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COVID-19: First Deaths In Afghanistan, Kosovo, Romania, North Macedonia

People walk with covered faces to protect against the coronavirus at the state hospital in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 339,000 people and killed nearly 15,000 worldwide, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

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

Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Health Ministry says a 40-year old man has died from coronavirus, becoming the country's first fatality from the disease.

Afghanistan has 34 confirmed cases of the virus.

Iran

Health officials say Iran's death toll from coronavirus has reached 1,685, as the country continues to struggle with mounting cases and an overloaded health-care system.

The Health Ministry said on March 22 that another 129 people had died over the past 24 hours. The ministry also said the country's overall tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 was 21,638.

Iran has been one of the worst-hit countries outside of China and Italy.

With the country reeling from the outbreak, officials have recommended Iranians stay home during the Norouz holiday, which began on March 20 and is one of the biggest holidays of the year for Iranians.

Officials have worried that efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 will be hampered as people travel for the holiday to see friends and relatives.

The government has closed schools at all levels, banned sports and cultural events, and curtailed religious activities.

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Many Iranians have also been angered by the temporary closure of Shi'ite sites, prompting some crowds to storm into the courtyards of two major shrines.

In a televised speech to mark Norouz, Iran's supreme leader rejected an offer from the United States for assistance in fighting coronavirus.

"We have many enemies, but the worst is the U.S.... and now they want to help us," Khamenei said.

He said the United States would be better off helping its own people, with hundreds of American deaths being linked to the virus after a spike in cases over the last week.

Khamenei also cited an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be manmade by the United States.

"Possibly your [offered] medicine is a way to spread the virus more," he said.

Georgia

Two southern Georgian regions will lock down on March 23 as part of an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the country’s prime minister said the previous day.

Giorgi Gakharia said at an emergency news briefing that the Marneuli and Bolnisi regions, both of which border Azerbaijan, would be closed off for entry and exit.

The regions would be supplied with food and medicine, and only grocery stores and pharmacies are to remain open as well.

Critical infrastructure and services would be available as well.

The decision was made after a woman who had contact with at least 90 people after attending a relative’s death anniversary dinner was diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

At this point, doctors were able to identify at least 85 people with whom the infected woman had contact.

The South Caucasus country of 3.7 million had 54 cases of coronavirus as of March 22, with no deaths.

Georgia's parliament over the weekend approved a presidential decree that imposes a one-month nationwide state of emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

President Salome Zurabishvili on March 21 sent the decree to parliament as the number of cases in the former Soviet republic rose to 49. The parliament passed it later that evening.

The president called on citizens to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Georgian Health Ministry in order to slow the spread of the virus and avoid a "new level" of restrictions.

Kosovo

Local authorities say an 82-year-old man has died from coronavirus, Kosovo's first death from the disease.

The Public Health Institute said in a statement on March 22 that the man, who died in a hospital, had underlying health issues, including chronic cardiac and pulmonary problems.

Officials said the tally of confirmed infections in the country stood at 31 as of March 22.

Interactive Coronavirus Map

Updated constantly with the latest figures

The death comes as Kosovars grow increasingly impatient with the government, which has struggled to mount a coherent response to the outbreak.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti's shaky coalition government, which took four months to assemble after October elections, is on the verge of collapse because of disagreements over coronavirus measures.

Angry residents of the capital, Pristina, banged pots and pans from their balconies on March 19 to protest the government's actions.

Most of those infected in Kosovo have come from Italy or are related to someone who returned from a European Union member state.

Authorities have closed all schools, borders, bars, and restaurants to curb the spread of the virus. Only supermarkets and pharmacies remain open.

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Romania

Romanian authorities report that two people have died from the coronavirus, the first such deaths for the country.

The government's Strategic Communications Group said on March 22 that the number of confirmed cases in the country had risen sharply and now stands at 433, up from 322 just a day earlier.

Officials said the first victim was a 67-year-old man who had been suffering from terminal cancer and who died after having been infected on March 18.

The man had returned to Romania 12 days earlier, on March 6, from France, before restrictions on international travel had been imposed. The government did not say when he died or how he had become infected, saying only that he was being treated at a hospital in the southern city of Craiova.

A total of 23 medical workers who were in contact with the man have been tested for the coronavirus. Of the 18 tests that have been returned so far, all were negative, officials said.

The second victim was a 74-year-old who had been diagnosed just the day before and was already being treated for kidney problems. Officials said that person died in a medical facility in the capital, Bucharest.

The government declared a state of emergency on March 16 and on March 21 announced a nighttime curfew.

The curfew will restrict the movement of people from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and go into effect on March 23. It is expected to last through the 30-day state of emergency declared on March 16.

Those exempted include people going to work and those requiring medical assistance.

Interior Minister Marcel Vela and other officials said the measures will also prohibit gatherings of more than three persons outside the home and will mandate the closing of shopping malls and dental clinics. Restaurants and other gathering places were ordered closed earlier in the week.

During the night curfew hours, the only people allowed to move about are medical professionals, those engaging in work activities, shopping for necessary items, and caring for children or the elderly or people walking their pets.

"Everything we have decided to implement is meant to limit the risks to the population," Vela said.

He also warned those who are price-gouging or taking other actions to profit from the crisis.

"We have taken strong actions against those who have tried to speculate on the situation in order to get rich. It's not just illegal -- it's also cynical," he said.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has 60 confirmed coronavirus cases as of the morning of March 23, following another confirmed infection the previous evening.

The Health Ministry says there are 31 registered cases in the capital, Nur-Sultan, 25 in the largest city, Almaty, and two in the Karaganda and one each in the Almaty and Aktobe regions.

Almaty and Nur-Sultan have been on lockdown since March 19 and a state of emergency was announced earlier this month.

Kazakhstan had already announced the cancelation of Norouz holiday celebrations and a military parade devoted to the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

The oil-rich Central Asian country recorded its first cases of COVID-19 on March 13 after three patients tested positive upon returning from separate trips to Germany and Italy.

Kazakhstan shares a 1,800-kilometer border with China where the respiratory illness emerged late last year.

The outbreak has since grown to become a global pandemic, infecting more than 300,000 worldwide and leading to over 14,000 deaths.​

Russia

Russia has widened its ban on international flights as the number of registered coronavirus cases in the country reached 367.

As of March 23, Russian airlines will only service foreign capitals or large cities like New York and only from Moscow airports, state agency Rosavia said.

Russia will continue to permit charter flights exclusively for the evacuation of citizens stuck overseas, it said.

Nearly 20,000 Russian citizens have been evacuated from countries suffering from a high number of coronavirus cases.

The flight-ban announcement comes as Russia registered another 61 cases of the coronavirus, bringing the country's total to 367.

However, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the Russian capital will not close its metro, a step three Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, took where subways operate. The Moscow metro transports several million people a day to work and its closure would have severe consequences for the city's economy.

The Culture Ministry has recommended that as of March 23 all movie theaters be closed. Earlier in the month, the ministry closed all theaters, philharmonics, circuses, and movie theaters that belong to it.

Russia, the world's ninth-most populous country, has registered relatively few cases of COVID-19 on a per capita basis compared to its European neighbors, raising questions about the accuracy of the tally. Italy has more than 47,000 while Spain has more than 25,000.

Moscow, Europe's largest city with about 12 million inhabitants, has registered just 137 cases of COVID-19. New York City, which has just over 8 million people, has registered more than 8,000 cases.

Russia also shares one of the world's longest borders with China, where the new coronavirus originated. China has registered more than 81,000 cases.

Russian news agency RBK reported last week that the country had experienced a spike in the number of pneumonia cases this year.

While the majority of people who contract COVID-19 suffer only mild symptoms resembling the common cold, severe cases can develop into pneumonia.

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Ukraine

Ukraine saw the number confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 73 as the capital, Kyiv, on March 23 is closing all public transportation for noncritical personnel.

The Health Ministry’s Center for Public Health said that as of 10:50 p.m. local time on March 22, there were 26 new cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19 in nine regions and the city of Kyiv.

The ministry says it is further monitoring more than 360 suspected cases, including over 239 patients in hospitals.

Health Minister Illya Yemets said on March 22 that he supports declaring a nationwide state of emergency.

“I have been talking about this since the first day of my work in the government. It had to be done from the beginning. If it were to succeed, there would be no such [virus] spread, which is now developing geometrically,” Yemets told 112 TV in an interview.

Meanwhile, one of several planned medical supply flights from China has arrived in Kyiv, the Ukrainian presidential office said on March 23.

It brought an unspecified number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests as well as 250,000 express tests including different kind of protective medical masks, disinfectants, and “artificial ventilation apparatus and other means necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said.

Each regional laboratory on March 23 will receive the PCR tests.

The procurement was made with the assistance of large Ukrainian business owners.

“This is only the first batch of medicinal cargo from China. Several more flights are planned for this week,” the presidential office said.

There are three deaths related to the virus as schools have remained closed nationwide. Eateries, bars, gyms, theaters, and shopping malls, as well as subways operating in three cities, have been also been kept closed.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov the previous day called for a nationwide quarantine to slow the spread of coronavirus as Ukraine's capital and largest city, Kyiv, said it would shut all public transportation for noncritical personnel.

Avakov, one of the most powerful officials in Ukraine, said the measures already put in place to fight the spread will be “significantly toughened” in the coming days. He said only “critical” industries should remain open and everyone else sent home.

“A total, full quarantine is my position, which I want to ask of each of you. And I will insist on it, according to the power of my position,” Avakov said in a Facebook post on March 21.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said in a March 21 video post that only people whose work is vital to the city will be allowed to use public transport. The new measure goes into effect on March 23, he said.

The main railway station in Kyiv is closed for quarantine.
The main railway station in Kyiv is closed for quarantine.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's president has vetoed new nationwide restrictions passed by parliament as part of the state of emergency imposed to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Rumen Radev said on March 22 that he opposed the new proposals, calling them "extremely restrictive" and a threat to civil liberties in the country.

"“The lack of adequate measures will bring about a situation where hunger will prevail over fear and the consequences will be destructive,” he said in a statement that was released announcing his veto.

Parliament passed the proposed measures on March 20 after an initial proposal from the cabinet a week before.

Among the proposed measures that Radev said he opposed were allowing authorities to track mobile-phone users, to ensure people infected with the coronavirus are properly observing quarantine.

The measures also call for giving increased public-safety duties to military units, and for freezing prices for some goods at a three-month average, in an effort to prevent price gouging.

As of March 22, Bulgaria has confirmed 171 cases of people infected with the virus. Three people have died since March 8, when the first death was announced.

Three people have also recovered.

North Macedonia

In neighboring North Macedonia, a 57-year-old woman has become the country's first coronavirus fatality.

The woman had caught the infection during a trip to Italy, which has the most cases in Europe. Her son has been infected, too, and is hospitalized in stable condition, health officials said on March 22.

North Macedonia had 114 registered cases of the novel coronavirus as of March 22, officials said.

On March 21, the government said it had decided to impose a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning on March 22, the first time such a step has been taken since the country's independence in 1991.

In an emergency address, North Macedonia’s prime minister, Oliver Spasovski, said that "we have decided to introduce the most radical measures in order to protect the health of citizens.”

"Starting [on March 22], we will restrict the movement of all citizens. It is forbidden for the population to move outside between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. There is no compromise when it comes to the health of citizens," Spasovski warned.

The prohibitions exclude persons who need medical assistance or whose lives are endangered. Those who need dialysis are allowed to arrive for treatment with up to two other people.

Employees in health-care facilities are also excluded from the curfew, as are members of the Ministry of Interior, the army, fire crews, and workers in municipal hygiene.

Serbia

President Aleksandar Vucic said the government will extend a curfew that is already in effect by three hours as Serbia attempts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, making it a 12-hour ban from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

He said the steps were necessary "for our survival," and he threatened a 24-hour curfew if residents continued to ignore orders to remain indoors.

Serbia has registered 171 cases of the coronavirus and one death as of late on March 21.

In neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, the governments of the two entities on March 21 imposed nighttime restrictions on people outside their homes, with the Muslim-Croat federation ordering a 6-p.m.-to-5-a.m. curfew, and Republika Srpska restricting people to their homes from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Uzbekistan

Uzbek officials have ordered all companies in the capital, Tashkent, to switch to remote working.

They also made protective masks mandatory in all major cities in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Officials on March 22 said citizens not wearing masks in public in major cities would be fined $22 for the first offense and $67 for repeat offenses.

Uzbekistan, which has a population of 34 million, has just 43 confirmed cases, nearly all in Tashkent.

Pakistan

Sindh, the hardest-hit province in Pakistan, has announced a 15-day lockdown starting March 23.

Sindh has nearly half of the country's 687 registered cases.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, meanwhile, issued orders banning intercity transport starting from March 24.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Ukrainian services and Radio Mashaal, Reuters, AP, RIA Novosti, and TASS

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Finland To Expel Nine Russian Embassy Employees Over 'Intelligence' Activities

The decision was made at a meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (pictured) and the country's ministerial committee on foreign and security policy.

Finland will expel nine diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Helsinki for "acting in an intelligence capacity," the Finnish president's office said on June 6. "Their actions are contrary to the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations," the president's office said in a statement, adding that it would inform the Russian ambassador of the expulsions. The decision was made at a meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and the country's ministerial committee on foreign and security policy. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Students Say Authorities Ratcheting Up Pressure On Campus Over Dress Code

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. (file photo)

Iranian student organizations have reported a significant wave of summonses at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran in a continued tightening of supervision of the dress code after months of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The country's Student Guild Councils reported on June 5 that, during the past week, a significant number of students from the University of Science and Technology were summoned to the Disciplinary Committee, as well as at least 11 professors. The reasons cited for these summonses ranged from a refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules to what university authorities have termed "inappropriate dress".

In addition to the summoning of students to the Disciplinary Committee, patrolling security forces have reportedly harassed students under the pretext of the dress code while they are walking on the university campus.

The Student Guild Councils said the intrusion into the lives of students has even extended to the dormitories, where curfew infractions have been cited.

In addition to students, at least 11 professors at the University of Science and Technology have also been summoned by the Faculty Disciplinary Board in recent days. They said they were summoned for signing a statement protesting against "the attacks carried out on schools and female students."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. 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.

According to a report by the "Committee for Following Up on the Situation of Detainees," since the beginning of the nationwide protests in September 2022, more than 720 students have been arrested, some of whom are still under arrest.

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

Iranian Embassy Reopens In Saudi Capital

A man stands outside the Iranian Embassy in Riyadh, which reopened on June 6. (file photo)

Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 6, Saudi media reported, months after the two regional rivals agreed to end a diplomatic rift under a China-mediated deal. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to reestablish relations following years of hostility that has endangered stability in the Middle East and fueled regional conflicts including in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The deal was struck seven years after Sunni Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shi'ite Iran following the storming of its embassy in Tehran during a dispute over the execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Deported From Kyrgyzstan Charged With Arson Attack

Russian anti-war activist and anarchist Aleksei Rozhkov (file photo)

Russian anti-war activist and anarchist Aleksei Rozhkov was deported from Kyrgyzstan in late May and is currently in pretrial detention in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg for allegedly setting the building of a military recruitment center in the town of Beryozovsky on fire in March 2022, the Zona Solidarnosti (Solidarity Zone) rights project said on June 6. Rozhkov left Russia for Kyrgyzstan in December after Russian authorities equated arson attacks targeting military recruitment centers to terrorism amid a sharp rise in such incidents after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Sabalenka Says She Does Not Support War, Lukashenka After Defeating Ukrainian At French Open

Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka (file photo)

Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka says she does not want her country to be in any conflict and she does not support the war in Ukraine or its authoritarian ruler. "I don't support war, meaning I don't support Alyaksandr Lukashenka," Sabalenka told a press conference on June 6 after her quarterfinal victory against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine at the French Open. Sabalenka opted out of press conferences last week, citing mental health reasons after being grilled about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Belarus being used as a staging ground for Russian troops. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Belarusian Prosecutors Seek 25 Years In Prison For Self-Exiled Activist

Belarusian activist Vadzim Prakopyeu (file photo)

Prosecutors have asked the Minsk City Court to sentence self-exiled opposition activist Vadzim Prakopyeu to 25 years in prison on multiple charges, including coordinating an attempted arson attack at the house of a pro-government lawmaker, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, Aleh Haydukevich, in June 2021.

Prosecutor Maksim Chuprys asked Judge Syarhey Khrypach on June 6 to convict Prakopyeu on 14 charges related to terrorism and the illegal possession of firearms.

Prakopyeu and two former law enforcement officers, Ihar Chamyakin and Dzyanis Khamitsevich, are being tried separately in absentia after they fled the country and whose current whereabouts are unknown.

Fifteen other defendants in the case are involved in a separate trial that started on March 6.

Also on June 6, the @MAYDAYMog human rights group said that police in the city of Barysau near Minsk had arrested noted rights defender Aleh Matskevich on unspecified charges last week.

Separately, the Belarusian Interior Ministry published a video on June 6 which shows the leader of the People's Student Chorus at the Belarusian State University, Volha Minyankova, offering an apology for her refusal to bring her chorus to parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region controlled by Russian troops.

It is not clear whether Minyankova's "repentance" video statement was recorded under duress, or if she is currently in custody.

Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election where Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.

Updated

U.S. Levies Sanctions On Iranian, Chinese Companies Over Ballistic Missile Programs

The U.S. Treasury Department said the network of more than a dozen people and entitites conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development. (file photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States has sanctioned seven individuals and six entities from Iran, China, and Hong Kong who the U.S. Treasury Department says have helped Tehran get key technology for ballistic missile development.

In a statement on June 6, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), accused the individuals and entities of conducting financial transactions facilitating the network to procure parts needed for missile development.

The statement said the six companies sold sensitive centrifuges, metals, and radar materials to key actors in the previously sanctioned Iranian Defense Ministry and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) agency.

The sanctions come as Washington steadily increases pressure on Iran to stop expanding its missile program.

“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller has called Iran’s development and proliferation of these missiles “a serious threat to regional and international security.”

He told reporters at a briefing late last month that the United States will continue to use a variety of tools, including sanctions, “to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others."

Included in the sanctions are Chinese companies Zhejiang Qingji and Lingoe Process Engineering. Additionally, the director of Zhejiang Qingji and an employee of the company have been personally designated for financial dealings and acting as transport for MODAFL in Iran.

Two other companies, Hong Kong Ke.Do International Trade and the Chinese based Qingdao Zhongrongtong Trade Development, which the Treasury Department said collaborated to sell tens of millions of dollars’ worth of metals for Iranian missile system development.

The Chinese based Beijing Shiny Nights Technology Development Company was also hit with sanctions for acting as a front company for MODAFL to procure electronics for Iranian end-users. The same accusation is levied against Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani.

The sanctions freeze all U.S. assets held in any entity’s possession, including U.S. dollar bank accounts at foreign institutions, and bar people in the United States from dealing with the individuals and companies.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Jailed Kazakh Journalist's Father Joins Son's Hunger Strike

Almaz Tilepov, the father of jailed journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim

Jailed Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim's father, Almaz Tilepov, has joined his son's hunger strike to demand his immediate release. Tilepov started his hunger strike on June 6 in front of a district prosecutor’s office in Almaty. Mukhammedkarim launched his hunger strike on May 28 after he was handed a 25-day jail term over a video he posted online that called on Kazakhs to defend their rights. Just two days before that, Mukhammedkarim finished serving a similar sentence over his online calls for Almaty residents to rally against the government's move to introduce visa-free entry to Kazakhstan for Chinese citizens. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Member Of Kazakh Team Suspended For Backing War In Ukraine

Cyclist Savely Laptev (file photo)

The International Cycling Union (ICU) has suspended Savely Laptev, a member of Kazakhstan's Astana Qazaqstan DT cycling team, over his online support of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Laptev, who is Russian, was suspended last week from participating in UCI's tournament. His father said on June 5 that the decision was "a misunderstanding" and claimed that his son's social network account had been hacked. The UCI ruled earlier that Russian and Belarusian riders can resume their participation in its events as neutral athletes on condition that they stay away from supporting Russia's aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here. https://www.azattyq.org/a/32445513.html

Kazakhstan Hands Prison Term To Woman Who Called For Region To Join Russia

A Kazakh court has sentenced a woman to three years in prison for saying online that Russia should "take over North Kazakhstan and its capital, Petropavl, like it took Crimea" from Ukraine in 2014. Media reports in Petropavl said on June 6 that the woman, identified as Tatyana, was sentenced last week. The charge stemmed from the woman’s statement she made in a Chatroulette messenger chat in September 2021. In April, three members of a group called the People's Council in Petropavl were arrested on separatism charges and face up to seven years in prison if convicted. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Bulgarian Parliament Approves Coalition Government After Five Elections In Two Years

The new Bulgarian government was sworn in at the national assembly on June 6.

Bulgaria's parliament on June 6 approved a coalition government led by Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, giving the Balkan member of the EU and NATO a new government after five elections within two years.

The government has the backing of the parliament's two biggest political groups -- the center-right GERB and Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB).

Lawmakers held three separate votes, one to approve Denkov for the position of prime minister, one to establish the composition of the cabinet, and one to nominally approve each member of the cabinet.

Last week, the GERB-PP-DB coalition announced it had reached an agreement on the composition of the government.

According to the agreement, Denkov, from the PP-DB, will be premier for the first nine months and then the position will be taken over by Maria Gabriel from GERB, who until then will be deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

A total of 132 lawmakers supported the government -- all from the PP-DB coalition, all but one from GERB, and two MPs from DPS - while 69 people's representatives voted against.

The cabinet was chosen after negotiations that lasted more than two months following the fifth consecutive parliamentary elections on April 2, in which former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's GERB came first but it failed to gather support to form a one-party government.

According to the agreement, the coalition government will have a pro-European Union agenda, with obtaining membership in the Schengen passport-free area and the euro monetary union as top priorities along with fighting Russian influence in Bulgaria's security sector.

Bulgaria has been governed mainly by caretaker governments appointed by President Rumen Radev since public anger over years of corruption boiled over into massive protests in 2020. In February, Radev dissolved parliament and announced the April 2 vote.

Last year in June, the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov fell after a no-confidence vote in parliament after only six months in power.

Petkov and his fragile coalition took over in December 2021 following eight months of political impasse and two interim administrations after protests against high-level corruption ended the decade-long rule of Borisov -- the head of GERB.

The political crisis has prompted Bulgaria to postpone adopting the euro by one year to 2025. In December, Austrian and Dutch opposition blocked Bulgaria and neighboring Romania from being admitted in the Schengen area.

European Rights Court Slams Russia's Failure To Adequately Investigate Navalny Poisoning

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russian authorities failed to adequately investigate the poisoning in 2020 of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, thus violating his right to life and a proper investigation under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Navalny fell violently ill during a flight in Siberia in August 2020 and was then urgently flown to Germany where he was treated and survived what Western laboratories later established had been an attempted poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent.

The findings led the European Union to impose sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.

Russian doctors claimed that tests performed in their laboratories before Navalny was flown to Germany had found no trace of a poisonous substance in his blood and refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.

Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

The ECHR said in its June 6 ruling that it "found in particular that the inquiry conducted by the Russian authorities had not been open to scrutiny and had made no allowance for the victim’s right to participate in the proceedings."

The Russian authorities' measures "had not been capable of leading to the establishment of the relevant facts and the identification and, if appropriate, punishment of those responsible," the ruling said, adding, that "it therefore could not be considered adequate."

5 Things To Know About Russian Opposition Leader Aleksei Navalny
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Navalny recovered and voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested upon arrival and sent to prison for charges that he and his supporters say are politically motivated.

"As evidence obtained with the assistance of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) indicated that Mr Navalniy had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the [internationally banned] Novichok group, Russia, as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, had been under an obligation to open a criminal investigation into any activities breaching the prohibition of chemical weapons," the ECHR said in its ruling.

The EHCR ordered the Russian state to pay Navalny 40,000 euros ($42,800) in damages.

Putin in June last year signed a law under which Russia will not follow ECHR's rulings made after March 15, 2022.

However, since Russia was a member of the Court and the Council of Europe at the time of the alleged poisoning, the judgment must be enforced, an ECHR spokeswoman told Reuters.

With reporting by Reuters

Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody

Mansureh Sagvand is said to have died of "cardiac and respiratory arrest," although her friends say they doubt the official report.

A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.

Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.

The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".

But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.

Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."

This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.

An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.

"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.

Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."

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

Turkmen Students Forced To Buy Theater Tickets

(illustrative photo)

Students at the Turkmen Cultural Institute in Ashgabat have been forced by their teachers to go to theaters at least once a week. Some students told RFE/RL that they have been forced to buy tickets to the theaters distributed by their teachers. According to the students, they have neither the money to buy the tickets that cost between 10-30 manats ($2.8-$8.5) nor the time. The administration of the Cultural Institute was not available for immediate comment. Theaters, schools, and other public institutions are under the government's full supervision in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, click here.

Ukraine Brands Russia 'Terrorist State' To Open Hearings In Case At Top UN Court

Anton Korynevych speaks to the media in The Hague, Netherlands, in March 2022.

A top Ukrainian diplomat called Russia a "terrorist state" on June 6 as he opened his country's case against Moscow at the United Nations' highest court, and lawyers argued that Russia bankrolled a "campaign of intimidation and terror" by separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Anton Korynevych was addressing judges at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Updated

Poisonous Cider Death Toll In Russia Rises To 30

Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia as people look to save money on cheaper drinks.

Russian authorities said on June 6 the number of people killed by tainted cider in the regions of Ulyanovsk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, and Udmurtia had risen to 30. Poisonings with surrogate alcohol are common in Russia as people look to save money on cheaper drinks. In 2021, 34 people were killed by surrogate alcohol in the Urals region of Orenburg. In December 2016, 78 people died in the Siberian region of Irkutsk after drinking a scented herbal bath oil, which contained methanol, a highly poisonous type of industrial alcohol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukrainian Activist From Crimea Jailed By Russia For 15 Years On Terror Charges

Bohdan Zyza (file photo)

A Russian court on June 6 sentenced Ukrainian activist Bohdan Zyza from Russian-occupied Crimea to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges. Zyza was arrested in May 2022 after he splashed yellow and blue paint -- the colors of the Ukrainian flag -- on a building of the Moscow-imposed administration in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. He also threw a Molotov cocktail at it. At his trial, Zyza said he will go on hunger strike from July 10, demanding the Russian citizenship forcibly imposed on him by occupying Russian authorities be annulled and all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia or territories it controls be released. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Journalists Not Allowed To Attend Navalny's New Trial Inside Russian Prison

Aleksei Navalny appears on screen via video link during a preliminary hearing in a new case against him on accusations of various extremism-related charges at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on May 31.

The administration of a prison in Russia's Vladimir region has barred journalists from entering the facility, where the preliminary hearing into a new criminal case against already jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is set to start on June 6.

Navalny's press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on Twitter that journalists were barred from entering the penitentiary's territory hours before the hearing.

"They are doing this because there is no evidence in the case. And the only way for them to save face (as they think) is to fully classify [the case]," Yarmysh tweeted.

Navalny faces charges of creating an "extremist" group, making calls for "extremism," creating a nonprofit organization that violates citizens' rights, financing of "extremism," involving a minor in criminal activities, and rehabilitating Nazism.

When first making public the new case in April, Navalny called the charges "absurd."

Navalny also said another case charging him with propagating terrorism and Nazism was launched in October over his self-exiled associates' statements on the Popular Politics YouTube channel. The comments criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government and condemned Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed in April that Navalny's associates, along with Ukraine's secret services, were involved in the assassination of pro-Kremlin journalist and propagandist Vladlen Tatarsky in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg.

Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 after he was arrested a month earlier upon his return to Russia from Germany -- where he had been undergoing treatment for a near-fatal poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent that he says was ordered by Putin.

The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning, even though experts say only state actors have access to such a nerve agent.

On June 6, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ordered Russia to pay 40,000 euros ($42,800) to Navalny for refusing to investigate his poisoning.

Uzbek Supreme Court Denies Appeals Of Karakalpak Journalists

Dauletmurat Tajimuratov attends the Supreme Court session on June 6.

TASHKENT -- The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has rejected appeals by Karakalpak journalists Dauletmurat Tajimuratov and Lolagul Kallykhanova against the lengthy prison terms they were handed over mass anti-government protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic last year.

According to Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, the Supreme Court, which looked into the appeals of 18 men and women sentenced in the high-profile case, also ruled on June 5 that the prison sentences of eight defendants must be changed to parole-like sentences, while six more had their prison terms shortened.

Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At People's Service) newspaper, where he previously was the chief editor, was sentenced on January 31 by the Bukhara regional court along with the other defendants. His 16-year prison sentence was upheld.

Kallykhanova, a founder of the Makan.uz website, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her sentence was also left unchanged.

In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus, were convicted, with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years, while 11 were handed parole-like sentences.

Uzbek authorities say 21 people died during the protests in early July 2022, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.

The violence 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.

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.

The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.

Kyrgyz Group Suspected Of Planning To Seize Power Apprehended, Officials Say

The State Committee for National Security in Bishkek

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 6 that a group of men and women suspected of plotting to seize power had been apprehended. According to the UKMK, the group was led by the leader of the Eldik Kenesh (People's Council) political party, who, along with four associates, confessed to the charge. The statement gave only the initials of some of the suspects. the Eldik Kenesh party is led by Roza Nurmatova. The UKMK statement came a day after local media reported mass arrests. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Belarusian Activist Gets 12 Years In Prison On Charges Called 'Politically Motivated'

Yana Pinchuk appears in court on June 6.

Belarusian rights activist Yana Pinchuk, who was extradited to Minsk from Russia in August 2022, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges rights groups say are politically motivated.

Judge Tatsyana Falkouskaya of the Minsk City Court sentenced Pinchuk on June 6 after finding her guilty of inciting social hatred, creating an extremist group, involvement in the creation of a terrorist group, calling for the disruption of the constitutional order, and harming national security.

Rights watchdogs insist that the charges are politically motivated to punish Pinchuk for joining protests after Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was declared the winner of an August 2020 presidential election despite allegations of widespread voter fraud that triggered Western sanctions.

Police in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, arrested Pinchuk in early November 2021 at the request of Minsk. She was later extradited to Belarus and went on trial on April 10.

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.

Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which was critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as "extremist" in Belarus.

Pinchuk has rejected all of the charges, saying she immediately closed the Telegram channel after it was officially designated extremist.

She is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests following Lukashenka's contested reelection.

Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Belarusian authorities have also shut down several NGOs and independent media outlets.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.

Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.

The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.

The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.

"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.

Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.

Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.

In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.

Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

EU, U.S. Diplomats Urge Kosovo To Hold New Elections Amid Tensions In North

U.S. envoy Gabriel Escobar (left) and EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak meet with Kosovo's Albin Kurti (right) on June 5.

The European Union envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak, and the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, have told Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti he needs to calm the situation in the north of Kosovo, hold new municipal elections, and return to dialogue with Serbia on normalizing relations. The two diplomats met with Kurti late on June 5 in Pristina. Tensions over the seating of ethnic Albanian mayors sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers last week, leaving dozens injured. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Deputy Governor Of Northern Afghan Province Killed In Car Bombing

The deputy governor of Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan Province was killed by a car bomb on June 6, the provincial spokesman said. "Nissar Ahmad Ahmadi, with his driver, has been killed and six civilians were injured," said the head of the provincial information office, Mahzudeen Ahmadi. It was not clear who was behind the attack, which was the first known major blast in Afghanistan in several weeks. The Taliban administration has been carrying out raids against members of Islamic State, which has had claimed several major attacks in urban centers, including Kabul. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Destruction Of Major Dam In Ukraine Causes Massive Flooding, Raises Fears Of Environmental Disaster

Dnieper Dam Breach Unleashes Floods In Southern Ukraine
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the breach of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine as "an environmental bomb of mass destruction" as a Ukrainian official and the United Nations warned that it could spark an environmental disaster.

The breach of the Russian-held Soviet-era dam in the early hours of June 6 unleashed a torrent of water that flooded villages and sparked the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

"Such deliberate destruction by the Russian occupiers and other structures of the hydroelectric power station is an environmental bomb of mass destruction," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

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.

Zelenskiy said Russia deliberately carried out the attack on the dam but said it will have no effect on Ukraine's ability to recapture its own territory.

The UN’s humanitarian agency said it was gravely concerned about the destruction "and the severe humanitarian impact on hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the front line."

Authorities said people had been evacuated from areas threatened by massive flooding downstream in the Kherson region as water levels rose by up to 12 meters in some areas, and Russian authorities in occupied southern Ukraine declared a state of emergency. Neither side reported any deaths or injuries.

"The Kakhovska [dam project] has actually been destroyed, it's hard for me to imagine whether it will be possible to do something with it once the war has ended. The destruction is of such a scale that a lot of water will come out and there will be flooding, especially in the old part of the city," said Nova Kakhovka Mayor Volodymyr Kovalenko.

Oleksiy Kuleba, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said the destruction of the dam will cause a large ecological problem, noting that more than 400 tons of lubricating oil had been stored in tanks at the Kakhovka hydro power plant.

"We cannot be sure yet what amount has already ended up in the Dnieper River, but it will be a huge problem and an ecological disaster," Kuleba told RFE/RL.

"We are also anticipating that water level in the Kakhovka basin will drop dramatically and this will lead to a complete change of the ecological environment of the Kherson region. It is necessary to get ready for that as well," he said.

SLIDER IMAGE: The Nova Kakhovka Dam Before And After The Explosion

The Nova Kakhovka dam -- which is 30 meters tall and 3.2 kilometers long -- is part a vital route for transport and irrigation, as well as supplying water to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, which are both under Russian control.

"Russian terrorists," Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter, where he posted a video of the broken dam showing the water rapidly flowing through the huge breach.

"The destruction of the [Nova] Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land. Not a single meter should be left to them, because they use every meter for terror.... The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles, or anything else," Zelenskiy wrote, adding that all services were working.

Speaking later in a video address to the Bucharest Nine summit being held in Bratislava, Zelenskiy said the Russian claims were impossible given the size of the structure, which Moscow had controlled for more than a year.

"It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside - with shelling. It was mined. It was mined by the Russian occupiers and blown up by them," he said, speaking in a video address to the Bucharest Nine summit being held in Bratislava.

Water Rising To 'Critical' Levels, Says Ukrainian Official After Dam Break
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Natalya Humenyuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine's southern military command, said Russia blew up the dam to keep Ukrainian troops from being able to cross the Dnieper as it prepares to go on the counteroffensive to push Russian troops out of the region.

"They were aware that the movement of the [Ukrainian] defense forces would take place and in this way tried to influence the defense forces so that the crossing of the Dnieper, which they feared, would not happen," she told an online briefing, calling it a "hysterical reaction."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres labeled the destruction of the dam a "monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe" in a statement but stopped short of blaming Russia directly. Ahead of an emergency UN Security Council meeting, Guterres called it “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Ihor Syrota, the head of Ukrhydroenergo, said in an interview on state television that the hydro power station that formed part of the dam was "completely destroyed."

Syrota told RFE/RL the rising water is expected to peak early on June 7 and will begin to recede on the third or fourth day.

Russia denied it carried out the attack, with the Kremlin instead calling it "deliberate sabotage" by Kyiv.

The Moscow-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev said Ukrainian strikes on the dam destroyed its valves, and “water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably flow downstream.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that Ukraine destroyed the dam to prevent Russian attacks in the Kherson region after what he alleged was a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant has enough water to cool its reactors for "several months" from a pond located above the reservoir.

"There are a number of alternative sources of water. A main one is the large cooling pond next to the site that by design is kept above the height of the reservoir," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement.

"It is therefore vital that this cooling pond remains intact. Nothing must be done to potentially undermine its integrity. I call on all sides to ensure nothing is done to undermine that," Grossi said.

Before it was breached the dam's reservoir provided water used for the cooling of the plant’s six reactors as well as and spent fuel and emergency diesel generators.

International condemnation of the attack was swift, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg calling it "an outrageous act," while European Council President Charles Michel expressed “shock” saying Russia should be held accountable for the "war crime" of destroying civilian infrastructure.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also put the blame squarely on Moscow for the destruction of the dam, saying that while it was "too early" to make any kind of meaningful assessment of the details, "it's worth remembering that the only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pointed the finger for the destruction squarely at Moscow.

"This is of course, by all accounts, an aggression by the Russian side to stop the Ukrainian offensive to defend its own country," Scholz told broadcaster RTL.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also reacted to the destruction of the dam, saying U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed.

Kirby told reporters the U.S. “cannot say conclusively what happened” and declined to assess the impact on Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

He said The U.S. government expects "significant damage" to the people of Ukraine and the region.

"We know there are casualties, including likely many deaths, though these are early reports and we can't quantify them right now," he said, warning that the destruction of the power plant could have a devastating impact on Ukraine's energy security.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

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