- By Mike Eckel
Manafort Deputy Details Delinquent Ukraine Payments; Defense Accuses Him Of Multiple Affairs
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- Rick Gates, the U.S. government's star witness in its financial-fraud prosecution of Gates' former boss, Paul Manafort, has concluded three days of testimony and often withering cross-examination, detailing how a Ukrainian political party failed to pay $2.4 million in 2015, pushing Manafort into dire financial straits.
Gates' final day on the witness stand on August 8 saw more unexpected drama, when Manafort's defense lawyer, Kevin Downing, again tried to undermine Gates' credibility as a witness by suggesting he had had more extramarital affairs than he had previously admitted to.
After objection from prosecutors, U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis pushed proceedings forward before Gates was allowed to respond to the assertion.
Gates was charged along with Manafort in late 2017, the first charges to come out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials and agents.
The 18 charges against Manafort predate his time heading Trump's presidential election campaign between March and August 2016. Though the charges concern money earned from the work he did in Ukraine for the party of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, they do not directly deal with Russia, or with questions of Trump aides' dealings with Russian agents.
Earlier this year, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Throughout his testimony, Gates has sought to be contrite, saying he was taking responsibility for past crimes, unlike, he said, Manafort. And much of Gates' testimony against Manafort has been damning.
On August 8, under questioning from prosecutor Greg Andres, Gates recounted how Manafort's lucrative work in Ukraine had dried up following the February 2014 upheaval that ousted the Moscow-friendly Yanukovych.
Gates said Manafort did some consulting for Yanukoyvch's successor, Petro Poroshenko.
He also said Manafort did work for the political party that was set up following Yanukovych's departure, the Opposition Bloc, as it ran candidates in the October 2014 parliamentary elections.
But the wealthy businessmen who backed Opposition Bloc failed to pay Manafort the $2.4 million he was owed for his work, Gates said, and Manafort struggled to recover the funds throughout 2015.
Andres also returned to the admission Gates made a day earlier on questioning from Downing that he had an extramarital affair a decade ago, and that Gates had secretly embezzled at least $2.7 million from Manafort over several years, something that Downing had hammered him on.
In an effort to demonstrate that Gates' affair did not bother Manafort, Andres had Gates testify that he and Manafort had discussed the affair, and Manafort retained him as his deputy. Gates also said his wife was aware of the five-month affair.
Gates told the court he also discussed the affair with investigators from Mueller's office as he prepared for the Manafort trial. That prompted Downing to ask whether Gates told investigators that he had in fact had four extramarital affairs, suggesting that might invalidate Gates' plea agreement and expose him to new prosecution.
Before Gates could respond, Andres objected, and Judge Ellis summoned prosecutors and the defense team to discuss the matter in private. When the trial resumed, Downing suggested that Gates' "secret life" had continued for much longer than just five months.
Trump's name has largely gone unspoken during the trial, mainly because the charges predate Manafort's tenure with Trump's campaign, which began in March 2016.
Manafort later became Trump's election chairman, but was fired in August of that year amid revelations of his off-the-books payments by the Ukrainian political figures.
Gates, meanwhile, was hired onto Trump's campaign as well by Manafort, and he stayed with the campaign through Trump's January 2017 inauguration. He was arrested and charged later that year.
The one mention of Trump's name so far occurred on August 7, when Gates testified how Manafort asked for help in getting tickets to Trump's inauguration, which he wanted for a Chicago banker who later approved a loan for Manafort.
Gates also said Manafort suggested that the banker, Stephen Calk, be considered for a possible administration job, such as secretary of the army. Calk ultimately did not get the job.
In previous days, prosecutors had called a series of witnesses -- including a suit tailor, a home renovator, a real-estate agent, and a landscape designer -- seeking to demonstrate what they said was Manafort's lifestyle, which, prosecutors said, was a large reason why he allegedly hid income and filed fraudulent tax documents and loan applications.
Prosecutors have said they intend to complete their arguments as early as this week. Once that happens, Manafort's defense team will present its case to try and convince the jury of his innocence.
If the trial continues quickly, it could wrap up before the second, more consequential trial against Manafort is scheduled to begin in September.
That trial, in federal court in Washington, D.C., focuses on allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent when he was working for Yanukovych and his political party.
While Manafort's case is the first that Mueller has brought to trial, the special counsel has charged 31 other people with dozens of offenses, including conspiracy, failure to register as foreign agents, and lying to federal law enforcement.
That includes 12 Russian military intelligence officers who allegedly used hacking and other tools in attempts to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In addition to Gates, others who have pleaded guilty to Mueller's charges include Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller's investigation, denying any effort by him or his associates to collude with Russian officials to sway the election. He has also voiced support for Manafort.
Russia Fails At UN To Get Nord Stream Blast Inquiry
Russia failed on March 27 to get the UN Security Council to ask for an independent inquiry into explosions in September on the Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia and Germany. Only Russia, China, and Brazil voted in favor of the Russian-drafted resolution, while the remaining 12 council members abstained. A resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, the United States, or Britain to pass. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Hungarian Parliament Approves Finland's Bid To Join NATO
Hungary's parliament on March 27 approved Finland’s bid to join NATO, putting an end to months of delays and bringing the Nordic country one step closer to becoming a full member of the Western military alliance. Hungary's government had frustrated allies in NATO and the European Union by repeatedly postponing the vote after nearly all other alliance members ratified Finland's bid. While Hungary's approval was greeted with relief in Helsinki and elsewhere, NATO accession for Sweden remains up in the air. Finland and Sweden jointly applied for membership following Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Three Kazakh Activists Detained In Almaty After Demonstrating For Release Of Relatives From Xinjiang
Police detained three Kazakh activists in Almaty on March 27 after they demonstrated near the Chinese consulate to demand the release of their relatives from China’s Xinjiang Province.
Activists Akikat Kaliolla, Nurzat Yermekbay, and Zauatkhan Tursyn were taken to the police department of the Medeu district, according to another activist, Baibolat Kunbolatuly, son of Tursyn. They were held at the police department for several hours and released without charge, Kunbolatuly told RFE/RL.
There was no comment from authorities, and calls by RFE/RL to the police department were not answered.
Kaliolla published a video on Facebook purporting to show the demonstrators and police officers following behind them.
One of the demonstrators, Almakhan Myrzan, held a photograph of her brother, religious researcher Baqytkhan Myrzan, who died earlier this month in custody in a penitentiary in Xinjiang.
Myrzan sharply condemned the authorities for her brother's death, which she confirmed to RFE/RL on March 9. He had been sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018 for performing an Islamic ritual at a religious event.
She also said that authorities in Xinjiang had ignored demands by Myrzan's relatives in China and Kazakhstan to release him due to a medical condition.
Almakhan Myrzan has been among dozens of people who for more than two years have been picketing the Chinese Embassy in Astana and the consulate in Almaty to demand the release of relatives held in correctional facilities in China.
China has been accused of human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities over the existence of mass detention camps in Xinjiang Province. The crackdown has seen Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Xinjiang's other indigenous ethnic groups sent to the camps.
Beijing denies the facilities are internment camps, saying its actions are aimed at combating terrorism, but people who have fled the province say people from the ethnic groups are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities officially referred to as reeducation camps.
The demonstration and detentions in Almaty took place as Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev met in Astana with Ma Xingrui, the Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang.
Toqaev hailed the "eternal friendship" with Beijing as he welcomed the "deepening all-round cooperation with China," Kazakhstan's presidency said.
China is among key investors in the oil-rich country, which is home to a large Uyghur diaspora, while around 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in Xinjiang.
Ma said Kazakhstan was a "priority area" of mutual cooperation.
"In general, China's cooperation with Kazakhstan is carried out through Xinjiang," Ma added.
Ma's visit to Astana, which was not widely reported, took place 10 days after the Kazakh ambassador to China, Shakhrat Nuryshev, made a trip to Xinjiang and met with Ma.
Kazakh authorities refrain from openly criticizing the policies of China, one of their main creditors. They have responded to the demands of ethnic Kazakhs for the release of their relatives by saying that what is happening in China is an internal affair of the country, and have said the applications of separated family members are considered "through diplomatic channels."
With reporting by AFP
Iranian Workers' Group Strikes Over Wages As Inflation Continues To Soar
Employees and retirees in the southwestern Iranian city of Shush have gone on strike to protest living standards and to push the government to approve wage and social payment increases in the Iranian New Year.
Videos published on social media showed crowds gathering in front of the local governor's office while chanting, "Enough oppression! Our tablecloth is empty."
The strike comes after several weeks of protests, dubbed Protest Sundays, in front of government agencies in Shush.
On March 26, a rally took place in front of the Shush governor's building, where workers and retirees from the Haft Tapeh sugarcane company joined others to protest.
The Supreme Labor Council has resolved to raise the minimum wage for workers in the Iranian New Year, which commenced on March 21, by only 27 percent compared with the previous year. Annual inflation in Iran has been running at around 40 percent for the past two years.
During a gathering of workers over the weekend, labor activists highlighted the ongoing rise in the inflation rate and the increasing costs of food and other expenses. They argued that the wages set by the Supreme Labor Council are "oppressive" and called for a salary increase that corresponds with price growth and living expenses to better support working families.
Prices have grown as living standards have fallen in Iran due to crushing sanctions imposed on the country by the United States over Tehran's nuclear program.
Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.
Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.
The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Schools Evacuated In Bulgaria Because Of Bomb Threats
Dozens of schools in Bulgaria were evacuated on March 27 after bomb threats were e-mailed to the schools. Schools in the capital, Sofia, and the cities of Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea were among those affected. Students were told to line up with their backpacks and jackets before being evacuated, and police were sent in to search for explosives. No bombs have been found. Bulgaria is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on April 2, and voting takes place mainly at schools. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.
Iranian Lawmaker Says New Hijab Plan Prohibits Physical Punishment
An Iranian parliamentarian says the government's new strategy to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab will eliminate physical punishment for women and instead carry financial and administrative penalties that have been approved by the leader of the Islamic republic.
Iranian parliament member Hossein Jalali said on March 27 that the new plan includes a financial penalty of up to 30 billion Iranian Rials ($60,000) for those who breach the compulsory hijab law, while additional penalties consist of revoking a person's driver's license, canceling their passport, and prohibiting Internet access for those women who do not adhere to the hijab requirement.
Under the new proposals, physical punishment will not be allowed, Jalali said. Violators instead will be punished according to a predetermined table.
To help limit physical confrontations, surveillance cameras will be used to monitor public spaces for women not wearing the hijab and offenders will be tracked down and punished afterward. Police and judicial authorities will be tasked with collecting evidence and identifying violators, Jalali said.
SPECIAL REPORT: The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System
The Cultural Commission of the Iranian parliament said earlier that shop owners and the operators of businesses such as shopping malls and accommodation centers will also be responsible for implementing the rules.
Officials have recently moved to seal off the businesses of some "violators," including this week when a hotel in the city of Kashan and a shopping center in the capital, Tehran, were closed because employers were not observing the mandatory hijab rule.
The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Long-simmering tensions boiled over after the death in custody in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, with Iranians flooding streets across the country in protest. Women and even schoolgirls have put up unprecedented shows of defiance in the unrest, one of the biggest threats to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters. Rights groups say more than 500 people have died in the protests.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
As Expected, Kazakhstan's Ruling Party Takes Majority Of Seats In Parliamentary Vote
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- As expected, the ruling Amanat party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan earlier this month, official results show, in a vote the Central Election Commission said had several "minor" violations but that some opposition politicians claimed was marred by issues.
The Central Election Commission said on March 27 that Amanat received 53.9 percent of the votes to win an allocation of 40 seats of the 69 seats on offer in parliament through the party list distribution system. In addition, according to the commission, candidates nominated by Amanat won 22 of the 29 seats on offer in single-mandate contests.
The March 19 vote followed a referendum in June 2022 that marked the end of special privileges for long-reigning former leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.
It was the first vote since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations could stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022 that left at least 238 people dead.
The second-place Auyl party won eight seats in the party-list distribution after it took 10.9 percent of the votes; the Respublika party won six seats with 8.59 percent; the Ak Zhol party won six seats with 8.41 percent; the People's Party of Kazakhstan won five seats with 6.8 percent; and four mandates were handed to the opposition Nationwide Social Democratic Party (JSDP), which had 5.2 percent of the votes.
The return of single-mandate district races added some dynamism to a ballot dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.
But several opposition-minded figures were excluded from races at the parliament and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.
Several candidates said after the elections that they would not recognize the results because of "various violations" of voting laws and that they would launch a court appeal because "the votes of independent candidates were stolen."
The various violations include improper counting of ballots and government pressure on public employees to vote for certain parties.
The Oraganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted after the vote that "limits on the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms remain and some political groups continue to be prevented from participating as political parties in elections."
While the voting "was organized in a smooth manner overall," the OSCE said "significant procedural irregularities were observed."
Of the seven parties to compete in the elections, the most well-established is the ruling Amanat party, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party led by Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.
Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.
Suicide Attack Near Foreign Ministry In Kabul Kills At Least Six
At least six people were killed and 12 others were wounded on March 27 when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for the Taliban's security command in Kabul, said security forces spotted the bomber and shot at him but could not prevent him from reaching a checkpoint in Malik Asghar Square, where he detonated his explosive vest.
A Kabul hospital run by Emergency, an Italian NGO, said on Twitter that it had admitted 12 wounded patients, including a child, and two people were dead on arrival.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, but after returning to power in 2021, the Taliban has been targeted by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), an offshoot of the Islamic State militant group that has emerged as the Taliban's main rival in the war-wracked country.
IS-K has staged several attacks in Afghanistan recently.
On January 11, an IS-K suicide bomber killed at least 10 people when he blew himself up near the Foreign Ministry, not far from the site of the March 27 attack.
IS-K also claimed a bombing near a checkpoint at the Kabul military airport on January 1 that killed up to 20 people and an attack in December on a Kabul hotel frequented by businesspeople. At least five Chinese nationals were wounded in the December attack on the hotel.
In September, two Russian Embassy employees were killed in an IS-K suicide attack outside Moscow's mission in Kabul.
The Taliban has responded to the attacks by stepping up raids on suspected IS-K hideouts.
Last month, Taliban security forces said they had killed two senior IS-K members -- Qari Fateh, the regional IS-K intelligence and operations chief, and another senior leader, Ijaz Amin Ahingar -- in two separate raids in Kabul.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
Poland Detains Man For Allegedly Spying For Russia
Poland has detained a foreign citizen on charges of spying for Russia, prosecutors said on March 27, as the largest country on NATO's eastern flank finds itself increasingly targeted by Moscow's intelligence services. Prosecutors in the northern Polish city of Gdansk said in a statement that the suspect had been detained on March 21. "The findings made in the case show that the suspect acted for the benefit of Russian intelligence by obtaining and collecting information...on critical infrastructure in the Pomeranian and Kuyavian-Pomeranian regions and on the activities of services and bodies responsible for security," they said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
IOC Should Stick To Ban On Russian, Belarusian Athletes, Poland Says
Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from the 2024 Olympics in Paris unless Moscow pulls its forces out of Ukraine, Poland said on March 27, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it plans to let them compete as neutrals. "We strongly believe that now is not the time to consider the opening up of a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to the Olympic Games in any status," the Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Saudi, Iranian Foreign Ministers To Meet During Muslim Holy Month
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have agreed to meet during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi state news agency SPA said on March 27, under a deal to restore ties. Both ministers spoke by phone for the second time in a few days, SPA said. "The two ministers also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting between them during the ongoing month of Ramadan," SPA said. Ramadan is likely to end on April 20. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Makes Surprise Trip To Zaporizhzhya, Meets IAEA Chief
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to frontline positions in the region of Zaporizhzhya, where he also met with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi to discuss the protection of Europe's largest nuclear power station as fighting rages with invading Russian forces across the eastern flank of the country.
Zelenskiy told the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on March 27 that it was not possible to restore safety at the plant with Russia still in control of the facility.
"Without the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and adjacent territory, any initiatives to restore nuclear safety and security are doomed to failure," Zelenskiy told Grossi, according to a statement from the president's office.
The president also drew Grossi's attention to the constant pressure that power plant personnel are under from Russian forces, the statement said.
There has been no comment from the IAEA on Grossi's meeting with Zelenskiy, but Grossi tweeted earlier that the meeting was to discuss safety issues around the nuclear plant, which is held by Russian forces and has been forced to switch to emergency diesel generators on several occasions after fighting nearby knocked out power lines.
"I met with Zelenskiy today in Zaporizhzhya City & had a rich exchange on the protection of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and its staff. I reiterated the full support of the IAEA to Ukraine's nuclear facilities," he said.
Grossi said he would be visiting the plant "to assess first-hand the #nuclear safety & security situation at the facility."
Zelenskiy's office said in an earlier statement that the president on March 27 spoke with troops "in frontline positions" in the Zaporizhzhya region and presented them with state awards, while also being apprised of the "operational situation in the relevant areas of the front, the provision of ammunition and equipment."
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued unabated in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said, with the Russians keeping up the pressure on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point of Moscow's offensive in the east, and also increasingly targeting Avdiyivka, another city in Donetsk.
Two civilians were killed and 29 injured in Russian shelling of the city of Slovyansk, local officials said.
Zelenskiy released a video of the shelling in Slovyansk on his Telegram channel, describing the attack as "terrorism."
Ukrainian forces repelled more than 60 Russian attacks in Bakhmut and its surroundings, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily report, as the invading forces continued to indiscriminately bombard both military and infrastructure targets, causing damage and casualties among civilians.
"The probability of missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high, as the enemy uses terror tactics," the General Staff said, adding that Russian attacks mainly targeted Avdiyivka, Lyman, Kupyansk, and Maryinka.
Russia has repeatedly denied it has targeted civilian infrastructure since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 even as residential and cultural buildings across the country have been constantly hit during the war.
The situation in Bakhmut remains "continually difficult," the commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said during a visit to the front line on March 27, according to the Defense Ministry.
IN PHOTOS: Following months of brutal assaults spearheaded by Russia's Wagner mercenary troops, Ukraine's military claims to have stabilized the beleaguered eastern city of Bakhmut.
The current fighting in and around Bakhmut has reached "the most intense phase," Syrskiy said, adding, "The enemy has suffered significant losses in human resources, weapons, and military equipment but continues to conduct offensive operations."
Ukrainian military officials say Russian forces are appearing to also be turning their focus on Avdiyivka, less than 100 kilometers southwest of Bakhmut, where incessant Russian shelling has shut down all public services and municipal workers have been evacuated from the city. Only about 2,000 civilians have been left out of a pre-war population of some 30,000.
Avdiyivka is some 20 kilometers northeast of Donetsk, the city that has been under Russian-backed forces' occupation since 2014.
Vitaliy Barabash, head of the city's military administration, said on Telegram on March 26 that Avdiyivka has been turned into "a place from post-apocalyptic movies" by intensive Russian shelling.
The latest fighting came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany has delivered promised Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
"Yes, we delivered Leopard tanks as we announced," Scholz told a press conference in Rotterdam when asked to confirm a news report that Germany had delivered 18 of the advanced Leopards.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Russia Defeats Iraq In First Home International Soccer Match Since Ukraine Invasion
Russia eased to a 2-0 win over Iraq in a friendly on March 26 as it played its first international match on home soil since November 2021, after being barred from global competitions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Official attendance at the 68,000-seat Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg was 23,818. The stadium had been due to host last year's Champions League final before Russia was stripped of that honor. Both European soccer body UEFA and global governing body FIFA decided in February 2022 that all Russian teams would be suspended from their competitions following the invasion. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Claims Ukrainian Drone Downed In Tula Region, Three Injured
Russian air defenses halted a Ukrainian drone attack on a Russian town on March 26 in which three people were hurt and apartment blocks were damaged, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Kyiv did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has previously denied Russian assertions that its drones -- also known as unmanned aerial vehicles -- have flown into Russian territory and caused damage to civilian infrastructure. The Russian ministry said the attack on the town of Kireyevsk, in the Tula region 220 kilometers south of Moscow, involved a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh drone. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Pakistani PM Accuses President Of Acting Like Opposition
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has accused the country's president, Arif Alvi, of abandoning neutrality to criticize his government as if he were part of the political opposition. In a five-page letter, Sharif said Alvi was failing in "certain legal duties." He suggested that Alvi was demanding similar actions as ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan's Tehrik-e Insaf party. Sharif's letter came in response to a letter from Alvi urging the prime minister to organize elections in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
Pakistani Ex-PM Khan Sets Out Economic Rescue Plan At Rally
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan led a rally in the eastern city of Lahore in the early hours of March 26, setting out his ideas to revive the country's spiraling economy and accusing the government of lacking a rescue plan. Local authorities warned Khan not to hold a public rally in view of a possible terrorist attack. The 70-year-old politician, who was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence motion in April 2022 and is campaigning for early elections, blames the government for being part of a "regime-change operation" against him. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Afghan Women's Protest For Education Halted In Kabul By Taliban
At least 20 Afghan women marched in the capital, Kabul, on March 26 to demand the right to education for women and girls before being rounded up by a Taliban patrol.
The demonstration comes amid UN and other international condemnation over ongoing strictures under the Taliban-led government to keep women and girls out of schools, jobs, media, and other aspects of life since the hard-line militant group took power after U.S.-led international forces left in 2021.
Participants in the demonstration told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Taliban enforcers arrived shortly after they began their planned march from the Red Bridge area in western Kabul and corralled the protesters to prevent them from continuing.
Video footage shared on social media showed around two dozen veiled women marching with small signs with "education is our right" written on them.
The demonstration was organized by the Afghan Women's Political Participation Network.
Organizers reportedly planned to march toward the Asif Mayel Girls' School, one of dozens of schools violently attacked by Taliban fighters or sympathizers.
"For almost two years, the future and fate of Afghan women have been taken hostage and we have been completely removed from society," one of the protesters, Momine Eftekhari, told Radio Azadi.
"Education is a standard with an educational curriculum that is the right of everyone. Not only is it the right of boys but girls, but unfortunately we have been deprived of education, work, and sports for more than 19 months."
She said the situation was "no longer tolerable [and] that's why we took to the streets."
- By dpa
Putin Arrest Warrant Gives Russian Journalist Hope For Resistance
Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova said the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin has given her "some sort of hope" that resistance might be sparked within the country's elite. Ovsyannikova worked for the Russian state broadcaster Channel One for more than 10 years before she decided to stage a protest against the invasion of Ukraine. Ovsyannikova fled Russia and is now living in Paris. She made her comments to BBC One's Sunday program.
Taliban Claims Delegation Visited Afghan Consulate In Neighboring Tajikistan
The Taliban-led Afghan government's foreign office has claimed a delegation traveled to an Afghan consulate in Khorugh, the capital of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan region, although no Tajik official sources confirmed any such visit on March 25. Relations are strained between the Taliban leadership in Kabul and Dushanbe, which has been outspoken in its demand that the unrecognized Afghan government boost inclusiveness since it took over after the withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops in August 2021. The Taliban said its delegation was surveying repairs to the consulate following an avalanche that killed 16 people and buried dozens of buildings on February 15. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
Kazakh Journalist Who Rejected Election Results Launches Hunger Strike In Jail
Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim has launched a hunger strike as he serves a 25-day jail term over his plan to hold a rally to protest the official results of this month's parliamentary and local elections, his lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, said on March 26. Mukhammedkarim was cleared as a candidate in the March 19 elections to the national parliament only after protesting his initial disqualification. He announced his refusal to recognize the results, which awarded a majority to the ruling Amanat party after a process that international observers said showed some progress over previous votes but the opposition said was undemocratic. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Pentagon: No Indication Russia Plans To Use Nuclear Weapons
The U.S. Department of Defense said on March 25 that there were no indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons after Moscow's announcement to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. "We have seen reports of Russia's announcement and will continue to monitor this situation," it said. It added that "We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance." To read the original report by Reuters, click here.
- By RFE/RL
U.K. Says Iran Resupplies To Russia Of Kamikaze Drones Fueling More March Attacks
The British Defense Ministry said on March 26 that Russia had "likely launched" at least 71 Iranian Shahed kamikaze drones against Ukraine after a two-week letup in late February. The resumption suggests that "Russia has started receiving regular resupplies of small numbers of Shahed" uncrewed aerial drones, the U.K. military added in its daily intelligence assessment. It said Russian forces were probably launching the Iranian drones from the Krasnodar region in the east and Bryansk region in the northeast, cutting down flight times in the north to further "stretch Ukrainian air defenses."
Putin: Russia, China Not Creating Military Alliance
Russia and China are not creating a military alliance and are hiding nothing in terms of their military cooperation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with state television broadcast on March 26, news agencies reported. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping professed friendship and pledged closer ties at a summit in Moscow early this week, as Russia struggles to make gains in what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine. "We are not creating any military alliance with China," Interfax quoted Putin as saying, adding, "Yes, we have cooperation in the sphere of military-technical interaction."
- By AFP
Tehran Condemns U.S. Strikes On Iran-Linked Groups In Syria
Tehran has condemned U.S. air strikes on Iran-linked forces in Syria that reportedly killed 19 people, which Washington said it carried out following a deadly drone attack on U.S. forces. The Iranian Foreign Ministry late on March 25 condemned "the belligerent and terrorist attack of the American army on civilian targets" in the eastern Syrian region of Deir el-Zor. Washington said it launched the retaliatory raids after a U.S. contractor was killed -- and another contractor and five military personnel wounded -- by a drone "of Iranian origin" that struck a U.S.-led coalition base in Syria.
North Macedonia's Military Backs Sending Mi-24 Helicopters To Ukraine
The General Staff of North Macedonia has backed the transfer to Ukraine of 12 Mi-24 military helicopters that it purchased from Kyiv two decades ago, Macedonian Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovska said on March 25. The transfer still must receive government approval. Petrovska said Skopje will procure eight new, Western-platform rotorcraft to replace the Mi-24s. She said the military equipment being supplied to Ukraine was "under our plans...reaching the end of its service life." Petrovska said that "the transfer of helicopters to Ukraine will not weaken Macedonia's defense capabilities, as some of the helicopters have not been used for some time." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
'Don't Go To The Enlistment Office': Wave Of Military Summonses Raises Fears Of Another Russian Mobilization Drive2
Zelenskiy Makes Surprise Trip To Zaporizhzhya, Meets IAEA Chief3
As Fighting Rages On At The Front, Thousands Join Ukraine's Offensive Guard4
'How Did He Turn Into What He Is Now?' Former Putin Speechwriter Reflects5
Graveyard War: Why Prigozhin Is Picking A Fight Over Burials And What It Means For His Own Future6
Fighting Rages Around Bakhmut As West Assails Kremlin Plan To Place Nukes In Belarus7
Bulgaria's Pro-Kremlin Leader Refuses To Send Soviet-Era Fighter Jets And Tanks To Ukraine8
Ukraine's Zelenskiy Pleads With Europe For More Sophisticated Military Equipment9
Ukraine Says No Letup On Bakhmut Front Despite Claims Russian Offensive Stalling10
Sky Hunters: Ukrainian Border Guards Gun Down Iranian-Made Drones