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Lithuanian President Wins First Round Of Vote

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will now likely face Zigmantas Balcytis of the center-left social democrats in a runoff to be held along with European Parliament elections on May 25.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will now likely face Zigmantas Balcytis of the center-left social democrats in a runoff to be held along with European Parliament elections on May 25.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has won the first round of voting in the Baltic country's presidential election.

Electoral officials said Grybauskaite won about 45 percent of the vote on May 11 with nearly all the votes counted.

She will now likely face Zigmantas Balcytis of the center-left social democrats in a runoff to be held along with European Parliament elections on May 25.

Grybauskaite has been a vocal critic of Russia's actions on Ukraine, boosting her popularity in a country controlled by Moscow during the Cold War.

Grybauskaite is an economist who was educated both in the Soviet Union and the United States.

She became Lithuania's first female president when she was elected in 2009.
Based on reporting by AP and AFP

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Biden Tests Positive For COVID, Will Return To Delaware To Self-Isolate, White House Says

U.S. President Joe Biden boards Air Force One, at Harry Reid international airport in Las Vegas
U.S. President Joe Biden boards Air Force One, at Harry Reid international airport in Las Vegas

U.S. President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19, the White House said on July 17. The announcement came shortly before an event in Las Vegas where Biden was due to speak. The White House said Biden is experiencing mild symptoms. He is to return to his home in Delaware and self-isolate, according to a White House statement that quoted the president's doctor as saying Biden began experiencing symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, and general malaise, earlier on July 17. He has no fever and has received a first dose of the antiviral medication Paxlovid, the statement said. Biden was in Las Vegas to campaign. He addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on July 16.

Police Summon Women Who Appeared In Video Without Hijabs During Ashura Procession In Iranian City

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves
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The chief of police in Iran's Alborz Province said on July 17 that women who took part in an Ashura procession in the city of Karaj without hijabs have been "identified and summoned."

A video posted on Instagram shows a number of young women, most wearing dark clothing but no head scarves, walking in the street in observance of Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, which is marked mainly by Shi'ite Muslims.

To mourn his death, Shi’a wear black during Ashura processions in which many participants beat their backs with chains in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his death.

The video of the procession in Karaj on July 16 has been met with widespread reactions on social media.

Hamid Hadavand, the chief of police in Alborz Province, claimed that the publication of the video and others like it had led to "hurting the feelings of Hossein's mourners" throughout the country.

Hadavand accused the individuals seen in the videos of "desecration," adding that all of them "have been summoned to the Alborz Province police after being identified."

He did not say how many people were summoned or how they were identified.

In addition, the head of the Organization of Religious Boards and Organizations revoked the permission granted to the organization that held the Ashura procession in which the young women took part without hijabs.

Majid Babakhani also announced that the head of the organization had been "summoned" with the help of the police and said that he would be dealt with legally.

Ashura is marked on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. Last year Muharram was also marked by reports of the identification and detention of women without compulsory hijabs across Iran.

Authorities have stepped up confrontations with people who oppose the mandatory hijab law since protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police in September 2022 for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab, and there have been frequent reports of violence against detainees.

In recent months, the police again started a security crackdown on women flaunting the compulsory hijab law by reimplementing the Plan Noor initiative under which the morality police strictly enforce dress codes. This has led to several incidents of violence against women challenging the mandatory head scarf.

Before the reimplementation of the Plan Noor initiative the city of Tehran and the Interior Ministry prior employed hijab guards in some subway stations. The interior minister and the mayor of Tehran denied playing any role in this.

Despite these measures, the presence of women and girls without compulsory hijabs in public in Iran has not stopped over the past two years.

Iran is set to swear in moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian as president early next month. Pezeshkian has said that while the hijab law should be observed, "there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

German Court Convicts Russian-German Couple Of Supplying Electronics For Drones

Russian soldiers carry out a mission involving the use of an Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle. (file photo)
Russian soldiers carry out a mission involving the use of an Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle. (file photo)

A Russian-German couple has been convicted by a court in Stuttgart, Germany, of supplying about 120,000 spare parts for Orlan-10 drones to Russia in violation of EU sanctions. The court on July 17 sentenced the 59-year-old dual Russian-German citizen to six years and nine months in prison for supplying electronic components to a Russian company 54 times between 2020 and March 2023. According to the court, he sold amplifiers, transformers, transistors, and other spare parts to companies associated with the Russian defense industry, using front companies in China, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. His common-law wife, also a dual citizen, received a suspended sentence of one year and nine months for assisting with the crime. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Lavrov Says Russia Willing To Work With Any U.S. Leader

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on July 17.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on July 17.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a July 17 UN press conference that Moscow is willing to work with any elected U.S. leader who is willing to engage in “equitable, mutually respectful dialogue.” On Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate, Lavrov said that there “was still dialogue under way” despite sanctions under the 2016-2020 Trump administration. Lavrov also welcomed Trump’s selection of Senator J.D. Vance (Republican-Ohio), a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine, as his running mate. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on July 15 that if Trump becomes president, “we will work together” and underscored Republican support for Ukraine. Trump has said he would resolve the war in Ukraine quickly if he is reelected.

Pakistan Summons Diplomat Of Taliban-Led Government Over Bannu Attack 

Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.
Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.

Islamabad summoned a senior Afghan diplomat over a deadly militant attack on the Bannu garrison in northwest Pakistan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on July 17.

Pakistani officials said the attack on July 15 led to the deaths of eight soldiers after a militant rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the outer wall of the garrison.

The army said that its forces opened fire and killed all 10 suspected militants in the encounter.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it summoned the deputy minister of the Taliban-led government's Afghan Embassy to the ministry and strongly protested.

The ministry blamed the Afghanistan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group for the attack and said in its statement that it had asked Kabul to take “immediate, robust, and effective action against the perpetrators.”

The ministry also said the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, an ally of the Afghan Taliban, are responsible for killing “hundreds of civilians and multiple members of law enforcement agencies” throughout Pakistan.

On the day of the attack, a previously unknown group called Jaish-e Fursan-e Muhammad claimed responsibility in a WhatsApp message to media outlets. RFE/RL could not independently confirm the existence of any such armed group.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement on July 17 said it asked Kabul to fully investigate the bombing and take immediate action against the perpetrators.

There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban-led Afghan government.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Bannu is located. Residents of the province have protested the lack of security provided by Islamabad against the actions of extremists.

Pakistani security forces have said that they have conducted targeted operations against militants in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

With reporting by AP

Scholz To Visit Serbia To Discuss Deal Between Belgrade, EU On Raw Materials Mining

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Serbia later this week to discuss a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on sustainable raw materials, battery supply chains, and electric cars, a German government spokesman said on July 17.

Scholz is scheduled to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on July 19 and take part in a summit on “critical raw materials,” Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin.

"The background is a project for sustainable lithium mining in Serbia,” Hebestreit said. "Overall, it's about the further development of a European raw materials agenda and the diversification of raw material sources."

Serbian Prime Minister Milos Vucevic said on July 17 that he was prepared to discuss lithium mining and the development of raw materials if Scholz and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic came to Belgrade. Serbian media previously reported that Scholz, Sefcovic, and Vucevic would sign the memorandum of understanding.

Hebestreit said Scholz and Sefcovic will attend the summit where the memorandum of understanding will be signed but didn’t specify who would sign it. He said the agreement includes "a commitment to high environmental and sustainability standards."

Germany is seeking to secure lithium for its carmakers as the European Union struggles to reduce its dependence on imports from China.

Vucevic, speaking a day after Serbia’s government reinstated a plan for a multibillion-dollar lithium mine operated by the Anglo-Australian metals and mining giant Rio Tinto, said lithium mining is a “great development opportunity” for Serbia.

But he said that, in order to discuss lithium mining, Serbia insists on the construction of factories and other industries in the area where the mine would be.

Rio Tinto says the area holds one of Europe's largest reserves of lithium and could produce 58,000 tons annually, enough for 1.1 million electric vehicles. Rio Tinto's plans call for a sprawling 250-hectare complex to exploit huge mineral deposits in a fertile western valley.

Serbia’s government on July 16 reinstated a spatial plan for the so-called Jadar project lithium mine and processing plant.

The move came days after the Balkan state's Constitutional Court said the government of then-Prime Minister Ana Brnabic had acted unconstitutionally when it withdrew permits for Rio Tinto.

The mining project has been opposed by environmental activists and local officials who have fought Vucic and his ruling allies for years over their support for the project.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP

EU Body Gives Green Light To Starting Visa Liberalization Talks With Armenia

(file photo)
(file photo)

European Union ambassadors from the bloc's 27 nations have approved a European Commission proposal to start visa liberalization talks with Armenia, sources told RFE/RL on July 17.

The long-discussed proposal now heads to the European Council for formal approval, and then on to the commission, which will announce details on when it will start the negotiations and the action plan it is putting forward.

The process is different for each country as they try to fulfill various security requirements, but the process is expected to take several years to complete.

The sources said the decision regarding Armenia states that the requirement for visas will be removed only if all necessary criteria are fully met.

Brussels usually puts forward four main demands ranging from border management to the fight against organized crime and corruption.

It's likely to take up to six months for the EU to come up with its demands, analysts said.

Armenia joined the EU's Eastern Partnership program in 2009, a move that was meant to bring it, along with several other countries including South Caucasus neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia, closer to the bloc without a clear offer of future membership.

The progress on visa liberalization comes after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on rapprochement with Armenia amid Yerevan's souring relations with traditional ally Moscow.

The resolution says the bloc should “take advantage of this potential geopolitical shift and help Armenia gain a stronger foothold in the community of democracies.”

Yerevan has edged closer to the West through military and other ties and since its defeat last year by Caucasus archfoe Azerbaijan, which retook control of Nagorno-Karabakh after a lightning offensive in September 2023 along with other areas internationally recognized as Azerbaijani but controlled for decades by ethnic Armenians.

Armenia has accused longtime power broker Moscow and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of offering little help to keep Azerbaijan at bay.

The CSTO is an alliance of six ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Russian Poet Imprisoned For Anti-War Verses Rejects Offer To Join Russian Military In Ukraine

Poets Artyom Kamardin (left) and Yegor Shtovba in court in December 2023.
Poets Artyom Kamardin (left) and Yegor Shtovba in court in December 2023.

Russian poet Artyom Kamardin, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in December for publicly reciting verses condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has rejected an offer to join Russian armed forces invading Ukraine, his supporters said on Telegram on July 17. Kamardin told his wife during a recent visit that he and his cellmates in a Moscow detention center rejected the offer made by representatives of the Defense Ministry. Kamardin was arrested along with two other poets in September 2022 after they presented their anti-war poems in public. One of the other poets, Yegor Shtovba, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. The other, Nikolai Daineko, agreed to cooperate with investigators and was handed a four-year prison term.​ To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Belarus Introduces Visa-Free Entry For Citizens Of 35 European Nations

Citizens of dozens of European countries will now be able to enter Belarus without a visa. (file photo)
Citizens of dozens of European countries will now be able to enter Belarus without a visa. (file photo)

The State Border Committee of Belarus said on July 17 that it has introduced visa-free entry for citizens of 35 European nations. As of July 19, citizens of the European Union's member-states, Britain, Norway, Switzerland, and Balkan countries can stay in Belarus for up to 30 days without visas. The move was approved by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the State Border Committee said. Russia, which has no permanent land-border checkpoints with Belarus, has yet to comment on the decision. Citizens of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have been allowed to enter Belarus without visas since 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Patrick Turner To Lead NATO's Newly Created Representation In Ukraine 

Patrick Turner, who has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (file photo)
Patrick Turner, who has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (file photo)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on July 17 that Patrick Turner has been appointed to lead the NATO Representation in Ukraine (NRU).

Stoltenberg outlined the NRU and its position for a civilian senior representative at the NATO summit last week in Washington.

Stoltenberg said in a NATO news release that Turner is a “committed public servant” with a “strong track record of delivering results.”

A strong supporter of Ukraine, Turner served in the British Defense Ministry before becoming NATO assistant secretary- general for defense policy and planning from 2018 to 2022.

Pro-Moscow, Former Gagauzia Leader To Run For Moldovan President

Irina Vlah announces her presidential candidacy in Chisinau on July 17.
Irina Vlah announces her presidential candidacy in Chisinau on July 17.

Irina Vlah, a pro-Moscow ex-governor of Moldova's autonomous Gagauz region, on July 17 announced her candidacy in Moldova's upcoming presidential election against pro-European incumbent Maia Sandu.

Vlah, 50, made the announcement in a statement in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, during which she criticized what she said were closer ties between Moldova and NATO and increased defense spending, while calling for the country's neutral status to be maintained and beefed up.

Vlah also called on her supporters to vote "No" in a referendum on Moldova's European integration that will take place simultaneously with the presidential election on October 20, when Sandu is seeking a second mandate.

Vlah was governor of Gagauzia from 2015 until 2023, when she was replaced by Evghenia Gutul, a close associate of Ilan Shor, a Russian-backed fugitive oligarch implicated in a $1 billion bank fraud and other illicit schemes who has organized months of anti-Sandu protests in Chisinau.

Gagauzia's 140,000 residents, mainly ethnic Turks who adhere to Orthodox Christianity, have had uneasy relations with the central authorities since Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The U.S.-educated Sandu, who handed the pro-Russian Igor Dodon an upset defeat in November 2020, has steered Moldova firmly toward the West and has sought to shake off Moscow's long-standing influence in the former Soviet republic.

Sandu's government has formally condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has joined the sanctions regime imposed by the West on Moscow, while hosting thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war.

Moldova last month opened membership negotiations with the European Union after receiving an invitation in June 2022.

Dodon, the leader of Moldova's Socialist Party, on July 8 announced that he would not run again for president, but will back former Prosecutor-General Alexandr Stoianoglo.

So far, three other politicians have declared as candidates -- Renato Usatii, a controversial businessman and chief of the Our Party politician bloc who is under investigation for corruption; ex-Prime Minister Ion Chicu; and former Foreign Minister Tudor Ulianovschi.

Sandu appears well placed to win the first round of elections, being credited in a recent poll by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute with 37 percent support, while Usatii and Chicu are projected to win some 5 percent. Vlah would win 4 percent, according to the poll.

Kyrgyz President's Relative Arrested For Fraud

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov (file photo)
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek told RFE/RL on July 17 that a relative of President Sadyr Japarov has been placed under arrest on fraud charges.

According to the court's press service, Ulan Japarov, who is a son of President Sadyr Japarov's cousin, Rakymjan Japarov, was sent to pretrial detention until at least August 19.

Media reports say Ulan Japarov is suspected of obtaining a significant amount of cash from a person in exchange for securing an official post for him, which in the end never happened.

Japarov was initially arrested in July 2023 on corruption charges.

Presidential spokesman Erbol Sultanbaev said at the time that Ulan Japarov was suspected of involvement in corrupt activities linked to the Customs Service.

In October 2023, the Birinchi Mai district court transferred Japarov to house arrest. An investigation into that case is also under way.

Also, on July 17, media reports in the Central Asian country said a brother-in-law of the chief of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK), Kamchybek Tashiev, was arrested on a fraud charge.

The reports gave the man's initials as A.T.O.

Sources close to the UKMK leadership confirmed to RFE/RL that a man with those initials was arrested but did not give any further details.

Kyrgyz authorities have yet to officially confirm the arrest. Tashiev has not commented on the reports.

The Birinchi Mai district court told RFE/RL that its judge on June 11 sent A.T.O. to pretrial detention for at least two months. The court neither elaborated on the case nor confirmed if the suspect was related to Tashiev.

A week earlier, the Birinchi Mai district court said the boyfriend of President Japarov's niece had been arrested on a charge of producing illegal drugs.

Aftandil Sabyrbekov, the boyfriend of Lazzat Nurgojoeva, who is a daughter of President Japarov's younger brother, Davletbek, was arrested days after a video showing him proposing to Nurgojoeva in a lavish ceremony circulated on the Internet, sparking a public outcry.

Germany To Provide 10 Million Euros For Reconstruction Of Kyiv Children's Hospital

Emergency workers clear the rubble at the destroyed building of Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital in Kyiv following a Russian missile strike on July 8.
Emergency workers clear the rubble at the destroyed building of Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital in Kyiv following a Russian missile strike on July 8.

Germany will provide Ukraine with 10 million euros ($10.9 million) for the reconstruction of Ukraine's largest children's hospital, the Okhmatdyt, largely destroyed in a Russian missile strike on Kyiv on July 8, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze said in an interview with the German newspaper Rheinische Post on July 17. The German funds and other financial donations will be used to make the hospital operational again by winter, Schulze said. "The destruction of the children's hospital shows how ruthlessly and inhumanely Russia is waging this aggressive war. Children suffer the most from this war," Schulze said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

Russia Says Prisoner Swap With Ukraine Involving 190 POWs Completed

Ukrainian POWs after a previous swap with Russia in June
Ukrainian POWs after a previous swap with Russia in June

Russia and Ukraine said they have completed another prisoner swap, with the latest exchange involving 190 prisoners of war mediated by the United Arab Emirates.

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Russia's Defense Ministry said in a post on Telegram on July 17 that each side traded 95 people in the deal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also confirmed the prisoner swap on Telegram.

"The released [Russian] servicemen will be delivered to Moscow by military transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces for treatment and rehabilitation in medical institutions of the Russian Ministry of Defense," the post said.

Zelenskiy thanked the U.A.E. for its help in facilitating the exchange, one of several between Moscow and Kyiv in recent months.

"I am thankful to our team involved in prisoners' exchange and the United Arab Emirates for facilitating the release," Zelenskiy wrote.

"No matter how complicated it is, we are looking for everyone who may be in captivity. We must return everyone."

Zelenskiy added that those exchanged were soldiers of Ukraine's armed forces, servicemen of the National Guard, and border guards.

This marks the fifth time this year that the United Arab Emirates facilitated a prisoner swap, beginning on January 3 with the return of 230 Ukrainian nationals to Kyiv and 248 Russians freed by Ukraine.

On February 8, another exchange was conducted under a “100-for-100” formula with the United Arab Emirates involved again.

Last month, the Persian Gulf nation facilitated a prisoner exchange in which 90 prisoners from each side were returned to Ukraine and Russia.

Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova said on July 17 that representatives of her office and their Ukrainian counterparts were present during the exchange and discussed "joint humanitarian efforts, including ones related to the reunification of families."

Flags, Tears, And Kneeling As Ukrainian Soldiers Return From Russian Captivity
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Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubintes said earlier that similar talks between representatives of his and Moskalkova's offices were held at an exchange last month.

Kyiv has accused Moscow of having forcibly deported thousands of Ukrainian children from territories seized by occupying Russian armed forces since Moscow started its ongoing invasion in February 2022.

Moscow insists the Ukrainian children were moved for their own protection. Meanwhile, several of the children have been returned to Ukraine in recent months.

In March last year, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for their role in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, which is considered a war crime under international legislation.

Several children have been returned to Ukraine in recent months.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

Russian Feminist In Exile Fined For 'LGBT Propaganda'

Dina Nurm (file photo)
Dina Nurm (file photo)

A court in Russia's Tatarstan region on July 16 fined feminist activist Dina Nurm and her partner, Anastasia Goncharenko, 100,000 rubles ($1,130) each for "propagating LGBT relations." The charge stemmed from the online photos they posted in which, the court said, they "hug, kiss, and touch each other." The co-founder of the FemKyzlar feminist group, Nurm called the court ruling politically motivated. Nurm and Goncharenko left Russia for Serbia in March. So-called "LGBT propaganda" has been banned in Russia since December 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Iran Denies Involvement In Plot To Assassinate U.S. Ex-President Trump

Donald Trump pumps his fist after a failed attempt on his life during a rally in Pennsylvania on July 13.
Donald Trump pumps his fist after a failed attempt on his life during a rally in Pennsylvania on July 13.

Iran has denied plotting to assassinate Donald Trump after reports emerged that U.S. authorities had obtained intelligence suggesting that Tehran was planning to kill the Republican presidential nominee.

News outlets CNN and Politico on July 16, citing unnamed sources, reported that U.S. authorities had been informed of an Iranian plot to kill Trump weeks ahead of a July 13 attempt on the former president's life.

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They said, however, that the assassination attempt did not appear to be linked to the Iranian threat.

In a statement late on July 16, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani insisted that Tehran was not involved in the July 13 attempt and charged that claims that Iran was plotting to kill Trump were "politically motivated."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to prosecute Trump for his direct role in the crime of assassinating General Qasem Soleimani," Kanani said.

Soleimani, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was assassinated in January 2020 in an air strike by U.S. forces at Trump's command. Iran has repeatedly vowed revenge for the high-profile killing.

Prior to Kanani's statement, Iran's mission to the United Nations said the claims against Tehran were "baseless and biased" and maintained that the Islamic republic "has chosen the legal route to hold Trump accountable."

Iranian authorities have long warned that senior U.S. figures they believe were involved in the killing of Soleimani will pay a price. Among those threatened are Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, and ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In August 2022, the Justice Department charged an Iranian operative it said was a member of the IRGC for allegedly plotting to kill Bolton.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government extended protection for Pompeo amid persistent threats from Iran.

Russia Adds 2 Journalists In Exile To Wanted List

Andrei Zakharov (file photo)
Andrei Zakharov (file photo)

The Russian Interior Ministry on July 17 added two journalists -- Andrei Zakharov and Dmitry Fomintsev -- to its wanted list on unspecified charges amid an ongoing crackdown on independent media. Media reports said Zakharov, who worked in his native St. Petersburg and Moscow, is suspected of evading the duties of a "foreign agent," while Fomintsev, who is from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, is accused of "insulting believers' feelings" by posting materials online criticizing an Orthodox priest. Both Zakharov and Fomintsev are currently living outside Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Belarus Opens Trial Of Opposition Activist In Absentia

The Vitsebsk regional court building (file photo)
The Vitsebsk regional court building (file photo)

Judge Halina Bondal of the Vitsebsk regional court in the northeastern Belarus on July 17 began the trial in absentia of activist Andrey Zuyeu, who was a member of a group supporting opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in the August 2020 presidential election. Zuyeu, who is currently outside of Belarus, is charged with inciting hatred, mass unrest, creating an extremist group, and insulting an official. Zuyeu was sentenced several times to short sentences of administrative detention before he fled the country in 2021 amid a crackdown on dissent. Protesters say the election was rigged to hand victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Kazakh Investigation Opened Over Online Rant Insulting Kazakhs

The police department of Kazakhstan's Aqmola region, which surrounds the capital, Astana, said on July 17 it had launched a probe against a local resident over a videohe posted online insulting Kazakhs and their ethnicity. The statement did not specify what charges the man, whose identity was not disclosed, faces. The announcement comes days after a video of a man cursing Kazakhs in general, and more specifically Kazakhs who support Ukraine in its efforts to repel Russia's ongoing invasion, appeared on the Internet and sparked an outcry. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russia Says 'False Alarm' Behind Massive Power Outage In South

Rosenergoatom said a "protection mechanism was triggered" at the Rostov nuclear plant, without specifying what caused the activation of the protection mechanism.
Rosenergoatom said a "protection mechanism was triggered" at the Rostov nuclear plant, without specifying what caused the activation of the protection mechanism.

Russia's nuclear energy operator, Rosenergoatom, says a unit of the Rostov nuclear power plant whose disconnection left some 1 million people in southern Russia and parts of occupied Crimea without electricity was switched off due to "a false alarm."

Major power grid failures and sweeping power outages occurred in the south of Russia and Crimea on July 16 after the emergency shutdown of the unit, which Rosenergoatom said happened when a "protection mechanism was triggered."

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The company did not specify what had caused the activation of the protection mechanism.

But in a statement on Telegram on July 17, Rosenergoatom said that Unit N1 had been shut down on July 16 "due to a false alarm."

The largest cities in southern Russia -- Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, Elista, Anapa, Armavir, Gelendzhik, Novorossiisk, and Stavropol -- were among the areas affected, with Novaya gazeta reporting that some 1 million people were left without electricity simultaneously in several southern regions of Russia and parts of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Rosenergoatom did not elaborate on the causes of the the "false alarm."

The Rostov nuclear power plant, also known as the Volgodonsk nuclear power plant, has four units with a total capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts. The plant is located on the left bank of the Don River near the city of Volgodonsk, some 1,100 kilometers south of Moscow.

In recent months, Ukraine, whose energy infrastructure has been relentlessly pummeled by Russian strikes since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion, has in turn resorted to targeting Russian energy facilities, mainly oil refineries and those that work for the Russian military.

In Crimea, occupation authorities meanwhile blamed the rolling blackouts on a heat wave in the region.

In Sevastopol, Crimea's largest city, with a population on nearly 400,000 people, Russian-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev on July 17 announced rolling blackouts every two hours in different neighborhoods of the city, blaming the restrictions on the disconnected unit of the Rostov nuclear power plant.

Trolleybuses, a main means of public transportation, have stopped working in the city as a result of the power blackouts.

Georgia Shaken By Light Earthquake

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A 4.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in Georgia early on July 17, the Caucasus country's National Seismic Monitoring Center reported. The epicenter was some 5 kilometers west of the town of Dedoplis Tskaro, some 130 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tbilisi, it said. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude of 4.1 for the earthquake, adding that it occurred at a depth of some 29 kilometers.. The temblor, which occurred at 6 a.m. local time was also felt in Tbilisi. There was no immediate information about casualties or damage. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

Russia's Statistics Service Excludes Data From Annual Report To Hide War Deaths

News outlets have confirmed at least 58,000 Russian soldier deaths using obituaries, inheritance records, and social media posts. 
News outlets have confirmed at least 58,000 Russian soldier deaths using obituaries, inheritance records, and social media posts. 

Russia’s State Statistics Service has excluded the total number of deaths from external causes in its annual report, Meduza reported, citing demographic expert Aleksei Rashka. Russia has historically broken down annual deaths caused by illness from those caused by external factors like murder and suicide. Experts would have been able to use that data to extrapolate the number of Russians killed in the invasion of Ukraine, something the Kremlin has refused to disclose. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month that at least 350,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the 29-month war. News outlets have confirmed at least 58,000 Russian soldier deaths using obituaries, inheritance records, and social media posts. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Russian service, click here.

U.S. Recently Informed About Iranian Plot To Kill Trump: CNN

Former U.S. President Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump

An informant told U.S. authorities recently that Iran was plotting to assassinate Donald Trump, CNN reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter. In response, the U.S. Secret Service boosted security around the former president, the network reported. Thomas Matthew Crooks, who tried to assassinate Trump on July 13, does not appear to be connected to the Iranian plot, CNN reported. Former Trump administration officials, including his national-security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reportedly received threats from Iran. Qasem Soleimani, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was assassinated in January 2020 in an air strike by U.S. forces at Trump’s command. Iran had vowed revenge for the high-profile killing.

Russia Sentences Man To 26 Years For Setting Fire To Enlistment Offices

More than 500 people have been arrested in Russia since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine for vandalizing enlistment offices, police stations, city administration premises, and other buildings representing state authority to protest the war.
More than 500 people have been arrested in Russia since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine for vandalizing enlistment offices, police stations, city administration premises, and other buildings representing state authority to protest the war.

Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen Ivan Nedilsky was sentenced to 26 years in prison for treason, participation in a terrorist organization, and vandalism, Mediazona reported on July 16. The sentence was delivered in April by a Russian military court but had not previously been made public. Nedilsky was detained in October 2022 and accused of setting fire to two military enlistment offices and a cadastral service building. More than 500 people have been arrested in Russia since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine for vandalizing enlistment offices, police stations, city administration premises, and other buildings representing state authority to protest the war. Most are charged with terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here

Romania Expects To Sign F-35 Purchase Contract With U.S. As Early As Autumn

Romania may sign a contract this autumn for latest-generation F-35 fighter jets.
Romania may sign a contract this autumn for latest-generation F-35 fighter jets.

Romania expects to sign an agreement with the United States to purchase latest-generation F-35 fighter jets as early as this fall, Defense Minister Angel Tilvar said on July 16. European countries have been ramping up defense spending amid concern about Russian aggression. Last September, Romania said it planned to buy 32 F-35s for $6.5 billion. The deal includes logistics and training services, flight simulators and ammunition, along with the jets. Tilvar has previously said the first planes would not be delivered before 2030. In the meantime, Bucharest has bought 32 secondhand F-16 fighter jets from Oslo, in addition to 17 acquired from Lisbon in 2016.

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