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COVID-19: One Iranian 'Dying Every 10 Minutes'; Romania Urges Expats To Stay Away

A passenger checks her mobile phone as Serbia halts all commercial flights from Belgrade's airport to prevent the spread of coronavirus on March 19.
A passenger checks her mobile phone as Serbia halts all commercial flights from Belgrade's airport to prevent the spread of coronavirus on March 19.

The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 230,000 people 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.

Iran

The death toll from the coronavirus in Iran continues to rise as the worst-affected country in the Middle East prepares for scaled-down celebrations of Norouz, the Persian New Year.

"With 149 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, the death toll from the virus has reached 1,284," Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said on state television on March 19.

“Unfortunately, we have had 1,046 new cases of infection since yesterday,” Raisi added.

Iran has the third-highest number of registered cases after China and Italy.

Live Map: The Spread Of The Coronavirus

Updated constantly with the latest figures

With the country reeling from the outbreak, officials have recommended that Iranians stay home during the March 20 holiday, a time when hundreds of thousands usually travel to be with friends and relatives.

The government has closed schools at all levels, banned sports and cultural events, and curtailed religious activities to try and slow the spread of the virus.

Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the Health Ministry's public relations and information center , noted on March 19 that the data on the outbreak means an Iranian dies every 10 minutes from COVID-19, while 50 infections occur each hour of the day.

"With respect to this information, people must make a conscious decision about travel, traffic, transportation, and sightseeing," he added.

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Despite the dire circumstances, many Iranians were angered by the temporary closure of Shi'ite sites, prompting some earlier this week to storm into the courtyards of two major shrines -- Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine and Qom's Fatima Masumeh shrine.

Crowds typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That's worried health officials, who for weeks ordered Iran's Shi'ite clergy to close them.

Earlier on March 19, officials announced that the country wouldn’t mark its annual day celebrating its nuclear program because of the outbreak.

Georgia

The Georgian government has ordered the closure of shops except grocery stores and pharmacies beginning March 20 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure, announced on March 19, also exempts gas stations, post offices, and bank branches. The South Caucasus country has so far reported 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and no deaths.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on March 19 said he would declare a state of emergency, as many countries in Europe already have, if health authorities advise him to do so.

"As of today, I would like to emphasize that there is no need for this. However, in agreement with the president, we have decided, as soon as that need arises, that we will be able to make this decision within a few hours," he said.

Romania

President Klaus Iohannis has urged Romanians working abroad to refrain from traveling home for the Orthodox Easter amid fears of a worsening of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Romania has been under a 30-day state of emergency since March 16.

Iohannis made the appeal in a televised speech on March 19 as thousands of workers returning from Western Europe were slowly crossing into Romania after having clogged Hungary's borders both to the west and the east for two days in a row.

Romania is the European Union's second-poorest country, and at least 4 million Romanians work abroad, according to estimates.

The bottlenecks were worsened by Hungary's decision to close its borders on very short notice from March 17 at midnight -- a measure relaxed by Budapest after consultations with the Romanian government.

"Romanians from abroad are dear to us, and we long to be with them for Easter," Iohannis said. "However, that won't be possible this year.... We must tell them with sadness but also with sincerity not to come home for the holidays," he added.

Some 12,500 mostly Romanian travelers had crossed into Romania in 4,600 vehicles as of the morning of March 19, Romanian border police said.

They said 180 people were immediately quarantined, while some 10,000 were ordered into self-isolation once they reached their destinations.

The rest were mostly travelers in transit toward Moldova and Bulgaria, according to the police.

Romania has confirmed 277 coronavirus cases.

One of the patients is in serious condition in intensive care, while 25 people have recovered, according to health authorities.

No deaths have been reported so far.

However, authorities are concerned that the massive number of Romanians returning, mostly from Italy and Spain -- the European countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic -- will lead to a spike in infections in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.

The Romanian military has started building an emergency hospital in Bucharest amid fears that the country's crumbling health-care system will not be able to cope with the outbreak.

Ukraine

Some 900 Ukrainians are embarking on March 19 on a train journey from Prague to Kyiv as part of an evacuation plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The train is set to travel through the Czech Republic and Poland, where it will make a stop at Przemysl, before heading to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and the capital.

Yevhen Perebiynis, the Ukrainian ambassador to Prague, tweeted that more than 3,000 Ukrainians residing in the Czech Republic had asked to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Zhytomyr, Serhiy Sukhomlyn, said the city located 140 kilometers west of Kyiv recorded its first coronavirus infection.

Sukhomlyn said the patient, aged 56, had recently returned from Austria.

As of March 19, there were 21 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in six regions and the capital, Kyiv, the Health Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine recorded its third death linked to COVID-19 in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

An elderly woman died one day after visiting a hospital with severe flu-like symptoms, according to the Health Ministry.

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Russia

Russian officials have reported the country's first death connected to the coronavirus outbreak, but quickly backtracked, saying an elderly woman perished due to a detached blood clot.

The Moscow health department said on March 19 that the 79-year-old, who had tested positive for COVID-19, died in a Moscow hospital from pneumonia related to the virus.

Svetlana Krasnova, head doctor at Moscow's hospital No. 2 for infectious diseases, said in a statement that the woman had been admitted with "a host of chronic diseases," including type 2 diabetes and heart problems.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin then confirmed the coronavirus-releated death, saying on Twitter, "Unfortunately, we have the first loss from the coronavirus infection."

Hours later, however, health officials put out another statement saying an autopsy had confirmed the woman had died of a blood clot.

A subsequent official tally of the number of official coronavirus cases in Russia showed 199 confirmed infections but no deaths.

It was not clear whether the woman's death would eventually be counted as a result of the virus.

Though President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that the situation was "generally under control," many Russians have shown a distrust for official claims over the virus, and fear the true situation is much worse than they are being told.

Amid a recent rise in the number of cases, officials have temporarily barred entry to foreigners and imposed restrictions on flights and public gatherings.

The national health watchdog on March 19 tightened restrictions for all travellers from abroad with a decree requiring "all individuals arriving to Russia" to be isolated, either at home or elsewhere.

Serbia

Serbia has closed its main airport for all passenger flights and said it will shut its borders for all but freight traffic in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The government banned commercial flights to and from the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on March 19.

However, the airport will remain open to humanitarian and cargo flights, according to the Ministry of Construction, Traffic, and Infrastructure.

Later in the day, President Aleksandar Vucic said that as of March 20, Serbia's border crossings will be closed for all passenger road and rail transport.

"Nothing but trucks will be allowed to enter," Vucic said. "From noon tomorrow we will also halt commercial passenger transport inside the country."

The move comes after some 70,000 Serbs working in Western Europe and their families returned to Serbia in the last few days despite appeals by authorities not to do so.

Serbia currently has 103 confirmed coronavirus cases, with no fatalities.

The Balkan country had already imposed a state of emergency, introduced a night curfew for all citizens, and ordered the elderly to stay indoors.

Pakistan

Authorities in Pakistan have closed shrines of Sufi saints in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere while access to museums, archaeological, and tourist sites have been banned as confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 301, mostly in pilgrims returning from Iran.

Two Pakistanis who had returned from Saudi Arabia and Dubai became the country's first victims when they died on March 18 in the northwest.

Schools have already been shut in Pakistan.

Thousands of Pakistanis, mostly pilgrims, have been placed into quarantine in recent weeks at the Taftan border crossing in the country's southwestern province of Balochistan after returning from Iran, one of the world's worst affected countries.

Pakistani authorities on March 19 plan to quarantine hundreds more pilgrims who returned from Iran. These pilgrims will be kept at isolated buildings in central Pakistan for 14 days.

Uzbekistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s influential son-in-law says police have identified individuals who allegedly published the names of Uzbek nationals who tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Otabek Umarov, who is also the deputy head of the president’s personal security, said on Instagram that officials are now trying to determine the legality of the perpetrators’ actions.

A joint working group set up by the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General’s Office has also identified 33 social media accounts involved in “disseminating false information that provokes panic among people,” Umarov wrote.

He called the accounts a “betrayal” of the country and a matter of “national security.”

Umarov’s comments come amid a campaign by the Uzbek government to crack down on information that incites panic and fear among the public amid the coronavirus crisis.

On March 16, the country’s Justice Ministry said that, according to Uzbek law, those involved in preparing materials with the intention of inciting panic -- and those storing such materials with the intent to distribute them -- will face up to $9,400 in fines or up to three years in prison.

Those who spread such information through media and the Internet face up to eight years in prison, the ministry added.

The statement came a day after the Central Asian nation announced its first confirmed coronavirus infection, which prompted the government to introduce sweeping measures to contain the outbreak, including closing its borders, suspending international flights, closing schools, and banning public gatherings.

The number of infections had risen to 23 as of the morning of March 19, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry said that the 23 individuals are all Uzbek nationals who had returned home from Europe, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The Health Ministry regularly updates its social media accounts with information on the outbreak in Uzbekistan. Posts are frequently accompanied by the hashtag “quarantine without panic” in both Uzbek and Russian.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan

The Kazakh national currency, the tenge, has continued to weaken sharply as the number of coronavirus cases in the oil-rich Central Asian nation reached 44.

Many exchange points in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and the former Soviet republic's largest city, Almaty, did not sell U.S. dollars or euros on March 19, while some offered 471 tenges for $1, more than 25 percent weaker than in early March when the rate was around 375 tenges.

The tenge has plunged to all-time lows in recent days following an abrupt fall in oil prices and chaos in the world's stock markets caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Kazakh Health Ministry said on March 19 that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country had increased by seven to 44.

In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, three people, who returned home from Saudi Arabia several days ago, tested positive for the virus, which led to three villages being sealed off in the southern Jalal-Abad region.

In two other Central Asian nations, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, no coronavirus cases have been officially recorded to date.

Armenia

A relative of an Armenian woman blamed for spreading the coronavirus in the South Caucasus country alleges that criminal offenses have been committed against members of their family.

It emerged last week that the woman had traveled from Italy before attending a family gathering with dozens of guests in the city of Echmiadzin, disregarding health warnings about the coronavirus pandemic.

The woman, whose name was not released, later tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized. Dozens of other people who attended the gathering were placed under a 14-day quarantine.

Armenia has reported a total of 122 cases so far, including dozens in Echmiadzin. It has not yet reported any deaths.

Echmiadzin was locked down and a nationwide state of emergency has been announced in a bid to slow the spread of infection in Armenia.

Many on social media in Armenia expressed anger over what they said was irresponsible behavior by the woman.

Some ridiculed the woman and used offensive language against her. A photo of her also was posted online.

The woman’s lawyer, Gohar Hovhannisian, said that one of her relatives who lives abroad filed a complaint with the public prosecutor on March 17.

The complaint alleges that personal information about infected people was illegally obtained and published by the press and social media along with insults and photographs.

"It affects the mental state of a person. Imagine that a person is sick and such language is used against her or him and her or his personal data are published," Hovhannisian said.

The Prosecutor-General's Office forwarded the report to police to investigate the case.

Human rights activist Zaruhi Hovhannisian, who is not related to the lawyer, noted that the protection of personal data is enshrined in Armenia’s law. He said that disclosure of personal data in this case made it possible to identify the infected woman.

"Moreover, under the law on medical care and public services it is forbidden to disclose medical secrets, talk about people’s medical examinations and the course of their treatment as well as to pass these data to third parties," the activist said.

Earlier this week, a shop owner in Yerevan filed a complaint with police alleging that he had been attacked by three relatives of the woman in question for posting a joke about her on Facebook.

Police said they had identified and questioned three people over that complaint. But the authorities did not reveal their identities.

Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has been sealed off to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the South Caucasus state.

According to a government decision, as of March 19 entrance to Baku, the nearby city of Sumqayit, and the Abseron district has been banned for all cars, except ambulances, cargo trucks, and vehicles carrying rescue teams and road accident brigades. The measure will run until at least March 29.

All railway links between Baku, Sumqayit and the Abseron district, and the rest of the country were also suspended.

Azerbaijan has reported 34 confirmed coronavirus cases, with one fatality.

In neighboring Armenia, where authorities announced a state of emergency until April 16, the number of coronavirus cases is 115.

Elsewhere in the South Caucasus, Georgia, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 40.

Afghanistan

The United States is temporarily suspending the movement of new soldiers into Afghanistan as a way of protecting them from the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Army General Scott Miller said in a March 19 statement that the move could mean that some of the troops already on the ground in Afghanistan may have their deployments extended to ensure that the NATO-led Resolute Support mission continues.

"To preserve our currently healthy force, Resolute Support is making the necessary adjustments to temporarily pause personnel movement into the theater," he said.

“We are closely monitoring, continually assessing and adjusting our operations so we can continue to protect the national interests of the NATO allies and partners here in Afghanistan," he added.

About 1,500 troops and civilians who recently arrived in Afghanistan have been quarantined, Miller said, stressing that this was purely a precautionary measure and “not because they are sick.”

Earlier this month, the United States began reducing its troop presence in Afghanistan as part of a peace deal signed in February with the Taliban.

The agreement sees an initial reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 soldiers.

Miller did not mention the agreement in his statement.

So far, 21 U.S. and coalition staff exhibiting flu-like symptoms are in isolation and receiving medical care, Miller’s statement said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Romanian, and Uzbek services, AP, AFP, Reuters, Digi24.ro, G4media.ro, and Hotnews.ro

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Tsikhanouskaya's Adviser Vyachorka Sentenced To 20 Years In Absentia

Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))
Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))

The Minsk City Court on June 20 sentenced an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 20 years on multiple charges. Franak Vyachorka was sentenced in absentia for charges including conspiracy to seize power, organization of mass disorders, creation of an extremist group, and defamation of the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said the court also ordered Vyachorka to pay a fine of 60,000 rubles ($18,340). Vyachorka, who resides abroad, wrote on Facebook that the court rejected his request to take part in the trial over a video link. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. To 'Reprioritize' Missile Sales To Speed Ukraine Deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.

WASHINGTON -- The United States will "reprioritize" planned deliveries of Patriot air-defense missiles to get them to Ukraine faster, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 20 as Washington works to fill Kyiv's "desperate need" for more air-defense capabilities.

The decision means that the deliveries of "missiles rolling off the production line" will go to Ukraine and other countries will have to wait for missiles they ordered.

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"This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war," Kirby said, describing the decision as "difficult but necessary."

The decision also affects missiles used in the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as missiles used in the Patriot systems, Kirby said, stressing that only missiles are involved in the decision.

The other components -- radar systems and launchers -- currently are not available, Kirby said.

"Right now, we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So, it was something we looked at. But right now, the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves."

U.S. defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, makes the radar systems and launchers for both the Patriot and the NASAMS. The missiles for the two systems are made by Raytheon and other companies.

Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told RFE/RL recently that it could take as long as two years to produce a new Patriot system.

Kirby said the first shipments headed to Ukraine will happen before the end of the summer. The total deliveries will cover an estimated 16 months of Ukraine's needs. He declined to say which countries agreed to reprioritize deliveries, though he said the decision will not have an impact on missile deliveries to Taiwan.

Kirby's comments came after Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting more power blackouts. Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the attacks.

Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK, said it was the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months. The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry recently cut its outlook for economic expansion this year due to the energy shortage caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Western nations last week announced a $50 billion loan for Ukraine, part of which will go toward helping rebuild the nation's energy system.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

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

Major Storm Kills 2 People In Moscow

People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.
People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.

A severe storm hit Moscow on June 20, killing two people and injuring nine as hurricane-force winds and pounding rain swept across the city. Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tree that fell during the storm, while another person died after falling when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Video circulating on the Internet showed falling billboards, trees, and other materials being whipped around by strong winds as heavy rains drenched the capital. Some videos appeared to show the formation of tornados. Officials said around 23 trees were uprooted and eight vehicles damaged in Moscow. One person was injured in a surrounding region where the storm felled some 200 trees, they added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

EU Countries Agree On Fresh Russia Sanctions That Include Ban On Liquefied Gas

European Union ambassadors on June 20 approved a fresh package of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine aimed primarily at closing loopholes that exist in previous restrictions and targeting for the first time Moscow's lucrative liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.

"EU Ambassadors just agreed on a powerful and substantial 14th package of sanctions in reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine," the Belgian EU presidency wrote on X.

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"This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes," it said.

The new package of sanctions includes measures to hold European operators accountable for sanctions violations by subsidiaries and partners in third countries and provide for a a ban on the transshipment of Russian liquefied natural gas and the export of helium.

It also restricts access to dual-use technologies and the trade in works of art stolen in Ukraine.

Between 4 billion and 6 billion cubic meters of Russian LNG was shipped on to third countries through EU ports last year, the bloc estimates.

The complete details of the package will be made public next week once EU foreign ministers approve the measures, most likely on June 24, ahead of an EU summit next week.

Some 47 new entities and 69 individuals were reportedly added to the EU sanctions list, bringing the total to 2,200.

The sanctions list may include explosives manufacturer Spetskhimiya; the Mayak factory that produces aircraft spare parts; and weapons manufacturer Tsniitochmash.

Among the reported individuals put on the list are Russian singer Polina Gagarina over her participation in Kremlin-sponsored events; Igor Altushkin, a former employee of President Vladimir Putin's administration and founder of the Russian Copper Company; general director of the Internet Development Institute Aleksei Goreslavsky; and Taimuraz Bolloyev, the former president of the Baltika brewing company.

Romanian President Withdraws NATO Bid, Clearing Final Hurdle For Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has withdrawn his bid to replace outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, allowing Romania to throw its support behind the candidacy of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is backed by all the other 31 members of the alliance.

Iohannis's decision was announced after a meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) on June 20 that also decided to supply Ukraine with a Patriot air-defense system that Kyiv has been pleading it allies for.

"During the CSAT meeting, the president of Romania said he had informed NATO allies at the end of last week about his withdrawing his candidacy for the position of NATO secretary-general," the CSAT said in a statement.

Iohannis then "asked the CSAT members about their position on Rutte's candidacy...and they declared they were in favor of Romania's throwing its support behind the Dutch premier's candidacy," the statement added.

On June 18, Hungary and Slovakia announced their support for Rutte, leaving Romania as the only member of the alliance that had yet to endorse the longtime Dutch prime minister for the position.

Iohannis, a former physics teacher who will end his second and last 5-year presidential term in December, announced in the spring that he would run for the NATO position that is to become vacant on October 1.

To back his candidacy, Iohannis had argued in an article in Politico in March that the alliance needed change and an Eastern European perspective amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

"NATO needs a renewal, with a strong, influential representation from this region, which meets the needs of the member states," he said.

Romania also agreed after much deliberation to donate one of its Patriot systems to Ukraine, which faces daily missile and drone strikes on its cities and civilian infrastructure.

"Taking into account the significant deterioration of Ukraine's security situation as a consequence of Russia's massive and constant attacks on its civilians and its infrastructure, especially its energy infrastructure...CSAT members, in close coordination with Romania's allies, have decided to donate Ukraine one Patriot system," the statement said.

Romania has so far received four out of the seven Patriot systems ordered from the United States for a total price of $4 billion.

At a G7 summit last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he "urgently" needed seven Patriot systems to protect Ukrainians and the country's infrastructure from Russia's continued bombardment.

U.S. President Joe Biden responded by saying the United States had received commitments from five countries -- which he did not name -- to provide Patriot and other air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Biden said the United States would supply one system, which will be redeployed from Poland. Germany has also said it too will provide several Patriot systems to Kyiv.

Amid Growing U.S.- Russian Tensions, Dual Citizen Goes On Trial In Yekaterinburg

Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.
Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.

The trial of U.S.-Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina (married name Khavana) in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg began with the judge ruling that the proceedings on a treason charge will take place behind closed doors.

Judge Andrei Mineyev, who is scheduled to try another U.S. citizen, Evan Gershkovich, later this month on an espionage charge, handed down his ruling Karelina's case on June 20.

The 33-year-old resident of Los Angeles was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of sending $51.80 from her U.S.-based bank account to the Razom for Ukraine foundation, which helps Ukrainian civilians.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time that it suppressed the illegal activities of a U.S.-Russian citizen who was "involved in providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against the security of our country."

Washington has repeatedly criticized Russia for targeting and arresting U.S. citizens, accusing Moscow of detaining them as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians being held in U.S. prisons.

In late March last year, the FSB in Yekaterinburg arrested Gershkovich on espionage charges that he, his employer The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. officials reject a groundless.

Another U.S. citizen, former Marine Paul Whelan, is also being held in Russia on espionage charges. Whelan and the U.S. government reject the charges as politically motivated. While Gershkovich is still in pretrial detention, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

A third U.S. citizen, RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who also holds Russian citizenship, has been in pretrial detention since October 2023 on charges of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law and spreading false information about the Russian military. The U.S. government and her employer say the charge is in reprisal for her work.

In total, at least nine Americans are currently being detained in Russia on various charges or convictions.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "Do Not Travel" warning to U.S. citizens in the background of U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's full-scale invasion of that country. The note cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials" in its warning.

With reporting by SotaVision

Russia Adds Journalist Kurbangaleyeva To Wanted List

Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)
Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)

Russian authorities on June 19 added journalist Farida Kurbangaleyeva to the list of wanted persons and the registry of terrorists and extremists on unspecified charges. The Prague-based Kurbangaleyeva wrote on Facebook that the move was made by the Russian authorities most likely over her "openly saying that Russia...conducts a criminal, land-grabbing war in Ukraine, enslaves other peoples, annihilates identities, tortures, robs, rapes, and suppresses any kind of dissent." Through the years Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. She has a YouTube channel where she often interviews Ukrainian and Russian politicians and political observers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Blast In Southern Montenegro Kills 2

Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.
Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.

Two people were killed and three more, including a woman passing by, were injured in a powerful explosion in the southern Montenegrin town of Cetinje on June 20, police said. The explosion blew out the windows of a nearby sports hall and uprooted a tree in the center of the town, which is Montenegro's former royal capital. Police cordoned off the area and opened an investigation into the cause of the blast. They did not give any details on what may have caused the blast, but local media said it was caused by a bomb targeting members of the criminal underworld. Organized crime is seen as a serious obstacle to Montenegro's EU accession. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Tajik Detained Over Mass Food Poisoning In Moscow

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A Moscow court on June 19 ordered Tajik national Karim Normatov to be held in pretrial detention for two months over a mass food poisoning in the Russian capital. Normatov is a cook for the Savon-K food-delivery company. Three other suspects -- the company's commercial director, Vladimir Shin; the director of the Kukhnya Na Rayone restaurant, Anton Lozin; and his chief of food quality, Yelena Mashkova, were placed under house arrest. Russia's consumers' rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said earlier that more than 120 Savon-K customers were diagnosed with botulism and 50 were hospitalized. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Blogger Faces Charges After Being Detained Before Putin Siberia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.

Pyotr Shepelev, a blogger who lives in the Russian region of Sakha-Yakutia in Siberia, faces five administrative charges after being detained on June 18, just hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said on June 20 that the charges against his client were disobeying police orders and participating in an unsanctioned protest. He could face up to 15 days in jail or a fine. Hours before his detention, Shepelev wrote on Telegram that two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block, suggesting that it was linked to Putin's visit. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kazakh President Signs Into Law Controversial Bill On Media

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)

ASTANA -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has signed into law a controversial bill on mass media that will hinder journalists from getting comments from officials and interviews.

Domestic and international rights groups and media experts have expressed concerns over the new law, saying it will compromise independent journalism and lead to self-censorship in the Central Asian country.

According to the law Toqaev signed on June 20, all Internet resources are now considered media outlets.

Among other things, the law introduces a three-year period to file lawsuits over materials published in the media, as well as new regulations for the registration of media outlets in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

By 2027, weekly broadcasting in the Kazakh language will be increased from 50 percent to 60 percent, while rebroadcasting of foreign programs will be cut to 10 percent from 20 percent.

Currently 50 percent of programs broadcast on television and radio are in Russian.

The Culture and Information Ministry will monitor media programs "to prevent damaging effects on society's moral development, as well as disruption of the universally humane, national, cultural, and family values."

In 2024, Kazakhstan slipped from 134th place to 142nd in the press index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which monitors media freedom across the world.

Russian Teacher Gets 20 Years In Prison For Transferring Cash To Ukraine

Daniil Klyuka (file photo)
Daniil Klyuka (file photo)

A military court in Moscow on June 20 sentenced schoolteacher Daniil Klyuka from the western city of Lipetsk to 20 years in prison on charges of high treason and assisting terrorist activities, which he denies. Klyuka was arrested in February 2023 after investigators accused him of transferring 20,000 rubles ($237) to the Azov Assault Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard. The brigade has been declared a terrorist group and banned in Russia. Klyuka rejects the accusations, saying he transferred the cash in October 2022 to his brother, who resides in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Luhansk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former RFE/RL Journalist Could Be Charged In Kyrgyzstan Over Social Media Comments

Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany
Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany

Retired former RFE/RL journalist Bayan Jumagulova, who lives in Germany, told RFE/RL on June 20 that she was summoned by the police in Bishkek, where she had arrived earlier in June, for questioning in a case launched against her on a charge of inciting hatred. The case was launched over her posts on Facebook, where the 65-year-old expressed personal opinions about the spread of Arabic culture in her native Kyrgyzstan. Jumagulova, who left RFE/RL in 2007, added that she was ordered to come to the police on June 22 and that a court will decide on her pretrial restrictions then. Kyrgyz officials have yet to comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Tajik Foreign Minister Zarifi Reportedly Arrested

Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)
Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)

Several sources told RFE/RL that former Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi was arrested on unspecified charges last week. One source close to law enforcement said Zarifi was suspected of financial crimes related to the construction of the Foreign Ministry's new building. The 75-year-old Zarifi served as the Central Asian country's foreign minister from 2006 to 2013. From 2015 until his retirement in 2018, Zarifi served as Tajikistan's ambassador to Japan. Last week, investigators arrested lawmaker Saidjafar Usmonzoda on a charge of "usurping power." No further explanation of the charge was given and it remains unclear if the two arrests are linked. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Fire At Iranian Hospital Leaves At Least 9 Dead

The private Qaem hospital in Rasht
The private Qaem hospital in Rasht

A devastating fire at the private Qaem hospital in Rasht, northern Iran, has resulted in the deaths of nine people, Iranian news agencies reported, including some patients in intensive care.

Mohammad Taghi Ashoubi, head of Gilan University of Medical Sciences, confirmed that the death toll had risen to nine following the death of another victim from the fire, which started in the early morning hours at the 250-bed facility on June 18.

At the time of the blaze, approximately 140 patients were in the facility, with 120 sustaining injuries, officials said.

Rasht fire department officials said it took three hours to bring the fire under control.

"By the time we arrived, the basement and the intensive-care rooms were on fire. The fire originated in the hospital's utility room," said Shahram Momeni, head of the fire brigade.

Qaem hospital, established in 2013 and affiliated with the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, houses over 200 beds and includes facilities catering to both local and medical tourists. These include specialized and super-specialized departments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, emergency services, angiography, and maternity and pediatric care.

The fire highlights ongoing safety concerns in Iranian health-care facilities as it follows a tragic fire in November 2023 that killed 36 people at the First Step to Freedom addiction treatment center in Langarud, Gilan Province.

Other notable fires at Tehran medical facilities include a large blaze at the Gandhi Hospital and the deadly explosion at Sina At'har medical diagnostic clinic in July 2020, which claimed 19 lives and injured 14 others.

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

Lawyer Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years For 'Propaganda Against The Regime'

Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.
Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amirhossein Kouhkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Kouhkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including "assembly and collusion" and "propaganda against the regime."

Kouhkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj intelligence department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges also follow the arrest of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami's father, highlighting a pressure campaign rights groups say the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply into the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Kouhkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Moved To Stricter Prison Regime

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)
Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza has been transferred to a cell-type facility -- one of Russia's strictest prison regimes -- for six months, his former lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said. The administration of the maximum-security prison in Omsk where Kara-Murza is imprisoned moved him to the facility after he allegedly failed to hold his hands behind his back for several seconds after being ordered to do so, Prokhorov said. Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023 on charges of high treason and discrediting Russia's military. He rejects the charges as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Armenia's Pashinian Orders Change To Constitution To Pave Way For Treaty With Baku

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has ordered the drafting of a new constitution amid demands by Azerbaijan that a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh be removed from Armenia's fundamental law. Pashinian gave the Council of Constitutional Reforms until December 30, 2026, to draft and approve the new constitution. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly demanded that Yerevan change its constitution as a main condition for concluding a peace treaty with Armenia. Baku wants a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh's unification with Armenia removed from the constitution. Azerbaijan retook control of the breakaway region in September 2023, following a lightning offensive. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Ukraine, Russia Target Energy Facilities With Drones, Missiles

Russian strikes on energy infrastructure have led to blackouts, such as in Kyiv last month.
Russian strikes on energy infrastructure have led to blackouts, such as in Kyiv last month.

Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting even more power blackouts, while Ukrainian drones reportedly struck deep inside Russian territory, setting oil installations on fire in two regions.

Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said early on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the latest wave of Russian drone and missile attacks.

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"Equipment was damaged at energy facilities in the Vinnytsya, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Kyiv regions," Ukrenerho said in a message on Telegram.

A thermal power plant sustained "serious damage" in the Russian strikes, according to Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK.

"This is already the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months," DTEK said on Telegram, without disclosing the location of the facility. It said three workers were injured in the attack.

The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said, adding, however, that electricity supply for critical infrastructure will not be restricted.

Separately, the air force reported that Russia attacked Ukraine with nine missiles and 27 drones. Ukrainian air defenses shot down all the drones and five missiles, the military said.

Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine's critical energy infrastructure, causing enormous damage and limiting electricity supply for the civilian population, prompting regular blackouts.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said during a June 20 meeting with senior Ukrainian military officials that he hopes to develop a renewable energy infrastructure in response to the attacks.

"All public and administrative buildings must be equipped with energy-saving technologies. Solar panels, smart meters, and energy storage facilities should appear in every school and hospital as soon as possible," Zelenskiy said.

In return, Ukrainian drones have struck deeper inside Russia, damaging energy facilities critical for Moscow's military effort, mainly oil installations.

On June 20, drones belonging to Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) struck a fuel and lubricants warehouse in Russia's Tambov region, some 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow, and a LUKoil oil depot in the North Caucasus region of Adygea, setting both on fire, a Ukrainian security source told RFE/RL.

The Baza channel, which is linked to Russian security services, confirmed that a fire had broken out at the Platonov oil depot in Tambov.

Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of the Russian region of Krasnodar, said a private house was completely destroyed, and a local resident was killed in a Ukrainian drone attack on the city of Slavyansk-on-Kuban.

The SBU told RFE/RL that its drones had carried out almost three dozen successful attacks on Russian oil facilities in various regions since the start of the war.

None of the claims could be independently confirmed.

Canada Adds Iran's Revolutionary Guards To Its List Of Terrorist Groups

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.

Canada has listed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity and advised any Canadians in Iran to leave the country.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement on June 19 at a news conference in Ottawa, saying the decision to declare the IRGC as a terrorist organization is based on "very strong and convincing evidence."

LeBlanc told reporters that Canada "uses all possible means to fight the terrorist acts of the IRGC."

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly noted at the same news conference that Ottawa broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran several years ago. She urged Canadians against travel to Iran and said those in the country now should "come back home."

The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group has long been sought by Iranian expats and relatives of those killed on a flight brought down in January 2020 by Iranian forces shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, about half of them Canadians.

The Association of Families of Ukrainian Flight PS752 said in a statement on June 19 that it was grateful to the government for making the designation and to "all political parties, activists, and individuals who contributed to this achievement."

The statement added that that the association is "also grateful to the brave people of Iran who have stood up against this oppressive organization and have continuously supported the families of the victims."

The association also said it continues to insist on its other demands, including pursuing the case of the downed flight in the International Court of Justice and before other international courts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government had been reluctant to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization over concern that listing it as such would have unintended consequences that could inadvertently impact Iranians in Canada opposed to the regime.

Trudeau signaled the move earlier this year at a memorial service for the victims of the downed plane, saying that his government was looking for ways to add the IRGC to the list of terrorist organizations.

"We know there is more to do to hold the regime to account and we will continue our work, including continuing to look for ways to responsibly list the IRGC as a terrorist organization," Trudeau said on January 8.

Once a group is placed on Canada's terrorism list, police can charge anyone who financially or materially supports the group and banks can freeze assets.

Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, a branch of the IRGC, as a terrorist entity, and in 2022 permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including members of the IRGC.

Ottawa severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012.

With reporting by AFP

Vucic Praises Trump's Son-In-Law's Development Plans For Belgrade

Jared Kushner's company plans to build a business-residential complex in Belgrade at the site of a former Yugoslav Defense Ministry facility, which was was bombed in 1999. (file photo)
Jared Kushner's company plans to build a business-residential complex in Belgrade at the site of a former Yugoslav Defense Ministry facility, which was was bombed in 1999. (file photo)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he and Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former U.S. President Donald Trump, had an "inspiring exchange of ideas" when they met on June 19 and toured Belgrade together.

Vucic said he showed Kushner the Serbian capital and explained some of the plans for the city’s “even faster growth.” He added in a post on Instagram that Kushner presented him with a project for a "magnificent hotel in Belgrade."

Serbia on May 15 signed a contract with Affinity Global Development, a company owned by Kushner, to redevelop a site in Belgrade formerly used by the Yugoslav military.

The site to be developed is located in the center of Belgrade and previously was home to the Yugoslav Federal Secretariat for National Defense. It was bombed twice in the spring of 1999 as part of NATO’s response to protect Albanians in Kosovo from ethnic cleansing by Serbian security forces.

From Ruins To Real Estate: Jared Kushner Targets Former NATO Bombing Site In Belgrade
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Vucic said on Instagram the development plans "will contribute to our capital becoming the center of this part of the world” and help Belgrade position itself as “an unmissable destination and desirable headquarters for the largest corporations, universities, and international institutions."

It also will be an inspiration for artists, scientists, and "above all young people from all over the world,” he said.

Kushner, the husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, disclosed plans in March to develop luxury projects in Belgrade and on Albania's Adriatic Sea coastline. Serbia leased his company the Belgrade site for 99 years.

According to The New York Times, the investment is worth $500 million. The newspaper said in an article in March that Trump expressed interest in developing the complex before he ran for president in 2016, but Kushner denied knowing about his father-in-law's prior interest in the site.

The contract calls for the construction of a memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the bombing in 1999. The 78-day NATO bombing campaign drove Serbian forces out of Kosovo, which later declared its independence from Belgrade.

Belgrade was a major target of the Western alliance’s warplanes during the attacks in 1999, and Serbian leaders eventually acceded to Western demands and retreated from Kosovo.

The NGO Fund of Humanitarian Law says that 756 people were killed in the NATO bombing campaign, 452 of them civilians and most of them in Kosovo. Serbia has said many more civilians were killed.

Minister of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure Goran Vesic, who signed the contract with Affinity Global Development, said the memorial complex will be financed by investors and owned by Serbia.

Kosovar Journalist Barred From Euro 2024 After Making Gesture At Serbian Fans

Serbia's football association asked for the Kosovar journalist's removal, saying that he provoked Serbian fans by making a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. (file photo)
Serbia's football association asked for the Kosovar journalist's removal, saying that he provoked Serbian fans by making a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. (file photo)

UEFA has canceled the credentials of a Kosovar journalist covering the Euro 2024 soccer tournament following complaints about a nationalist gesture he made toward Serbian fans on June 16. Milan Vukovic, a spokesman for the Football Federation of Serbia, asked for Arlind Sadiku's removal from the tournament in Germany, saying the reporter provoked Serbian fans when he turned toward them and made a gesture with his hands that mimics the double-headed eagle on Albania's national flag. Ethnic Albanians make up the majority of the population in Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not recognize. Sadiku acknowledged that the gesture was unprofessional but argued that it was not "offensive to anyone."

Pakistani Journalists Hold Protest After Funeral For Colleague Killed By Gunmen

The funeral procession for slain Pakistani journalist Khalil Afridi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on June 19.
The funeral procession for slain Pakistani journalist Khalil Afridi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on June 19.

Reporters in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province protested on June 19 after a fellow journalist was shot and killed by unidentified armed men.

The protest took place after the funeral for the journalist, Khalil Afridi, who worked for Pashto-language Khyber TV. He also served twice as president of the local press club in Landi Kotal, a Pakistani town near Torkham. In addition to working as a journalist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Afridi was a civil society activist.

More than 1,000 people from the area and other members of the community were present for Afridi’s funeral in Landi Kotal.

Shams Mohmand, the head of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Journalists Association, told reporters after the funeral that the association would hold another demonstration on June 21 at Bab-e-Khyber (Khyber Gate) to demand the safety and security of journalists.

Police said Afridi was killed on June 18 at around 10 p.m. local time when his car was stopped by hooded armed men who opened fire. Afridi died at the scene, while a friend who was also in the car, was injured, police officer Sajid Afridi, who is not related to the victim, told RFE/RL.

Police said Afridi and his friend had gone to a flood site and were attacked on their way home. No one has claimed responsibility for his death.

His family and officials said gunmen had been threatening him for a long time, and his family said he had been attacked by gunmen in the past. Afridi’s family said someone planted a bomb under his car on November 24, 2017. It failed to detonate, but on the same day he and four other journalists were arrested by the militia forces and held against their will for a few days.

Domestic and international media watchdogs have called Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.

The Freedom Network, a nongovernmental organization working for media freedom and freedom of expression in Pakistan, said in its annual report on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, that there had been an increase in threats to journalists and media in the country.

The report said that four journalists were killed in Pakistan between May 2023 and April 2024, adding that their deaths were among 104 cases of violence against journalists and media workers in Pakistan during the period.

The government has repeatedly insisted that there is a free media in the country and that all citizens have the right to freedom of expression.

The government passed a law in 2021 on the protection of journalists, under which the government is to take appropriate measures against all forms of harassment, violence, and abuse of reporters and media workers.

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