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EU Leaders Voice Concern About Russia Destabilizing Balkan States

British Prime Minister Theresa May

Leaders of the European Union are voicing concern about "external influences" fueling divisions in the Western Balkans after recent moves by Russia and its Balkan allies to block closer ties with the West.

"I will make clear my concerns about the potential for increased instability in that region and the risks that presents to our collective security," British Prime Minister Theresa May said as she announced Britain will be hosting a Western Balkans summit next year focused on returning stability to the region.

"In the light of the alleged Montenegro coup plot, I will call for us do more to counter destabilizing Russian disinformation campaigns and raise the visibility of the Western commitment to this region," May said at an EU summit in Brussels on March 9.

Montenegrin authorities say Serbs acting at Russia's bidding tried to assassinate former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic on election day in October as part of a plot to destabilize the small country.

Montenegro hopes to become a NATO member later this year, a move Russia considers a "provocation" and a threat to its own security.

EU President Donald Tusk also alluded to the negative influence of Russia in the region, which the EU is seeking to counter with a new communications strategy and by reaffirming its support for incorporating aspiring Balkan states into the bloc.

The Western Balkans includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and Kosovo.

"Tensions and divisions have got out of hand partly because of unhealthy external influences which have been destabilizing several countries for some time," Tusk said. "The EU remains...fully committed to the stability and prosperity of the region."

The EU held out the prospect of economic aid and full membership if nations continue down the path of economic and political reform. But progress has been slow, causing doubts to grow on both sides about the eventual outcome of the accession bids.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

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U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Case Over Dispute Between Ukraine, Russian Oil Company

The U.S. Supreme Court https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/100322zor_fcgj.pdf

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the Russian oil company Tatneft in a dispute with Ukraine over the payment of a multimillion-dollar judgment awarded years ago by an arbitration panel.

The high court on October 3 did not comment on the case except to say that it would not hear it.

The decision, a win for one of Russia's largest oil companies as Moscow continues to wage war in Ukraine, means the case will continue in U.S. lower courts, which also have sided with the company and have declined to dismiss it.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in Tatneft's favor in 2020, and an appeals court in Washington subsequently affirmed the enforcement of the judgment.

In its decision on October 3, the Supreme Court turned away Ukraine's attempt to avoid a Paris-based arbitration panel's order saying the Ukrainian government must pay a $173 million judgment to Tatneft.

The panel was established by the parties to consider Tatneft's accusations of Ukrainian wrongdoing over the handling of shares in an oil refinery.

The case involves Ukraine's Kremenchuk oil refinery, which was destroyed by Russia in April.

Ukraine originally owned half the refinery, while the other half was owned by Tatneft and the oil-rich Russian region of Tatarstan. A dispute between the parties led to arbitration in which Ukraine was ordered in 2014 to pay $112 million plus interest.

Tatneft since 2017 has argued in U.S. courts in favor of enforcing the arbitration panel's award, but Ukraine says the United States has no connection to the case.

Lawyers for Ukraine say Tatneft should be using courts in Ukraine which “remain open and would fairly consider its request for relief.”

Ukraine appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

Lawyers representing Ukraine raised Tatneft's ties to the Russian government and the ongoing invasion in their appeal.

They said Tatneft had used the case to target "third parties integral to Ukraine's national security" ahead of Russia's invasion. Tatneft has denied those allegations.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Canada Sanctions Iranian Security Chiefs Citing Death Of Mahsa Amini

Mahsa Amini died last month while she was in custody for breaking a rule on the wearing of the Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Citing the death of a young woman while in police custody, Canada has slapped a new round of sanctions on several high-ranking Iranian security officials for alleged human rights abuses.

Melanie Joly, the minister of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement on October 3 that the sanctions are in response to "gross human rights violations" that have been committed in Iran, including its "systematic persecution" of women and in particular, "the egregious actions" committed by Iran’s so-called "Morality Police," which led to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in their custody.

"Iran’s continued grave and ongoing breaches of international law are well known and documented, including its blatant disregard for human life," she said in the statement.

The list of those added to the sanctions regime includes 25 individuals and nine entities, including officials in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the country's ministry of intelligence and security.

Among those named are Mohammed-Hossein Bagheri, a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces; Major General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC; Esmail Qaani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC; the Evin Prison, which houses political prisoners; and Iran’s morality police and its head, Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi.

Iran's state-run Press TV and its "morality police," which enforces the Islamic Republic's strict dress code, were also sanctioned by Canada.

Amini was taken into custody by the morality police before she died. She was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf, or hijab, improperly.

Officials have said Amini died of a heart attack on September 16, but her relatives and supporters reject the claim, saying there are eyewitness accounts reporting she was beaten by police.

Amini's death has sparked widespread anger and daily protests in Iran, which the country's leadership has vowed to put down harshly.

"Our message to Iran is clear: the continued and systemic persecution of Iranian women must stop and they will be held accountable for human rights violations and blatant disregard for human life," Joly said in the statement.

"Canada applauds the courage and actions of Iranians and will stand by them as they fight for their rights and dignity.”

Director Of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant Released After Detention That Raised 'Grave Concern' At UN Atomic Agency

Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant director Ihor Murashov (file photo)

The head of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine has been released, UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on October 3.

"I welcome the release of Ihor Murashov, Director General of #Ukraine's #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant; I have received confirmation that Mr Murashov has returned to his family safely," Grossi said on Twitter.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called for Murashov’s release over the weekend after reports that he had been abducted by a Russian military patrol while traveling between the Zaporizhzhya plant and the town of Enerhodar.

Murashov “was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded, he was driven in an unknown direction,” said Enerhoatom, the Ukrainian state company that oversees the plant.

Murashov's detention had a "very significant impact" on him and nuclear safety and security standards, the IAEA said in a statement on October 1.

“Such a detention of any member of the plant staff would be a source of grave concern in itself, but also for its psychological impact and pressure on the rest of the staff -- which is detrimental to nuclear safety and security,” said Grossi said in the statement.

It remained unclear why Murashov was detained. Russian authorities have made no statement about the detention.

The plant and the surrounding area have been controlled by Russian forces since March, while Ukrainian staff have continued operating the plant.

Its last reactor was shut down in September because of shelling near the plant.

Kyiv and IAEA have been warning of the possibility of an environmental catastrophe because of nearby fighting. The UN agency has called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant, but Russia has rejected the proposal.

With reporting by Reuters

Russian TV Journalist Who Protested Ukraine War On Air Added To Wanted List

Former Russian state TV producer Marina Ovsyannikova (file photo)

Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who in March protested Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine in a live broadcast, has been placed on the Interior Ministry's wanted list after she allegedly escaped from house arrest.

Mediazona website said on October 3 that Ovsyannikova's name appeared in the ministry's registry of wanted persons. The ministry said the journalists is wanted for a crime but did not specify the accusations.

Two days earlier, Ovsyannikova's former husband, Igor Ovsyannikov, said she escaped from house arrest along with their 11-year-old daughter, adding that their current whereabouts are unknown.

Ovsyannikova's lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, told Novaya gazeta.Europe at the time that he had no information about his client’s possible flight.

In August, a Moscow court placed Ovsyannikova under house arrest on a charge of distributing false information about Russia’s armed forces after police searched her apartment in the Russian capital.

Zakhvatov said then that Ovsyannikova may face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge.

Russian TV News Hit By Anti-War Protest In Studio
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Ovsyannikova gained international recognition on March 14 when she burst onto the set of Channel One's Vremya news program holding a poster reading: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you” in Russian. She also shouted: "Stop the war. No to war."

Ukraine-born Ovsyannikova was a producer with Channel One at the time of her protest. She was later detained and fined 30,000 rubles ($490) by a court for calling for illegal protests.

Ovsyannikova resigned from Channel One and spent several months abroad, including in Ukraine, repeatedly expressing her condemnation of the war.

After her return to Moscow in July, a court on August 8 ordered Ovsyannikova to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles ($660) for her latest online posts protesting the war.

A law signed by Putin in March provides for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.

Kyrgyz Court Rejects Former Kumtor Gold Mine Manager's Appeal Against His Arrest

Former Kumtor gold mine interim manager Tengiz Bolturuk (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The Bishkek City Court has rejected an appeal filed by the former interim manager of Kyrgyzstan's Kumtor gold mine against his arrest.

The court ruled on October 3 that Tengiz Bolturuk, a Canadian citizen, must stay in pretrial detention until at least November 10.

Bolturuk was arrested on September 13 along with his two subordinates, Aisha-Gul Janalieva and Ryspek Toktogulov, on suspicion of financial mismanagement.

They were fired in late August after the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) launched a probe against them, saying that the auditing chamber found financial violations in their activities.

The UKMK said at the time that Bolturuk and his assistants allegedly caused financial damage to the State Treasury assessed at 1 billion soms ($12,472,400).

Bolturuk rejects the charges.

Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz state-owned gold mining company regained full control of the Kumtor gold mine earlier this year under the terms of a deal with the Canadian company Centerra Gold signed in April.

Bolturuk, who previously represented Kyrgyzstan at Centerra Gold, was interim manager of Kumtor at the time.

Kumtor had been the target of financial and environmental disagreements for years before turning into the subject of a control battle between the Kyrgyz state and Centerra Gold.

The Kyrgyz government has insisted that Centerra's operations endangered human lives and the environment, which the company denied.

In May 2021, the Canadian firm said it had "initiated binding arbitration to enforce its rights under long-standing investment agreements with the government."

Many Kyrgyz lawmakers have expressed concern about an alleged lack of transparency at Kumtor since the Kyrgyz government took control of the gold mine in April.

Iranian Currency Hits Record Low As Unrest Intensifies Economic Concerns

The rial traded at 331,800 to the dollar on October 3, down from the quoted price of 316,800 a week ago. At the start of September, the rial was at 298,200 to the dollar.

Iran's national currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar amid a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman.

The rial traded at 331,800 to the dollar on October 3, according to traders in Tehran and the Bonbast.com foreign-exchange website, down from the quoted price of 316,800 a week ago. At the start of September, the rial was at 298,200 to the dollar.

The weakening of the currency has intensified since widespread protests over the death of a young woman in police custody for reportedly improperly wearing a hijab, along with reports about the end of hopes for a revival of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and global powers.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 has swept the country, with demonstrations in cities across Iran, including on October 2 when security forces in Tehran cracked down on hundreds of university students overnight.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals -- including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland -- had been arrested.

When the 2015 nuclear deal was signed with world powers, the rial was trading at 32,000 to the dollar. The agreement gave Tehran relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The accord collapsed in 2018 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions that have battered Iran's economy and its currency. After Washington withdrew, Iran began to breach some of the pact's nuclear limits saying they could no longer be enforced.

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

Norway Deploys Soldiers At Oil, Gas Plants In Wake Of Nord Stream Leaks

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store visited the Sleipner A platform in the Sleipner East gas field of Norway's North Sea sector on October 1.

NATO member Norway has posted soldiers to help guard major onshore oil and gas processing plants, its military said, as part of efforts to beef up security amid suspicion that sabotage caused leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines last week.

The Norwegian Home Guard, a rapid mobilization force, on October 3 began to deploy troops at plants responsible for processing and exporting oil and gas.

"The purpose is to assist the police in averting and preventing punishable or unwanted incidents in Norway," it said in a statement.

Four leaks were discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea near Denmark and Sweden last week.

Neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, but they were filled with gas that has been spewing out and bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea since September 26.

Following the incidents, Norway last week deployed its navy and air force to patrol offshore petroleum fields and announced it would receive assistance from Britain, Germany, and France.

Norway is Europe's largest gas supplier and a major oil exporter.

The Norwegian government has said it decided to boost the security of its oil and gas infrastructure as an extra safety measure despite not being aware of any specific threats.

Among the onshore facilities receiving police and military protection on October 3 were the gas export terminals in Kollsnes and Nyhamna in southwestern Norway as well as the Kaarstoe gas and condensate plant and the Mongstad oil refinery.

Meanwhile, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Joint Expeditionary Force group of northern European nations will meet on October 3 to discuss the safety of undersea pipelines and cables following the Nord Stream incidents.

The force consists of troops from 10 countries, including the Baltic and Nordic nations.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Kyrgyz Security Forces Detain Seven Alleged Members Of Banned Islamic Group

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials say seven members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group have been detained in the Central Asian nation.

The Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security said in a statement on October 3 that the suspects were arrested after investigators found books and electronic devices with texts and other materials that had been deemed as extremist.

According to the experts, the materials in question were propagating the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is a global organization based in London that seeks to unite all Muslim countries into an Islamic caliphate through peaceful means.

Kyrgyzstan banned the group in 2003, branding its supporters as extremists.

Buddhist Leader Becomes First Religious Head In Russia To Openly Condemn War In Ukraine

Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni Ombadykov, said in an interview to a Russian blogger on YouTube over the weekend that he supports Ukraine because it was Russia that attacked Ukrainian territories. (file photo)

The Supreme Lama of Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has become the first religious leader in the Russian Federation to condemn Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion in Ukraine.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni Ombadykov, said in an interview to a Russian blogger on YouTube over the weekend that he supports Ukraine because it was Russia that attacked Ukrainian territories.

"I think [the war] is wrong; nobody needs this war. We are all living in the 21st century, all of us want to live peacefully, each country wants to develop. I think the Ukrainian side, of course, is right -- it is defending its country, its land, its truth, its constitution, its people. It is very difficult to say and accept that Russia is right. It is very hard to say so, and this is what I cannot [say]," the leader of Kalmykia's Buddhists said during the interview.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche also said he had avoided expressing his thoughts about the war in Ukraine because he "did not want to damage the ties between the authorities and Buddhists," though he added that Buddhist leaders who openly supported the war in Ukraine could not sincerely believe in what they were saying if they are "real" Buddhists.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche is currently in Mongolia, where he is helping thousands of Kalmyks who fled Russia after Moscow launched its war against Ukraine in late February.

The influx of Russian citizens, mostly of Kalmyk, Buryat, and Tyvan origin, to Mongolia has dramatically increased in recent days after President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 a partial military mobilization to support the war in Ukraine.

Kalmyks in Russia's southwest and Buryats in Siberia are mostly Buddhist, Mongol-speaking ethnic groups. Tyvans are another mostly Buddhist indigenous people in Siberia, whose language is Turkic.

EU Envoy Calls For Probes Into Videos Exacerbating Tensions Between Armenia, Azerbaijan

Foreign ministers Ararat Mirzoyan of Armenia and Jeyhun Bayramov of Azerbaijan meet in Geneva on October 2.

The European Union's envoy for the South Caucasus and Georgia has called for investigations into videos that appear to show potential war crimes being committed by Azerbaijan and Armenia in recent clashes that have threatened a fragile cease-fire agreement ending the worst fighting between the two neighbors since a 2020 war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Toivo Klaar, the EU special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, said intwo tweets on October 3 that the videos he received, which have not been independently verified, need to be investigated and, "if authentic" the perpetrators "need to be held responsible."

"The conflict has left deep wounds on both sides and to heal accountability is needed," he said.

The latest claims started on October 2 when gruesome video posted on social media appeared to show Azerbaijani soldiers executing several Armenian prisoners of war at close range.

On the same day, videos also surfaced that purportedly show a group of soldiers and civilians insulting corpses wearing military and civilian uniforms. The video claims that the dead soldiers and civilians are Azerbaijanis and those who insulted them are Armenian soldiers.

It is not clear when the videos were filmed, though they came after a flare-up in clashes last month that killed more than 200 soldiers in total from both sides.

Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

The two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russia-brokered cease-fire, resulting in Armenia losing control over parts of the region, which is part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent districts.

Under the cease-fire Armenia ceded swaths of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

However, the situation in the region remains tense, with both sides accusing the other of breaking the cease-fire.

The foreign ministers of the two countries met on October 2 in Geneva for EU-mediated talks on a possible peace treaty.

Updated

Europe Takes Further Aim At Russia Following 'Sham' Referendums In Ukraine

Lithuania's Foreign Ministry has declared Russia's envoy to the Baltic state persona non grata. (file photo)

Countries across Europe are ramping up diplomatic pressure on Moscow in condemnation of Russia’s attempt to illegally annex an additional four Ukrainian regions through referendums widely seen as sham events.

Lithuania on October 3 said it had declared Russia's envoy to the Baltic state persona non grata in the wake of last week's votes in four Ukrainian regions where Moscow has wrested at least partial control. The Kremlin used the votes as a pretense to then illegally seize the regions.

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Vilnius explained the move by saying that Russia's interim charge d’affaires, Sergei Ryabokon, had taken recent actions and made statements that were "incompatible" with his diplomatic status and interfered with internal Lithuanian affairs.

"Lithuania's Foreign Ministry also strongly protested against the Russian President's decision of 30 September to illegally annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, parts of which were temporarily occupied by Russia," it added in a statement.

The move came amid a concerted effort around Europe to what many countries called "sham" referendums.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry in Helsinki said in a tweet on October 3 that it had summoned the Russian ambassador "to express the strongest condemnation of the referendums and the subsequent announcement of the "illegal annexation of occupied Ukrainian regions by Russia, a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the UN Charter."

In Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told TVN24 on October 3 that Russia's ambassador had been summoned to discuss "Russia’s actions last week."

He added that further meetings were likely to be held across Europe to "express this position," though he did not expect to declare the Russian envoy persona non grata for the time being.

"I will not make such an announcement today," he said.

"We are hashing over such decisions with our allies in the EU and NATO. And if we come to the conclusion jointly with all [our] European and Euro-Atlantic allies that such steps would be necessary and beneficial, then we will take them," Przydacz added.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin signed documents on September 30 that formalized Russia’s attempt to annex parts of Ukraine’s four regions, Ukrainian armed forces managed to take over of a key city of Lyman in the Donetsk region and have continued to liberate other territories close to the city.

The Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on October 3 calling on Czech citizens to leave Russia as soon as possible due to a "worsening of security" in Russia for citizens of the European Union and NATO member-states.

The statement called on Czech citizens who are already in Russia and have decided to stay despite the ministry’s warning, "to exercise extreme caution during your stay, follow trusted media, and have an emergency exit plan in place."

"Due to the announcement of a partial military mobilization [by Russian authorities], citizens of the Czech Republic who are also holders of Russian citizenship should bear in mind that, if they are on the territory of the Russian Federation, they are perceived by the Russian authorities primarily as citizens of the Russian Federation and the Czech Embassy in Moscow cannot provide them with adequate, full consular protection," the statement said.

Since Putin announced the partial mobilization on September 21, many individuals with dual citizenship, especially men from Central Asian nations, have been summoned to enlistment offices for military recruitment.

Tens of thousands of Russian men have also fled the country to avoid fighting in Ukraine.

Well-Known Women's Rights Activist Arrested In Iran; University Suspends Courses Amid Protests

Iranian student activist Bahareh Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times. (file photo)

Well-known student and human rights activist Bahareh Hedayat was arrested in Tehran early on October 3, the BBC reported, amid a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, died on September 16 after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times.

Another political activist and former student activist, Hossein Masumi, was detained on October 2. His family does not know his whereabouts.

Since the beginning of nationwide protests in Iran, which continue for the 16th day, there has been a wave of arrests of political and civil activists.

Early on October 3, classes were suspended and moved online at Iran's Sharif University, a leading higher-education institution and traditionally a hotbed for dissent, after clashes erupted overnight between students and security forces, local media said.

Based on reporting by BBC and AFP

Russian Scientist Charged With Treason Dies While Under House Arrest

Valery Mitko was placed under house arrest in February 2020 for allegedly transferring classified materials to China during regular visits he made there as a teacher. (file photo)

An 81-year-old Russian scientist placed under house arrest after being charged with high treason two years ago has died.

The Pervy Otdel (First Unit) human rights group said on October 2 that Valery Mitko died after suffering his fourth heart attack. The group noted he had been barred from taking regular walks outside of his apartment in St. Petersburg.

Mitko was placed under house arrest in February 2020 for allegedly transferring classified materials to China during regular visits he made there as a teacher.

Mitko denied the charges. He and his lawyers insisted the only materials he took to China were related to his scientific and teaching work.

Russian media reports said at the time that Mitko was accused of delivering top-secret information to China about hydroacoustic research and the detection of submarines.

For years Russian scientists had been encouraged to cooperate with fellow researchers in other countries, but those contacts forged with their counterparts abroad have recently led many to be arrested on treason charges they deny.

Kremlin critics say the charges often stem from unfounded paranoia and attempts to stifle any dissent.

Updated

Ukrainian Forces Continue Advance In Lyman Area As Russian Losses Mount

A Ukrainian T-64 tank fires at Russian positions in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on October 2.

The Ukrainian military says its forces continued their advance in the Donetsk region a day after taking full control of the strategic eastern city of Lyman, as Russia continues to sustain numerous casualties.

Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Ukrainian troops liberated the settlement of Torske near Lyman on October 2 and are hitting Russian military units in Kreminna, in the Luhansk region, "with fire."

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The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported on October 3 that Russia lost 320 soldiers the previous day, most of them in the Kramatorsk and Bakhmut directions. Ukraine says that in total Russia has lost lost about 60,400 soldiers since the start of its invasion in February.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last month that Russian losses amount to 5,937.

Neither figure could be independently verified.

There were also reports on October 3 that Ukrainian forces were recapturing towns along the west bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine.

The scale of the Ukrainian advance was unconfirmed, with Kyiv maintaining all but complete silence about the situation in the area. However, Russian military bloggers described a Ukrainian tank advance through dozens of kilometers of territory along the riverbank.

In a rare comment by a Ukrainian official on the situation, Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, posted what he said was a video of a Ukrainian soldier waving a flag in Zolota Balka, downriver from the former front line.

The latest reports came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on October 2 announced that Ukrainian troops were in full control of Lyman in the Donbas region.

Zelenskiy made the brief comment in a video clip posted to his Telegram channel on October 2.

"As of 12:30 p.m., Lyman is fully cleared," he said. "Thank you to our soldiers. Glory to Ukraine."

The recapture of Lyman was Ukrainian forces' most significant battlefield gain in weeks and followed a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north that swept Russian forces and stunned many observers.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington was "very encouraged" by Ukrainian gains.

Lyman sits at a crossroads and a switch yard for railroads, and analysts say Ukrainian troops would likely use the city as a staging post for further advances east.

The city had been the scene of intense fighting for days, with Ukrainian troops gradually encircling it and the estimated 5,000 Russian troops that were defending it.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on October 1 said it was pulling troops out of the area "in connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement."

Unconfirmed reports said Russian forces there had suffered heavy casualties and an unknown number of soldiers were taken prisoner.

It was the latest setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, coming one day after he proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions that have been partly occupied by Russian forces for months now.

The Donetsk region, where Lyman is located, is one of the four regions Putin claimed.

Kyiv and the West have condemned the annexation declaration as illegal and a farce.

Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Putin and head of Russia's Chechnya region, has said Moscow should consider using a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine after the loss of Lyman.

In a statement criticizing Russian generals for the loss of Lyman, Kadyrov said it was time for the Kremlin to make use of every weapon at its disposal.

“I do not know what the Defense Ministry reports to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, but in my personal opinion we need to take more drastic measures, including declaring martial law in the border territories and using low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel.

Putin's declaration that Russia was annexing Donetsk, along with Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, was a major escalation by the Kremlin. Observers said it signaled a further digging-in by the Russian leadership, dampening prospects for a peace deal.

Together with Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, the four regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territory.

Russia's setbacks on the battlefield also come amid reports of chaos in a mobilization ordered less than two weeks ago by Putin that has seen tens of thousands of Russian men suddenly called up into the military and tens of thousands of others fleeing abroad.

Mikhail Degtyarev, governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia's Far East, said around half of the thousands of men called up there had been found unfit for duty and sent back home. He said he fired the region's military commissar.

"The military commissar of the Khabarovsk region, Yuri Laiko, has been suspended," Degtyaryev said in a video posted on Telegram.

This will have no impact on the fulfilment of the tasks that the president has set for us," Degtyaryev said in a Telegram video.

With reporting by Reuters

Early Results In Bosnian Vote Show Reformist Bosniak Candidate Winning Seat In Shared Presidency

Denis Becirovic of the Social Democratic Party arrives to address the media and supporters in Sarajevo after Bosnia-Herzegovina's general election on October 2.

The first preliminary results in Bosnia-Herzegovina's general election showed cooperation-prone Bosniak candidate Denis Becirovic on course to win a seat in the country's tripartite presidency.

Becirovic, a candidate of the united Bosniak opposition front, will likely be joined in the tripartite presidency by Bosnian Croat representative Borjana Kristo, the candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia, and Bosnian Serb Zeljka Cvijanovic from the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats.

Balloting on October 2 was held to choose the three members of the shared presidency, parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels, and the president of the country’s Serb-run part. More than 60,000 observers were accredited to oversee the process.

The preliminary results were based on 1,816 processed polling stations or 54.83 percent of the total.

WATCH: Early voters came to polling stations in the Balkan state of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the morning of October 2 to choose the three members of the Bosnian presidency, parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels, and the president of the country's Serb-run part.

Voting Kicks Off In Bosnian General Elections
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Voter turnout was 50 percent -- more than 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

The elections were expected to bring little change to the leadership of a country racked by clientelism, corruption, and poverty.

Officials said the voting had proceeded in a satisfactory manner despite reports of irregularities and the detention of some people over ballot fraud.

Voting at one polling station was suspended and five officials detained after independent monitors reported irregularities with ballots, news portal Klix had reported earlier.

After polls closed, Bosnia's international peace overseer announced he had imposed changes to the election law aimed at preventing blockades of the government.

"I imposed measures that will improve the functionality of the institutions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will enable all citizens to have their voices heard and ensure that they are truly represented by those they elected," said Christian Schmidt, who has vast powers as international high representative in Bosnia.

"It is crucial for destiny of this country that there will be no blockades," Schmidt added.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's 3.4 million registered voters were given a choice from a huge slate of more than 100 parties and coalitions in the country's eighth general election, but the beleaguered Balkan state's postelection landscape will almost certainly be dominated by many of the same personalities that have thrived on existential crisis and patronage for years and even amplified their ethnic vitriol in campaigning.

It also took place amid Russia's war in Ukraine, which has further divided Bosnia and stoked fears of raising the temperature on long-simmering issues in the Balkan state.

Bosnia remains divided into a Bosniak and Croat federation and the mostly Serb entity of Republika Srpska under the terms of the 1995 Dayton Agreements that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

A handful of races in the upper house of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- whose seats are chosen indirectly, after the elections -- could dramatically affect obstruction efforts that have paralyzed the government for years. The results could go a long way toward answering whether Bosnia is fated, at least for the near future, to remain one of Europe's most vulnerable hotspots.

Much of the attention was also expected to focus on Bosnia's Serb-run part, Republika Srpska, and its leader, Milorad Dodik, who has pushed for an acceleration of the Serb-dominated region's secessionist efforts.

Dodik chose to run for the president of Republika Srpska rather than seek a second term in the tripartite presidency.

Both Dodik, and his main contender, Jelena Trivic, proclaimed victory in the race for the Republika Srpska presidency.

Their claims will be tested later on October 3, when the election commission is expected to announce preliminary results of the presidential ballot for Republika Srpska and the races for parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels.

Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.

The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Partial Results Show Party Of Bulgarian Ex-PM Borisov Winning Snap Poll

The party of former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, shown talking to journalists after polling on October 2, came in second in the vote with 20.2 percent.

Partial results in Bulgaria's snap parliamentary elections show the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party of longtime leader Boyko Borisov has finished with the highest percentage of the vote, the fourth such poll in 18 months.

Results from 99 percent of ballots counted showed on October 3 that GERB won 25.4 percent of votes, while the reformist anti-graft We Continue the Change (PP) party of former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov came second, with 20.2 percent in the fourth election in the European Union's poorest member country in less than two years.

If confirmed by final official results that include ballots from abroad, expected on October 5, three-time Prime Minister Borisov looks set to have a chance at a fourth term in office.

Voter turnout on October 2 was estimated at about 30 percent.

Petkov and former Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, co-chairs of the PP party, conceded and declared they will not participate in a coalition with GERB.

"It is GERB's responsibility to form a government. We promised that we will never participate in a coalition with GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and we will keep our promise," said Petkov, referring to the ethnic-Turkish backed DPS.

Vassilev added that GERB and DPS were both a "symbol of corruption" in Bulgarian politics.

The southeastern European country of nearly 7 million people has been plagued by political gridlock since 2020, when it was rocked by nationwide protests as public anger over years of corruption boiled over. Much of the ire was directed at Borisov and GERB.

The latest government, led by Petkov, collapsed in June after just six months when one of its coalition partners quit. Petkov and the pro-reform PP had struggled to deliver on his pledge to stamp out corruption.

Petkov has also backed Ukraine in its fight against Russia in a country traditionally friendly toward Moscow and has accused the Kremlin of helping orchestrate the collapse of his government, which refused to pay for gas in rubles as demanded by Russia.

The elections were marked by a lack of political enthusiasm, with turnout of just 25 percent by 4 p.m. local time.

After casting his vote earlier on October 2, Borisov told reporters that Bulgaria needs to clearly position itself in Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"With this aggression, with this war, with a clear aggressor in the face of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin -- (I have) nothing against the Russian people -- with this farce with the referendums, Bulgaria must be very clear, categorical, and precise about its place in the European Union and NATO," he said, adding that Bulgaria's entry into the eurozone should be the first and most important task.

Besides GERB and We Continue the Change, five other parties are expected to have made it into the 240-seat chamber. They are the ethnic Turkish MRF party with 13.7 percent, the pro-Russian far-right Vazrazhdane (Revival) party with 10.2 percent, the Socialist Party with 9.3 percent, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria with 7.5 percent, and the newly formed nationalist Bulgarian Rise party on 4.6 percent.

The ascent of Revival, which more than doubled its score compared to the previous election, when it garnered 4.9 percent, was facilitated, according to observers, by the pro-Russia sentiments shared by many Bulgarians, which provide fertile soil for aggressive Kremlin propaganda in the Balkan country.

Revival has promised to take Bulgaria out of the EU and NATO and advance policies friendly to the Kremlin.

While many experts dismiss the anti-Western rhetoric of Revival as little more than campaign bluster, they do caution that the party is doing the bidding of the Kremlin.

Early results gave Revival more than 10 percent of ballots counted.

With reporting by AP

Police Clash With Protesters At Tehran University

Protesters rally in Tehran on October 2. Iran has seen a rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by women.

Iranian security forces have clashed with students at a university in the capital of Tehran in the latest protests in Iran linked to the death in custody of a young woman.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, died on September 16 after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Since her death, Iran has seen a rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by Iranian women.

Videos posted on social media on October 2 showed Sharif University, traditionally a hotbed of dissent, surrounded by dozens of riot police.

One of the videos showed security forces firing teargas to drive the students off the campus and the sound of what appeared to be shooting in the distance could be heard.

Another video showed security forces chasing dozens of students trapped in the university's underground parking. The account said dozens of students had been arrested.

Iranian state media described "reports of clashes" at the university and said the country's science minister visited the campus to check on the situation.

Students were protesting at numerous universities on October 2 and demonstrations were held in several cities, such as Tehran, Yazd, Kermanshah, Sanandaj, Shiraz, and Mashhad, with participants chanting "independence, freedom, death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei," earlier social media posts showed.

Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group, in a statement said that "so far 133 people have been killed across Iran," including more than 40 people it said died in clashes last week in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

With reporting by Reuters

Central, Eastern European States Back Ukraine's NATO Bid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg bump fists at a press conference in Brussels in December 2021.

Nine Central and Eastern European countries have given their backing to Ukraine's bid to join NATO and urged the Western alliance to provide Kyiv with more weapons to defend itself against invading Russian forces.

The statement, issued on October 2, was signed by the leaders of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

The joint statement comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on September 30 that Ukraine had submitted an application for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure.

That announcement came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had annexed four Ukrainian regions that are partially occupied by invading Russian forces.

Putin's declaration that Russia was annexing Donetsk, along with Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, was viewed as a major escalation by the Kremlin.

"We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory," the statement by the nine leaders said.

It said the leaders "firmly stood behind the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit decision concerning Ukraine’s future membership."

At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine and Georgia's aspirations to join, but declined to provide a clear timeline for the two countries’ possible ascension.

Asked about Ukraine's NATO bid, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told U.S. TV that "any decision on membership has to be taken by consensus all 30 allies have to agree to make such a decision."

Stoltenberg also said Ukraine’s capture of the city of Lyman, which is in Donetsk, was proof that Ukrainians are making progress and able to push back against Russian forces.

"We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing," Stoltenberg said in an interview with NBC's Meet The Press.

The best way to counter Russia's proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine is to continue supporting the government in Kyiv, Stoltenberg said.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, meanwhile, on October 2 announced the delivery of 16 wheeled armored howitzers produced in Slovakia to Ukraine next year. The weapons will be financed jointly with Denmark, Norway, and Germany.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Damaged Nord Stream 1 Pipeline Stabilized, Gas Leak Halted

A gas leak fromone of the pipelines is seen roiling Baltic Sea waters in the Swedish economic zone following a rupture on September 26.

Stable pressure has been achieved in the damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline, authorities in Denmark say, indicating the outflow of natural gas from the last leaks has now halted.

A total of four leaks were discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea near Denmark and Sweden last week.

While neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, they were filled with gas that has been spewing out and bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea since September 26.

On October 1, the Danish Energy Agency announced that gas was no longer flowing out of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Three leaks -- two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone -- were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on September 29 said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 30 accused the West of sabotaging the Russian-built pipelines, a charge denied by the United States and its allies.

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week.

"Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU," Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet on October 1 after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

"We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague," he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on October 7.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Pope Calls On Putin To Stop 'This Spiral Of Violence And Death'

Pope Francis made the remarks on October 2 in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

Pope Francis has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop "this spiral of violence and death" over the war in Ukraine.

Francis's remarks, made on October 2 in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, were some of the strongest remarks he has made since the February 24 invasion.

"My appeal is addressed first of all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death," Francis said.

"On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression suffered, I direct an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals," he said.

The Roman Catholic leader also decried the growing risk of nuclear war, calling it "absurd."

"I deeply regret the serious situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law," he said. "In fact, it increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide."

The pope's comments came two days after Putin gave a fiery Kremlin speech in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

In the September 30 speech, Putin also made veiled threats about using nuclear weapons in the conflict, echoing earlier remarks in which he warned the West "this is not a bluff."

The Kremlin had no immediate reaction to the pope's comments.

Zelenskiy Says Ukrainian Troops In Full Control Of Strategic City Of Lyman

A Ukrainian soldier takes down a Russian flag hoisted on a monument in Lyman on October 1.

Ukraine's president has declared that Ukrainian troops are in full control of the eastern city of Lyman, a strategic city in the Donbas region that Russian forces withdrew from a day earlier.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy made the brief comment in a video clip posted to his Telegram channel on October 2.

"As of 12:30 p.m., Lyman is fully cleared," he said. "Thank you to our soldiers. Glory to Ukraine."

The recapture of Lyman is the Ukrainian forces' most significant battlefield gain in weeks, and followed a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north that swept Russian forces and stunned many observers.

Lyman sits at a crossroads and a rail hub and analysts say Ukrainian troops will likely use the city as a staging post for further advances east.

The city had been the scene of intense fighting for days, with Ukrainian troops gradually encircling it and the estimated 5,000 Russian troops that were defending it.

Russia's Defense Ministry on October 1 said it was pulling troops out of the area "in connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement."

Unconfirmed reports said Russian forces there had suffered heavy casualties, and an unknown number of soldiers taken prisoner.

It was the latest setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, coming the day after he proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions that have been partly occupied by Russian forces for months now.

The Donetsk region, where Lyman is located, is one of those four regions Putin claimed.

Kyiv and the West have condemned the annexation declaration as illegal and a farce.

"The liberation of this city in the Donetsk region is one of the key factors for the further de-occupation of the Luhansk region," Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk military administration, wrote on Telegram.

Putin’s declaration that Russia was annexing Donetsk, along with Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, was a major escalation by the Kremlin. Observers said it signaled a further digging-in by the Russian leadership, dampening prospects for a peace deal.

Together with Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, the four regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, including some of its most industrialized territory.

Kyiv has said it will not negotiate with Moscow as long as Putin remains in power.

In the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, Ukrainian forces have been waging a parallel counteroffensive that has so far yielded few of the dramatic gains seen in Kharkiv.

Experts say Russian commanders shifted some of their most experienced and capable units away from the Donbas to Kherson in August, in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

With reporting by Reuters

Swiss Police Fire Rubber Bullets To Break Up Anti-Iranian Protests

Protesters gather in support of Iranian women and against the death of Mahsa Amini in Madrid on October 1, said to be one of the 159 rallies around the world.

Swiss police have fired rubber bullets as protesters demonstrated outside Iran's embassy in Bern, and two men climbed over the embassy's fence and pulled the Iranian flag from a flagpole.

No one was injured in the October 1 demonstrations, which were one of dozens held around the world in solidarity with protests being held inside Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman while in police custody.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, died on September 16 after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

Since her death, Iran has seen rare outburst of sustained public anger, driven in large part by Iranian women.

In Bern, police said they used rubber bullets after several other protesters at the unauthorized demonstration also tried to enter the embassy's yard.

The two men who entered the embassy premises were detained, police said.

Rallies were held on October 1 in 159 cities around the world, according to an Iranian human rights organization.

Iran has blamed outside forces for the protests, which are some of the largest and most sustained protests in the country in years.

A Norway-based rights group said at least 92 people have been killed across Iran amid the ongoing police crackdown on the Amini protests.

"The international community has a duty to investigate this crime and prevent further crimes from being committed by the Islamic Republic," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, said in a statement on October 2.

Activists and relatives say Amini was killed by blows to the head while she was in police custody. They've rejected authorities’ claim that she had suffered a heart attack.

News of her death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardship. That hardship has been exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions imposed in response to Iran's nuclear program.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AFP, and Swissinfo.ch

Russia Blocks Audio-Streaming Site SoundCloud, Citing Spread Of 'False Information'

The Russian state communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked access to Twitter and banned Meta's Facebook and Instagram.

Russian regulators have reportedly blocked the website of the audio-streaming app SoundCloud, citing "false information" about the war in Ukraine.

Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax reported on October 2 that communications watchdog Roskomnadzor had blocked the site at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

"Roskomnadzor restricted access to the SoundCloud service in connection with placement of materials containing false information regarding the nature of the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine," Interfax quoted the regulator as saying.

According to some reports, the order only affected the SoundCloud website; the mobile version of the app was still accessible within Russia.

Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have stepped up efforts to censor information and criticism about the war.

Lawmakers passed a law shortly after the invasion criminalizing "the distribution of false information" about the Russian armed forces, and prosecutors have charged dozens of people.

The regulator has throttled access to Twitter and banned Meta's Facebook and Instagram.

It was unclear why authorities moved against SoundCloud now. However, some media reports said broadcasts by RFE/RL's Russian Service might be the primary reason.

SoundCloud in Russia was used not only by news media, but also independent musicians, podcast authors, and others.

After the invasion, the Prosecutor-General's Office demanded that SoundCloud and other podcast platforms remove podcasts by the independent news site Mediazona and war-related productions from the BBC, Kholod, Doxa, and other media.

With reporting by Mediazona
Updated

Polls Close In Bosnian Vote Amid Little Hope For Change

Voting Kicks Off In Bosnian General Elections
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Polls have closed in Bosnia-Herzegovina after elections that were expected to bring little change to the leadership of a country racked by clientelism, corruption, and poverty.

Balloting on October 2 was held to choose the three members of the Bosnian presidency, parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels, and the president of the country's Serb-run entity. More than 60,000 observers were accredited to oversee the process.

Voter turnout was 50 percent or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

Officials said the voting had proceeded in a satisfactory manner despite reports of irregularities and the detention of some people over ballot fraud.

Voting at one polling station was suspended and five officials detained after independent monitors reported irregularities with ballots, news portal Klix had reported earlier.

After polls closed, Bosnia's international peace overseer announced he had imposed changes to the election law aimed at preventing blockades of the government.

"I imposed measures that will improve the functionality of the institutions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will enable all citizens to have their voices heard and ensure that they are truly represented by those they elected," said Christian Schmidt, who has vast powers as international high representative in Bosnia.

"It is crucial for destiny of this country that there will be no blockades," Schmidt added.

Bosnia's 3.4 million registered voters could choose from a huge slate of more than 100 parties and coalitions in the country's eighth general election, but the beleaguered Balkan state's postelection landscape will almost certainly be dominated by many of the same personalities that have thrived on existential crisis and patronage for years, and even amplified their ethnic vitriol in campaigning.

It also took place amid Russia's war in Ukraine, which has further divided Bosnia and raised fears of raising the temperature on long-simmering issues in the Balkan state.

Bosnia remains divided into a Bosniak and Croat federation and the mostly Serbian entity of Republika Srpska under the terms of the 1995 Dayton agreements that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

Toby Vogel, a Western Balkans analyst and senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council who has been critical of Western failures in Bosnia, says he doubts the vote will be "transformative."

"At the end of today, the problems in Bosnia are not linked to who's in power and who's in opposition, but to how power is structured and the exercise of power structure. These are structural problems that go back to the Dayton peace accords and the constitutional setup that they contain," he said.

Still, tight races among the tripartite federal presidency's ethnically apportioned seats, including an unprecedented challenge for the majority Bosniaks' seat, was expected to make for an interesting day of balloting.

Meanwhile, a handful of races in the upper house of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- whose seats are chosen indirectly, after the elections -- could dramatically affect obstruction efforts that have paralyzed government for years. And the results could go a long way toward answering whether Bosnia is fated, at least for the near future, to remain one of Europe's most vulnerable hotspots.

Much of the attention was also expected to focus on the Republika Srpska and its leader, Milorad Dodik, who has pushed an acceleration of the entity's secessionist efforts.

Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.

The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.


With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Exit Polls And Early Results Show Party Of Bulgarian Ex-PM Borisov Winning Snap Poll

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov enters a polling station to cast his ballot in the town of Bankya on October 2.

Exit polls and early results in Bulgaria suggest the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party of longtime leader Boyko Borisov has won snap parliamentary elections, the fourth such poll in 18 months.

An exit poll conducted by the Gallup International pollster showed GERB with 24.6 percent, apparently edging out the reformist We Continue the Change (PP) party of former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, which is expected to take 18.9 percent.

Polling data from Alpha Research had GERB with 25.5 percent, followed by PP with 19.9 percent.

Early preliminary results largely mirrored the exit polling data with GERB with more than 25 percent of the vote, followed by PP with 22 percent with 12 percent of the ballots counted.

Voter turnout on October 2 was estimated at about 30 percent.

Petkov and former Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, co-chairs of the PP party, later conceded and declared they will not participate in a coalition with GERB.

"It is GERB's responsibility to form a government. We promised that we will never participate in a coalition with GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and we will keep our promise," Petkov said, referring to an ethnic-Turkish-backed party, the DPS.

Vassilev added that GERB and the DPS were both a "symbol of corruption" in Bulgarian politics.

The Southeast European country of nearly 7 million people has been plagued by political gridlock since 2020, when it was rocked by nationwide protests as public anger over years of corruption boiled over.

Much of the ire was directed at longtime leader Borisov and GERB.

The latest government, led by Petkov, collapsed in June after just six months when one of its coalition partners quit. Petkov has struggled to deliver on his pledge to stamp out corruption.

He has also backed Ukraine in its fight against Russia in a country traditionally friendly toward Moscow and accuses the Kremlin of helping orchestrate the collapse of his government, which refused to pay for gas in rubles as demanded by Russia.

After casting his vote, Borisov told reporters that Bulgaria needs to clearly position itself on Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"With this, aggression, with this war with a clear aggressor in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin -- [I have] nothing against the Russian people -- with this farce with the referendums, Bulgaria must be very clear, categorical, and precise about its place in the European Union and NATO," he said, adding that Bulgaria's entry into the eurozone should be the first and most important task.

Petkov rejected recent polls as questionable and voiced confidence that the vote will yield positive results for his party.

"After this election, we will make a coalition with the Bulgarian people," Petkov told reporters after casting his ballot.

"Today's election is very important. The choice is between going back to the years of transition or to break with this period once and for all and heading to a new prosperous and reformed Bulgaria. I believe that all Bulgarians today will make the choice for Bulgaria to move forward," Petkov said.

As many as eight parties may break the 4 percent threshold needed to gain entrance to parliament and take seats in the 240-member legislature.

One of them, the far-right Revival party which has been polling at around 11 percent to 13 percent, has taken advantage of a wave of populism sweeping Europe -- as witnessed by recent gains by far-right parties in Italy and Sweden -- spurred by economic fears and uncertainty first stoked by the COVID-19 pandemic and now Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Revival party has promised to take Bulgaria out of the EU and NATO, and advance policies friendly to the Kremlin.

While many experts dismiss the anti-Western rhetoric of the Revival party as little more than campaign bluster, they do caution that the party is doing the bidding of the Kremlin.

Alpha Research polling showed Revival securing 10 percent of the vote.

Early results gave Revival more than 11 percent of ballots counted. The DPS had 9 percent as did the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

With reporting by AP

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