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ElBaradei Says Egypt Beginning New Era; Protests Enter Seventh Day


PHOTO GALLERY: Egyptian protests enter a sixth day, amid increasing lawlessness, a rising death toll, and a spate of jail breaks.

Protests in Egypt against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak are entering into their seventh day today.

Reports say thousands of protesters were again gathering on Cairo's Tahrir Square where some protesters spent the night, ignoring a military curfew.

The protesters are demanding that Mubarak step down after 30 years in power. They have called for a general strike and what they hope will be a "million-men" protest march on February 1.

Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has called on embattled President Mubarak to step down from power, saying Egyptians are beginning a new era in their national life.

ElBaradei spoke to crowds on the evening of January 30 in Tahrir Square.

"I came today to join you on the happiest day in our lives. Today I can look each one of you in the eye. Today as Egyptians, you have taken back your rights to life and freedom. What has begun cannot go back. As we said earlier, we have one main demand: the end of the regime and the beginning of a new stage," ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, says he had been given a mandate by opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate with the army and Mubarak's regime for a transition to a national unity coalition.

However, Mubarak has given no indication he is preparing to surrender. On January 30, authorities announced an extension of a night-time curfew. The president also ordered his newly appointed cabinet to preserve subsidies, control inflation and provide more jobs for Egyptians.

The 82-year-old Mubarak met with Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan, and other senior military commanders, as well as Omar Suleiman, his former intelligence chief and close ally, whom he moved to the historically unoccupied post of vice president on January 29.

The talks were seen as potentially laying a path for a transition of power in the Arab world's most populous state.

Six Days Of Protests

At least 100 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured since protests began in Cairo and quickly spread to other Egyptian cities.

Banks and schools were ordered to remain closed on January 30, Sunday, the first workday of the week in Egypt, as the country's army forces attempted to rein in mounting violence and looting that has erupted as an offshoot of the protests.

The army was brought in on January 29 to replace the country's police force, which had enraged the public by using firearms and tear gas to subdue protests.

Saad Zaghloul, the managing editor of the Cairo-based "Alborsa" newspaper, tells RFE/RL that Egyptians welcomed the change, but are waiting to see what happens next.

Egyptians surround goods looted from the Arcadia mall in Cairo on January 29.
"The army is present here in Cairo, and there is still a lack of security in most places," Zaghloul says. "But I think the armed forces are doing their best to cover all the places, and I think everybody here is waiting for news about the new government and to make sure there is security."

Jet fighters and army helicopters on January 30 filled the skies over Cairo as a reminder of the military's new role in tamping down the unrest. It comes after a second night of lawlessness in which mobs took advantage of police-free streets to loot supermarkets, banks, and even the Egyptian Museum, home to some of the world's most treasured ancient artifacts.

Mubarak To Go?

The spiraling violence, which followed similar public uprisings in Tunisia and Yemen, has sparked mounting concern among neighboring states and the international community.

Maha Azzam, an Egyptian-born analyst with London's Chatham House think tank, says the situation in the country has grown so dire that it will have ramifications throughout the region. She adds that Mubarak's ouster is no longer a question of if, but when.

"It's certainly quite evident now that he's going to have to step down," she says. "The protesters are not going to accept anything less than a change of regime. And the first step towards that is the removal of Mr. Mubarak."

Muslim Brotherhood Joins Talks

The potential of Mubarak's departure has fanned speculation that any future government in Egypt will feature an Islamist faction.

Egypt's largest opposition group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, said on January 30 it was in talks with other antigovernment figures to form a national-unity government without Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party.

Essam el-Arian, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced that the group had agreed to support ElBaradei as a negotiator with Mubarak's regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood also said 34 of its jailed members walked free on January 30 following a prison break northwest of Cairo. Prisoners have escaped from several major jails across Egypt in recent days as police discipline flagged amid the growing anger in the country.

But Chatham House's Azzam says the Muslim Brotherhood is united with other opposition groups in seeking a democratic government to take the country of 80 million forward.

"I think that the Muslim Brotherhood, if they wanted to cause problems, would have done so by now. On the contrary, their grassroots supporters are among the protesters chanting for the fall of Mubarak, Azzam says.

"I think what they would call for, equally with other opposition groups in Egypt, is free and fair elections, which would be inclusive of all political parties and all shades of political orientation."

WATCH: Tensions remained high in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on January 29 as some 2,000 protesters confronted tanks and called on President Hosni Mubarak to resign (video by Reuters).

Egyptian Protests Resume
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Shock Waves Across Region

The announcement by the Muslim Brotherhood coincides with the return of an Islamist leader to Tunisia after 22 years in exile.

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi was greeted by thousands of Tunisians upon his return, and indicated that his Ennahda party would emerge as a major force in Tunisia after the ousting of that country's president earlier this month.

The confluence of events is sending shock waves through the Middle East and beyond. Palestinian authorities have closed the border crossing with Egypt, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters he was watching developments "attentively" and with the aim of maintaining "stability and security" in the region.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking on January 30 at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, urged "restraint" and "nonviolence" in Egypt, and called on political leaders worldwide to take a lesson from the unfolding events that country.

"Around the world, the leaders, we must listen attentively, more attentively and more sincerely to the voice of the people, their aspirations, their challenges, their hopes for a better future," Ban said.

Uncertain In Egypt

Within Egypt, there are still signs of a news crackdown, with the country's outgoing information minister ordering the closure of the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which has broadcast near-nonstop coverage of the antigovernment protests.

Al-Jazeera has confirmed that some of its satellite transmissions have been blocked.

The United States, Israel, Turkey, and other countries have taken measures to evacuate their citizens from the country. But Washington and most Western European countries, though calling for restraint, have stopped short of calling for Mubarak's ouster.

Mubarak, whose country together with Israel are the largest recipients of U.S. aid, has positioned himself as a key Western ally in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.

His departure, while deeply sought by the Egyptian public, would cast into uncertainty much of Western foreign policy in the Arab world.

written by Daisy Sindelar, with agency reports

More News

Iranian Judiciary Says 'Mossad Agent' Executed In Connection With Attack In Isfahan

The attack on the Iranian Defense Ministry workshop in Isfahan occurred in January last year. (file photo)
The attack on the Iranian Defense Ministry workshop in Isfahan occurred in January last year. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has announced the execution of a person it claims was a Mossad agent involved in an explosion at a Defense Ministry workshop complex in the city of Isfahan last year.

According to the Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, the execution took place on March 3. Four Kurds also accused of having a connection with the attack were executed in January. The Hengaw human rights group says none of the five was given a fair trial and their confessions were obtained through torture.

The person executed on March 3 was accused of being in contact with agents of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, since February 2019. It was alleged that, in 2022, the individual helped facilitate the smuggling of several drones into Iran by arranging the rental of a warehouse to store the aircraft and the purchase of vehicles to move them and people around. The attack occurred in January 2023.

The identity of the executed person has not been disclosed. However, Mizan, quoting the chief of the Isfahan judiciary, revealed that the individual fled the country under a false identity 13 days after the Isfahan attack. They were later apprehended by security forces in a “neighboring country,” although details of the arrest and the specific country where it occurred were not provided.

The Iranian Defense Ministry described the attack as unsuccessful, reporting no casualties and only minor damage to the facility's roof.

Though no one took responsibility for the attack, The Wall Street Journal quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out the strike.

In an article published by the newspaper in December, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hinted at Israel's involvement in several operations inside Iran in 2022, including attacks on drone bases. Bennett cited the destruction of an Iranian drone base as a retaliatory measure for Iran's alleged attempts to launch drone attacks against Israel.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran over the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers.

Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

Israel says its standard policy is to not comment officially on such incidents.

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

U.S. Condemns Sentencing Of Iranian Singer Who Won Grammy

Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison.
Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison.

The United States on March 4 condemned the sentencing of an Iranian singer who won a Grammy award in 2023 for a song that became an anthem for mass Iranian protests after the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison. He was also forced to write music critical of the United States. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the sentence was another sign of the government's "intent to crack down on freedom of expression and repress voices" inside Iran.

U.S. Says Low Turnout In Iranian Elections Another Sign Of 'Discontent'

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casts his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casts his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.

The United States said on March 4 that low turnout in Iran's election was a new sign of discontent in the country. "I don't think there's any doubt that there's discontent about the regime's rule," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters. Miller said many Iranians likely assessed that the elections would not be free and fair and chose not to participate. Election authorities said earlier that conservatives and ultraconservatives secured a large majority in the parliamentary elections held on March 1 in which turnout was 41 percent. Many candidates, including moderates and reformists, had been disqualified from running.

Top Iranian Sunni Cleric Barred From Touring Flood Sites In Baluchistan

Iran's state news agency has described the flooding in Sistan-Baluchistan Province as severe.
Iran's state news agency has described the flooding in Sistan-Baluchistan Province as severe.

Iranian security forces have barred Molavi Abdolhamid, Iran's top Sunni cleric, from visiting areas affected by recent floods in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, while also detaining two of his children, according to local media reports.

Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations in the impoverished province, reported that the incident occurred on March 4 as Abdolhamid, accompanied by his family and associates, attempted to reach the flood-stricken region of Dashtyari.

However, their journey was abruptly halted by security personnel at a checkpoint on the Zahedan-Khash highway, where two of the cleric's teenage children were taken into custody.

Molavi Abdolhamid reportedly protested by refusing to leave the checkpoint.

The Baluch Activists Campaign also reported the vehicles of Abdolhamid and his companions being stopped and the "arrest" of two of his children, adding that residents of Zahedan were mobilizing toward the Zahedan-to-Khash road in response.

Abdolhamid has expressed criticism over the handling of flood disaster-relief efforts by officials and urged the public to provide aid to those affected in the province.

Molavi Abdolhamid (file photo)
Molavi Abdolhamid (file photo)

The heavy rainfall, which began last week, has inflicted significant damage across the southeastern province, leading to widespread flooding. Official reports indicate that at least 1,800 homes were damaged.

The floods, described as severe by the state news agency IRNA, have led to the overflow of four dams, affecting 1,947 villages across the region. The disaster has prompted concerns over the adequacy of emergency response and infrastructure resilience in Iran in the face of natural calamities.

Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.

Abdolhamid, the outspoken leader of Friday Prayers in Zahedan, has publicly criticized the authorities for alleged human rights abuses and repression of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities.

Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told Radio Farda that Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared, has been the subject of "intimidation and threats" from the authorities.

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

43 Countries Demand International Probe Into Navalny's Death At UN

Hundreds Visit Navalny's Grave Under Police Surveillance
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More than 40 countries have demanded an independent international investigation into the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and said President Vladimir Putin bore ultimate responsibility. European Union countries joined the United States, Britain, Ukraine, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Norway in voicing outrage on March 4 over Navalny's death. EU Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, speaking on behalf of 43 countries, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Russia "must allow an independent and transparent international investigation into circumstances of his sudden death," which is viewed as "yet another sign of the accelerating and systematic repression in Russia."

Report Documents 223 Incidents Of Damage To Ukrainian Power Grid

Investigators inspect a crater left by a Russian missile strike at an electrical transformer facility in Kharkiv in September 2022.
Investigators inspect a crater left by a Russian missile strike at an electrical transformer facility in Kharkiv in September 2022.

The Yale University Humanitarian Research Lab says it has documented 223 incidents of damage to Ukraine’s electric power infrastructure between October 2022 and April 2023. In most of these incidents, the damaged infrastructure was far from the front line, calling into question whether the strikes were directed at legitimate military objectives, the research lab said on March 4. The pattern of attacks "indicates widespread and targeted efforts to cripple vital power generation" during cold-weather months. The findings are consistent with those previously reported by the Conflict Observatory, a U.S. State Department-supported consortium that documents war crimes and atrocities.

German FM Pushes For EU Enlargement To Include Western Balkans

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks to journalists during a press conference in Podgorica on March 4.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks to journalists during a press conference in Podgorica on March 4.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wants to step up the pace of EU enlargement to include Western Balkan countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the face of Russian and Chinese attempts to exert influence in the region. "The faster we become stronger as a European Union in these geopolitical times, the better," Germany's top diplomat said on March 4 at a meeting with Montenegrin colleague Filip Ivanovic in the capital, Podgorica. At the same time, she emphasized, "Enlargement is not an end in itself but serves to strengthen our common Europe."

Russian Actor In Prison For Deadly Drunk Driving Accident May Get Early Release

Mikhail Yefremov is escorted after the verdict was announced in Moscow in September 2020.
Mikhail Yefremov is escorted after the verdict was announced in Moscow in September 2020.

Russian actor and Kremlin critic Mikhail Yefremov, who is serving a prison sentence for killing a man while driving under the influence, may be granted an early release.

The chairman of the Public Monitoring Commission, Georgy Volkov, said on March 4 that the administration of the prison where Yefremov is serving his 7 1/2-year prison term had approved Yefremov's request for an early release.

A court must now decide if the 60-year-old actor deserves it, but courts typically follow the recommendations and approvals of the administrations at penitentiaries when looking into early-release requests by inmates.

Performances by Yefremov satirizing President Vladimir Putin and his policies had been popular among Russians before he was sent to prison in late 2020.

Moscow's Presnensky district court initially sentenced Yefremov in September 2020 to eight years in prison on charge of "causing a deadly traffic accident while driving under the influence."

The Moscow City Court one month later cut Yefremov's prison term by six months.

Yefremov initially pleaded not guilty when the high-profile trial started in early August 2020, insisting that he couldn't remember anything that took place the night of the accident.

His defense team brought in three witnesses who testified that Yefremov was not alone in his car when it hit the other vehicle. They said that Yefremov was not driving and had exited the car from the passenger side after the deadly collision.

However, Yefremov changed his plea to guilty and asked for forgiveness from the victim's relatives.

Investigators said Yefremov was inebriated when he drove his car at high speed into an oncoming lane in central Moscow on the evening of June 8, 2020, hitting a car.

Yefremov was not injured in the accident, but the 57-year-old driver of the other car, Sergei Zakharov, was rushed to hospital with multiple injuries and died hours later.

After Zakharov was pronounced dead, Yefremov was charged and placed under house arrest.

Authorities later said that medical tests confirmed that Yefremov was under the influence of alcohol and had traces of drugs, including cocaine, in his blood at the time of the accident.

With reporting by TASS

Relatives Of Imprisoned Former Russian Lawmaker Handed Lengthy Prison Terms

Raul Arashukov (front) and his son Rauf attend a court hearing in Moscow in July 2020.
Raul Arashukov (front) and his son Rauf attend a court hearing in Moscow in July 2020.

A court in Moscow has handed lengthy prison terms to two relatives of a former member of the Russian parliament's upper chamber who along with his father is serving a life sentence for masterminding the murder of two officials in the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia.

The Preobrazhensky district court on March 4 sentenced former Federation Council member Rauf Arashukov's cousin Ruslan Arashukov to 16 1/2 years in prison on charges of embezzlement and participation in a criminal group.

The court also sentenced Beslan Arashukov, Arashukov's second cousin, to 16 years in prison on the same charges.

Nine other defendants were handed prison terms between five and 19 years. One defendant, a woman, received a suspended sentence and left the court a free person.

Rauf Arashukov and his father, Raul, were each sentenced to life in prison in December 2022 after a jury found Rauf Arashukov guilty of creating a criminal group and organizing the 2010 murders of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, and Aslan Zhukov, deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region.

The court also convicted Raul Arashukov of fraud and ordering the two killings. At the time of his arrest, he was serving as a local lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and as an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary.

Rauf Arashukov, 37, was detained in late January 2019 at a dramatic session of the upper house after fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.

He represented Karachai-Cherkessia in the Federation Council. His 64-year-old father was arrested at the same time, along with several other people, including their relatives.

Both Rauf and Raul Arashukov pleaded not guilty. The former lawmaker has insisted that the cases against him and his father are politically motivated.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

UN Rights Chief Slams Russia's 'Repression' Of Dissent Ahead Of Election

Cars drive past electronic screens on the facade of a building showing an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 29.
Cars drive past electronic screens on the facade of a building showing an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 29.

The head of human rights for the United Nations has chided Russia for its throttling of "dissenting voices" prior to this month's presidential election, adding that the death of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny added to concerns over the state of human rights in the country.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 4, Volker Turk pointed to the absence of opposition candidates over administrative technicalities in the March 15-17 election, which incumbent Vladimir Putin is expected to easily win, as fostering "serious concerns" about the election.

"The authorities have further intensified their repression of dissenting voices prior to this month's presidential election," he said.

"Several candidates have been prevented from running, due to alleged administrative irregularities. The death in prison of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny adds to my serious concerns about his persecution," he added.

Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy. They are mangled by the exclusion of opposition candidates, voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, and other means of manipulation.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's tight grip on politics, media, law enforcement, and other levers means Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, is certain to win, barring a very big, unexpected development.

Earlier on March 4, the Supreme Court in Moscow rejected for the third time an appeal by Boris Nadezhdin, the one candidate seen as a legitimate opponent to Putin, over his exclusion from the election due to a technicality pertaining to the signatures submitted from supporters to back his candidacy.

Nadezhdin has said the invasion of Ukraine was a "fatal mistake" and accused Putin of dragging Russia into the past instead of building a sustainable future. His candidacy would have complicated the Kremlin's more aggressive ambition of boosting the perception of legitimacy for Putin.

Navalny was once a leading opposition voice who attempted to run against Putin in 2018, only to be barred by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) over a conviction in a fraud case in what is widely seen as a politically motivated conviction.

The 47-year-old lawyer, who was Putin's most vocal critic, died on February 16 in an Arctic prison. The circumstances of his death have not been clarified.

"I urge a swift and comprehensive review of all cases of deprivation of liberty that result from the exercise of fundamental freedoms; as well as an immediate end to the repression of independent voices and the legal professionals who represent them," Volker said in his speech.

"The future of the country depends on an open space," he added.

New NATO Base Opens In Albania At Former Soviet-Era 'Stalin City' Air Field

Military personnel watch as Eurofighter Typhoon jets fly over the newly rebuilt air base in Kucova, Albania, on March 4.
Military personnel watch as Eurofighter Typhoon jets fly over the newly rebuilt air base in Kucova, Albania, on March 4.

Two fighter jets that took off from NATO's Aviano Air Base in Italy landed in Albania on March 4 to mark the reopening of the Soviet-era Kucova Air Base. NATO has invested more than $50 million to refurbish the base -- once known as "Stalin City" -- in Albania, which joined the alliance in 2009 but does not have fighter jets of it own. "This is a base that will (add) another element of security for our Western Balkan region," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said during the inauguration, noting the increased threat Europe faces from "the ambitions of Russia." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Russia Issues Warrant For Ukraine's Ex-Ambassador To Kazakhstan

Petro Vrublevskiy was replaced as ambassador in October 2022. (file photo)
Petro Vrublevskiy was replaced as ambassador in October 2022. (file photo)

A court in Moscow has issued an arrest warrant for Petro Vrublevskiy, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Kazakhstan, on a charge of inciting hatred.

The court also ruled on March 4 to add Vrublevskiy to Russia's wanted list. Earlier, Vrublevskiy was placed on Russia's registry of terrorists and extremists.

Vrublevskiy found himself at the center of a scandal in August 2022 -- about six months after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine -- after he said in an interview with noted Kazakh blogger Dias Kuzairov that "the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill in the future."

Moscow and Russian organizations in Kazakhstan then demanded Astana expel the diplomat for his controversial statement, but the Kazakh authorities refused, though they did ask Kyiv to replace him.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in early October 2022 that Moscow was "outraged" by the fact that Vrublevskiy remained in Kazakhstan, adding that the Kazakh ambassador to Russia had been summoned over the issue.

In response, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that the tone of Moscow’s request to expel the Ukrainian ambassador was "dissonant to the character of the allied mutual ties between Kazakhstan and Russia as equal strategic partners."

The Kazakh side also said at the time that Astana and Kyiv had a "full understanding" of the situation and that a decision on the diplomat leaving Kazakhstan would be made solely by Kyiv.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry also said at the time it had summoned the Russian ambassador to Kazakhstan over the situation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy fired Vrublevskiy in mid-October 2022.

The Kazakh government under President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has been trying to maintain cooperation with Ukraine, its Western allies, and Russia since Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While not openly condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine, Toqaev has publicly stated that his country would not recognize Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Kazakh businesses last year set up so called "invincibility" yurts (traditional nomadic felt tents) in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and several other Ukrainian cities to provide local residents with food, tea, warmth, and the possibility to charge electronic devices.

Poland Urges EU Sanctions On Russian, Belarusian Farm Products

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk

Poland, seeking to meet the needs of protesting farmers, plans to ask the European Union to put sanctions on Russian and Belarusian agricultural products, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said during a visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Like much of Europe, Poland has been gripped by protests in recent weeks as farmers demonstrate against EU environmental regulations and what they say is unfair competition from Ukraine since the bloc waived duties on imports in 2022. Last week, Tusk said that market disruptions were also caused by agricultural products from Russia and Belarus and did not rule out introducing a ban.

Iran, Sudan Reject Report Claiming Tehran Seeks Red Sea Base

Two Iranian Navy warships are seen docked at Port Sudan in the Red Sea in 2012.
Two Iranian Navy warships are seen docked at Port Sudan in the Red Sea in 2012.

Tehran has rejected a media report claiming that Iran had unsuccessfully asked Sudan to allow it to set up a naval base on its Red Sea coast, a day after Khartoum also called it into question.

Citing an unnamed Sudanese intelligence official, The Wall Street Journal on March 3 reported that Iran had offered advanced weapons to Sudan in return for permission to build a naval base on its Red Sea shore.

The Wall Street Journal added that Sudan rejected Iran’s offer out of concern for alienating the United States and Israel. Iran has supplied the Sudanese military with drones used to fight rebels. The Iranian Navy has maintained a presence in the Red Sea for years but does not have a naval base in the strategic waters.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said on March 4 during a weekly press briefing that the report was “baseless and politically motivated.” A day earlier, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq denied the article, calling it “false and fabricated.”

Commercial shipping in the Red Sea has been crippled since November, when Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels started targeting ships with ties to Israel. Analysts say Tehran has used its so-called “spy ship” Behshad in the Gulf of Aden to provide intelligence to the Huthis.

The Huthis’ targeting of ships in the key global trade route has triggered retaliatory U.S. and U.K. air strikes, though questions remain about whether the attacks will deter the Yemeni rebels.

The Rubymar, a cargo vessel struck by the Huthis in late February, sunk in the Red Sea on March 3, becoming the first ship lost in the conflict.

The Huthis say they are striking Israeli-linked ships in support of Palestinians following the October outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Updated

Berlin, Moscow Dispute Whether Ambassador Summoned Over Leaked Military Talks

German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff (file photo)
German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff (file photo)

German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff spent about an hour at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on March 4 amid a dispute between the two countries over the publication of a recording of a confidential discussion between German military officials about providing the long-range Taurus missile to Ukraine.

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.

Russan state media reported Lambsdorff had been summoned over leaked audio recordings of the German officers discussing the provision of advanced weapons to Ukraine. German Foreign Ministry said that it was "a long-planned meeting."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the same day that the leaked conversations "once again highlight the direct involvement of the collective West in the conflict in Ukraine" and that the recording shows Germany "is discussing substantively and specifically plans to strike Russian territory."

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement that it had demanded during the meeting with Lambsdorff that Germany "provide explanations concerning the German top brass's conversation" over the weapons, adding that Berlin's assistance to Kyiv "vividly points to the collective West’s involvement into the conflict around Ukraine."

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the leak of the recording was an attempt by Russia to split Western allies.

"This is a bald attempt and a transparent attempt by the Russians to try to sow discord and to try to show division, to try to make it look like the West isn't unified," Kirby said.

Kirby's comments echoed those of German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who said the timing of the release of the recording was aimed at undermining Western resolve.

"It is about using this recording to destabilize and unsettle us," Pistorius said at a news briefing in Berlin on March 3.

The German Defense Ministry on March 3 confirmed that the leaked audio contained an intercepted conversation but could not tell whether it had been edited or doctored in any way.

The 38-minute recording was posted on Russian social media on March 1, initially by Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of state-controlled RT television, formerly known as Russia Today. She did not say how she obtained the recording.

In the recording, Air Force Commander General Ingo Gerhartz, Brigadier General Frank Graefe, and other officers discussed the possible use by Ukraine of German-made Taurus missiles, which can strike targets up to 500 kilometers away.

The recording included discussion of how Germany could provide the missiles if the government authorized the transfer and whether the Taurus would be capable of disabling the 18-kilometer Crimean Bridge, which links Russia with the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which Moscow occupied in 2014.

Kyiv has been seeking the weapon to boost its defenses against Russia’s invasion, which has now entered its third year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has refused to provide the missiles, fearing that doing so could lead to an escalation of the conflict.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev told a youth forum on March 4 that Moscow would respond to the recordings “with restraint” but would not forget about them.

With reporting by AFP

Russia Issues Warrant For Self-Exiled Former Putin Speechwriter

Abbas Gallyamov
Abbas Gallyamov

A Moscow court on March 4 issued an arrest warrant for Abbas Gallyamov, the self-exiled former speechwriter of Vladimir Putin, on a charge of distributing false information about Russia's military. The charge stems from Gallyamov's interview to a Ukrainian television channel in April 2022 about Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that was launched in February 2022. Last year, Gallyamov was added to Russia’s wanted list and “foreign agents” registry over his criticism of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The 51-year-old Kremlin critic worked from 2008-10 as a speechwriter for Putin when he was prime minister, between stints as president. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities, click here.

Prosecutors Seek Harsher Sentence For Jailed Former Leader Of Navalny's Team

Lilia Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.
Lilia Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.

A court in Russia's Volga city of Samara ruled on March 4 to send the case of Lilia Chanysheva, the imprisoned former chief of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Ufa, to the Appeal Board of the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan after prosecutors said a 7 1/2 year prison sentence handed to the activist last year for extremism charges was too lenient.

Chanysheva and her co-defendant, Rustem Mulyukov, took part in the hearing via video link from prison while the courtroom was open to the public.

A prosecutor at the hearing claimed Chanysheva "deserves a 10-year prison term," while Chanysheva again rejected all the charges. Mulyukov also reiterated his not-guilty plea and stressed that he has a serious kidney disease.

Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.

Mulyukov was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of taking part in the activities of an extremist organization -- mainly organizing events, including educational seminars, investigative programs, rallies, and demonstrations in Ufa.

Chanysheva headed the local unit of Navalny's network of regional campaign groups until his team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded "extremist."

The request was accepted, effectively outlawing the group.

Chanysheva's defense team said at the time that her arrest was the first since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist.

Navalny died on February 16 in an Arctic correctional colony while serving a 19-year prison term on extremism and other charges.

Several opposition leaders and associates of Navalny have been charged with establishing an extremist group. Many have fled the country amid pressure from the Russian authorities.

Imprisoned Russian Opposition Politician Ilya Yashin Labeled As 'Inclined To Spread Extremism'

 Ilya Yashin gestures from inside a defendant's cage in a Moscow courtroom in December 2022.
Ilya Yashin gestures from inside a defendant's cage in a Moscow courtroom in December 2022.

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been labeled as "inclined to spread extremism" and faces tighter controls in prison, his Telegram channel said on March 4. The prison administration's decision comes days after Yashin called on the world's leaders to help release another incarcerated opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza, saying he may be "killed" while in prison. The call came after Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny died in an Arctic prison on February 16. Yashin said that, like Navalny, Kara-Murza "created personal problems" for President Vladimir Putin's close associates. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Earthquake Rocks Kazakhstan's Largest City, Almaty; No Casualties Reported

Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents.
Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents.

ALMATY -- Authorities in Kazakhstan said an earthquake with a magnitude of 5 hit the Central Asian nation’s largest city, Almaty, on March 4. Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents. Some buildings showed cracks and windows were broken, but no major incidents were reported. All schools, kindergartens, and university classes were canceled, while subway services were suspended. City officials set up almost 400 sites for residents to shelter until the evening. The earthquake was also felt in Bishkek, the capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and other Kyrgyz cities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Russia's Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Rejecting Anti-War Candidate From Running For President

Boris Nadezhdin
Boris Nadezhdin

The Appeal Board of the Russian Supreme Court on March 4 rejected anti-war presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin’s latest appeal of a Central Election Commission (TsIK) decision to bar him from being registered to run in the March 15-17 presidential election.

The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker, the only potential candidate who has openly criticized Russia's war against Ukraine, said on Telegram he will appeal the latest court decision as well. Ruling out Nadezhdin leaves President Vladimir Putin without any significant challengers in the vote.

"I do not agree with the board's decision, and therefore, I will file a supervisory complaint with the Supreme Court's Presidium. I am not going to stop. I will fight to the end," Nadezhdin said in a statement on Telegram.

Last month, the Supreme Court rejected two other appeals Nadezhdin lodged over the TsIK’s decision to bar him from the vote. He then filed cases over TsIK decisions related to the collection of signatures on petitions to register his candidacy. The court said that, with its latest ruling, the TsIK's decisions now come into force.

TsIK, which routinely refuses to register would-be opposition candidates on the pretext that they submitted an insufficient number of valid signatures, disqualified thousands of signatures that Nadezhdin's representatives had gathered across the country to reach the 100,000-signature threshold needed to be registered as a candidate.

Nadezhdin, who was proposed as a presidential candidate by the Civic Platform party, is the only politician with presidential ambitions who has publicly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and criticized Putin.

Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy.

They are marred by the exclusion of opposition candidates, voter intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and other means of manipulation.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's tight grip on politics, media, law enforcement, and other levers means Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, is certain to win.

But the surprising show of support for the little-known Nadezhdin, whose platform calls the invasion of Ukraine a "fatal mistake" and who accuses Putin of dragging Russia into the past instead of building a sustainable future, is complicating the Kremlin's more aggressive ambition of boosting the perception of Putin's legitimacy.

Those who were expected to be Putin's main challengers currently are either incarcerated or fled the country, fearing for their safety.

The late Aleksei Navalny was once a leading opposition voice who attempted to run against Putin in 2018, only to be barred by the TsIK over his conviction in a fraud case that was widely seen as politically motivated.

Navalny died in prison on February 16 after he reportedly collapsed while on a daily walk. No official cause of death has been given by the authorities.

Navalny was buried in Moscow on March 1 after authorities refused for almost two weeks to release his body to his family. The move heightened suspicions that the anti-corruption crusader was killed while in prison.

Newly Enlarged NATO Begins Military Exercises In Finland, Norway, Sweden

Swedish soldiers take part in the changing-of-the-guard ceremony in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Stockholm on February 24.
Swedish soldiers take part in the changing-of-the-guard ceremony in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Stockholm on February 24.

NATO will kick off an exercise on March 4 to defend its newly expanded Nordic territory when more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations take part in drills lasting nearly two weeks in the northern regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. With over 4,000 Finnish soldiers taking part, the Norway-led Nordic Response 2024 represents the NATO newcomer's largest-ever participation in a foreign exercise, according to Finland's military. Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, joined NATO in April 2023. With its bid now ratified by all NATO members, neighboring Sweden is currently finalizing formalities to enter the military alliance as its 32nd member — most likely in March.

Updated

Explosion Closes Railway Bridge In Russia's Samara Region

An explosion early on March 4 damaged a railway bridge in Russia’s south-central Samara region, causing Russian authorities to suspend traffic on the line. The Baza Telegram channel reported that the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device. No one was reported injured in the blast. Ukraine’s military intelligence wrote on Telegram that the bridge was disabled by an explosion and will be “impossible to use for a long time.” The agency added that the rail line was used to transport military supplies, particularly ammunition produced by a factory in the Samara region city of Chapayevsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Wagner Mercenary Charged With Raping Woman After Returning From War In Ukraine

The rape suspect signed a contract to fight with the Wagner mercenary group in 2022. (file photo)
The rape suspect signed a contract to fight with the Wagner mercenary group in 2022. (file photo)

A Russian mercenary who fought with the private military company Wagner in Ukraine has been arrested in Kirov in connection with the rape of a 22-year-old woman. The suspect, Dmitry Efimov, also set the car in which he allegedly committed the rape on fire to cover his tracks, according to sources quoted by the news outlet Baza. The police say Efimov forced a resident of Kirov into someone else’s car in a garage and raped her on February 24. Efimov, who was convicted of rape in 2013 and murder in 2019, signed a contract to fight with Wagner in 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

OPEC+ Members Extend Oil Output Cuts Into Second Quarter

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said says his country will be cutting oil production by an additional 471,000 barrels per day. (file photo)
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said says his country will be cutting oil production by an additional 471,000 barrels per day. (file photo)

OPEC+ members led by Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed on March 3 to extend voluntary oil output cuts into the second quarter. Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said it would extend its voluntary cut of through the end of June. Russia, which leads OPEC allies collectively known as OPEC+, will cut oil production and exports by an additional 471,000 barrels per day in the second quarter in coordination with some OPEC+ participating countries, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said.

Zelenskiy Calls On World To Help Ukraine Defeat 'Russian Evil' As Death Toll From Strike On Odesa Climbs To 12

Rescuers remove the body of a local resident from an apartment building in Odesa that was heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike on March 2.
Rescuers remove the body of a local resident from an apartment building in Odesa that was heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike on March 2.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on March 3 for the world to help Kyiv defeat "Russian evil" as the death toll from a Russian drone strike on Odesa rose to 12, including several children.

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.

"Every Russian loss at the front is our country's response to Russian terror. The world must respond to every manifestation of Russian evil and repel Russia's actions," Zelenskiy said after rescuers ended their search for victims in the rubble of the attack on Odesa.

He said later in his nightly video address that political will is required to make sure Ukraine has enough supplies, in an apparent reference to a crucial multibillion-dollar aid package that remains stalled in the U.S. Congress amid partisan bickering.

The war "must become hopeless for Russia.... They must sense that there is force that destroys those who seek to destroy life," Zelenskiy said.

"If this doesn’t happen and America [and] Europe lose to Iranian Shaheds or Russian jets, it will go down in history as one of the most shameful chapters. Evil should never be encouraged. Neither by weak decisions, delays in supplies, nor indecision," Zelenskiy said.

The Russian drone hit an apartment block in Odesa early on March 2, partially destroying several floors and leaving more than a dozen people under the rubble.

The attack killed at least four children, including two babies less than 1 year old, according to statements by Zelenskiy and the regional governor.

"Mark, who was not even 3 years old, Yelyzaveta, 8 months old, and Timofey, 4 months old," Zelenskiy said, naming the youngest victims on Telegram. "Ukrainian children are Russia's military targets."

The bodies of a 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister were found under the rubble on March 3, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said.

Ukraine's emergency services said they had found the bodies of families huddled together as they sifted through the rubble.

"A mother tried to cover her 8-month-old baby with her body. They were found in a tight embrace," the agency said on Telegram.

March 3 has been declared a day of mourning in Odesa and the region for those killed during the drone attack on the city.

According to rescuers, 18 apartments of a nine-story building in Odesa were destroyed in the air strike that the Ukrainian Air Force said occurred overnight on March 2 and also hit the Mykolayiv region.

Zelenskiy on March 2 pleaded with Kyiv's Western allies to supply more air-defense systems as Russia continues to pound Ukraine with drones, missiles, and artillery fire while the civilian death toll continues to mount. The United Nations has verified at least 10,000 civilian deaths since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

There was no comment on the attack in Moscow, which denies targeting civilians despite ample evidence of Russian strikes on residential areas.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported a separate attack in the southern Kherson region that it said killed one person and wounded three others. Officials also reported an air strike on a residential quarter of Kurakhove, a town in the eastern Donetsk region, which injured 16.

Meanwhile, Russian military bloggers reported an attempted massive Ukrainian drone attack on the illegally annexed peninsula of Crimea.

Moscow said it shot down 38 Ukrainian drones, while the Rybar Telegram channel, which is close to Russia's armed forces, said one hit a pipeline at an oil depot.

An adviser to Crimea's Kremlin-installed leader said traffic was halted early on March 3 along a highway near Feodosia, the site of the earlier explosion. More than eight hours later, Crimea's local transport minister reported that traffic had partially resumed.

A bridge that connects Crimea to Russian territory was also closed to traffic for about two hours early on March 3.

With reporting by AFP and AP

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