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Ex-CIA Officer Charged Over Iran Leak To 'New York Times' Reporter

A former CIA officer has been arrested for allegedly leaking U.S. national security secrets -- apparently in connection with giving classified information concerning Iran to a "New York Times" reporter.

The U.S. Justice Department said the former officer, Jeffrey Sterling, has been charged with 10 counts related to improperly keeping and disclosing national security information.

The indictment does not say specifically what information was leaked or identify the reporter -- but reports say details in the indictment make clear the case is connected to James Risen, a "New York Times" reporter who published a book in 2006 that contains details about the CIA's intelligence activities involving Iran.

Sterling's lawyer, Edward McMahon, said in a statement that Sterling is "innocent," and that this will be proven in court.

Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993 to 2002. A lawyer for Risen, Joel Kurtzberg, said Risen did not cooperate with the government's investigation of the case.

compiled from agency reports

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Union Warns Over Deteriorating Health Of Jailed Activists On Hunger Strike In Iran

The union said in a statement issued over the weekend that on the 20th day of his hunger strike, Shahabi had short contact with his family but they could not even ask about his health

The Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Workers' Union has warned that the health condition of jailed labor activists Reza Shahabi and Hasan Saeedi is deteriorating due to their refusal to eat.

The union said in a statement issued over the weekend that on the 20th day of his hunger strike, Shahabi had short contact with his family but they could not even ask about his health. According to the family, Reza Shahabi's weak voice was indicative of his physical weakness.

The union added that Shahabi's interrogator has insisted on telling his family that he can still speak.

According to this statement, Saeedi passed the 10th day of his hunger strike in the solitary cell of Evin Prison on July 2.

The union wrote that Saeedi has lost a lot of weight and is not in good physical condition, and yet, he is under interrogation.

Shahabi, a member of the board of directors of the Tehran Bus Workers' Union, has been on a hunger strike since June 13 to protest against his continued detention.

Shahabi was arrested at his home on May 10 by Intelligence Ministry officers shortly after publicly calling on the authorities to investigate death threats against him and his family.

On May 17, state television alleged Shahabi and other labor activists had met with two French nationals -- 37-year-old Cecile Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris -- who have been detained and accused of seeking to foment unrest in Iran.

The allegations come as the security forces try to suppress antigovernment protests in cities across the country against skyrocketing inflation and the government's recent decision to cut some subsidies. Reports say at least five demonstrators have died in the protests.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi

Sweden, Finland Hold NATO Talks Ahead Of Formal Summit On Accession Protocols

Swedish and Finnish leaders meeting with NATO officials and members on June 28.

Sweden and Finland are holding talks with NATO officials in Brussels on starting the formal process to join the Western military alliance -- a move that would mark a dramatic departure from the Nordic countries’ long-standing policies of nonalignment on military matters.

The July 4 talks are being led by Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto and follow an agreement with NATO member Turkey last week that led to Ankara dropping its objections to their membership.

On July 5, ambassadors from NATO's 30 member states are expected to sign the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland. It is then likely to take a few months before their memberships are ratified by all alliance members.

The historic shifts by Sweden and Finland came in the face of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February and other aggressive moves by the Kremlin in the region. Public opinion in the Nordic countries quickly turned in favor of NATO membership following the invasion.

Ankara initially said it would veto their membership, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing them of providing havens for Kurdish militants operating in Turkey and for promoting what he called “terrorism.”

Following negotiations, Erdogan said he would drop his objections but indicated he could still block their membership bids if they failed to follow through on promises, some of which were undisclosed.

Based on reporting by AFP

Activist Warns About The Spread Of Tuberculosis At Iran’s Qarchak Prison

According to activists, Qarchak Prison currently holds 1,500 prisoners, but officially it only has a capacity for 1,200.

Iranian activist and former political prisoner Atena Daemi says that about 40 people in Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison, south of Tehran, are suspected of having tuberculosis.

Writing on Twitter, Daemi added that about 100 prisoners are kept in this ward and that the prisoners suspected of having tuberculosis have been tested. Daemi, who spent five years in prison over her activism, maintains contact with prisoners.

On June 27, Daemi published a post on her Instagram page and wrote that a prisoner in the women's ward of Qarchak Prison was infected with tuberculosis and the prison authorities were not paying attention to her condition.

"After the protest of the prisoners, this person had been taken to quarantine for a few days. But she was returned to the prison again, and after that at least three other people in this prison were infected with tuberculosis," Daemi added.

According to human rights activists, Qarchak Prison currently holds about 1,500 prisoners. Before becoming a prison for women, the site was a poultry farm and then a drug-rehab camp for men, and according to the official announcement of the prison authorities, it only has a capacity of 1,200 prisoners.

Activists and political prisoners have warned repeatedly about the poor hygiene at Qarchak Prison and what they describe as a lack of attention to the health of the prisoners.

Last year, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders warned of the “appalling conditions” at Qarchak Prison and called for an immediate reaction from the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi

Russia Says It Will Respond in Kind To Bulgaria After Diplomatic Expulsions

The Russian Embassy in Sofia. Bulgaria said on June 28 that 70 Russian diplomats had been working against Sofia's interests. (file photo)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 4 that Moscow would respond in kind to Bulgaria's expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats.

Russia's Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova said last week she would ask Moscow to close its embassy in Sofia over the expulsions.

Bulgaria said on June 28 that the Russian diplomats had been working against Sofia's interests. They were given until July 3 to leave the country.

The expulsion, which has severely strained diplomatic ties, is the greatest ever number of Russian diplomats expelled by Bulgaria, which has European Union and NATO membership. Bulgaria has strongly backed Western sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

European countries have expelled hundreds of Russian diplomatic staff since Moscow launched its unprovoked war against Ukraine on February 24. Russia has reciprocated by sending home diplomats from numerous EU countries.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Uzbekistan Says 18 Killed In Karakalpakstan Unrest

People protest in Nukus and other parts in Karakalpakstan on July 1.

The office of Uzbekistan’s prosecutor general said on July 4 that 18 people were killed during unrest in the Central Asian nation’s restive autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan that broke out last week over plans to curtail its autonomy.

Security forces detained 516 people while dispersing the protesters last week but have now released many of them, the national guard press office told a briefing.

Protests broke out in the regional capital, Nukus, and other cities after changes initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoev were proposed on June 27 to the Uzbek constitution, including removal of language that guaranteed the right of Karakalpakstan to seek independence should citizens choose so in a referendum.

But during a visit to Karakalpakstan on July 2, Mirziyoev backed off the plans and said the language would not be removed from the constitution.

In a speech reported by his press office on July 3, Mirziyoev acknowledged that there have been fatalities among security personnel and civilians during the rare mass protests in the region, with another report saying that more than 1,000 people had been injured in the turmoil.

Accurate information is difficult to obtain from the region, with locals reporting that Internet and phone services have been severely limited and a state of emergency restricts movement.

In an online statement, Mirziyoev said protesters had taken "destructive actions" in Nukus, the regional capital, throwing stones, starting fires, and attacking law-enforcement personnel.

In a statement issued on July 4, the European Union called for an independent investigation into the violent events in Karakalpakstan.

"We deeply regret the casualties and loss of human life and continue to follow developments closely," the statement said while calling on "all sides" to show restraint to avoid an escalation or further violence.

"The European Union urges the authorities to guarantee human rights, including the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, in line with Uzbekistan’s international commitments," it added.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Reuters and AFP

Ukraine Withdraws From Lysychansk While Zelenskiy Vows To Regain Lost Territory

Smoke rises over the remains of a building destroyed by a military strike in Lysychansk on June 17.

Ukraine's forces have withdrawn from the bombed-out city of Lysychansk, prompting Russia to claim full control of the eastern Luhansk region. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed to regain the lost territory.

"If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in fire power, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing -- that we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” he said in his nightly video address on July 3.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

After failing to take the capital, Kyiv, Russia revised its military focus on Ukraine's east with the goal of capturing the Donbas, which is composed of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said on July 4 the Russian forces were currently focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka, and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

The Russian Army also has intensified the shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk deeper in the Donetsk region.

On July 3, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Slovyansk and another 19 people were wounded, local authorities said. Kramatorsk also came under fire on July 3.

Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the Russian military had taken the entire territory of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to TASS.

Ukraine’s military command acknowledged on July 3 that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk, saying they had decided to pull back to save the lives of its soldiers.

Luhank’s regional governor Serhiy Hayday told Reuters on July 4 the withdrawal from Lysychansk had been "centralized" and orderly, and was necessary to save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers who were in danger of being surrounded.

"In terms of the military, it is bad to leave positions, but there is nothing critical [in the loss of Lysychansk]. We need to win the war, not the battle for Lysychansk," Hayday said.

"It hurts a lot, but it's not losing the war,” he said, adding that he expected Slovyansk and the town of Bakhmut in particular to come under attack.

"Still, for them goal No. 1 is the Donetsk region. Slovyansk and Bakhmut will come under attack; Bakhmut has already started being shelled very hard,” he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and dpa

Ukraine Needs $750 Billion For Three-Stage Recovery Plan, Leaders Tell Summit

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis welcomes Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, on July 4.

Ukrainian leaders told a major international summit that their devastated country needs $750 billion for a three-stage reconstruction plan following Russia’s full-scale invasion and destruction of its cities and infrastructure.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on July 4 at the start of the two-day Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, that Kyiv believes a substantial source of funding for the recovery should come through assets confiscated from Russian oligarchs, which he estimated at $300 billion to $500 billion.

"We believe that the key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs," he told the conference. "The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it."

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking through a video link from Kyiv, said rebuilding his country is the "common task of the whole democratic world" and would be a service to all nations.

"Reconstruction of Ukraine is the biggest contribution to the support of global peace," Zelenskiy said.

Some 1,000 people are expected to attend the summit, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Poland.

The conference -- with participants from national governments, the private sector, and international organizations -- had been planned before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, with the original agenda to focus on Kyiv’s progress on the path toward governmental reforms.

It is not intended to be a pledging event but instead will focus on setting out the priorities for a rebuilding process set to begin even before the war ends.

Shmygal, in a rare trip outside of Ukraine since the start of the war, said direct damage to infrastructure so far from the Russian attacks amounts to at least $100 billion. He added that Kyiv is planning a three-stage recovery process.

A first stage will be focused on fixing things that affect daily life, such as municipal water supplies.

Second would be a "fast recovery" stage to be launched as soon as fighting ends and would include items such as temporary housing, hospitals, and schools.

A third stage would be aimed at transforming the country over the longer term.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian reconstruction plan represented "the most ambitious project of our time."

"Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation. It is a common task of the whole democratic world," he said.

"We are uniting the democratic world...The outlook of free people always prevails."

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, co-host of the event, stressed the need to support Ukraine "in this time of horror, wanton destruction, and grief."

Cassis said it was crucial "to provide the people of Ukraine with the prospect return to a life of self-determination, peace and a bright future."

Von der Leyen told the conference that "we know their fight is also our fight."

That is "why we work in these days to help Ukraine to win this war," she said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Danish Police Says Gunman Killed Three In Shopping Mall, Likely Not Terror-Related

A rescue team arrives at Fields shopping center in Copenhagen on July 3 after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site.

Danish police say that the gunman who opened fire in a shopping mall in Copenhagen most likely acted alone and selected his victims at random.

Copenhagen chief police inspector Soren Thomassen said on July 4 investigators do not believe the previous day's attack was terror-related.

Thomassen said three people were killed -- two Danes and one Russian citizen -- and two Danes and two Swedes were hospitalized with serious injuries.

A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested after the shooting on July 3 that caused panic at a mall in South Copenhagen. The suspect will face questioning by a judge on July 4.

Danish police said on July 4 that the suspect was known to mental-health services.

"Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services. Beyond that I do not wish to comment," Thomassen told a press conference.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP and AFP

Georgians Take To Streets Of Tbilisi In Pro-EU, Anti-Government Rally

Tens of thousands of Georgians rallied on the streets of Tblisi on July 3.

TBILISI -- Tens of thousands of Georgians rallied on the streets of Tbilisi, angered by what the opposition sees as the government’s failure to make progress on reforms that can boost the Caucasus country’s hopes of joining the European Union.

Participants of the July 3 event, organized by the Shame civic movement and other pro-democracy groups, also displayed support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, which occupies segments of Georgian territory captured in a short 2008 war.

Protesters holding flares and waving Georgian and EU flags and banners blocked traffic on the central Rustaveli Avenue and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and for a new government of “national accord” to be formed.

Georgia has been gripped by protests after EU leaders last month deferred Tbilisi's membership candidacy, recognizing it as a “perspective member” but insisting that candidate status could only be granted as soon as “set priorities are met" and widespread reforms are put in place.

While deferring on Georgia, the EU at the same time formally agreed to take the historic step of making Ukraine and Moldova candidates for EU membership in the midst of the war in Ukraine and Moscow’s bitter denunciations of the two countries’ intensions.

Garibashvili has said his government is "mobilized" to meet the requirements set by Brussels "so that we get candidate status as soon as possible."

No immediate estimate on the number of rally participants was available, but an estimated 120,000 people took part in each of two previous rallies in the Georgian capital.

In one demonstration, Shota Digmelashvili of the Shame movement read out a manifesto and announced the launch of a new popular movement that will include opposition parties, civil society organization, journalists, and labor unions to make demands on the government.

The manifesto asserted that the country’s “main obstacle on its European path is Bidzina Ivanishvili," the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party who is widely believed to be the top decision-maker in the South Caucasus country even though he does not hold office.

In May, the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the EU to impose sanctions against Ivanishvili for his "destructive role" in Georgia's politics and economy. Ivanishvili insists he has retired from politics.

In a Facebook statement, rally organizers called on Ivanishvili to "relinquish executive power and transfer it, in a constitutional manner, to a government of national accord."

The statement said a new government could "carry out the reforms required by the EU, which will automatically bring us the status of an EU membership candidate."

"A next stage of our protests begins today. We will not disperse."

The government led by the Georgian Dream party has been hit by increasing international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, damaging its EU hopes.

The European Commission said the conditions that Tbilisi must fulfill include ending political polarization, progress on media freedom, judiciary and electoral reforms, and "de-oligarchization."

Georgian Dream officials insist they are following democratic principles and accused the opposition of "plans to overthrow the authorities by organizing anti-government rallies."

Opinion polls show that at least 80 percent of the Georgian population favor plans to join the EU, as well as NATO, amid perceived threats from Russia.

Georgia’s aspirations to forge closer ties with the West have long angered Russia. Tensions culminated in Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 after which Russia recognized South Ossetia and another region, Abkhazia, as independent countries and stationed thousands of its soldiers in those areas.

With reporting by AFP

Australian PM Offers Fresh Military Aid To Ukraine During Kyiv Visit

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on July 3.

During a visit to Kyiv, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged that his country will provide additional support to Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Albanese said on July 3 while meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the new military assistance will include 14 armored personnel carriers, 20 Bushmaster armored vehicles, and a number of drones, worth a total of about A$100 million (US$68 million).

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Zelenskiy said Australia was giving Ukraine "considerable aid, in particular defense support," and that the Australian-made Bushmaster vehicles were “highly valued.” The Bushmaster is designed mainly as a troop-transport vehicle.

Albanese also said Australia would slap sanctions and travel bans on 16 more Russian ministers and oligarchs, bringing to 843 the total number of Russians sanctioned by Australia.

The visit was the first ever to Ukraine by an Australian prime minister. Many Western leaders have also traveled to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine during the war with Russia.

"It is my great honor to be the first Australian prime minister to visit Ukraine," he said.

The trip will "show very clearly to the world the solidarity that exists between the Australian people and the people of Ukraine," Albanese added.

Albanese also visited the towns of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel, where Ukraine says Russia committed atrocities against civilians. Moscow denies the allegations, despite widespread evidence.

"Australia supports Ukraine and wants to see justice meted out for the crimes committed here," Kyiv Oblast Governor Oleksiy Kuleba quoted Albanese as saying during his visit to the devastated towns.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

U.S. Marks Belarus National Day, Cites Reprisals, Lack Of Freedom For Government Opponents

Police use a water cannon agains demonstrators at a rally in Minsk following a presidential election in August 2020 that handed Alyaksandr Lukashenka victory despite claims by opposition leaders that the vote was rigged.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department marked Belarus National Day, sending “warmest wishes” to the people but reminding the world that they remain under the harsh conditions imposed by authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, with hundreds of political prisoners still behind bars.

“On behalf of the United States of America, I send my warmest wishes to the people of Belarus, wherever they may be,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on July 3.

However, “despite being an occasion to celebrate hard-won freedoms, Belarusians remain unable to determine their country’s future or express their views without fear of harsh reprisal,” he added.

“For the second year in a row, too many Belarusian families will mark this Independence Day separated from their loved ones, as more than 1,200 political prisoners languish in prisons for trying to exercise the freedoms this day is supposed to symbolize.”

Glaring Lights, Lukashenka Speeches: Former Belarusian Political Prisoners Describes Jail Conditions
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Belarus was hit by a wave of protests against the results of a presidential election in August 2020 that handed Lukashenka victory despite claims by opposition leaders that the vote was rigged.

Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

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

Western nations have also slapped Belarus, like its close ally Russia, with an ever-increasing list of financial sanctions in response to the Kremlin's war on Ukraine and Belarus’ efforts to aid the Russian invasion.

Kyiv Says Turkey Detains Russian Cargo Ship Believed To Be Carrying Ukrainian Grain

The Russian-flagged cargo ship Zhibek Zholy, seen off the coast of Black Sea port of Karasu on July 3, is believed to be carrying 7,000 tons of Ukrainian grain.

Ukraine's ambassador to Ankara said Turkish authorities have detained a Russian cargo ship that is believed to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain that Kyiv says set off from Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces.

"We have full cooperation,” Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar said on Ukrainian television on July 3. “The ship is currently standing at the entrance to the port. It has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey."

Turkish officials did not immediately comment.

Kyiv on July 1 said it had asked Ankara to detain a Russian-flagged cargo ship, the Zhibek Zholy, because it was carrying grain stolen from Ukraine.

"Based on instruction from the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General, we asked the Turkish side to take corresponding measures," Bodnar said on Twitter.

"I am confident that the decisions to be taken [by Turkey] will prevent attempts to violate Ukraine's sovereignty," Bodnar said. said the 140-meter general-cargo vessel Zhibek Zholy was sailing under the Russian flag. It showed the ship late on July 1 anchored about a kilometer off Turkey's Black Sea port of Karasu.

On June 30, Evgeny Balitsky, head of the Moscow-appointed administration in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region, said on Telegram that the ship had left the Berdyansk port and was headed for "friendly countries."

He said the ship was loaded with 7,000 tons of grain, but he did not specify which countries were considered friendly nor did he give any details on the origins of the grain.

Bodnar said investigators would meet on July 4 to determine the ship's fate and that Ukraine was seeking return of the grain.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing its grain during the invasion and blockading its ports to keep grain from leaving the country, which has contributed to a global food shortage.

Moscow has denied taking Ukrainian grain, but satellite images and GPS data have been used to back up the allegations that Russia has been transporting grain out of Ukraine through the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Grain is one of Ukraine's main industries. Exports totaled $12.2 billion last year and accounted for nearly one-fifth of the country's exports. Ukraine's Black Sea ports, including Berdyansk, handled about 6 million tons of grains and other crops each month before the war.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Reuters

Former Iranian President's Daughter Charged With Anti-State Propaganda, Blasphemy

Faezeh Hashemi, the activist daughter of late Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in 2018.

The daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been charged with “propaganda activity against the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran and blasphemy,” Iran’s judiciary announced on July 3.

An indictment for the arrest of Faezeh Hashemi, a 59-year-old former lawmaker and rights activist, has been issued, but it was not reported whether she had been taken into custody.

The charges reportedly stem from comments Hashemi made during a social-media forum in April. She was reported to have said that Iran’s insistence that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from its list of terrorist organizations was “damaging” to Iran’s national interests.

Tehran’s demand has become a key obstacle to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Hashemi reportedly also called the wife of the Prophet Mohammed a “businesswoman” whose money the prophet spent. She later called the comments a “joke…without any intention of causing insult.”

In 2012, Hashemi served six months in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran.

Rafsanjani served as president of Iran from 1989 to 1997. He was considered a pragmatic conservative who sought to avoid conflict with the United States and the West. He died in 2017.

Based on reporting by AFP, IRNA, and Asharq Al-Awsat

Czech Republic To Patrol Slovak Airspace, Says PM

Slovakia ordered 14 F-16 fighter jets from the United States to replace its Russian-made MiGs, and the first planes were scheduled to arrive this year. However, unexpected delays have pushed back that date to 2024.

Beginning in September, the Czech Republic will send fighter jets to patrol the airspace of neighboring Slovakia, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on July 3.

“I don’t see any problem there,” he said. “The government will certainly approve it.”

Slovakia earlier asked NATO allies to patrol its skies after it decided to ground its own fleet of Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets. Bratislava intends to send the MiGs to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight off Russia’s invasion.

Slovakia ordered 14 F-16 fighters from the United States in 2018 to replace its MiGs, and the first planes were scheduled to arrive this year. However, unexpected delays have pushed back that date to 2024.

Slovakia has provided over 154 million euros ($160.6 million) in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Russian Journalist Accused Of Discrediting Army Sent To Psychiatric Hospital

Maria Ponomarenko gestures from a court cell on May 20.

Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko, who was detained in St. Petersburg in April on accusations of discrediting the Russian armed forces in social-media posts about the war in Ukraine, has been transferred to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, her lawyer reported on July 2.

Lawyer Sergei Podolsky said Ponomarenko will be evaluated at the Altai Clinical Psychological Hospital for 28 days.

Ponomarenko, who lives and works in the Altai region city of Barnaul and is the mother of two young children, was transferred from St. Petersburg to Barnaul late last month.

“Today I went there and handed over a parcel for her,” Novosibirsk activist Yana Drobhokhod told RFE/RL. “She is not allowed to receive letters or visits from relatives. She is allowed to meet with her lawyers.”

Ponomarenko faces up to 10 years in prison for a Telegram post about the Russian bombing of a theater in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in which hundreds of civilians were killed. A Russian law passed in March criminalizes the dissemination of "fake" reports that "discredit the armed forces."

Ailing Russian Scientist Accused Of Treason Dies In Custody

Scientist Dmitry Kolker, who was being treated for late-stage pancreatic cancer at a Novosibirsk clinic when he was arrested, was accused of passing state secrets to China. (file photo)

A Novosibirsk scientist who was detained on June 30 on suspicion of treason has died, Russian media reported on July 3.

Lawyer Aleksandr Fedulov, who was representing physicist Dmitry Kolker, 54, told Reuters that the scientist died on July 2.

“He died yesterday,” Fedulov said. “Tomorrow we will lodge a complaint over his detention.”

Kolker’s daughter confirmed that his family had received a telegram informing them that Kolker had died but added that the message contained so little information that the family cannot confirm his passing.

“My brother at first posted the information on VK, but I asked him to take it down,” she told the Sibermedia Telegram channel. “We need to get confirmation.”

Kolker, who was being treated for late-stage pancreatic cancer at a Novosibirsk clinic when he was arrested, was accused of passing state secrets to China. A Moscow court on July 2 ordered him held in custody for two months pending the investigation, which was being conducted by the Federal Security Service.

Kolker’s son, Dmitry, told journalists at the time of his father’s arrest that Kolker was unable to eat on his own and was being fed intravenously at the Novosibirsk clinic.

Kolker, who holds numerous patents and headed the Laboratory of Quantum Optics at Novosibirsk State University, had given lectures at Chinese universities.

Another scientist with the Institute of Theoretical and Practical Mechanics of the Siberian Academy of Sciences, 75-year-old Anatoly Maslov, was also detained in connection with the case.

He is reportedly being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison.

Over the past five years, at least 12 employees of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been targeted in criminal investigations.

With reporting by Reuters

Thousands Protest In North Macedonia Against Compromise With Bulgaria

The July 2 rally in Skopje came after French President Emmanuel Macron said he believed a compromise agreement was near over the long-standing dispute.

SKOPJE -- Tens of thousands of people gathered in North Macedonia’s capital to protest against a French proposal that seeks to end a dispute with Bulgaria that is blocking Skopje’s bid to join the European Union.

The July 2 rally, backed by the center-right VMRO-DPMNE opposition party, came after French President Emmanuel Macron said he believed a compromise agreement was near over the long-standing dispute.

North Macedonia's prime minister, Dimitar Kovachevsk, said the proposal is a “solid base for building a responsible and statesmanlike stance on the possibility that opens up to our country.”

However, VMRO-DPMNE and other right-wing opponents reject the French plan, saying it concedes too much to Bulgaria in a dispute over history, language, identity, and culture.

Macron did not provide details when he made the comment on June 30 at a news conference at the close of the NATO summit in Spain.

EU officials confirmed to RFE/RL that the proposal takes into account concerns expressed by both sides, potentially breaking a deadlock that has prevented the start of accession talks for more than two years.

Balkan countries are deeply frustrated about the deadlock in their bids to join. Especially frustrating for North Macedonia is EU member Bulgaria’s veto on the start of negotiations because of a dispute with Skopje relating to history and language.

Bulgarian lawmakers have conditionally approved dropping their opposition, raising the prospect of progress in the Western Balkans' quest for EU membership.

Bulgaria, which has been an EU member since 2007, had insisted that North Macedonia formally recognize that its language had Bulgarian roots, acknowledge in its constitution a Bulgarian minority, and renounce what it said was hate speech against Bulgaria.

North Macedonia said that its identity and language weren’t open for discussion.

The French proposal would have Skopje include ethnic Bulgarians in its constitution "on an equal footing with other peoples" and change history textbooks.

Bulgaria claims the Macedonian language is a dialect of Bulgarian, and both countries lay claim to certain historical events and figures, mainly from the Ottoman era.

With reporting by AP and AFP

Famed Soviet Animator Leonid Shvartsman Dies At Age 101

Soviet and Russian animator Leonid Shvartsman reacts on his balcony while being greeted with a private performance arranged by the Soyuzmultfilm animation studio in honor of his 100th birthday in August 2020.

Famed Soviet and Russian animator Leonid Shvartsman has died at age 101, Russia’s TASS news agency reports on July 2.

"Leonid Aronovich Shvartsman, a legend of animated cinema, a unique artist and director who gave millions of people kind, cheerful fairy tales, colorful book illustrations, has passed away," Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in a statement on Telegram.

Born in Minsk, Shvartsman began working with Soyuzmultfilm in Moscow in 1951 and remained there his entire career, being credited with work on 70 films at the studio.

He is credited with creating the visual image of Cheburashka, a popular fictional character created by Soviet writer Eduard Uspensky in a 1965 children's book.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

Iranian Foreign Minister Travels To Damascus Amid Tensions Between Syria, Turkey

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has traveled to Damascus in a bid to "prevent a new crisis" amid tensions between Syria and Turkey over Ankara’s threats to launch a new offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

Amir-Abdollahian said on July 2 that his trip "was aimed at establishing peace and security in the region between Syria and Turkey."

"Developments are happening in the region [and Iran should] try to prevent a new crisis in the region," he said.

The Syrian civil war killed thousands of people and drove millions from their homes and the country.

Iran and Russia backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey and the United States supported differing rebel groups.

Ankara has also conducted military operations against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, accusing them of having links to Kurdish separatist groups inside Turkey.

Meanwhile, Iran is also plagued by Kurdish separatist elements in its own country.

The Iranian foreign minister’s trip to Damascus comes days after he visited Turkey to meet with leaders there.

"We understand Turkey's security concerns very well," he told a news conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

In Syria, Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by Iranian state news agency IRNA as saying, "After my visit to is necessary to have consultations with the Syrian authorities."

He was also quoted as saying he opposed any new military incursion into Syria by Turkish forces.

With reporting by AFP and AP

After Protests, Uzbek President Backs Down On Proposed Changes To Karakalpakstan's Status In Constitution

The flags of Uzbekistan (right) and Karakalpakstan (file photo)

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has abruptly scrapped plans to abolish the country’s Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic’s right to secede following rare mass protests in the restive region, according to his office.

Mirziyoev’s office on July 2 said the president made the remarks during a visit to Karakalpakstan, declaring that changes to Karakalpakstan’s status must be dropped from a proposed constitutional reform plan.

The decision, if confirmed, would mark an apparent backing down by the Uzbek government, which on June 27 had proposed constitutional changes that included eliminating mention of Karakalpakstan’s long-standing right to seek independence from Uzbekistan.

It is not clear if the move would satisfy the protesters. Hours after Mirziyoev’s announcement, presidential press secretary Sherzod Asadov wrote on Telegram that Uzbekistan was imposing a one-month state of emergency in the region, running to August 2.

According to the draft amendments initiated last month by Mirziyoev, Karakalpakstan would retain its autonomy, but a constitutional clause giving it the right to secede on the basis of a referendum among its roughly 2 million inhabitants would be taken out.

Other constitutional reforms proposed would allow Mirziyoev to run for two more terms in office.

The planned changes sparked street protests in Karakalpakstan's capital, Nukus, and other regional cities.

Prior to Mirziyoev’s visit to Nukus, regional authorities said protesters “attempted to seize government bodies” after mass demonstrations broke out in the region’s capital over the planned constitutional changes.

Authorities said unnamed "organizers of the riots" had gathered citizens on the square near the complex of administrative buildings in Nukus, "made an attempt to seize these state institutions, and thus split society, and to destabilize the sociopolitical situation in Uzbekistan."

The statement added that security forces "stopped the actions of the instigators," who were detained.

Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry claimed that the protests were "a result of misunderstanding the [proposed] constitutional reforms."

Obtaining accurate information from Karakalpakstan is difficult because of limited or disrupted Internet and telephone service.

Local media had cited authorities as saying that the amendments curtailing the region’s right to seek independence were approved by lawmakers in Karakalpakstan as well as in Tashkent due to "numerous demands to define Karakalpakstan as indivisible part of Uzbekistan."

Karakalpaks are a Turkic-speaking people in Central Asia. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan until 1930. Before becoming part of Uzbekistan in 1936, the region was the Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

The current Uzbek Constitution describes Karakalpakstan, located in northwestern Uzbekistan, as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.

Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months on the new version of the constitution, which would eliminate Karakalpakstan's right to secede.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Britain Condemns Russia's 'Exploitation' Of Ukraine Prisoners Following Capture Of Two More Britons

Britain's Foreign Office has condemned what it called the “exploitation” of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes following the capture of two British men by Russian forces in Ukraine.

“We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes and have raised this with Russia,” the Foreign Office said on July 2. “We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released.”

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said aid worker Dylan Healy, 22, and military volunteer Andrew Hill have been charged with carrying out “mercenary activities.”

A pro-Kremlin website said Healy and Hill would face the same charges as two British military volunteers captured in Mariupol.

In early June, the two Britons -- Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner -- and a Moroccan national -- Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities."

All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by pro-Russia separatists while fighting Russian forces.

Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany condemned the death sentences.

The European Court of Human Rights on June 30 intervened in the case and warned Moscow it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.

The British government insisted that as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians forced to fleet their homes by the Russian military onslaught.

Based on reporting by PA Media, dpa, and Reuters

Shoot-Out Among Migrants Leaves One Dead, Six Hurt In Serbia, Near Hungarian Border

Refugees and migrants from the Middle East in the forest in Serbia near the Hungarian border in June.

A shoot-out between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border has left at least one person dead and six others wounded, Serbian state-run RTS television reports.

RTS on July 2 said a 16-year-old girl suffered serious injuries in the shoot-out in a forest outside of Subotica, about 160 kilometers north of Belgrade. The injured were taken to the capital for treatment.

Subotica Mayor Stevan Bakic said the victims -- mostly aged 20-30 -- did not have identity documents.

The report said police blocked access to the forest about a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Authorities did not describe what caused the shoot-out, but local media said it occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants, most likely over human trafficking from the area to Hungary, a member of the European Union.

Migrants often use the so-called Balkan route in hopes of reaching Western Europe, many fleeing poverty or conflict in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Based on reporting by AFP and RTS Television

Greece Authorizes Release Of Iranian-Flagged Oil Tanker Seized In April

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (left) transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (former Pegas), off the shore of the Greek island of Evia on May 26.

Greece said on July 2 that an Iranian-flagged tanker seized by Athens in April was being towed to the port of Piraeus following a decision by a Greek judicial panel to release the vessel.

The Lana has been anchored off the Greek island of Evia for the past two months in a diplomatic standoff that has strained relations between Athens and Tehran.

The vessel was seized by Greek authorities on April 15 when it anchored off the port of Karystos on Evia. At the time, it was flying a Russian flag and was carrying a crew of 19 Russians.

The Greek Coast Guard said it was seized over suspicions it had breached EU sanctions imposed against Russia due to the war in Ukraine.

The oil on the ship was confiscated by the United States and transferred to another vessel.

It was unclear whether the oil was seized because it was Iranian oil subject to U.S. sanctions or whether it was due to sanctions on the tanker, which recently changed its name from Pegas to Lana and which has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.

A source at Greece's Shipping Ministry quoted by Reuters said the U.S. Department of Justice had "informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil."

The decision to seize the ship was overturned on June 10, but it remained anchored over claims by another company over debts owed for towing services.

The ship was eventually released after the debt was paid off, Reuters quoted legal sources as saying.

The Greek judicial panel overturned the ruling that had allowed the United States to seize the cargo, but it was not immediately clear if the Lana would attempt to retrieve the oil.

The incident prompted Iranian forces in May to seize two Greek tankers in the Persian Gulf and sail them back to Iran, with Tehran warning of "punitive action" against Athens. They are still being held.

Greece's Foreign Ministry protested to the Iranian ambassador in Athens over the “violent taking over of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Persian Gulf. “These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy," it said.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Germany To Open New LNG Ports By Early 2023 In Bid To Cut Dependence On Russia

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the effort to move away from Russian gas was proceeding at a pace that has "never been seen before in Germany." (file photo)

Germany will begin operation of two temporary terminals for the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by early 2023, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in an interview published by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on July 2.

In all, the German government has leased four floating LNG terminals in its aggressive effort to reduce the country’s dependence on natural gas imported from Russia.

“Two ships are already available this year and are to be deployed in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel at the turn of the year 2022-23,” Habeck said.

He said the effort to move away from Russian gas was proceeding at a pace that has “never been seen before in Germany.”

Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s Network Agency, which oversees energy supplies, said on July 2 that he fears Russia could cut off gas supplies to Germany entirely.

The same day, Jens Kerstan, Hamburg’s senator for the environment, was also quoted by Welt am Sonntag as saying rationing of hot water for residences in the city could be imposed if Russia reduces gas supplies.

“In an acute gas shortage, warm water could be only made available at certain times of day,” Kerstan said, urging citizens and companies to reduce energy consumption to help the government fill storage capacity ahead of the winter heating season.

Kerstan said a temporary LNG terminal planned for Hamburg would not be operational until mid-2023 at the earliest.

Russia reduced gas supplies to Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia last month, citing technical issues with the Nord Stream-1 pipeline. At the time, Habeck said there were no technical issues and that Germany was “in a trade dispute” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In June, the European Union as a whole imported more LNG from the United States than pipeline gas from Russia for the first time ever.

Nonetheless, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, wrote on Twitter that “the drop in Russian supplies calls for efforts to reduce EU demand to prepare for a tough winter.”

With reporting by Welt am Sonntag, Reuters, TASS, and dpa

Fatalities Reported As Earthquake Rocks Southern Iran

The epicenter of the quake was some 1,000 kilometers south of Tehran in Hormozgan Province.

A powerful earthquake rocked southern Iran overnight, officials reported on July 2.

Iranian state television reported that at least five people had been killed and 80 injured in the magnitude 6.3 earthquake, the epicenter of which was some 1,000 kilometers south of Tehran in Hormozgan Province.

Rescue workers were on the scene as aftershocks continued to drive locals into the streets.

The early morning earthquake damaged dozens of buildings and other structures in the village of Sayeh Khosh, where about 300 people live. Homozgan Governor Mehdi Dousti told the IRNA news agency that Sayeh Khosh was largely destroyed.

It was not clear where the fatalities occurred.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi traveled to the province on July 2 and told journalists that the government’s top priority was to restore water and electricity service in the affected areas.

Iran straddles several tectonic plates and is crisscrossed by seismic fault lines.

In 1990, the country was struck by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in the northern part of the country that killed more than 40,000 people. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake in southern Kerman Province left more than 31,000 people dead.

Based on reporting by IRNA, Tasnim, Reuters, and AP

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