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Death, Exodus As Two Syria Assaults Escalate

Syrians from the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region, just outside Damascus, walk through a regime-controlled corridor in Hamuria on March 16.
Syrians from the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region, just outside Damascus, walk through a regime-controlled corridor in Hamuria on March 16.

Air strikes killed dozens of civilians in eastern Ghouta on March 16 and forced thousands more to flee, as Syrian troops continued their offensive on the last rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 civilians were killed in Russian air strikes on the southwestern Ghouta pocket on March 16.

The latest reported deaths brought the toll for the nearly month-old offensive to 1,350.

Another deadly assault is also unfolding in the north, where Turkish-led forces pressed an operation to seize the Kurdish-majority region of Afrin.

The operation has sent thousands onto the roads, with bombing on the city of Afrin on March 16 killing 36 people and hitting the main hospital.

The Observatory said 15,000 had fled Afrin on March 16 in fear that a Turkish advance would cut the last exit road.

The monitor said a Turkish strike on March 16 hit Afrin's hospital, killing nine people and damaging the already-strapped facility.

That brought to 36 -- at least 27 of them civilians -- the death toll in the bombardment of the town on March 16, according to the Observatory.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa

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Four Residents Of Kazakhstan's Northern City Of Petropavl Get Prison Terms On Separatism Charge

The city court in Kazakhstan’s northern city of Petropavl (file photo)
The city court in Kazakhstan’s northern city of Petropavl (file photo)

A court in Kazakhstan’s northern city of Petropavl handed prison terms to four residents on November 28 on charges of separatism and calls to change the country's constitutional order. Vyacheslav Zuderman was sentenced to nine years, while three co-defendants -- Yelena Boldyreva, Madina Qaparova, and Olga Berezhnova -- received seven years each. The four were arrested in March after they called themselves People's Council and publicly announced that they promote "our independence and sovereignty" and "the territorial integrity of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic" -- Kazakhstan’s name when it was part of the Soviet Union. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

EU Special Envoy Says Kazakhstan Significantly Reduced Reexport Of Dual-Purpose Items To Russia

David O'Sullivan, the European Union's special envoy for the implementation of sanctions, met with Kazakh officials in Astana on November 28.
David O'Sullivan, the European Union's special envoy for the implementation of sanctions, met with Kazakh officials in Astana on November 28.

David O'Sullivan, the European Union's special envoy for the implementation of sanctions, met with Kazakh officials in Astana on November 28 and said the Central Asian nation had significantly reduced the reexport of dual-purpose goods to Russia but increased other exports to its northern neighbor. O'Sullivan stressed that the EU believes the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West over its ongoing invasion of Ukraine will not stand in the way of its cooperation with Kazakhstan. O'Sullivan is expected to visit Uzbekistan on November 29 to focus on the same issue. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Afghan Women Activists Seek Taliban ICC Trial Over Rights Abuses

The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."
The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."

Afghan women's rights activists are demanding the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecute Afghanistan's Taliban rulers for systemic violations of human rights.

In an open letter sent to the ICC on November 27, they accused the Taliban, who seized power in August 2021 as international troops withdrew from the country, of consistently violating the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

"They must be prosecuted," said one activist who requested anonymity because of security fears.

"The Taliban has imposed a gender apartheid in Afghanistan by excluding women from the society through employment and education bans while also persecuting rights activists," she added.

She is one of dozens of signatories to the letter.

The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."

The letter also highlights the persecution of Afghan women's rights activists.

Since the Taliban returned to power, the Taliban has put down, often violently, protests by Afghan women over their lack of rights. Hundreds of women have been imprisoned after their protests were declared illegal.

"Such letters can help the international community to fulfill its obligation toward the Afghan women," Maryam Maarouf Arvin, an Afghan women's rights activist, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Five women's rights activists -- Neda Parwani, Zholya Parsi, Manijeh Sediqi, Bahare Karimi, and Parisa Azadeh -- are currently in Taliban custody.

Since returning to power, the hard-line Islamist Taliban has banned women and teenage girls from education in Afghanistan. It has also banned them from employment in most sectors and discouraged them from leaving their homes.

On November 26, global rights watchdog Amnesty International launched an online petition saying the Taliban has started "a new era of human rights abuse and violations" that has put the country "at the brink of irreversible ruin."

"Not only [have] the Taliban de-facto authorities...broken their promise of protecting Afghan people's rights, especially women's rights, they have resumed the cycle of violence and committed a litany of human rights abuses and violations with full impunity," the petition says.

"Human rights are under attack on all fronts. It must be stopped," it added.

Several Families Fear For Detained Relatives, Accuse Iranian Officials Of Rights Abuses

Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.
Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.

The families of 13 Iranian political and civil activists detained in East Azerbaijan Province have accused Iranian authorities of failing to grant access to lawyers for their relatives while charges remain unclear.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ayoub Shiri, brother of detained activist Davoud Shiri, said that since his brother's arrest outside his Tabriz home on September 22, the family has only received three brief phone calls.

Shiri expressed frustration over the lack of clarity regarding his brother's charges.

"We have no news. They did not tell us the subject of the accusation, and every time we go to follow up, they say the same thing. Then the authorities provide a different explanation each time they are in contact," he said.

Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu, whose brother Ayat (Yurosh) was arrested in Jolfa on November 7, said his family is experiencing a similar situation.

He said his brother managed only a brief call with his wife after being arrested and the family suspects he is being held at the Tabriz Intelligence Detention Center.

"The judiciary is not independent enough for us to follow up. When we approached the Tabriz judiciary, they didn't respond and said,'Your brother is our guest for four months,'" Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu told Radio Farda.

Some of the families say their concerns extend beyond the lack of information on the legal aspects of the situation and on to the health and well-being of the detainees.

Reports have emerged about the deteriorating physical condition of Hamed Yeganepor, who was arrested in Maragheh. Despite a heart condition requiring medical attention, Yeganepor is reportedly receiving insufficient care and was returned to the detention center after a brief hospital visit.

The situation highlights growing anxiety among the families of detainees, who fear for their loved ones, especially those feared being held in solitary confinement.

The government has yet to provide any official explanation or comment on the arrests of these activists, further deepening the concerns of their families and human rights observers.

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

Kazakh Citizen Gets More Than Six Years In Prison For Joining Wagner Mercenary Group

The District Criminal Court of the city of Qaraghandy
The District Criminal Court of the city of Qaraghandy

The Qaraghandy regional court in central Kazakhstan told RFE/RL on November 28 that a local resident, Aleksei Shompolov, had been sentenced to six years and eight months for joining Russia's Wagner mercenary group and fighting against Ukrainian forces in May in Bakhmut, where he was injured. The 34-year-old, who pleaded guilty, was arrested after arriving back in Kazakhstan, which makes it a crime to serve as a mercenary abroad. Shompolov's sentence was upheld on November 15, the court said, adding that his payment from Wagner -- 205,590 rubles ($2,300) -- was confiscated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Finland To Close Entire Border With Russia To Stem Flow Of Asylum Seekers

A general view of the Raja-Jooseppi border station in Lapland, northern Finland, on November 27.
A general view of the Raja-Jooseppi border station in Lapland, northern Finland, on November 27.

Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travelers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers that Helsinki says are being funneled to the border by Russia to sow instability in the Nordic nation.

Finland last week shut all but one of its border crossings to travelers from Russia, keeping open only the Raja-Jooseppi crossing (Lotta on the Russian side) -- the northernmost crossing on Finland's 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, which is also the European Union's external border.

The Finnish government announced in a statement on November 28 that this crossing will close overnight on November 29, joining all the others in allowing only the transport of goods.

The closures will remain in effect until December 13, the statement said, adding that it will not be possible to submit applications for asylum at any border crossing points on the land border between Finland and Russia.

Finland has seen a recent influx of asylum seekers arriving at its eastern border and blames a change in Russian border protocol that Moscow made subsequent to Finland's entry into NATO. Moscow denies the charge.

According to the Finnish Border Guard, some 900 asylum seekers entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously. The countries of origin include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, the Border Guard said.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on November 27 that Finland if necessary would take further measures to stem the flow. He warned Russia again on November 28.

"Russia is enabling the instrumentalization of people and guiding them to the Finnish border in harsh winter conditions. Finland is determined to put an end to this phenomenon," Orpo said in the statement.

He told reporters that Finland has reason to suspect that "Russia's influencing operations" are behind the increase in the number of asylum seekers.

"We don't accept any attempt to undermine our national security. Russia has caused this situation, and it can also stop it," Orpo said.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in the statement that it is necessary to close the entire eastern border "to protect Finland's national security against this Russian hybrid operation."

The government said it concluded that "these are very exceptional circumstances" that require the short-term total closure of the eastern border "to put an end to this phenomenon and to limit the serious consequences that it has for national security and public order."

With reporting by Reuters

Azerbaijan Summons Western Diplomats Over Support For Arrested Journalists

Abzas Director Ulvi Hasanli and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi
Abzas Director Ulvi Hasanli and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said on November 28 it summoned the U.S., French, and German envoys to protest what it called "illegal financial operations" by organizations located in the three countries to support the independent Abzas news website -- an investigative outlet whose leaders were arrested on suspicion of foreign currency smuggling, a charge the journalists reject. Abzas's director, Ulvi Hasanli, and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi were arrested last week after police claimed they found 40,000 euros ($43,800) in cash in Abzas's offices. The journalists insist the case against them is trumped up in retaliation for reports about corruption among officials.

Siberian LGBT Activist Sinko Detained While Holding Solo Picket

Alexandra Sinko protesting in St. Petersburg
Alexandra Sinko protesting in St. Petersburg

Police in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk detained an LGBT activist, Aleksandra Sinko, while she was holding a single-person picket, which does not require advance permission from the authorities. She was protesting a request filed by the Justice Ministry earlier this month to recognize the international LGBT rights movement as an extremist group. Sinko, who is an openly trans woman, was holding a poster on November 28 with text saying LGBT persons are not extremists. She was charged with "propagating untraditional sexual relations" -- a charge that carries a fine or up to 15 days in jail. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Updated

U.S. Senate Leader Will Push For Vote On Aid For Ukraine, Israel As Soon As Next Week

Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson enters a session of U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., on October 25.
Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson enters a session of U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., on October 25.

The U.S. Senate will begin considering a package including aid for Israel and Ukraine as soon as next week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) told reporters on November 28.

"I'm gonna put them on the floor next week, hopefully with bipartisan support, because that's the only way you can get it done," Schumer said at his weekly news conference. "We hope to have a vote next week. Yes, that's the plan."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Schumer said the aid bill is needed even if there is no agreement on funding for border security measures that Republican lawmakers have demanded.

President Joe Biden last month submitted to Congress a request for more than $105 billion in defense aid, which included $61.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14.3 billion in aid to Israel, but the measure remains blocked, raising concerns that funds for Ukraine might never pass, especially after the Republican-led House of Representatives recently passed a bill including assistance for Israel but not Ukraine.

The combined aid request is likely to face more difficulty in the House, but Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) said he remains "confident and optimistic" Congress will be able to pass aid for Israel and Ukraine before the holiday season.

"I think all of that will come together in the coming days. I’m confident and optimistic that we’ll be able to get that done -- get that over the line," he said on November 27 at an event in Florida, according to Politico. He added that in Congress there is "a sense of urgency" to provide aid to both Ukraine and Israel.

"Of course, we can't allow [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to march through Europe, and we understand the necessity of assisting there," he said. "What we've said is that if there is to be additional assistance to Ukraine -- which most members of Congress believe is important -- we have to also work on changing our own border policy."

Johnson said a lot of "thoughtful negotiation" has taken place on providing assistance to Ukraine and changing U.S. policy regarding its southern border but acknowledged this is an approach that links Ukraine’s military assistance to one of the most divisive domestic political issues.

"I think most of our Senate colleagues recognize that those two things need to move together because we owe that to the American people," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier on November 28 he expects the United States to continue its support of Ukraine in its fight to repel invading Russian forces despite opposition from some Republican lawmakers who have cast doubt on Washington's aid to Kyiv.

Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers from the alliance's 31 members, Stoltenberg said that the allies have provided Ukraine with an unprecedented level of military support since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

That support has allowed Ukraine "to inflict heavy losses on Russian forces," he said. "Therefore, we must continue to support them."

Commenting on whether U.S. support will continue despite a political impasse in Washington, Stoltenberg voiced confidence aid from the United States -- which so far has topped $40 billion -- will continue to flow.

"I am confident that the United States will continue to provide support because it is in the security interest of the United States to do so," Stoltenberg said.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Politico

Russian Gets 12 Years In Prison On Charge Of Joining Ukrainian Far-Right Group

Yevgeny Kazantsev (file photo)
Yevgeny Kazantsev (file photo)

A court in Russia's western city of Kursk on November 28 sentenced a native of St. Petersburg, Yevgeny Kazantsev, to 12 years in prison on a charge of joining the Right Sector, a Ukrainian far-right group. Kazantsev was found guilty of extremism, illegally joining an armed group abroad, and illegal weapons possession. Investigators say Kazantsev joined Right Sector in 2015 and fought against Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's east. In March 2022, Russian forces reportedly captured Kazantsev while armed in Ukraine's Chernihiv region. Kazantsev pleaded not guilty. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Stickers Demanding Return Of Husbands From War In Ukraine Pop Up On Vehicles Across Russia

Stickers demanding Russian husbands be returned from fighting in the Kremlin's war against Ukraine appeared on cars across Russia on November 28. The stickers, which used Latin letters "Z" and "V" -- signs of support for Russia's aggression against Ukraine -- translated into English as "Return my husband. I am f**ked up," and "Return my son-in-law." The pictures of the cars appeared on the Way Home Telegram channel. A day earlier, hundreds of women in Russia signed a petition calling President Vladimir Putin's September 2022 partial mobilization "a big mistake." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Slovak Truckers Threaten Ukraine Border Blockade From December 1

Trucks wait in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border at Hrebenne, southeastern Poland, on November 27.
Trucks wait in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border at Hrebenne, southeastern Poland, on November 27.

Slovak truckers are threatening to block the country's main border crossing with Ukraine from December 1 unless steps are taken to limit competition from Ukrainian hauliers, the head of the country's truckers association UNAS said. The threat on November 28 comes after action by Polish truckers who have been blocking several crossings with Ukraine for three weeks to demand tougher conditions for Ukrainian peers. Polish and Slovak truckers complain they offer cheaper prices for their services and also transport goods within the European Union, rather than just between the bloc and Ukraine.

Belarusian Police Search Homes Of Self-Exiled Opposition Figures

Paval Latushka (file photo)
Paval Latushka (file photo)

Police in Belarus searched the homes of several self-exiled opposition figures on November 28 amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent. A leading member of the People's Anti-Crisis Directorate based abroad, Paval Latushka, wrote on Telegram that the searches were held simultaneously at homes and apartments of several self-exiled members of the group, but that they will not affect the group's activities "to bring to justice" the representatives of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. Police also searched homes of self-exiled members of the opposition Coordination Council of Belarus. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

Officials Confirm Wife Of Ukrainian Military Intelligence Chief Budanov, Others Poisoned

Kyrylo Budanov (file photo)
Kyrylo Budanov (file photo)

KYIV -- Ukrainian officials have confirmed reports that Marianna Budanova, the wife of the chief of the country's military intelligence service, had been poisoned with "heavy metals" and is in hospital for treatment, in what appears to represent the most serious targeting of a family member of Ukraine's leadership since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Andriy Yusov, an official at the GUR military intelligence agency, confirmed earlier media reports on November 28 that Budanova, the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, had fallen ill and is under treatment for poisoning.

"Marianna Budanova was indeed poisoned by heavy metals. She is now undergoing a course of treatment, which is already coming to an end," Yusov told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Local media, quoting unnamed military intelligence officials, reported that several intelligence officials also appear to have been poisoned with "substances" that "are not used in everyday life or for military purposes and their presence may indicate a premeditated attempt to poison a concrete person."

Budanov has been one of the more high-profile Ukrainian officials for his efforts to design and enact plans by operatives to carry out strikes against Russian targets.

A Moscow court on April 21 issued an arrest warrant for Budanov on the charge of creating a terrorist group, a terrorist act, and illegal possession of explosives and firearms. Media reports cited sources close to law enforcement as saying the arrest warrant was linked to an explosion that damaged a Russian-built bridge that connects Russia to Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula in October 2022.

Budanov has said that his wife lives with him at his office, although she does not work at the GUR. Since June 2021, however, she has been working as an adviser to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

According to reports, there have been at least 10 attempts on Budanov's life since 2014, including one during the full-scale invasion by Russia into Ukraine when a rocket attack was carried out on the building of the State Administration of Ukraine in Kyiv.

Russian Journalist Arrested In Absentia On Charge Of Justifying Terrorism

Anna Loiko (file photo)
Anna Loiko (file photo)

A Moscow court on November 28 ordered the arrest of journalist Anna Loiko in absentia for at least one month on a charge of "publicly justifying terrorism." Loiko, who currently resides in Georgia, works for the online media outlet SOTA. The charge stems from Loiko's 2021 article about the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is banned as "terrorist" in Russia. Last month, police searched Loiko's Moscow apartment and briefly detained her mother for questioning. Loiko has insisted the story in question has nothing to do with justifying terrorism and is about abuse of Russian citizens' rights by the authorities.

Kyrgyz Governor's Adviser Arrested On Extortion Charge

The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman.
The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman.

A court in Kyrgyzstan has sent an adviser of the southern Batken region's governor to pretrial detention for at least two months on extortion charges. The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman. The Central Asian country's State Committee for National Security announced the man's detainment on November 24. The suspect was sent to a pretrial detention center in the country's second-largest city, Osh, on November 26. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Six Teenagers Go On Trial In France Over Teacher's Killing By Chechen Refugee In 2020

A woman holds a picture of Samuel Paty at a rally in Lille on October 18, 2020, two days after he was beheaded by an attacker who was shot dead by policemen.
A woman holds a picture of Samuel Paty at a rally in Lille on October 18, 2020, two days after he was beheaded by an attacker who was shot dead by policemen.

Six teenagers went on trial in Paris on November 27 over the killing of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 by an 18-year-old refugee from Russia's Chechnya who was shot dead at the crime scene. The defendants are accused of having identified Paty to the killer in exchange for promises of money. The deadly attack took place after messages on social media said the teacher had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo while talking about freedom of speech. Eight adults implicated in the case will go on trial next year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Kazakh Police Close High-Profile Investigation Of Attack On Journalist

Diana Saparqyzy (file photo)
Diana Saparqyzy (file photo)

Police in the central Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk have closed a high-profile case investigating an attack on noted journalist Diana Saparqyzy. The KazTAG news agency reporter's lawyer told RFE/RL on November 28 that the police ruled that "there were no elements of a crime" in the case, which was being investigated as obstruction of journalistic activities. The case was closed almost three weeks ago, police said. Saparqyzy's lawyer said the journalist was attacked in August by five unknown men who forcibly removed her from the grounds of a mining operation in Shakhtinsk, where she was reporting on a deadly accident. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Security Chief Says Almost 20 Ex-Officials Held Responsible In Kumtor Gold Mine Case

Kamchybek Tashiev (file photo)
Kamchybek Tashiev (file photo)

The chief of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, said on November 28 that almost 20 former top officials, including "two ex-presidents, four former prime ministers, and two former parliament speakers," had been held responsible for their roles in the high-profile Kumtor gold mine case. He did not specify the names. According to Tashiev, the probe "helped to nationalize Kumtor." Kyrgyzstan regained full control of Kumtor last year under the terms of a deal with the Canadian company Centerra Gold following years of financial and environmental disagreements. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here. https://www.azattyk.org/a/32702822.html

Updated

Bulgaria Approves Lavrov's Flight To OSCE Meeting, Sparking Boycott

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry gave permission to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's plane to cross its airspace en route to North Macedonia's capital, Skopje, so he can attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the OSCE this week, sparking an immediate outcry from Ukraine and other nations who will boycott the gathering.

The European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member, imposed a blanket flight on Russian planes over the bloc's territory on February 27 last year, three days after Moscow began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Bulgaria's decision, announced late on November 27, came at the request of North Macedonia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE.

Less than 24 hours later, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said Foreign Minister "Dmytro Kuleba will boycott the OSCE ministerial meeting over the decision to allow Lavrov to attend" the November 29-December 1 event.

Soon after that, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania said in a joint statement that they would not take part in the annual meeting in Skopje as well because of the Lavrov decision.

"We deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation of Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov at the 30th Session of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Skopje. It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity," the statement said.

"Lavrov’s attendance at the OSCE Ministerial also risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing, and putting up with Russia's blatant violation and contempt of the OSCE fundamental principles and commitments," it added.

In June, several Balkan nations refused to open their airspace to Lavrov, forcing him to cancel a trip to Serbia.

Lavrov, who has been placed under sanctions by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada, called the move "unthinkable."

Updated

More Than 550 Settlements In Ukraine Still Without Power Following Blizzard

Rescuers help drivers trapped in the Mykolayiv region following heavy snowfall on November 27.
Rescuers help drivers trapped in the Mykolayiv region following heavy snowfall on November 27.

More than 550 settlements are still without electricity in Ukraine amid a cold spell following snowstorms and heavy snowfall over the weekend, despite the fact that technicians working nonstop managed to reconnect several hundred villages and cities, the state-owned Ukrenerho power-grid operator said on November 28.

"Fewer settlements remain disconnected from the power grid -- 559 as of the morning of November 28. Energy workers have been working all night and restored several hundred settlements," Ukrenerho Chairman Volodymyr Kudrytskiy told RFE/RL.

Kudrytskiy said the worst-affected by the bad weather was southern Ukraine, in particular the Odesa, Mykolaiyv, and Kherson regions, where most communities still disconnected are located.

Kyiv and its surroundings, which besides having to deal with the effects of bad weather were also targeted by Russia's largest wave of drone strikes just days before, has managed to repair all three high-voltage power lines that were damaged by the Russians, Kudrytskiy said.

Earlier on November 28, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the spell of cold weather and snow storms that swept through Ukraine and parts of Southeastern Europe had killed 10 Ukrainians in the Odesa, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv regions, and the capital, Kyiv.

A further 23 people, including two children, were injured in incidents caused by the bad weather, Klymenko said. The highest number of deaths, five, and injuries, 15, was recorded in the Odesa region.

The ministry said 411 settlements in 11 Ukrainian regions remained cut off due to blocked roads as of early on November 28.

In occupied Crimea, winds of more than 100 kilometers per hour were forecast for November 28, Russian state news agency TASS said, adding that similarly strong gusts were expected in southern Russia and parts of northwestern Russia.

At least four people lost their lives because of inclement weather in southern Russia and occupied Crimea, regional authorities said.

With reporting by AP

Azerbaijani Independent TV Journalist Detained

Aziz Orucov (file photo)
Aziz Orucov (file photo)

Aziz Orucov, the executive director of Azerbajian's Kanal 13 Internet TV station, was detained late on November 27 and his home and office were searched by the police. Orucov's lawyer, Bahruz Bayramov, told local media that his client was accused of owning, using, or leasing property illegally. Bayramov said Orucov linked his arrest to his journalistic activity. In 2017, Orucov was sentenced to six years in prison over allegedly gaining illegal revenues from grants but denied the charges. He was released on parole a year later. Kanal 13 and other independent media have been accused by state media of anti-government activities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Russian Shells Hit Border Village, Killing Three, Including 7-Year-Old Girl

Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda in Ukraine's Sumy region on November 28.
Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda in Ukraine's Sumy region on November 28.

Russian shelling of a border village in the northeastern Sumy region of Ukraine on November 28 killed three people, including a 7-year-old girl who was in a car with her stepfather when the attack occurred, Ukrainian officials said.

Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda at around 12:30 p.m. local time, authorities in the Sumy region reported.

Photos published by the local prosecutor's office showed rubble strewn around an area of collapsed houses.

"Two dead women and two wounded men were recovered from the rubble. A man and his 7-year-old stepdaughter were also injured in their car. The girl later died in the hospital," the Prosecutor-General's Office said on social media.

A separate attack in the southern town of Nikopol hit a five-story building, said Serhiy Lysak, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

"A 63-year-old man was killed. Two women, aged 65 and 63, were injured. There may be people under the rubble," Lysak said on Telegram. Two men were wounded.

It was not possible to independently verify the claims.

The prosecutor's office in the Sumy region said an investigation has been launched into the attack there to determine whether it violated the laws and customs of war.

Russia has denied deliberately targeting civilians although more than 10,000 have been killed since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, according to the United Nations.

Earlier on November 28, Russian troops launched a missile strike on the city of Kryviy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, said Yevhen Sytnychenko, head of the city's military administration, on Telegram.

Authorities are looking into the consequences of the overnight strike, said Sytnychenko, adding that the region's infrastructure appears to be "working normally."

Late on November 28, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military's 14th separate mechanized brigade said the number of attacks by Russian troops in the Kupyansk area of the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine has decreased in the last two days due to significant losses.

The enemy has suffered very significant losses both in equipment and in personnel during the last days, said Nadia Zamryha.

Ukrainian forces repulse attacks the area around Kupyansk, and the Russian army loses 10 servicemen every day on this part of the front, according to Zamryha.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Pakistan's Imran Khan Denied Court-Ordered Public Trial, Lawyer Says

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (file photo)
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (file photo)

Jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been denied an open-court trial as ordered by a high court after the government submitted reports citing threats to his life, his lawyer said on November 28. The court hearing the case later said Khan's trial on the charge of leaking state secrets will be held in jail premises but will be open to media and the public, the lawyer said. The Islamabad High Court had ruled last week that holding Khan's trial inside jail premises on security concerns was illegal, and ordered it restarted in an open court. Khan denies the charges.

Moscow More Than Doubles Spending On Surveillance

A video-surveillance camera is seen by a Moscow subway station.
A video-surveillance camera is seen by a Moscow subway station.

Russia's capital will more than double its spending on video-surveillance equipment next year, the budget approved by the Moscow City Duma shows. The amount earmarked for such equipment, is 1.97 billion rubles ($22.2 million) in 2024, according to the budget passed last week, compared to 800 million rubles ($9 million) spent this year. The Moscow Times last month reported that official data showed the number of video cameras connected to facial-recognition systems exceeded half a million throughout Russia. Moscow has the most such systems -- 216 installed throughout the city. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

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