo's swearing-in of ethnic Albanian "alleged mayors" in the north without local Serbs' votes.

Officials in neighboring Serbia have demanded as part of EU- and U.S.-mediated talks over the past decade that Pristina fulfill the 2013 Brussels Agreement to establish an association of Serb municipalities to represent the majority-Serb communities.

Kurti came to power in 2020 and again in 2021 pledging to impose greater “reciprocal” measures on Serbia and accelerate efforts to achieve full international recognition for his country. He has resisted forming the association.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Kosovar and Serbian leaders to ease tensions, warning they were putting their aspirations of European integration at risk.

Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death

One human rights website reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan on June 1.

A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.

Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.

According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.

The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."

Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."

Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.

Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.

Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”

Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.

According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.

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

Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi (right) and Massud Mossaheb. (composite file photo)

European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.

“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."

Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.

The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.

A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.

Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.

Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.

The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.

The NCRI called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Pashinian Says Armenia Is Not Russia's Ally In Moscow's War With Ukraine

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (lft) made his remarks in an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." In an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague, broadcast late on June 1, Pashinian said Armenia's membership in Russia-led groupings creates the opinion in the West that Yerevan is Moscow's ally, while Russian authorities understand that Armenia is not their ally in the war against Ukraine. "So, in this situation, we are nobody's ally," Pashinian said, adding that it is difficult for Yerevan to continue to maneuver between the West and Moscow as the situation gets "more complicated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Russian Activists Under Pressure Over Pro-Navalny Rally Scheduled For June 4

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Police in Russia have warned activists of possible repercussions for their participation in nationwide rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, scheduled for June 4, his birthday. Anton Kartavin, a municipal lawyer in Novosibirsk, and local activist Irina Selishcheva were detained for questioning on June 2 and handed written warnings about the consequences for taking part in "extremist activities." Kartavin said he had nothing to do with the planned rallies. Meanwhile, blogger Sergei Veselov in the city of Shuya was charged with violating regulations for holding public events over his announcement of rallies on his Telegram channel. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine Freezes More Assets Under Name Of Pro-Russian Politician's Wife

Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Oksana Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million). 

KYIV -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

The SBU said on June 2 that the assets, estimated to have a value of 740 million hryvnyas ($19.8 million), are related to stakes Marchenko owned via offshore schemes in several energy transportation companies located in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa -- Eximnaftoprodukt, Sintez Oil, Sintez Transit, Ukrloadsystem, Odesnaftoprodukt, Black Sea Fuel Terminal, and Albion Commodities.

"The freezing of these assets will prevent their re-registration under other fake names and will allow them to be transferred for our state's needs," the SBU statement said.

Marchenko's husband, Viktor Medvedchuk, is a longtime Ukrainian political fixture and reportedly a godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter. Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia.

Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million).

In April, Ukraine's Interior Ministry added Marchenko, who is not in Ukraine, to its wanted list, saying she is suspected of financing actions to forcibly disrupt Ukraine's constitutional order, seize power, and change the state borders of Ukraine.

Ukraine sanctioned Medvedchuk in February 2021, freezing his assets, and took off the air three television stations it said belonged to him for promoting Russian propaganda.

He was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and terrorism financing and later placed under house arrest on bail.

Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Medvedchuk escaped house arrest, but he was rearrested in April while trying to flee to Russia.

In June, a court in Ukraine banned the Medvedchuk-led pro-Russia Opposition Platform -- For Life political party.

In September, Ukrainian authorities handed the 68-year-old politician over to Russia in a prisoner exchange.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has since stripped Medvedchuk and three other pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians of their Ukrainian citizenship.

Belarusian Union Activist Sentenced To 42 Months On Charge Of Insulting Lukashenka

Security forces in Hrodna, Belarus (file photo)

A court in Minsk has sentenced union activist and genetics scientist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to 42 months in prison for allegedly insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent and civil society in Belarus.

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Kandratsyuk after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, discrediting the country, and inciting social hatred.

Kandratsyuk was initially arrested in September and handed a 13-day jail term, but he was not released after serving the sentence and instead was sent back to pretrial detention. The reason for his initial arrested remains unclear.

Vyasna also said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court is currently trying 21-year-old activist Dzmitry Hudzeyeu on charges of organizing the actions of a terrorist group and the creation of an extremist group.

It remains unclear what exactly the charges stem from. Last month, Belarusian KGB added Hudzeyeu to its terrorist registry. If convicted, Hudzeyeu may face up to 12 years in prison.

Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.

Thousands of others have been detained and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.

Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.

U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired as part of Russia's nuclear drills from a launch site in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia, in 2022.

The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia

Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court

Kimberly West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November.

American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia

Viktor Shenderovich fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him that he calls trumped up.

Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."

Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is displayed on a giant screen after delivering a live voice message during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of the Swiss parliament in Bern on March 19, 2022.

The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.


Pakistani Human Rights Activist Returns Home After Abduction

Pakistani rights activist Jibran Nasir (file photo)

Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir has returned home after being abducted by unidentified armed men in the southern city of Karachi.

"With the prayers and efforts of all friends and colleagues, especially journalists, lawyers and bar councils, civil society and politicians, I have returned home safely," Nasir said on Twitter on June 2.

He also pledged to continue his struggle for the rights of Pakistanis.

In a separate tweet, he thanked his wife, who he said had suffered the ordeal of his abduction and yet kept calm and focused on the struggle for his return.

He did not say who abducted him or the circumstances of his release. No one has claimed responsibility.

Nasir has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations in the country and represented victims as a lawyer in a number of prominent cases.

He has recently criticized the arrests of leaders of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party and the move to try them in military courts following violent protests earlier month.

Dozens of protesters earlier held a rally in Karachi to demand his release after his wife, Mansha Pasha, said on Twitter that he had been kidnapped by armed men on June 1 in Karachi.

The men took Nasir away but left her unharmed, said Pasha, a prominent actress, who asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted, and Amnesty International called on Pakistani authorities to investigate.

Nasir's abduction comes amid an ongoing crackdown against supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.

Violence erupted after Khan's arrest on May 9 outside a court in Islamabad where he was appearing in a graft case.

The turmoil subsided only when the Supreme Court released Khan.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases

Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials,"  nearly three times more than this time last year. 

Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."

The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.

Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."

"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.

Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.

"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.

The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.


Ukraine Says It Downed All Drones, Missiles Shot At Capital, Two Injured

The aftermath of an overnight wave of attacks by Russia on Kyiv, on June 1

Ukrainian authorities say air-defense forces shot down all 15 missiles and 21 drones over the capital, Kyiv, as Russia launched its sixth consecutive day of attacks on the capital.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said a 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the June 2 attacks, which came from several directions and hit residential areas.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, said on Telegram there had been no calls for rescue services.

“Already after the alarm, smoldering fragments of a rocket were found on the road in the Darnytsya district of the capital. The rescue and fire service is on its way to the scene," Klitschko wrote.

Russian troops have intensified their attacks against Ukrainian cities, particularly Kyiv, since the start of May.

The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 19 waves of Russian air strikes since the start of May.

Kyiv military authorities have said that as a result of falling rocket fragments on the capital on June 1, three people were killed, including a child. Another 11 people were injured.

Two of those killed were hit by debris after they weren't able to enter a bomb shelter that was locked, sparking anger among many residents.

Klitschko said on June 2 that the city will immediately implement mandatory controls of all shelters to ensure they are always open.

"The city authorities are strengthening control over the work of shelters. Yes, there are questions. And we will work on it," he said, adding that residents can also volunteer to control facilities to make sure they are accessible.

"The enemy is now shelling the capital with ballistic missiles. When the alarm sounds, it's a matter of minutes. If you think you cannot get to a shelter in time, follow the rule of [standing by a junction of] two walls in the house," he added.

The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleh Sinehubov, said late on June 2 that Russian troops attacked a village in the Kharkiv region with two guided aerial bombs, killing an elderly man and a woman. In addition, three women and a 3-year-old boy were injured, he said.

Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region, which shares a border with Ukraine, said four people were killed in separate incidents on June 2.

In the first, two women were traveling by car near the town of Shebekino when shrapnel hit their vehicle, killing them, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram, blaming Ukrainian army for the attack. Two men were hospitalized with serious injuries, he added.

Gladkov said later that two people were killed and six injured when rockets hit the town of Sobolevka, 125 kilometers southeast of the first incident. The victims had been standing near residential buildings, he said.

Russian Strike Kills Ukrainian Child Amid Claims Of Locked Bomb Shelter
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Other Russian regional authorities said earlier that two villages in the country’s western Bryansk region were shelled by Ukrainian forces.

Regional Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that no one was injured in the attacks.

The governor of the southern Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, said air-defense systems shot down "several" Ukrainian drones. He did not say if there were any casualties.

None of the reports could be independently verified.

The increase in attacks comes days after Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui toured Europe to try and make progress on a peace agreement to stop the fighting.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing on June 2, Li said that while the "risk of escalation" was "still high," China is "willing to do anything" to help mediate the situation and is willing to send another delegation for further peace talks.

On a trip to Finland, NATO's newest member, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 2 called the invasion of Ukraine a "strategic failure" for Russia, pointing to Western unity and Moscow's losses.

"Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure -- greatly diminishing Russia's military, economic, and diplomatic power and its influence for years to come," Blinken said in a speech in Helsinki.

Blinken also said the United States was working with Ukraine and other allies to build consensus around the core elements of a "just and lasting peace" to end the war.

"We will support efforts -- whether by Brazil, China, or any other nation -- if they help find a way to a just and lasting peace," Blinken said in his speech.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP and dpa

U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others

John Bolton (right), who was the U.S. National security adviser under the Trump administration, in 2019

The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.

U.S. To Stop Giving Russia Certain START Nuclear Arms Data

The Russian Navy launches an intercontinental ballistic missile from a nuclear submarine in the Sea of Okhotsk. (file photo)

The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. In a fact sheet posted on its website, the department said the United States would also stop giving Russia flight telemetry information on launches of U.S. intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The State Department said international law permits such measures to induce a state to return to compliance with its international obligations.

U.S. Envoy Warns About Russian Efforts To Use Disinformation To Divide U.S. Allies In Balkans

James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center

SOFIA -- The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.

James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."

For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.

"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.

Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.

While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.

"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.

He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.

The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.

The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.

"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.

The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.

With reporting by Elitsa Simeonova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service

Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits

Arthur Arcadian and is wife, Ilona Dzhamgarova, were sentenced by the Court of the Southern District in New York on May 31. (file photo)

Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East

A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

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