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International Community Welcomes Obama Win

Reelected U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden embrace after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Reelected U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden embrace after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Political leaders in many parts of the world have welcomed the reelection of U.S. President Barack Obama to a second four-year term.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that she looked forward to continued collaboration with the United States.

"I want to offer my warm congratulations to the reelected President Barack Obama," she said. "We know each other well and I also look forward to cooperating with respect to stabilizing the trans-Atlantic relationship between the German federal government and the United States of America. But also between the European Union and the United States of America. I wish [him] good luck today."

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Russian president viewed Obama's reelection over Republican rival Mitt Romney "very positively" and had sent a congratulatory telegram to Washington.

In a joint statement, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy said they looked forward to continuing their "close cooperation" with Obama.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the NATO military alliance, expressed "warm congratulations," praising what he called Obama's "outstanding leadership" in maintaining Euro-Atlantic ties.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he envisaged continued cooperation with Obama. "I have really enjoyed working with him over these last few years and I look forward to working with him again over the next four years," he said.

French President Francois Hollande suggested that Obama's victory was a signal that the United States would remain deeply engaged in international issues. He called the victory "an important moment for the United States and also for the world."

Israel, which had expressed frustration with Obama's diplomatic stance on its adversary Iran, nonetheless welcomed his reelection.

President Shimon Peres expressed confidence Obama would "do whatever he can" to reduce the threat of Iran's nuclear program. "What he said about Iran he will do," he said. "I am convinced completely. The responsibilities that are falling on his shoulders are not simple."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas also offered his congratulations and called on Obama to continue efforts to achieve Middle East peace.

Taliban Urges U.S. Withdrawal

Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari, the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively, both offered their congratulations on Obama's reelection and expressed hope for expanding ties with the United States.

Taliban insurgents, meanwhile, issued a statement calling on Obama to admit that the United States has lost the war in Afghanistan and pull its troops out immediately.

The foreign minister of Iraq congratulated Obama. Hoshyar Zebari told RFE/RL that his country was ready to "solidify and strengthen" its relations with the United States.

Obama oversaw the final pullout of U.S. military forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, nine years after the start of a war launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Violence and extremist attacks are seen as rising in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal.

In Egypt, where Obama gave a landmark 2009 speech on his hopes for the Muslim world, President Muhammad Morsi praised Obama's win, saying he hoped the U.S. administration would serve the interests of both the American and the Egyptian people.

China's Foreign Ministry said President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao phoned Obama to congratulate him on his win.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is due to assume the presidency this week, made a congratulatory call to Obama's running mate, Vice President Joe Biden.

The Dalai Lama also congratulated Obama, saying he had made "earnest efforts to live up to...the trust placed in you by the American public."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Obama and urged him to act quickly on ending the war in Syria and reviving the Middle East peace process.

And the main opposition Syrian National Council also voiced hope on November 7 that resolving the conflict in Syria would figure at the top of Obama's agenda.

Kenyan Jubilation

Jubilant celebrations were also held in Indonesia, where Obama lived as a child, and in his ancestral homeland Kenya, where his father was born.

Speaking in her village of Kogelo, the president's step-grandmother, Sara Obama, urged her grandson to work hard but said he was welcome to visit Kenya at any time.

"He is welcome home," she said. "I would just like to tell him to give his best to the people who have shown their faith in him by electing him."

WATCH: Obama's Kenyan grandmother celebrates his election win.
Obama’s Kenyan Grandmother Celebrates Election Win
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Elsewhere, in Moldova, Prime Minister Vlad Filat praised the conduct of the U.S. presidential election as a model of "political culture" and "responsibility."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Moldovan Service in Chisinau after Obama's victory, Filat said he appreciated a system in which the defeated candidate "concedes with dignity" and offers support to the winner.

In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's official website said that he had congratulated Obama on his reelection. In an official telegram, the Kazakh leader expressed hope for a continued strategic partnership between Astana and Washington.

Earlier on November 7, Kazakh presidential adviser Ermukhamet Ertisbaev told RFE/RL that Obama had won due to his successful approach to foreign relations, namely his "reset" policy toward Russia, cooperation with the European Union, and a firm stance against international terrorism.

Ghani Qasymov, a member of the Kazakh parliament's upper chamber, the Senate, said Obama's victory will secure U.S. investments in Kazakhstan and the continuation of Washington's unchanged policies toward Central Asia.

'A Year Of Democrats'

In the Caucasus, Georgia's new prime minister said he expected his country's ties with the United States to "deepen" during Obama's second term.

Speaking in Tbilisi on November 7, Bidzina Ivanishvili referred to the recent election win of the Georgian Dream coalition and called 2012 "a year of democrats."

Ivanishvili, whose coalition defeated the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili in parliamentary elections last month, also called the United States Georgia's "greatest friend."

Nodar Khaduri, Georgia's newly appointed finance minister, said it was important for his country to maintain strong ties with the United States "no matter who wins."

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian sent his “warmest congratulations and best wishes” to Obama. In a letter, Sarkisian said Obama’s "impressive victory has proven that the course taken by you for moving the United States forward, your domestic and international policy meet the expectations of the overwhelming majority of the American people."

Sarkisian also expressed confidence that during the four years of Obama’s second term, "our multifaceted cooperation will yield new impressive results for the mutual benefit of our peoples."

In Azerbaijan, the opposition tentatively welcomed Obama's reelection. Isa Qambar of the Musavat party told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that continuity was welcome even if the election meant no shift in U.S. policy on Azerbaijan.

Blogger Emin Milli, who spent 17 months in prison for criticizing the government in Baku, said he did not expect Obama to adopt a more critical stance on autocratic President Ilham Aliyev.

"There are big money and security issues here," he said. "Therefore, I do not expect any changes in the U.S. policy towards our country and the region."

Stanislau Shushkevich, the first leader of post-Soviet Belarus, said Obama's return to the White House would have little impact on U.S.-Belarus relations. Shushkevich said he had been hoping for a win by Romney.

He described Obama as a "good populist" but said the U.S. leader was unlikely to alter his stance on Belarus during his second term.

Shushkevich, who served as the first leader of independent Belarus from 1991-94, is a vocal critic of the country's autocratic leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and says the West is not doing enough to press the regime in Minsk for reforms.

With reporting by dpa, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, AFP, ITAR-TASS, RFE/RL's Belarus Service, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, RFE/RL's Armenian Service, RFE/RL's Georgian Service, and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

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Vucic, Kurti To Meet On June 26 In EU-Mediated Talks On Normalizing Relations

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will meet in Brussels on June 26 to conduct a new round of the EU-mediated dialogue on normalization of relations. EU spokesman Peter Stano and the government of Kosovo confirmed the meeting on June 20. Kurti's office told RFE/RL that the focus of the meeting will be the implementation of the agreement on the road to normalization of relations. The European Union has not yet released details on the agenda of the meeting. The summit will be mediated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and special envoy for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak. The talks were agreed during Lajcak's visits to Kosovo and Serbia this week. To read the full story on RFE/RL Balkan Service, click here.

Bomb Attached To Tree Detonates Remotely, Killing 2 In Suspected Organized Crime Hit In Montenegro

Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.
Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.

Two people were killed and three injured in the town of Cetinje in Montenegro when an explosive device attached high in a tree was remotely detonated, police said on June 20.

The director of the Montenegrin police, Aleksandar Radovic, confirmed that the two deceased men, Petar Kaluđerovic and Dragan Roganovic, were members of organized criminal groups.

Radovic's deputy, Lazar Scepanovic, told reporters the attackers had monitored the victims' habits and knew they used armored cars.

The improvised explosive device used in the attack was placed 7 meters up in the tree, Scepanovic said. It targeted four people as they entered a sports center, he said.

Kaluderovic died at the scene, while Roganovic passed away in the hospital.

The injured are Tanasije Taso Jovanovic and Mihajlo Borozan, who were with Kaluderovic and Roganovic, and a passerby, Desanka Vujovic. All three injured men were transported to a hospital in Montenegro where they were treated for their injuries and their lives were not in danger.

Scepanovic said the attack is believed to be retaliation by a rival criminal group.

Radovic said the police had "intelligence that this could happen“ and "unfortunately, it came true."

He said the fight against organized crime is not easy, but the state will prevail, not crime.

State prosecutor Danka Ivanovic Deric said evidence had been collected at the site of the attack and police officers, forensic experts, and an explosives expert conducted the investigation.

The two men who were killed were known by the police force. Kaluderovic, 20, was arrested in April along with three others, including Borozan, on suspicion of illegal possession of weapons and explosive devices.

The police department said its officers had searched several properties in Cetinje "used by members of organized criminal groups and persons of security interest, and related individuals." At the time, the investigative judge ordered their detention but it was not clear why they were no longer in jail.

The other man killed in the explosion, Roganovic, was injured in December 2017 in Cetinje when he was shot while exiting a car. Roganovic had been the bodyguard of gang member Goran Radoman, who was killed in Belgrade in February 2015.

Radoman was one of the first victims in the war between rival gangs that have been operating in Montenegro for years. The clashes started in 2014 when around 250 kilograms of cocaine disappeared in Valencia.

The total number of murders in mafia clashes in Serbia and Montenegro since 2012 is 193, according to data from the Black Book, a joint project of the investigative network KRIK and RFE/RL.

U.S. Bans Sales Of Kaspersky Software Over Russia Ties

Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)
Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)

The United States on June 20 announced plans to bar the sale of antivirus software made by Russia's Kaspersky Lab in the United States, citing the firm's large U.S. customers, including critical infrastructure providers, and state and local governments. Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a call with reporters. Raimondo said Russia has shown it has the capacity and the intent to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky "to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans and that is why we are compelled to take the action that we are taking today."

Mob In Pakistan Drags Burning Body Of 'Blasphemer' Through Streets In Swat Valley

A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.
A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.

A Pakistani man who was visiting the country's Swat Valley as a tourist on June 20 was beaten to death and his body set on fire by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.

The mob severely beat the man, identified as a resident of Punjab Province, and dragged his burning naked body through the streets, according to reports about the incident and authorities who spoke with RFE/RL.

Swat police chief Zahid Ullah said police officers initially rescued the man from the people who attacked him and sheltered him at a police station in Madian.

According to a local journalist in Madian, the mob broke down the gate of the police station and entered the building. They then poured gasoline on the man and set him on fire before dragging his lifeless body as they continued to beat him.

The rioters also burned three police cars and set fire to the police station, the journalist said.

The incident started when a number of people accused the man of having burned pages of the Koran in his bag and started a fight with him.

When it was announced through mosque loudspeakers that a "blasphemer" had been rescued by police, a crowd converged on the police station.

Local residents said police officers opened fired on the crowd and 11 people were injured. Police have not commented on the accusation.

Residents and health authorities said three injured people have been taken to the hospital.

The situation in and around Madian is reportedly tense. Authorities have invoked their power under Section 144 of Pakistani law to restrict people's movement and can shoot anyone who disobeys.

Swat Valley, nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan, is frequently visited by tourists from all over the country. It is especially popular in the summer season, when people go there to escape high temperatures.

Putin Calls For 'New Security Architecture' For Asia On Visit To Vietnam

Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.
Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 20 that it is time for a "new security architecture" for Asia as he wrapped up a short visit to Vietnam.

Putin signed 11 public agreements and memorandums of understanding with Vietnamese President To Lam while in Hanoi. Lam said he and Putin made other deals that are not publicly available.

The agreements centered on energy, education, science, and technology -- sectors the United States and other countries have targeted when sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology center in Vietnam.

Russia's TASS news agency quoted Putin as saying, "We are firmly committed to deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam, which remains among the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy."

Lam said Putin has contributed to global "peace, stability, and development." Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and this marked Putin's first trip to Vietnam since 2017.

In Vietnam, Putin also met with Communist Party General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.

The United States has been working to strengthen and build partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, including with Vietnam.

Prior to Putin's visit, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities."

The U.S. State Department announced on June 20 it will send Assistant Secretary of State and former ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink to Hanoi this week.

Putin kicked off his four-day trip to Asia in North Korea on June 17.

Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a robust defense pact in Pyongyang. The pact was described as a comprehensive strategic partnership and ensures mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country.

Speaking in Hanoi on June 20, Putin also said he "does not rule out" sending weapons to North Korea.

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

South Korea responded with a statement that Seoul would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

Putin also said Russia is thinking about changing its nuclear doctrine, which states Russia may use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or in the event of a conventional attack that poses an existential threat to the state.

But he said there was no need for Russia to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Major-General Pat Ryder, responding to Putin's comments on its nuclear doctrine, said, "It's certainly irresponsible for countries that maintain these capabilities to make those types of comments."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Tsikhanouskaya's Adviser Vyachorka Sentenced To 20 Years In Absentia

Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))
Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))

The Minsk City Court on June 20 sentenced an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 20 years on multiple charges. Franak Vyachorka was sentenced in absentia for charges including conspiracy to seize power, organization of mass disorders, creation of an extremist group, and defamation of the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said the court also ordered Vyachorka to pay a fine of 60,000 rubles ($18,340). Vyachorka, who resides abroad, wrote on Facebook that the court rejected his request to take part in the trial over a video link. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. To 'Reprioritize' Missile Sales To Speed Ukraine Deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.

WASHINGTON -- The United States will "reprioritize" planned deliveries of Patriot air-defense missiles to get them to Ukraine faster, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 20 as Washington works to fill Kyiv's "desperate need" for more air-defense capabilities.

The decision means that the deliveries of "missiles rolling off the production line" will go to Ukraine and other countries will have to wait for missiles they ordered.

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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.

"This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war," Kirby said, describing the decision as "difficult but necessary."

The decision also affects missiles used in the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as missiles used in the Patriot systems, Kirby said, stressing that only missiles are involved in the decision.

The other components -- radar systems and launchers -- currently are not available, Kirby said.

"Right now, we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So, it was something we looked at. But right now, the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves."

U.S. defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, makes the radar systems and launchers for both the Patriot and the NASAMS. The missiles for the two systems are made by Raytheon and other companies.

Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told RFE/RL recently that it could take as long as two years to produce a new Patriot system.

Kirby said the first shipments headed to Ukraine will happen before the end of the summer. The total deliveries will cover an estimated 16 months of Ukraine's needs. He declined to say which countries agreed to reprioritize deliveries, though he said the decision will not have an impact on missile deliveries to Taiwan.

Kirby's comments came after Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting more power blackouts. Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the attacks.

Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK, said it was the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months. The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry recently cut its outlook for economic expansion this year due to the energy shortage caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Western nations last week announced a $50 billion loan for Ukraine, part of which will go toward helping rebuild the nation's energy system.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

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

Major Storm Kills 2 People In Moscow

People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.
People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.

A severe storm hit Moscow on June 20, killing two people and injuring nine as hurricane-force winds and pounding rain swept across the city. Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tree that fell during the storm, while another person died after falling when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Video circulating on the Internet showed falling billboards, trees, and other materials being whipped around by strong winds as heavy rains drenched the capital. Some videos appeared to show the formation of tornados. Officials said around 23 trees were uprooted and eight vehicles damaged in Moscow. One person was injured in a surrounding region where the storm felled some 200 trees, they added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

EU Countries Agree On Fresh Russia Sanctions That Include Ban On Liquefied Gas

European Union ambassadors on June 20 approved a fresh package of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine aimed primarily at closing loopholes that exist in previous restrictions and targeting for the first time Moscow's lucrative liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.

"EU Ambassadors just agreed on a powerful and substantial 14th package of sanctions in reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine," the Belgian EU presidency wrote on X.

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.

"This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes," it said.

The new package of sanctions includes measures to hold European operators accountable for sanctions violations by subsidiaries and partners in third countries and provide for a a ban on the transshipment of Russian liquefied natural gas and the export of helium.

It also restricts access to dual-use technologies and the trade in works of art stolen in Ukraine.

Between 4 billion and 6 billion cubic meters of Russian LNG was shipped on to third countries through EU ports last year, the bloc estimates.

The complete details of the package will be made public next week once EU foreign ministers approve the measures, most likely on June 24, ahead of an EU summit next week.

Some 47 new entities and 69 individuals were reportedly added to the EU sanctions list, bringing the total to 2,200.

The sanctions list may include explosives manufacturer Spetskhimiya; the Mayak factory that produces aircraft spare parts; and weapons manufacturer Tsniitochmash.

Among the reported individuals put on the list are Russian singer Polina Gagarina over her participation in Kremlin-sponsored events; Igor Altushkin, a former employee of President Vladimir Putin's administration and founder of the Russian Copper Company; general director of the Internet Development Institute Aleksei Goreslavsky; and Taimuraz Bolloyev, the former president of the Baltika brewing company.

Romanian President Withdraws NATO Bid, Clearing Final Hurdle For Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has withdrawn his bid to replace outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, allowing Romania to throw its support behind the candidacy of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is backed by all the other 31 members of the alliance.

Iohannis's decision was announced after a meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) on June 20 that also decided to supply Ukraine with a Patriot air-defense system that Kyiv has been pleading it allies for.

"During the CSAT meeting, the president of Romania said he had informed NATO allies at the end of last week about his withdrawing his candidacy for the position of NATO secretary-general," the CSAT said in a statement.

Iohannis then "asked the CSAT members about their position on Rutte's candidacy...and they declared they were in favor of Romania's throwing its support behind the Dutch premier's candidacy," the statement added.

On June 18, Hungary and Slovakia announced their support for Rutte, leaving Romania as the only member of the alliance that had yet to endorse the longtime Dutch prime minister for the position.

Iohannis, a former physics teacher who will end his second and last 5-year presidential term in December, announced in the spring that he would run for the NATO position that is to become vacant on October 1.

To back his candidacy, Iohannis had argued in an article in Politico in March that the alliance needed change and an Eastern European perspective amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

"NATO needs a renewal, with a strong, influential representation from this region, which meets the needs of the member states," he said.

Romania also agreed after much deliberation to donate one of its Patriot systems to Ukraine, which faces daily missile and drone strikes on its cities and civilian infrastructure.

"Taking into account the significant deterioration of Ukraine's security situation as a consequence of Russia's massive and constant attacks on its civilians and its infrastructure, especially its energy infrastructure...CSAT members, in close coordination with Romania's allies, have decided to donate Ukraine one Patriot system," the statement said.

Romania has so far received four out of the seven Patriot systems ordered from the United States for a total price of $4 billion.

At a G7 summit last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he "urgently" needed seven Patriot systems to protect Ukrainians and the country's infrastructure from Russia's continued bombardment.

U.S. President Joe Biden responded by saying the United States had received commitments from five countries -- which he did not name -- to provide Patriot and other air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Biden said the United States would supply one system, which will be redeployed from Poland. Germany has also said it too will provide several Patriot systems to Kyiv.

Amid Growing U.S.- Russian Tensions, Dual Citizen Goes On Trial In Yekaterinburg

Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.
Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.

The trial of U.S.-Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina (married name Khavana) in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg began with the judge ruling that the proceedings on a treason charge will take place behind closed doors.

Judge Andrei Mineyev, who is scheduled to try another U.S. citizen, Evan Gershkovich, later this month on an espionage charge, handed down his ruling Karelina's case on June 20.

The 33-year-old resident of Los Angeles was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of sending $51.80 from her U.S.-based bank account to the Razom for Ukraine foundation, which helps Ukrainian civilians.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time that it suppressed the illegal activities of a U.S.-Russian citizen who was "involved in providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against the security of our country."

Washington has repeatedly criticized Russia for targeting and arresting U.S. citizens, accusing Moscow of detaining them as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians being held in U.S. prisons.

In late March last year, the FSB in Yekaterinburg arrested Gershkovich on espionage charges that he, his employer The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. officials reject a groundless.

Another U.S. citizen, former Marine Paul Whelan, is also being held in Russia on espionage charges. Whelan and the U.S. government reject the charges as politically motivated. While Gershkovich is still in pretrial detention, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

A third U.S. citizen, RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who also holds Russian citizenship, has been in pretrial detention since October 2023 on charges of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law and spreading false information about the Russian military. The U.S. government and her employer say the charge is in reprisal for her work.

In total, at least nine Americans are currently being detained in Russia on various charges or convictions.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "Do Not Travel" warning to U.S. citizens in the background of U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's full-scale invasion of that country. The note cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials" in its warning.

With reporting by SotaVision

Russia Adds Journalist Kurbangaleyeva To Wanted List

Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)
Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)

Russian authorities on June 19 added journalist Farida Kurbangaleyeva to the list of wanted persons and the registry of terrorists and extremists on unspecified charges. The Prague-based Kurbangaleyeva wrote on Facebook that the move was made by the Russian authorities most likely over her "openly saying that Russia...conducts a criminal, land-grabbing war in Ukraine, enslaves other peoples, annihilates identities, tortures, robs, rapes, and suppresses any kind of dissent." Through the years Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. She has a YouTube channel where she often interviews Ukrainian and Russian politicians and political observers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Blast In Southern Montenegro Kills 2

Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.
Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.

Two people were killed and three more, including a woman passing by, were injured in a powerful explosion in the southern Montenegrin town of Cetinje on June 20, police said. The explosion blew out the windows of a nearby sports hall and uprooted a tree in the center of the town, which is Montenegro's former royal capital. Police cordoned off the area and opened an investigation into the cause of the blast. They did not give any details on what may have caused the blast, but local media said it was caused by a bomb targeting members of the criminal underworld. Organized crime is seen as a serious obstacle to Montenegro's EU accession. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Tajik Detained Over Mass Food Poisoning In Moscow

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A Moscow court on June 19 ordered Tajik national Karim Normatov to be held in pretrial detention for two months over a mass food poisoning in the Russian capital. Normatov is a cook for the Savon-K food-delivery company. Three other suspects -- the company's commercial director, Vladimir Shin; the director of the Kukhnya Na Rayone restaurant, Anton Lozin; and his chief of food quality, Yelena Mashkova, were placed under house arrest. Russia's consumers' rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said earlier that more than 120 Savon-K customers were diagnosed with botulism and 50 were hospitalized. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Blogger Faces Charges After Being Detained Before Putin Siberia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.

Pyotr Shepelev, a blogger who lives in the Russian region of Sakha-Yakutia in Siberia, faces five administrative charges after being detained on June 18, just hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said on June 20 that the charges against his client were disobeying police orders and participating in an unsanctioned protest. He could face up to 15 days in jail or a fine. Hours before his detention, Shepelev wrote on Telegram that two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block, suggesting that it was linked to Putin's visit. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kazakh President Signs Into Law Controversial Bill On Media

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)

ASTANA -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has signed into law a controversial bill on mass media that will hinder journalists from getting comments from officials and interviews.

Domestic and international rights groups and media experts have expressed concerns over the new law, saying it will compromise independent journalism and lead to self-censorship in the Central Asian country.

According to the law Toqaev signed on June 20, all Internet resources are now considered media outlets.

Among other things, the law introduces a three-year period to file lawsuits over materials published in the media, as well as new regulations for the registration of media outlets in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

By 2027, weekly broadcasting in the Kazakh language will be increased from 50 percent to 60 percent, while rebroadcasting of foreign programs will be cut to 10 percent from 20 percent.

Currently 50 percent of programs broadcast on television and radio are in Russian.

The Culture and Information Ministry will monitor media programs "to prevent damaging effects on society's moral development, as well as disruption of the universally humane, national, cultural, and family values."

In 2024, Kazakhstan slipped from 134th place to 142nd in the press index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which monitors media freedom across the world.

Russian Teacher Gets 20 Years In Prison For Transferring Cash To Ukraine

Daniil Klyuka (file photo)
Daniil Klyuka (file photo)

A military court in Moscow on June 20 sentenced schoolteacher Daniil Klyuka from the western city of Lipetsk to 20 years in prison on charges of high treason and assisting terrorist activities, which he denies. Klyuka was arrested in February 2023 after investigators accused him of transferring 20,000 rubles ($237) to the Azov Assault Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard. The brigade has been declared a terrorist group and banned in Russia. Klyuka rejects the accusations, saying he transferred the cash in October 2022 to his brother, who resides in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Luhansk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former RFE/RL Journalist Could Be Charged In Kyrgyzstan Over Social Media Comments

Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany
Bayan Jumagulova, a retired RFE/RL journalist who now resides in Germany

Retired former RFE/RL journalist Bayan Jumagulova, who lives in Germany, told RFE/RL on June 20 that she was summoned by the police in Bishkek, where she had arrived earlier in June, for questioning in a case launched against her on a charge of inciting hatred. The case was launched over her posts on Facebook, where the 65-year-old expressed personal opinions about the spread of Arabic culture in her native Kyrgyzstan. Jumagulova, who left RFE/RL in 2007, added that she was ordered to come to the police on June 22 and that a court will decide on her pretrial restrictions then. Kyrgyz officials have yet to comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Tajik Foreign Minister Zarifi Reportedly Arrested

Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)
Hamrohkhon Zarifi (file photo)

Several sources told RFE/RL that former Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi was arrested on unspecified charges last week. One source close to law enforcement said Zarifi was suspected of financial crimes related to the construction of the Foreign Ministry's new building. The 75-year-old Zarifi served as the Central Asian country's foreign minister from 2006 to 2013. From 2015 until his retirement in 2018, Zarifi served as Tajikistan's ambassador to Japan. Last week, investigators arrested lawmaker Saidjafar Usmonzoda on a charge of "usurping power." No further explanation of the charge was given and it remains unclear if the two arrests are linked. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Fire At Iranian Hospital Leaves At Least 9 Dead

The private Qaem hospital in Rasht
The private Qaem hospital in Rasht

A devastating fire at the private Qaem hospital in Rasht, northern Iran, has resulted in the deaths of nine people, Iranian news agencies reported, including some patients in intensive care.

Mohammad Taghi Ashoubi, head of Gilan University of Medical Sciences, confirmed that the death toll had risen to nine following the death of another victim from the fire, which started in the early morning hours at the 250-bed facility on June 18.

At the time of the blaze, approximately 140 patients were in the facility, with 120 sustaining injuries, officials said.

Rasht fire department officials said it took three hours to bring the fire under control.

"By the time we arrived, the basement and the intensive-care rooms were on fire. The fire originated in the hospital's utility room," said Shahram Momeni, head of the fire brigade.

Qaem hospital, established in 2013 and affiliated with the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, houses over 200 beds and includes facilities catering to both local and medical tourists. These include specialized and super-specialized departments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, emergency services, angiography, and maternity and pediatric care.

The fire highlights ongoing safety concerns in Iranian health-care facilities as it follows a tragic fire in November 2023 that killed 36 people at the First Step to Freedom addiction treatment center in Langarud, Gilan Province.

Other notable fires at Tehran medical facilities include a large blaze at the Gandhi Hospital and the deadly explosion at Sina At'har medical diagnostic clinic in July 2020, which claimed 19 lives and injured 14 others.

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

Lawyer Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years For 'Propaganda Against The Regime'

Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.
Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amirhossein Kouhkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Kouhkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including "assembly and collusion" and "propaganda against the regime."

Kouhkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj intelligence department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges also follow the arrest of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami's father, highlighting a pressure campaign rights groups say the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply into the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Kouhkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

Russian Dissident Kara-Murza Moved To Stricter Prison Regime

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)
Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023. (file photo)

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza has been transferred to a cell-type facility -- one of Russia's strictest prison regimes -- for six months, his former lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said. The administration of the maximum-security prison in Omsk where Kara-Murza is imprisoned moved him to the facility after he allegedly failed to hold his hands behind his back for several seconds after being ordered to do so, Prokhorov said. Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2023 on charges of high treason and discrediting Russia's military. He rejects the charges as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Armenia's Pashinian Orders Change To Constitution To Pave Way For Treaty With Baku

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in parliament in Yerevan last week.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has ordered the drafting of a new constitution amid demands by Azerbaijan that a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh be removed from Armenia's fundamental law. Pashinian gave the Council of Constitutional Reforms until December 30, 2026, to draft and approve the new constitution. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly demanded that Yerevan change its constitution as a main condition for concluding a peace treaty with Armenia. Baku wants a reference to Nagorno-Karabakh's unification with Armenia removed from the constitution. Azerbaijan retook control of the breakaway region in September 2023, following a lightning offensive. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

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