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Fringe Parties Make Gains In EU Elections

EU flags are reflected at the entrance of the Berlaymont building of the EU Commission in Brussels
EU flags are reflected at the entrance of the Berlaymont building of the EU Commission in Brussels
Fringe parties on both the left and right of the political spectrum look set to nearly double their seats in the European Parliament, boosting the likelihood of more pro-Russian voices in the chamber.

Far-left and far-right parties have garnered up to 160 out of 751 seats in the new parliament, up from 98 in 2009, according to preliminary results in the parliamentary election released on May 25.

While mainstream parties still will have a sufficient majority to pass legislation, the increasing number of European parliamentarians from fringe parties appears set to create a platform for more support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the very heart of Brussels.

Should they manage to form political groups – which is likely both on the right and the left – they will also benefit from political funding from the European Parliament, up to more than 1 million euro a year.

The preliminary results shows that Euro-skeptic parties on the far-right finished on top in countries such as Denmark, France and the United Kingdom, while the far-left won in crisis-stricken Greece.

In France, Marine Le Pen's National Front could possibly capture up to 25 seats, compared to three seats from five years ago, a development likely to send shockwaves far beyond Paris.

Le Pen, who has spoken admiringly of Putin, was in a jubilant mood as the preliminary results were announced.

" But the French have started today the first step of this long and necessary walk towards liberty, which will allow them to rediscover their sovereignty, free them from constraints of austerity, establish their abused identity, and to finally rediscover themselves as those who come first in their own country," Le Pen said.

UKIP Gains

In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is estimated to finish ahead of both the Conservatives and Labour, and might triple its seats from the eight it currently holds.

The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, wants to withdraw Britain from the EU and has also stated that the EU has blood on its hands after the crisis in Ukraine. On election night, he once again slammed the West’s shortcomings in the east.
(PHOTOS: From The Political Fringes To The European Parliament)

Reflecting a position held by several parties on the far right and the far left, Farage also said that the EU had needlessly provoked Moscow over recent events.

"I believe that the EU directly played a role in toppling, maybe a corrupt, but a democratic elected government in Ukraine, and frankly if you poke the Russian bear with a stick don't be surprised when it reacts," Farage said.

The main center-right group, the European People's Party (EPP), is set to capture the most seats with 212, compared to 185 for the main center-left fraction, the Socialists and Democrats.

The result is, however, disappointing for the EPP, which had 275 MEPs in the previous chamber.

The result will also place a question mark over whether the EPP's top candidate, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, can become the next president of the European Commission.

Ahead of the May 22-25 election, the main parties presented their top candidates in the belief that the party that garners the most votes will nominate the top EU bureaucrat. But it is unclear whether Juncker can get a majority in the new chamber and whether the heads of government in the EU member states are willing to sanction such a move.

Months of horse-trading between the various EU institutions might now ensue before the EU's top brass is named. Juncker was nonetheless in confident mood.

"I feel fully entitled to become the next president of the European Commission. This was not the only issue when the Europeans went to the polls today but it is a particular issue, provoking some interest, as far as I am concerned, so I am very happy about this result," Juncker said.

Voter turnout was 43.1 percent, up from 43 percent in 2009, reversing a trend of declining participation since 1979, according to a preliminary estimate.

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MEPs Vote On Resolution Demanding Release Of Kurmasheva, Gershkovich, Others Held In Russia

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva. (file photo)
RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva. (file photo)

European lawmakers have approved a resolution that calls for the "immediate and unconditional release" of all political prisoners held in Russia, including journalists Alsu Kurmasheva and Evan Gershkovich.

The resolution was part of a joint motion in the European Parliament on April 25, condemning Russia's "undemocratic" presidential election last month and their "illegitimate extension" to territories inside Ukraine that Moscow has illegally annexed.

The resolution -- which was approved by 493 MEPs in favor while 11 were against and 18 abstained -- calls "for the immediate and unconditional release and compensation of all political prisoners...unjustly imprisoned journalists, including Alsu Kurmasheva and Evan Gershkovich, and their families, for the restoration of freedom of expression and association in Russia and for increased international scrutiny and monitoring of human rights abuses in Russia."

Among others, the resolution names Vladimir Kara-Murza, Oleg Orlov, Ksenia Fadeeva, Ivan Safronov, and Ilya Yashin as political prisoners who should be released.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, has been held in Russian custody since October 18 on a charge of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are a reprisal for her work as a journalist. She had traveled to Russia to visit and care for her elderly mother and was initially detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at Kazan airport, where her passports were confiscated.

Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Many critics and rights groups say the so-called foreign agent law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent. Moscow has also been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

Kurmasheva, who lives in the Czech capital with her husband, Pavel Butorin, who also works for RFE/RL, and their two daughters, aged 12 and 15, has described her prison conditions as poor and said her health has deteriorated as she has been unable to access proper treatment.

Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, has been held in detention since March 2023 on spying charges both he and the newspaper vehemently deny, saying the 32-year-old was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

Gershkovich has been designated as wrongfully detained by the U.S. government. Kurmasheva, however, has not, despite pleas from RFE/RL and Kurmasheva’s family.

The designation would mean her case would be assigned to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs in the State Department, raising the political profile of her situation and allowing the Biden administration to allocate more resources to securing her release.

President Vladimir Putin easily won the March presidential election, which independent observers said was neither free nor fair. The vote was the first major election to take place in Russia since Putin launched his full-scale invasion.

4 Arrested In Georgia For Stealing Rare Books In Europe

A copy of a first edition of Alexander Pushkin's The Prisoner Of The Caucasus, which was one of the targets of book thieves. The original was published in 1822.
A copy of a first edition of Alexander Pushkin's The Prisoner Of The Caucasus, which was one of the targets of book thieves. The original was published in 1822.

Four people were arrested in Georgia as part of a Europe-wide operation to bust a gang of thieves specialized in the stealing of rare books, the Georgian prosecutor's office said on April 25. Separately, the EU police agency Europol said in a statement that the gang was believed to be responsible for the theft of at least 170 rare books by Russian authors, such as Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. Some books had been sold at auction houses in St Petersburg and Moscow, "effectively making them irrecoverable," Europol said. The damage is estimated at 2.5 million euros ($2.7 million), it said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist In Disputed Border Deal Fined, Released

Kanykei Aranova. (file photo)
Kanykei Aranova. (file photo)

A Bishkek court fined activist Kanykei Aranova 120,000 soms ($1,350) on April 25 for inciting hatred and released her on condition that she will not leave the Kyrgyz capital. Aranova was arrested in February as part of a case concerning protests against a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal that led to the arrests of 27 people. Aranova was charged with inciting hatred and making online calls to seize power after the 37-year-old posted comments on Facebook in 2022 challenging the border demarcation deal, which saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad water reservoir to Uzbekistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

'Almost Naked' Party Organizer Fined For Discrediting Russian Army

Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)
Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)

A Moscow court on April 25 fined Anastasia Ivleyeva, the organizer of a party in December that sparked a scandal, 50,000 rubles ($535) on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces. The charge stemmed from her March 2022 online post questioning the Kremlin's decision to launch the invasion of Ukraine. The "Almost Naked" party at a Moscow nightclub in December 2023 caused outrage among lawmakers and pro-Kremlin groups. Ivleyeva and celebrities who attended the party issued apologies amid a wave of official criticism because the party violated "family values." A rapper who attended the event wearing only a sock covering his genitalia was sentenced to 15 days in jail on a hooliganism charge. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Lukashenka Says Dozens Of Russian Nukes Deployed in Belarus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka speaks at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly on April 25.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka speaks at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly on April 25.

Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that "several dozen Russian nuclear weapons" were deployed in Belarus, a move that has raised concerns in the West that Moscow's war against Ukraine could spread.

Speaking at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly in Minsk that was broadcast live on YouTube on April 25, Lukashenka, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the gathering had unanimously adopted a new military doctrine that considers the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil as a strategic deterrent.

Belarus has provided logistical support to Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since then, Moscow has moved tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus -- the first relocation of such warheads outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

NATO has called the move "dangerous and irresponsible."

Lukashenka said it was "a mistake" that all strategic nuclear weapons were removed from Belarus after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and that Russia's tactical nuclear weapons "must" stay in Belarus.

He added, however, that Belarusian independence must be preserved "no matter what."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Lukashenka often talks up the dangers of an attack by NATO or Ukraine as the reason his country needs to keep its military in a constant state of high alert.

In the speech, he claimed opposition groups planned to seize an area in western Belarus and request support from NATO troops.

Belarus's security service said on April 25 it had thwarted an attack on Minsk by drones launched from Lithuania, a claim quickly refuted by officials in Vilnius.

Lukashenka called on the West to "end the standoff with Russia by calling it a draw," which would spur the peace process and end the conflict in Ukraine.

"Otherwise Ukraine stops existing," he said.

The All-Belarusian People's Assembly is a general meeting of the government with industry leaders. It has previously been held six times from 1996 to 2021.

Opposition politicians and activists have criticized the event, calling it a tool of Lukashenka's propaganda intended to demonstrate unanimous support for the authoritarian leader, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994.

'Europe Could Die,' Macron Warns, Calls For Stronger Defenses Amid War In Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)

President Emmanuel Macron appealed on April 25 for stronger, more integrated European defenses and said the continent must not become a vassal of the United States, as he outlined his vision for a more assertive European Union on the global stage. Macron said Russia must not be allowed to win in Ukraine, and he called for a boost in Europe's cybersecurity capacity, closer defense ties with post-Brexit Britain, and the creation of a European academy to train high-ranking military personnel. "There is a risk our Europe could die. We are not equipped to face the risks," Macron said.

Lengthy Prison Term Requested In Deadly Kazakh Bus Driver Attack Case

 A bus went out of control and hit three people after a male passenger attacked a female bus driver in December 2023.
A bus went out of control and hit three people after a male passenger attacked a female bus driver in December 2023.

Prosecutors in Kazakhstan asked a court to sentence to eight years in prison a man accused of attacking a bus driver in Almaty in December 2023, causing the deaths of three pedestrians. On December 22, a bus went out of control and hit three people after a male passenger attacked a female bus driver. The bus careened into bus stop filled with people and collided with four other vehicles. Four people, along with the bus driver, were injured. The attacker was arrested and charged with obstruction of a public transportation employee's work and hooliganism. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Arrest Warrant Issued For Ex-Chess Champion Garry Kasparov

Former world chess champion, writer, and Russian opposition activist Garry Kasparov (file photo)
Former world chess champion, writer, and Russian opposition activist Garry Kasparov (file photo)

A court in Russia's Komi region on April 24 issued an arrest warrant for Garry Kasparov, opposition politician and a co-founder of the Free Russia Forum, on a charge of creating and leading a "terrorist" group. The Syktyvkar City Court also issued arrest warrants for several other Russian opposition politicians and activists in exile on the same charge. Last month, Russia added Kasparov to its list of terrorists and extremists, an action generally used by the Kremlin to crack down on political opponents. Kasparov, a former world chess champion and an outspoken Kremlin critic, lives in the United States. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Siberia.Realities, click here.

Germany Charges Seven Central Asian Men With Terrorism

(file photo)
(file photo)

The German Federal Prosecutor's Office said on April 24 it had charged seven men from Central Asia -- five from Tajikistan, one from Turkmenistan , and one from Kyrgyzstan -- with the creation of a domestic terrorist group and taking part in its activities. Six of the men are also suspected of financially supporting the "foreign terrorist organization Islamic State." According to a statement, the suspects have known each for a long period of time and arrived from Ukraine shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. The suspects have been under arrest since early July 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Defense Ministry Contractor Arrested In Bribery Case

Aleksandr Fomin appears in court in Moscow on April 25.
Aleksandr Fomin appears in court in Moscow on April 25.

The Basmanny district court in Moscow on April 25 sent Aleksandr Fomin, one of the co-founders of the construction company Olympcitystroy, to pretrial detention until at least June 23 on a charge of giving a bribe to Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov. A day earlier, the court ordered Ivanov's pretrial arrest on suspicion of taking a bribe. All of Ivanov's assets, and those of his relatives including his wife, former wives, and children, were impounded and frozen. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu dismissed Ivanov after his arrest. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy Urges Tightening Of Russia Sanctions As Ukraine's Infrastructure Attacked

Russia has targeted Ukrainian energy and other infrastructure with air strikes and artillery. (file photo)
Russia has targeted Ukrainian energy and other infrastructure with air strikes and artillery. (file photo)

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for expanding international sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as Kyiv battles against Moscow's more numerous and better armed forces.

Zelenskiy made the call on April 25 as he met in Kyiv with British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt, with whom he discussed the situation in Ukraine and the need for increased restrictive measures against Russia that are more difficult to avoid.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"We paid special attention to the sanctions policy," Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter.

"It is important to extend restrictive measures against Russia and make the circumvention of sanctions impossible," he added.

Zelenskiy also thanked Britain for a fresh military-aid package announced earlier in the week by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The $622 million package -- Britain's largest-ever -- was announced by Sunak during a visit to Poland on April 23 and brought the total amount of military aid that London has pledged to Ukraine this financial year to $3.71 billion.

Britain, one of Ukraine's staunchest allies, also said it would send its largest-ever single package of military equipment to Ukraine.

"I thank the people, the Government, the Prime Minister, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom for their support of Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion. We highly value our countries’ partnership," Zelenskiy wrote on X.

Hunt also met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, with whom he discussed in particular the contents of the upcoming military package, which is to include air defense systems for Ukraine's battered cities, and the delivery of energy equipment.

"I thanked the U.K for its leadership and constant support for Ukraine, especially for financial and military assistance and sanctions against the Russian Federation. We also discussed Ukraine's energy equipment needs," Shmyhal wrote on X.

Hunt's visit came shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden signed a long-delayed $61 billion military-aid package that was passed by the Senate on April 24.

Biden said that the desperately needed aid, including more air defense systems, would begin flowing again to Ukraine in the following hours.

Ukraine Welcomes Long-Delayed U.S. Military Aid, Vows To Make Up For Lost Time
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In Ukraine, several civilians were wounded and infrastructure was damaged by Russian shelling on April 25 of several Ukrainian regions.

Six people were injured in the Cherkasy region, said regional administration head Ihor Taburets, who added that critical infrastructure was damaged, without elaborating.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, three rounds of shelling damaged critical energy infrastructure and a gas pipeline but caused no casualties, regional head Serhiy Lysak said.

Four people were wounded in the Donetsk and three in th Kherson regions, regional heads Vadym Filashkin and Oleksandr Prokudin said.

Damage was also reported in the Zaporizhzhya region.

Russia Announces Deal On Exchange Of Children With Ukraine

Qatar's ambassador to Russia (center) and the head of Russian president's Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet with Ukrainian children and family members before their departure to Ukraine from Russia under a deal brokered by Qatar at its embassy in Moscow in December 2023.
Qatar's ambassador to Russia (center) and the head of Russian president's Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet with Ukrainian children and family members before their departure to Ukraine from Russia under a deal brokered by Qatar at its embassy in Moscow in December 2023.

Russia's children's rights commissioner on April 24 announced a deal with Ukraine to exchange almost 50 children displaced by Moscow's invasion, but a Ukrainian official declined to confirm the agreement. Maria Lvova-Belova announced that 29 children are due to go to Ukraine and 19 to Russia. Lvova-Belova said the agreement was reached in "talks with the Ukrainian side" in Doha. But as Russian and Ukrainian officials met with Qatari mediators, the Ukrainian human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, told AFP he "can't confirm the information." The Ukrainian official added that the two countries "don't have any direct communication on this case."

U.S. Confirms It Sent Missiles With 300-Kilometer Range To Ukraine

The ATACMS that have been delivered have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October.
The ATACMS that have been delivered have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October.

The U.S. State Department confirmed on April 24 that the United States sent long-range missile systems known as ATACMS to Ukraine for use inside its territory, and the weapons arrived in the country this month.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that the ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System, were sent at President Joe Biden's direction.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Patel’s confirmation came after U.S. media reports said they were used last week to bomb a Russian military airfield on the Crimean Peninsula illegally occupied by Russia in 2014 and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight.

The ATACMS have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October. They were part of an aid package for Ukraine in March, not the one just approved by Congress and signed by Biden earlier on April 24.

“We did not announce this at the onset in order to maintain operational security for Ukraine at their request," Patel said.

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that a "significant number" of the missiles had been sent to Ukraine, adding, "We will send more."

He said Ukraine had committed to only use the weapons inside Ukraine, not in Russia.

The weapons are being sent at a critical time as Russia continues advancing on the battlefield in the eastern region of Donetsk. Russia could make more gains against Ukrainian forces in the coming weeks, Sullivan said.

Patel said Biden directed his national-security team to send the ATACMS specifying that they be used inside Ukrainian sovereign territory.

The Biden administration declined to send them previously over concerns that it would risk further escalating the conflict. According to news reports citing unidentified officials, Russia's use of North Korean-supplied long-range ballistic missiles against Ukraine in December and January led to a change in heart. Russia's continued targeting of Ukraine's critical infrastructure was also a factor, the official said.

The military aid bill signed by Biden clears the way for the Pentagon to announce an assistance package featuring desperately needed artillery and air defense munitions.

Ukraine Welcomes Long-Delayed U.S. Military Aid, Vows To Make Up For Lost Time
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U.S. Air Force General Charles Brown, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, told a Washington conference on April 24 that the Pentagon had been preparing to send weapons to Ukraine as the bill moved forward in Congress.

“We’ve already leaned pretty far forward on a lot of areas. So we are moving out. We’ll get capability to Ukraine as quickly as possible,” he told the conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Ukraine's demand for some armaments, like 155-millimeter artillery shells used in howitzers, has outstripped U.S. production, leading to a decline in U.S. stockpiles.

Following the passage of the aid package, the United States will be able to ramp up production of the shells from 30,000 a month now to 100,000 by next summer, General James Mingus, vice chief of staff of the army, told the CSIS conference.

Ukraine has used more than 2 million shells during the 26-month war, he said, a rate of more than 75,000 a month.

"We've ramped up to a level that is going to be commensurate with the need," Mingus said.

Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling For Prevention Of Nuclear Arms Race In Space

Thirteen countries voted in favor of the resolution at the UN Security Council (file photo)
Thirteen countries voted in favor of the resolution at the UN Security Council (file photo)

Russia has vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space. The vote in the 15-member Security Council on April 24 was 13 in favor, with Russia opposed and China abstaining. The resolution calls on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under a 1967 international treaty that included the United States and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

Iran Sentences Dissident Rapper To Death

Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)
Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, detained during the nationwide protests of 2022, has been sentenced to death in what activists called "a new low" in Tehran's crackdown on dissent.

The charges against Salehi also include aiding in rebellion, assembly and conspiracy, propaganda against the regime, and inciting chaos -- all offenses classified under corruption on Earth, as per Article 286 of the Criminal Code.

Surprisingly, the court also imposed additional penalties, including a two-year travel ban and a prohibition on engaging in artistic activities.

Amir Raisian, Salehi’s attorney, said on April 24 that the Isfahan Revolutionary Court issued the sentence for a new charge of "corruption on Earth" while refusing to acknowledge a prior Supreme Court ruling that might have mitigated the case.

Raisian criticized the judgment, saying that, given its legal inconsistencies, his client would launch an appeal.

"The primary court's verdict has clear legal contradictions, particularly ignoring the Supreme Court's guidance which had advised reducing the charge count and considering a pardon," Raisian said in an interview with the Tehran-based Sharq newspaper.

Since unrest rattled the country following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 in police custody for a supposed head-scarf violation, Iranian authorities have launched a crackdown on even the slightest hint of dissent.

Thousands have been detained, hundreds have died, and there have been credible reports of torture, including by Salehi.

Still, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said Salehi's death sentence "underscores the glaring unlawfulness and injustice of the Islamic republic's judicial system, which has been weaponized and used as a tool by the state security forces to crush dissent and perpetuate political repression."

"This grotesque manipulation of the judicial process aims to silence dissent. Toomaj's imprisonment stems from his vocal advocacy against state oppression. It is imperative that supporters of free speech and dissent unite to demand his immediate release," CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi said.

Raisian noted that the same court previously acquitted Salehi of other serious allegations, such as disturbing public order and insulting leadership, due to insufficient evidence.

Salehi, 33, was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the protests, which had erupted the previous month following Amini's death.

He spent much of his pretrial detention in solitary confinement and was subsequently sentenced to more than six years in prison but released after the Supreme Court, on appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence." His case was sent back to a lower court for reexamination and possible retrial.

He was released on bail in November after spending over a year in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, but rearrested two weeks later after publicly talking about his alleged torture in prison in a video.

Raisian said reports in local media about a possible pardon or sentence reduction citing Salehi's youth were false. The court, he said, only requested leniency from the pardon commission, which does not impact the execution sentence.

Salehi gained prominence for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran.

His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing the authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

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

Kazakh Foreign Minister, U.K. Foreign Secretary Hold Talks In Astana

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (left) and his Kazakh, counterpart, Murat Nurtileu meet in Astana on April 24
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (left) and his Kazakh, counterpart, Murat Nurtileu meet in Astana on April 24

Kazakh Foreign Minister Murat Nurtileu and visiting British Foreign Secretary David Cameron held talks on April 24 in Astana, focusing on bilateral ties, regional security, cooperation, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said. Nurtileu said his country supports a “peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine.” An agreement on strategic partnership and cooperation between the two nations was signed during the talks. Earlier this week, Cameron also held talks with top officials in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. He is also scheduled to visit Mongolia during his ongoing diplomatic tour. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

On Genocide Remembrance Day, Armenians Told To 'Overcome Trauma' Of 1915 Mass Killings

People march on April 24 to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the Armenian genocide.
People march on April 24 to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the Armenian genocide.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian urged Armenians to “overcome the trauma” of the massacre of their ethnic kin by Ottoman Turks more than a century ago and stop yearning for their “lost homeland” as they marked the anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24.

Pashinian said the enduring trauma prevents many Armenians from objectively assessing international affairs and challenges facing Armenia.

“Maybe this is also a reason why we get new shocks, reliving the trauma of the Armenian genocide as a legacy and as a tradition,” he said in a statement as tens of thousands of people marched to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the genocide.

The daylong procession followed a wreath-laying ceremony at the hilltop memorial led by Pashinian, Parliament Speaker Alen Simonian, and President Vahagn Khachaturian. Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who has increasingly been at odds with Pashinian’s government, was again excluded from the ceremony.

The genocide began on April 24, 1915 with mass arrests of Armenian intellectuals and activists in Constantinople, now Istanbul. An estimated 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were massacred or died from starvation in the following months and years. About three dozen nations, including Russia, France, Germany, and the United States, have recognized it as genocide.

Pashinian’s statement came amid Yerevan’s ongoing rapprochement with Ankara. Armenia recently said Yerevan seeks full normalization of relations with Ankara, including the opening of their border and the establishment of diplomatic ties. Their strained relationship stems from their differences over whether the killings were a genocide, a distinction Turkey has vehemently rejected.

Pashinian’s choice of words could risk more opposition allegations that he is helping Turkey deny that the 1915 events were genocide. He frequently used the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern (Great Crime) in reference to the events of 1915 and did not condemn the regime of the so-called Young Turks that ruled the Ottoman Empire during World War I. He said instead that Ottoman Armenians “became victims of geopolitical intrigues and false promises.”

The commemoration of the genocide “should symbolize not the lost homeland but the found and real homeland, the Republic of Armenia, whose competitive, legitimate, thoughtful and creative policies can preclude a repeat [of the genocide,]” Pashinian said.

Armenians should speak the phrase “never again” only to themselves, not as an accusation but as a point of view that puts Armenians “in charge of our own destiny,” he added.

Earlier this month, a senior Armenian pro-government lawmaker allied with Pashinian, Andranik Kocharian, called for “verifying” the number of the genocide victims, saying Pashinian wants to “make the entire list of compatriots subjected to genocide more objective.”

The remarks sparked uproar from Armenian government critics, civil society figures, and genocide scholars. They accused Kocharian of echoing the Turkish narrative that the number of Armenians who died was lower than the 1.5 million estimated and that the cause was not a premediated Ottoman government policy.

Kocharian said the following day that it was his personal opinion rather than the Pashinian government’s position and denied casting doubt on the Armenian genocide. Opposition leaders dismissed the explanation, continuing to accuse Pashinian of planning another far-reaching concession to Ankara.

Pashinian’s wife, Anna Hakobian, was jeered by several dozen people when she visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial later on April 24. The hecklers, who apparently included opposition supporters, chanted “Genocidal Nikol!” and “Nikol the Turk!” as Hakobian and one of her daughters surrounded by bodyguards laid flowers by the memorial’s eternal flame.

With Conflicts Raging In Ukraine, Middle East, Amnesty Warns Rights Under Threat

A Ukrainian serviceman smokes sitting on a bench as a local resident clears debris near a building damaged in a Russian air raid on the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine. (file photo)
A Ukrainian serviceman smokes sitting on a bench as a local resident clears debris near a building damaged in a Russian air raid on the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine. (file photo)

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has warned that world order is under threat amid a wave of international rule breaking, deepening global inequality, superpower rivalries, and accelerating climate change.

The group said in its annual report on the state of global human rights, released on April 24, that the world is "reaping a harvest of terrifying consequences" from the pressures of escalating conflict and "a near breakdown" of international law, with advances in artificial intelligence likely to exacerbate the situation.

Amnesty said its report "presents a stark assessment of the betrayal of human rights principles by today’s leaders and institutions," and that in the face of multiplying conflicts, "the actions of many powerful states have further damaged the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the global rules-based order first established in 1945."

"Alongside Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the growing number of armed conflicts, and massive human rights violations witnessed, for example, in Sudan, Ethiopia and [Burma] – the global rule-based order is at risk of decimation," said Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard.

The report noted that the war in Ukraine, launched by neighboring Russia in February 2022, was another key contributor to the decline in the global human rights situation.

Amnesty called out indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces "on populated areas and civilian energy and grain export infrastructure."

"Both Russian and Ukrainian forces used cluster munitions despite their inherently indiscriminate nature and lasting risks for civilians," the report reads.

The report pointedly criticizes the United States for its "brazen use" of its veto power to "paralyze" the UN Security Council for months as it tried to mediate a halt in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Washington and the European Union, in the Gaza Strip.


It also slams the "grotesque double standards" of European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, given their "well-founded protestations" about war crimes by Russia and Hamas, while they simultaneously bolster the actions of Israeli and U.S. authorities in this conflict.

The violence erupted after Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people, mostly citizens, while around 240 others were taken back to Gaza as hostages. Since then, an Israeli offensive aimed at neutralizing Hamas has killed almost 35,000 people, according to the Hamas-led Health Ministry in Gaza.

“The confounding failure of the international community to protect thousands of civilians -- a horrifically high percentage of them children -- from being killed in the occupied Gaza Strip makes patently clear that the very institutions set up to protect civilians and uphold human rights are no longer fit for purpose. What we saw in 2023 confirms that many powerful states are abandoning the founding values of humanity and universality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Callamard said.

Arson Attacks Reported In Kazakh Town After Alleged Rape Of Teen Girl

Law enforcement beefed up security measures in Kazakhstan’s southern town of Zaghambar on April 24 amid a series of crimes feared to be part of ethnic violence. Local police say a teenage boy suspected of sexually assaulting a teenage girl was detained. Media reports say police also launched a probe into arson attacks on two private cars and several households belonging to the suspects’ relatives. The town has been cordoned by police and access to the Internet was blocked in the area. Some 4,000 of the 5,400 residents of Zaghambar are ethnic Uzbeks. Similar situations in the past have caused ethnic conflicts in the Central Asian nation. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Biden Signs Ukraine Aid Package, Says Weapons Shipments To Start In Coming Hours

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after signing a foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, on April 24.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after signing a foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, on April 24.

U.S. President Joe Biden has signed a long-delayed military aid package hours after it was passed by the Senate, saying U.S. military aid will begin flowing again to Ukraine in the next few hours.

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"America is going to send Ukraine the supplies they need to keep them in the fight," Biden said, speaking from the White House after signing the aid bill on April 24. Biden said the package showed that the United States and its allies fully support Ukraine in its battle against invading Russian forces and that the approval was important to show "we stand up against Putin," a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"In the next few hours we will begin sending air defense munitions, for artillery, for rocket systems, and armored vehicles," Biden said. "I’m making sure the shipments start right away."

The State Department confirmed later on April 24 that the United States sent long-range missile systems known as ATACMS to Ukraine for use inside its territory and the weapons arrived in the country this month. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that the ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System, were sent at Biden's direction.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked Biden for authorizing the desperately needed military aid that had stalled in Congress since late last year.

"No matter what anyone says, we are getting the support we need to continue to protect lives from Russian attacks," Zelenskiy said on X. "Over the past few days, we have already been actively working with our American friends on all levels to include the exact types of weapons that our warriors require in this package."

Biden said that the package was "literally an investment not only in Ukrainian security but in Europe’s security, in our own security." He said that if Congress had not stepped up and passed the aid to Ukraine, it would have sent the wrong signal to NATO, which he said the United States has worked to unify, strengthen, and expand since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

"Imagine instead if we had failed…to step up now and to support Ukraine. All those gains would have begun to unravel. The cohesion of NATO would have been weakened. And our national security would have been undermined without any question," the president said.

Biden spoke from the White House after the U.S. Senate easily approved a package of bills late on April 23. The legislation had stalled in the House of Representatives for months, but House Republican leaders decided last week to bring the measures up for a vote, and they passed on April 20, sending it to the Senate.

Ukraine Welcomes Long-Delayed U.S. Military Aid, Vows To Make Up For Lost Time
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The bills provide $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel, and $8.12 billion "to counter communist China" in the Indo-Pacific. The fourth bill includes a potential ban on the social media app TikTok, measures for the transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine, and new sanctions on Iran.

During debate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) had urged his Senate colleagues to pass the legislation as Kyiv struggles to hold its territory amid a shortage of weapons and ammunition caused in large part by the delay in U.S. aid.

"This is an is an inflection point in history. Western democracy perhaps faced its greatest threat since the end of the Cold War," Schumer said.

Schumer told a news conference after the aid to Ukraine passed that it was "one of the most important measures Congress has passed in a very long time to protect American security and the security of Western democracy."


Many of the no votes against the bill came from Republicans, most of whom are allied with former President Donald Trump. The Republicans said they oppose the bill in part because it doesn't include any U.S. security matters, particularly to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico border.

Zelenskiy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he was grateful to the United States Senate for approving the aid.

"I equally appreciate President Biden's support and look forward to the bill being signed soon and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations. Ukraine's long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner," he added.

In the face of an expected wave of weaponry from U.S. and Ukraine's other allies, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his forces would expand their aerial bombardment of Ukraine to include storage bases that house Western-supplied weapons.

An intense Russian missile and drone strikes campaign on Ukrainian cities has taken a large toll in human lives and has caused huge damage to the country's already battered energy infrastructure after more than two years of war.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Pardoned Georgian Activist Vows To Continue Protesting Law On Foreign Agents

Lazare Grigoriadis was released from prison on April 24 after being pardoned by President Salome Zurabishvili. (file photo)
Lazare Grigoriadis was released from prison on April 24 after being pardoned by President Salome Zurabishvili. (file photo)

Georgian activist Lazare Grigoriadis said after he was released from prison on April 24 due to presidential clemency that he will continue to protest Georgia's controversial bill on "foreign agents," which many say is a replica of a similar Russian law used to muzzle dissent in that country. Grigoriadis was sentenced to nine years in prison on April 12 over taking part in protests against the bill in March last year, when he threw two Molotov cocktails at police, according to investigators. The 22-year-old activist said right after his release that he would join ongoing protests against the bill later the same day. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

Another Former Wagner Fighter Imprisoned For Crime In Russia

The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)
The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)

A court in Russia's Kirov region sentenced a former fighter with the Wagner mercenary group on April 24 for murdering and raping a woman. Ivan Rossomakhin returned to his native village in March 2023 after taking part in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. He was recruited by the Wagner group in 2022 from a penitentiary where he was serving a 14-year prison term for murder. He was pardoned after serving for Russia in Ukraine. The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other former ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Loses Appeal Against Conviction

Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)
Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)

A Russian court on April 24 rejected an appeal filed by anti-war activist Svetlana Marina against a "forced labor" sentence she was handed last month on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces. The charge stemmed from Marina’s online post last year where she called pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant after an explosive device in a gift handed to him detonated, "a murderer." Marina was sentenced to 18 months of work at a facility to be designated by the authorities. A portion of her salary will be deducted and given to the State Treasury. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Updated

Opposition Candidate Wins First Round Of North Macedonia's Presidential Vote

A woman votes in the presidential election at a school in Skopje on April 24.
A woman votes in the presidential election at a school in Skopje on April 24.

SKOPJE -- Presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE won a resounding victory in the first round of presidential elections in North Macedonia but could not muster enough votes to avoid a runoff, nearly complete results showed early on April 25.

With 99.03 percent of the votes counted, Siljanovska-Davkova led with 40.08 percent over incumbent Stevo Pendarovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), who had 19.93 percent.

Siljanovska-Davkova, 70, whose party's complete name is the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity, had been a favorite according to opinion polls, but the margin of her victory was much larger than predicted.

However, since neither candidate won the 50 percent needed to win outright, a runoff will be held in two weeks.

North Macedonia's 2.3 million people have become increasingly anxious to see their tiny Balkan country finally join the European Union, with accession to the bloc being one of the key campaign themes together with the fight against corruption and poverty.

In her first statement late on April 24, a beaming Siljanovska-Davkova said that the result marked "the beginning of a new time" called for unity in the common goal of integration into the EU.

"If we open up to each other together, if we ask for help from those from the region that are already members of the EU, I think that we will be a competitive player," she said.

Seven candidates competed in the race on April 24. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, candidate of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) party and the European Front, came third with 13.36 percent. Approximately one-quarter of North Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian.

Siljanovska-Davkova and Pendarovski, 61, whose SDSM party has been in power since 2017, had faced off in the last election as well, with Pendarovski winning.

The voting process was generally peaceful, and turnout was 48.38 percent, the State Election Commission said.

The runoff, to be held on May 8, would coincide with parliamentary elections and would need turnout of at least 40 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters to be valid.

An EU candidate since 2005, Skopje opened EU membership talks only in 2022 after years of opposition from Greece and Bulgaria.

The dispute with Greece was settled in 2017 when the country agreed to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia, subsequently becoming a member of NATO in March 2020.

However, Bulgaria has continued to block more consistent EU membership talks with Skopje unless it amends its constitution to mention a Bulgarian minority in the preamble -- a highly contentious issue because of the overlapping histories and cultures of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Such a constitutional amendment would need a two-thirds majority in parliament, which so far has been not possible in the face of opposition from the VMRO-DPMNE.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Relatives Demand Open Trial For Kyrgyz Group That Protested Border Deal

Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.
Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.

Dozens of relatives of 27 members of a Kyrgyz group that is on trial for protesting a border deal rallied in Bishkek on April 24, demanding the trial be open and nine defendants held in pretrial detention be released. The defendants were arrested in 2022 and charged with organizing mass disorders and plotting to seize power after they protested the deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan. The trial is being held behind closed doors as materials of the case were tagged as classified. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

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