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Iraqi Authorities: More Than 100 Killed, Thousands Wounded In Protests

Demonstrators defy a curfew October 3, two days after nationwide anti-government protests turned violent in Baghdad last week.
Demonstrators defy a curfew October 3, two days after nationwide anti-government protests turned violent in Baghdad last week.

At least 104 people have been killed in less than a week of anti-government protests in Iraq, the country’s Interior Ministry said on October 6.

Spokesman Saad Maan said 6,107 protesters, including more than 1,200 security personnel, have been wounded in the unrest in the capital, Baghdad, and several other cities.

In a news conference aired live on state TV, Maan said eight members of the security forces were among those killed and 51 public buildings and eight political party headquarters had been torched by protesters.

The spontaneous rallies were started on October 1 by young Iraqis demanding jobs, improvements to services, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country.

The move has expanded into broader protests calling for an end to official corruption and a change of government. Protests soon spiraled into bloody clashes.

On October 4, prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for the government to resign and for early elections.

Security forces have deployed in large numbers in central Baghdad over the past few days, pushing protesters away from Tahrir Square.

Iraq has a population of nearly 40 million people and is the fifth-largest oil producer and exporter worldwide, but overall poverty rates are estimated to be above 20 percent of the population.

Youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, twice the overall rate in the country, which has suffered through decades of war.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
NOTE: This article was amended to correct the total number of fatalities.

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Pakistani Christian Community Attacked After Blasphemy Accusation

Hundreds of Muslims in eastern Pakistan went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the pages of Islam's holy book, ransacking and burning his house and beating him before police officers rescued the man and his father, officials said on May 25. The incident occurred in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha, a city in Punjab Province, said district police chief Ijaz Malhi. He said police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men. Malhi said the situation was under control and officers were investigating the allegations.

At Cannes, Director Rasoulof Discusses Decision To Flee Iran

 Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)
Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof recalled how he had to decide within hours whether to go into exile or serve a prison sentence, saying it was still difficult to talk about it during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival on May 25. Rasoulof was in town for the premiere of his new drama The Seed Of The Sacred Fig almost two weeks after fleeing Iran in the wake of his sentencing to eight years in prison and flogging. "I had to say to myself, well, do I want to be in prison, or should I leave Iran, geographic Iran, and join the cultural Iran that exists beyond its borders?" he said "It's not an easy decision to take."

Updated

Israel Continues Gaza Attacks Despite UN Court Order To 'Immediately Halt' Rafah Offensive

Palestinians fleeing Rafah earlier this month
Palestinians fleeing Rafah earlier this month

Israel continued bombing in the Gaza Strip, including the city of Rafah, on May 25, one day after a top UN court ordered it to halt military operations against the southern city.

Israel gave no indication that the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had affected its planning.

“Israel has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that ‘create living conditions that could cause the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part,’” Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a statement, echoing wording found in the ICJ ruling.

Separately, following a meeting between U.S. and Israeli officials in Paris on May 25, an Israeli official said Tel Aviv was seeking to restart talks in the coming days in an effort to reach a hostage-release deal in Gaza.

"There is an intention to renew the talks this week and there is an agreement," the official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

Early on May 25, hours after the court ruling, Israel carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip as fighting between Israeli troops and fighters for Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, continued.

Air strikes were reported in Rafah and the central city of Deir al-Balah.

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “ICJ orders are binding on the Parties and they have to be fully and effectively implanted.”

In its May 24 ruling, the ICJ said Israel must “immediately halt” its offensive against Rafah and take urgent measures to address the humanitarian crisis in the entire region. Measures should include reopening the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to allow aid to flow into Gaza.

The order is part of a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide and asking the court to rule that Israel must stop its offensive in the southern Gaza city.

In a ruling on January 26, the 15-judge panel ruled that Israel must do everything to prevent genocide during its offensive in response to an attack in October by Hamas -- which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU -- but stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.
On March 28, it ordered Israel to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies to Gaza’s Palestinian population.

Though the court's rulings are legally binding, it has no way to enforce them.
Still, the 13-2 vote ordering Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, and to report on its progress in easing the humanitarian crisis within one month, increases pressure on Israel and further isolates it.

The ruling stepped up pressure against Israel just days after Norway, Ireland, and Spain announced they would recognize a Palestinian state and after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced he would seek arrest warrants on war crimes charges for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and several top Hamas leaders.

Israel and Hamas have been fighting since October 7, 2023, when Hamas fighters launched a massive cross-border attack on Israel. Some 1,200 Israeli citizens were killed in the attack, while another 240 were taken hostage, some of whom are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

(with reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters)

Satellite Photos Show Ukrainian Drone Strike Damaged Russian Radar Station

A satellite image taken on May 23 showing damage to Russia's Armavir radar station
A satellite image taken on May 23 showing damage to Russia's Armavir radar station

Satellite images taken shortly after a May 23 Ukrainian drone strike in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region show significant damage to a key radar installation providing air-defense coverage to the occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea, as well as the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf.

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.

The Armavir radar station, which has two Voronezh-DM radars with a range of some 6,000 kilometers, appears to have suffered serious damage to the buildings housing the radars, RFE/RL’s Russian Service reported.

According to The War Zone blog, the station is part of Russia’s nuclear ballistic missile early warning system.

The blog said the station may have been targeted because it is capable of tracking U.S.-made ATACMS long-range missiles, which were recently approved for distribution to Ukraine by Washington.

Norwegian military analyst Thord Are Iversen, writing on X, formerly Twitter, argued that targeting elements of Russia’s nuclear early warning system “isn’t a particularly good idea…especially in times of tension.”

The Ukrainian attack on the Armavir station came shortly after Russia began exercises of its tactical nuclear-weapons forces in the Southern Military District.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the exercises were held “in response to provocative statements and threats from certain Western officials.”

Neither Russia nor Ukraine have commented on the Armavir attack.

Also on May 23, the airport in the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, Kazan, and several industrial facilities in the region were temporarily closed because of “possible drone attacks.” Tatarstan is more than 1,000 kilometers away from the border with Ukraine.

In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up strikes on Russian territory and off its shores, targeting, in particular, oil production and refining facilities, air defense installations, and naval vessels.

Armenian PM's Helicopter Makes 'Unscheduled' Landing Due To Bad Weather

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)

A helicopter carrying Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian made an “unscheduled landing” due to bad weather during a trip to communities near the country’s border with Azerbaijan on May 25.

“Everything is fine,” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. “Due to bad weather conditions, our helicopter made an unscheduled landing in Vanadzor. Now we continue our journey by car.”

Vandazor is some 120 kilometers north of the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Later in the day, Pashinian’s motorcade entered the Tavush region, where the premier was scheduled to hold meetings with residents of border communities following the recent, first-ever border demarcation with Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported.

Earlier this month, Baku and Yerevan completed a border demarcation, which resulted in Baku regaining control of four villages – Baganis Ayrim, Asagi Askipara, Xeyrimli, and Qizilhacili -- that had been under Yerevan’s military control since the early 1990s.

Pashninan has touted the demarcation based on 1976 maps as “a great success” that would establish the legitimacy of the borders and help prevent future conflicts between the two countries.

Both sides called the agreement a significant step toward a peace agreement between the two South Caucasus rivals.

Armenian opposition groups, however, have denounced what they describe as “unilateral territorial concessions.” They argue the demarcation affects the infrastructure of border communities and leaves them vulnerable to possible Azerbaijani aggression.

Opponents of the demarcation have been calling for Pashinian’s resignation.

Pashinian’s government has pledged to address the infrastructure issues in the next few months by constructing a new road and to pay compensation to locals who lost land as a result of the demarcation.

The incident with Pashinian’s helicopter came less than a week after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian were killed when their helicopter crashed in poor weather near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan on May 19.

Updated

G7 Ministers Cite 'Progress' But No Done Deal On Russian Assets For Ukraine

G7 finance ministers and central bank governors have been meeting in Italy for the past two days.
G7 finance ministers and central bank governors have been meeting in Italy for the past two days.

G7 finance ministers cited "progress" in finding ways to use profits from frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine, envisioning a concrete proposal to present to a leaders' summit next month. A search for creative yet legally sound solutions was top of the agenda at the two-day Group of Seven meeting in Stresa, northern Italy, which wrapped up on May 25 as Kyiv continues its urgent appeals for more funds from Western allies in its war with Russia. "We are making progress in our discussions on potential avenues to bring forward the extraordinary profits stemming from immobilized Russian sovereign assets to the benefit of Ukraine, consistent with international law and our respective legal systems," ministers said in a draft statement seen by the AFP news agency.

NATO Head Urges Lifting Restrictions On Kyiv Striking Targets In Russia

NATO's Jens Stoltenberg (left) meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv in April
NATO's Jens Stoltenberg (left) meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv in April

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Ukraine should be allowed to use Western-supplied weapons in strikes against targets inside Russia. In an interview with The Economist published on May 24, the NATO head called on members to “consider whether they should lift” their current restrictions, saying they make it “very hard” for Ukraine to defend itself.

Blinken To Visit Chisinau, Prague Next Week

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Moldova and the Czech Republic on May 29-30.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Moldova and the Czech Republic on May 29-30.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Moldova and the Czech Republic next week in a show of support for the two countries and to participate in a gathering of NATO foreign ministers.

Blinken will arrive on May 29 in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, where he will meet with President Maia Sandu, Prime Minister Dorin Recean, as well as other senior officials.

He will travel to Prague later that evening for meetings with senior Czech officials before taking part in an informal NATO ministerial meeting on the evening of May 30, James O'Brien, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters.

In Chisinau, Blinken will announce a "package of support" that includes assistance for Moldova's transition away from dependence on Russian energy, O'Brien said.

He'll participate in an informal meeting of foreign ministers in preparation for the NATO summit in July and will "have an opportunity to highlight Moldova's progress in its path toward European integration, its solidifying its democracy, and the threat posed by the Russian interference in its internal processes."

In Prague, Blinken will meet with a number of senior officials and highlight the Czech Republic's support for Ukraine, including its efforts to provide much-needed munitions.

During the NATO ministerial meeting, the foreign ministers will focus on Ukraine and prepare for the annual NATO summit, which will be held in Washington in July.

O'Brien said the United States does not anticipate the ministers will announce an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO at the conclusion of their meeting but said there will be "a substantial show of support" for the country.

"This will include ongoing NATO support in building Ukraine’s future force and efforts to help Ukraine as it makes the reforms needed so that it’s able to join the EU and run across the bridge to NATO as quickly as it's able," he said without giving specifics.

Blinken, who visited Kyiv last week, is pushing the Biden administration to end a ban that forbids Ukraine from striking inside Russia with U.S. weapons, according to The New York Times.

"Ukraine uses its own weapons very effectively in attacking targets in Russia, but I’m not going to comment...further than that," he said.

Several NATO members, including the Baltic states, support the idea.

Kadyrov Names Former Parliament Chief To Head Chechen Government

Magomed Daudov (file photo)
Magomed Daudov (file photo)

The former chairman of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov, a close associate of Ramzan Kadyrov, has been appointed head of Chechnya's government. Kadyrov said on Telegram on May 24 that he introduced Daudov as the new prime minister during a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. He said that "taking into account the experience and professionalism" of Daudov, "the deputies will support his candidacy." Kadyrov added that Daudov would take the post according to the "procedure provided for by law" but at the same time congratulated him on his new position. Daudov's resignation as chairman of parliament was announced on May 15. He had headed the parliament since 2015. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, click here.

U.S. Announces $275 Million In New Military Assistance For Ukraine

A HIMARS artillery unit
A HIMARS artillery unit

The United States on May 24 announced an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said was part of the United States' efforts to help repel Russia's assault near Kharkiv. Blinken announced the aid in a statement, saying the United States "will move this new assistance as quickly as possible so the Ukrainian military can use it to defend their territory and protect the Ukrainian people." The package includes High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), artillery rounds, anti-tank systems, anti-tank mines, tactical vehicles, small arms, and ammunition for those weapons, Blinken said.

Georgians March Against 'Foreign Agent' Law As Parliament Set To Consider President's Veto

Demonstrators march against the "foreign agent" bill and to support Georgia's membership in the European Union in Tbilisi on May 24, with a banner reading "Serve Georgia."
Demonstrators march against the "foreign agent" bill and to support Georgia's membership in the European Union in Tbilisi on May 24, with a banner reading "Serve Georgia."

TBILISI -- Opponents of Georgia's controversial "foreign agent" bill marched in Tbilisi on March 24, expressing their opposition to the legislation and the Interior Ministry’s handling of earlier protests that turned violent.

Thousands of participants took part in the march, which started at Freedom Square and headed to the building of the Interior Ministry.

They unfurled a large banner with the words "Serve Georgia" and carried Georgian, EU, and U.S. flags.

Georgians Demand Detainees' Release At Latest Protest Over 'Foreign Agent' Bill
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Earlier demonstrations against the legislation ended in clashes, with riot police using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters, but there was no indication of any clashes during the march on May 24.

The demonstration took place as Georgia's parliament announced that the procedure to override a presidential veto of the "foreign agent" bill would begin on May 27.

The legislature had been widely expected to announce that it would move to override President Salome Zurabishvili's veto of the legislation, which targets media and NGOs that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

The ruling Georgian Dream has a majority in parliament sufficient to override Zurabishvili's veto and is expected to do so in a vote during the plenary session scheduled to take place on May 28.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

Zurabishvili vetoed the bill on May 18 following weeks of mass protests by Georgians who see the legislation as a way for the government to stifle civil society and believe it endangers the country's path toward EU integration.

The legislation -- formally called the Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence -- is also seen as mirroring a similar repressive measure introduced by the Kremlin in Russia.

European Council President Charles Michel said on May 19 that Zurabishvili's veto "offers a moment for further reflection" on the legislation and called on Georgia’s politicians and leaders "to make good use of this window of opportunity and ensure Georgia stays on the European course the population supports."

The United States has also criticized the law and said it would implement visa restrictions on Georgian government officials and undertake a comprehensive review of bilateral relations with Georgia.

The top U.S. diplomat for Europe, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien, told reporters on May 24 in a conference call that Georgia must play by the rules if it expects to gain membership in the European Union.

“If you say you want to join a football match, you don't get to say that our side will play with 15 people and you will play with seven or we will play with an extra ball,” he said.

"You play by the rules of the club you are trying to join, and the point is that the actions being taken [by Georgia] are incompatible with the both the pursuit of membership and actually getting to membership."

Georgia was given EU candidate status on December 14 but has yet to start the accession negotiations, which can last for years.

NATO Members Bordering Russia To Build 'Drone Wall'

A soldier holds a drone over a NATO military vehicle during a military exercise in Lithuania in June 2023.
A soldier holds a drone over a NATO military vehicle during a military exercise in Lithuania in June 2023.

Lithuania said on May 24 that the Baltic state and five other NATO members neighboring Russia had agreed to build a "drone wall" to defend their borders from "provocations." The plan to use unmanned aerial vehicles for protection was agreed because of security concerns in the region amid Russia's war in Ukraine. Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite announced the plan after talks with her counterparts from fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia, as well as Finland, Norway, and Poland. "This is a completely new thing -- a drone wall stretching from Norway to Poland, and the goal is to use drones and other technologies to protect our borders," she told the BNS news agency.

Updated

Putin Says Zelenskiy's Term In Office Over, Questions Legitimacy To Negotiate

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka emerge after talks at the Palace of Independence in Minsk on May 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka emerge after talks at the Palace of Independence in Minsk on May 24.

President Vladimir Putin said on May 24 that Russia is willing to hold talks about the war in Ukraine, but questioned whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has the legitimacy to negotiate on Ukraine's behalf.

Putin, who spoke in Minsk after meeting with authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, said that Zelenskiy's five-year term in office was supposed to end on May 20.

"Of course, we are aware that the legitimacy of the current head of state has ended," Putin said at a joint news conference with Lukashenka. "We must be completely sure that we are dealing with legitimate authorities."

Zelenskiy was inauguraged for a five-year term on May 20, 2019. An election was to have taken place on March 31 of this year but was postponed because the country is still under martial law.

Under the Ukrainian Constitution, Zelenskiy must continue to perform his duties until a new head of state is elected.

Ukraine has been under martial law since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 and would have to amend the law in order to hold elections during a state of war.

When the question of Zelenskiy's legitimacy was raised earlier this week, an EU spokesman said that the European Union had no doubt about Zelenskiy's status as leader of Ukraine, and the spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Zelenskiy "remains...the person with whom the secretary-general communicates when he needs to contact the Ukrainian leader."

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.

In his comments at the joint news conference, Putin, who was reelected to a fifth term in March in an election that the United States and other Western countries did not consider free and fair, failed to acknowledge the limitations on Ukraine holding an election while the country is regularly under Russian attack.

Putin reiterated that Russia "is for negotiations on Ukraine," but said it would be possible to return to talks "only based on today's realities in the special operations zone."

Zelenskiy has rejected Moscow's preconditions, including allowing Russia to retain the territory its forces have taken thus far in the war.

An international peace conference on Ukraine is to be held in Switzerland in June to discuss Zelenskiy's peace plan, but Russia has not been not invited. Putin has dismissed the conference's importance.

A U.S. diplomat, asked on May 24 about potential routes for peace in Ukraine, said Ukraine's allies don't view Putin as interested in peace right now.

"He has chosen a path of war, and it’s important that Ukraine have the opportunity to stabilize on the battlefield," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said in a call with reporters.

"We are always interested in seeing that when Ukraine is prepared to make peace that it’s able to do so on terms that are a success for Ukraine."

Russia and Belarus, meanwhile, have increased their ties and continue to foresee eventually forming a so-called union state.

Lukashenka and Putin held one-on-one talks before the news conference for about 45 minutes.

Putin said that he and Lukashenka discussed "issues of formation of a unified defense space," noting that a "joint regional grouping of troops, Russian defense complexes, and tactical nuclear weapons are deployed on Belarusian territory."

He said Russia regularly conducted exercises of nuclear forces and "now they are conducted with Belarusian allies."

Lukashenka has given Moscow permission to deploy Russian tactical nuclear weapons and troops to in Belarus, which shares a border more than 1,000 kilometera long with Ukraine.

Lukashenka said there was nothing special about the joint training, which he said was necessary because the because the world is “unstable” and “dangerous.”

"Despite everything, Minsk and Moscow maintain the course of strengthening integration. We support each other and will support each other in all directions," he said.

Putin arrived in Minsk on a two-day visit on the evening of May 23. It is his second foreign visit since his inauguration on May 7. His first visit to a foreign country after his inauguration was to China.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Russia Recalls Ambassador To Armenia In Further Sign Of Strained Relations

Armenia Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)
Armenia Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (file photo)

Russia recalled its ambassador to Armenia for consultations on May 24 amid a continuing deterioration of relations between the two longtime allies.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin was "summoned to Moscow for consultations" but gave no reason for the move.

The Armenian government did not immediately react to the decision, which came two days after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian claimed that two member states of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) helped Azerbaijan prepare for the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is believed that Pashinian was referring to Russia and Belarus.

Zakharova on May 23 challenged Pashinian to name the countries.

She also said that Russia repeatedly tried to stop the 2020 war, pointing to Pashinian's rejection in October 2020 of a cease-fire agreement brokered by Moscow and accepted by Azerbaijan. Armenia suffered more territorial losses before Pashinian agreed to another Russian-brokered truce two weeks later.

Russian-Armenian relations have worsened significantly since then, with Yerevan seeking closer ties with the West and accusing Moscow of not honoring its security commitments to Armenia.

Pashinian has repeatedly threatened to pull his country out of the CSTO, prompting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to charge that Pashinian’s administration was "leading things to the collapse of Russian-Armenian relations" at the behest of the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pashinian discussed the rift when they met on May 8 after a Eurasian Economic Union summit in Moscow.

Russian General Denied Release Pending Trial On Fraud Charge

Russian Major General Ivan Popov (file photo)
Russian Major General Ivan Popov (file photo)

A Moscow court on May 24 rejected investigators' recommendation to transfer jailed Russian Major General Ivan Popov from pretrial detention to house arrest. The 49-year-old Popov, the former commander of Russia's 58th Army who once complained about his forces' lack of support from Moscow, was arrested recently on fraud charges. He is one of several top military officials and Defense Ministry officials who have been arrested on corruption charges before and after President Vladimir Putin dismissed close ally Sergei Shoigu as defense minister and appointed former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov to the post. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Romania Arrests Suspected Spy For Russia, Declares Diplomat Persona Non Grata

The Russian Embassy building in Bucharest (file photo)
The Russian Embassy building in Bucharest (file photo)

Prosecutors with Romania's anti-organized crime agency on May 24 announced the arrest of a Romanian man suspected of spying for Moscow since 2022.

The Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) said the suspect had been monitoring Romanian or NATO military objectives near Tulcea, a town near the border with Ukraine.

The DIICOT did not identify the suspect, but the Bucharest court that isued the arrest warrant identified him as Dorin Alexandru Piscan of Ploiesti. RFE/RL confirmed the suspect's name with a source in the prosecutor's office.

He is suspected of "collecting military information and taking photographs of military combat equipment and the movement of personnel in the border area with Ukraine" and then passing the information to a diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Bucharest, DIICOT said.

Prosecutors with DIICOT searched the home of the suspect, where they collected several pieces of evidence, including images he allegedly took at military bases.

According to DIICOT, Piscan started his activity in 2022, the year that Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Piscan was accused of treason and confined to pretrial detention for 30 days. RFE/RL was unable to reach his lawyer for comment.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry subsequently said that a diplomat at the Russian Embassy had been declared persona non grata for activities in breach of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

The ministry did not identify the diplomat but said it had summoned the Russian charge d'affaires to provide notice about the decision.

The Russian Embassy in Bucharest said in a statement sent to RFE/RL that Romanian authorities had notified the embassy that the diplomat had been accused of "activities incompatible with diplomatic status."

The embassy rejected the accusations and said it "strictly follows" the provisions of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

It said the Russian side "reserves the right to take retaliatory measures."

The embassy's statement also indicated that the move was "aimed a further deterioration of bilateral relations between our countries" and that it "can only cause regret."

Zelenskiy Hopes To See Central Asian Leaders At Swiss Peace Summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to reporters in Kharkiv on May 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to reporters in Kharkiv on May 24.

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has challenged Central Asian leaders to put aside concerns of angering Russia, which considers the region part of its sphere of influence, and attend a summit in Switzerland next month aimed at achieving peace in Ukraine.

Speaking to Central Asian journalists during a visit on May 24 to Kharkiv, just a few kilometers away from raging front-line battles with Russian troops, Zelenskiy said fear of Moscow's wrath should not deter Central Asian leaders from attending the June 15-16 summit.

Zelenskiy Chides Central Asian Leaders For Not Supporting Ukraine Peace Summit
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"I think they are mostly choosing the Russian side because of the fear of the Kremlin," Zelenskiy said, adding that he had invited all the Central Asian presidents to the summit in Switzerland and "wants to see them at the summit."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"We are now on the most difficult path of fight for our independence.... I advise you to start moving on that path now so that not to fight for it as painfully as Ukrainians are doing it now.... If you were in our position, how would you feel about the countries that did not join [the peace process]? " he added.

The aim of the summit is to create a broad front to oblige Russia to agree to a peace settlement under the terms of the UN Charter.

Zelenskiy's peace plan calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders. Russia, which rejects the plan, has not been invited to the summit and has dismissed any discussion of the conflict without its participation as pointless.

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, all Central Asian leaders, excluding officials from Turkmenistan, have expressed a neutral stance to the ongoing invasion, calling on both sides to resolve "the conflict" via peaceful means.

Zelenskiy also told the Central Asian reporters at the meeting in Kharkiv that not even countries that are rich in mineral resources and energy supplies need to avoid being dependent on other countries.

The Kharkiv region has been a point of intense fighting in recent weeks, with Russia saying it is trying to establish a "buffer zone" to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks.

A day before Zelenskiy arrived in Kharkiv, at least eight people were killed in a wave of Russian strikes that he called "extremely brutal."

Updated

Top UN Court Orders Israel To 'Immediately Halt' Its Offensive In Rafah

Presiding Judge Nawaf Salam (center) ask the parties to be seated before he starts reading the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on May 24.
Presiding Judge Nawaf Salam (center) ask the parties to be seated before he starts reading the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on May 24.

The United Nation's highest court has ruled that due to the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, Israel must "immediately halt" its military offensive in the city of Rafah and take urgent steps to address the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Reading out a ruling by the International Court of Justice on May 24, the body's president, Nawaf Salam, said measures should include the reopening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to allow aid to flow into Gaza.

Israel must "immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," Salam said.

The order is part of a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide and asking the court to rule that Israel must stop its offensive in the southern Gaza city.

In a ruling on January 26, the 15-judge panel ruled that Israel must do everything to prevent genocide during its offensive in response to an attack in October by Hamas -- which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU -- but stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.

WATCH: The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for Israel and Hamas leaders for war crimes. How likely is it to happen? What happens next? And what does it mean for the conflict in Gaza?

On March 28, it ordered Israel to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies to Gaza’s Palestinian population.

Though the court's rulings are legally binding, it has no way to enforce them.

Still, the 13-2 vote ordering Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, and to report on its progress in easing the humanitarian crisis within one month, increases pressure on Israel and further isolates it.

Israel had denied the accusation it is committing genocide in Gaza in the hostilities, touched off by an attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people -- mainly civilians -- and saw around 240 more taken hostage.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the campaign, the majority of whom were women and children.

Bosnian Serbs' Move Toward Secession 'Dangerous, Irresponsible,' U.S. Envoy Warns

Ambassador US in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Michael Murphy
Ambassador US in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Michael Murphy

A proposal by the leaders of Republika Srpska to separate the Serbian entity from Bosnia-Herzegovina is "secession by another name" and "based upon a set of lies" that would mean the end of the entity, the U.S. envoy to Sarajevo has warned.

"Yesterday, Mr. Dodik (Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik) announced that the Republika Srpska government took a formal decision to propose Republika Srpska's 'disassociation' from Bosnia-Herzegovina," Murphy said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, on May 24.

"This is...secession by another name, and it is dangerous, irresponsible, anti-Dayton, and puts the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and multiethnic character of Bosnia at risk.... Republika Srpska can only exist inside Bosnia-Herzegovina. [It's] secession or 'disassociation' does not mean Republika Srpska's independence or the end of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it means the end of the Republika Srpska," Murphy wrote.

The government of Republika Srpska on May 23 announced that a document about what it called the "peaceful separation" from Bosnia would be sent to the other Bosnian entity -- the Bosniak-Croat federation -- in the next 30 days.

The announcement made by Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic came at a special government meeting chaired by Dodik and called ahead of the UN General Assembly's approval of a nonbinding resolution to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia over strong opposition from Serbs.

Russia-friendly Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords, has regularly reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

He has repeatedly threatened that if the resolution is adopted, the entity "will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

The vote on May 23 in the 193-member UN General Assembly was 84-19, with 68 abstentions, in favor of the resolution designating July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica.

Srebrenica Families Welcome UN Resolution As Belgrade, Serb Leaders React With Anger
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The document, which has sparked protests and a lobbying campaign by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Bosnian Serb leadership to block its adoption, establishes an annual day of commemoration for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica at the height of the Bosnian War.

The war that pitched ethnic Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croats ended with the Dayton peace accords that established a Bosnian state made up of two entities -- Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat federation -- under a weak central government.

Murphy said Dodik and his government have "tried to justify this decision based upon a set of lies and disinformation designed to frighten the Republika Srpska public into following them down this dangerous path."

"The facts are simple and straightforward. There is no international conspiracy to abolish the Republika Srpska, and Mr. Dodik cannot point to a single statement by an American official calling for the abolition of the Republika Srpska," he said.

"As the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Bosnian Constitution explicitly state, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the successor state of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its constitution does not provide entities or any other sub-state unit with the right of secession or 'disassociation,'" Murphy added.

Kazakh Woman Shouts 'Glory To Ukraine!' After Sentencing For Inciting Ethnic Hatred

Qalima Zhaparova in a courtroom on May 23
Qalima Zhaparova in a courtroom on May 23

A Kazakh woman, Qalima Zhaparova, shouted "Glory to Ukraine!" in a courtroom on May 24 after a judge in Kazakhstan's southern city of Shymkent found her guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and handed her a two-year parole-like sentence. The 63-year-old was arrested in November after an ethnic Russian woman filed a complaint accusing Zhaparova of insulting her and her ethnicity while on public transport. Zhaparova rejected the accusation, saying she was reacting to the woman's viewpoint regarding the war in Ukraine when she openly condemned Russia's full-scale invasion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Activists Promoting Tatar Language, Culture Detained In Tatarstan

Tatar activist Zinnur Agliullin (file photo)
Tatar activist Zinnur Agliullin (file photo)

Activists in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan said on May 24 that police had detained Rafik Karimullin, the leader of the Azatliq (Liberty) youth organization, and the former leader of the banned All-Tatar Public Center (TIU), Zinnur Agliullin, after searching their homes. The two organizations are known for promoting the Tatar language and culture. The TIU was banned and labeled as extremist in 2022. Also on May 24, police in Tatarstan searched the homes of several other activists and relatives of self-exiled opposition politicians, Azatliq said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Kazakh Activist's Request For Early Prison Release Rejected

Qairat Qylyshev during his trial in September 2021
Qairat Qylyshev during his trial in September 2021

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan on May 23 rejected a request for the early release of opposition activist Qairat Qylyshev, who was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2021 on extremism-related charges that he and his supporters have rejected.

Qairat Qylyshev's lawyer, Zhanar Balghabaeva, said on May 24 that she will appeal the decision by the Qapshaghai city court.

According to Balghabaeva, her client, who has seven months and six days remaining on his sentence, does not pose a danger to society and deserves an early release.

Qylyshev and three other opposition activists were sentenced to five years in prison after a court found them guilty of having links with the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and the Koshe (Street) party.

During their trial, the defendants claimed they only participated in peaceful protests and exercised their constitutionally protected rights.

Many activists across the Central Asian nation have been handed lengthy prison terms or parole-like restricted freedom sentences in recent years for their involvement in the activities of DVK and Koshe and for taking part in the rallies organized by the two groups.

DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and an outspoken critic of the Kazakh government. Kazakh authorities labeled DVK extremist and banned the group in March 2018.

In spring 2022, Qylyshev was released on parole, but last year he was rearrested for what police called a "parole violation" and sent to a correctional colony again.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized the Kazakh government for using anti-extremism laws as a tool to persecute critics and civic activists. In all, several hundred people have been prosecuted for membership in the Koshe party.

The Kazakh authorities have shrugged off the accusations, insisting that there are no political prisoners in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Estonia Summons Russian Diplomat Over Light Buoys Incident

The Friendship Bridge connects the Estonian and Russian sides of the Narva River.
The Friendship Bridge connects the Estonian and Russian sides of the Narva River.

Russian Charge d'Affaires in Estonia Lenar Salimullin was summoned to the Estonian Foreign Ministry on May 24 over an incident a day earlier on the Narva River that divides the two nations. Estonian officials said the Russian border service “unilaterally removed light buoys installed by Estonia to demarcate the border with Russia on the Narva River.” Estonia's Foreign Ministry called the situation a “provocative border incident” that “fits well into a broader pattern of provocative behavior by Russia, including on its borders with its neighbors.” To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Nearly 550 Children Confirmed Killed In Ukraine Since Start Of Russian Invasion

 A memorial to the victims of a Russian strike that killed 12 people, including five children, in Odesa in March (file photo)
A memorial to the victims of a Russian strike that killed 12 people, including five children, in Odesa in March (file photo)

Ukraine's General Prosecutor's Office says 547 children have been confirmed killed and 1,348 wounded to various degrees of severity since the start of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion. A 4-year-old girl who died on May 23 after being seriously wounded by Russian shelling in Odesa on April 29 is the latest confirmed victim, the office said on Telegram. On May 13, UNICEF, the UN children's fund, said at least 1,993 children in Ukraine have been killed or injured since the start of the invasion. UNICEF said the figure is of documented casualties, but the true number is likely much higher. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Azerbaijan Regains Control Over 4 Villages Near Armenian Border

The first border signs on the newly delimited Azerbaijani-Armenian border appeared in April.
The first border signs on the newly delimited Azerbaijani-Armenian border appeared in April.

Azerbaijan assumed control over four villages near the Armenian border on May 24 as part of a new agreement between the two nations on the delimitation and demarcation of the border. The villages of Baganis Ayrim, Asagi Askipara, Xeyrimli, and Qizilhacili were taken under control as part of Azerbaijan's Qazax district. Baku and Yerevan called the move a step toward the normalization of relations between the two South Caucasus nations. The deal on returning the villages to Baku's control was reached in April, with both sides calling it a landmark decision toward a peace agreement. However, the deal has been met with massive opposition rallies in Armenia, with protesters calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani and Armenian services, click here and here.

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