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NATO Extends Deadline On Kosovo Roadblocks

One of the border crossings in northern Kosovo, after it was destroyed in violent protests in July
NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo have extended a deadline for Serbs to remove roadblocks in northern Kosovo.

A statement from the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping operation, KFOR, said KFOR commander General Erhard Drews had pushed back the deadline from October 17 to October 18 to give the Serbs more time to take down the barriers.

In July, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership ordered its security forces to man two border crossings in northern Kosovo, populated mainly by ethnic Serbs who don't recognize Kosovo's independence.

Serbs responded by blocking roads with barriers, sparking clashes with Kosovo police and leaving one police officer dead.

In September, NATO used helicopters to bypass the barricades and establish a skeleton EU and Kosovo police and customs presence at the border gates.

But the roadblocks remain, in a challenge to the West's efforts to reverse Kosovo's de facto ethnic partition.

compiled from agency reports

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Iran's Top Automaker Eyes Russian Market Following Western Pullout

Iran Khodro new crossover model, the Rira

Iran's leading automaker is seeking to grab a share of the Russian market after Western producers halted output or exited the market following sanctions.

Iran Khodro CEO Mehdi Khatibi made the announcement on August 14 as he unveiled the company's latest model -- the crossover Rira.

"We are going to pay special attention to the Russian market, and we are also thinking of partnering with Russian investors," he said.

"The Russian market, with its capacities, will be one of our important markets," Khatibi added.

Iran Khodro will begin exporting to Russia this year, he said.

Khatibi said he had been in negotiations "with Moscow," but he did not clarify whether the talks just revolved around exports or also included possible local production.

Iran Khodro had briefly exported cars to Russia during the 2000s, according to Iranian media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Iran in July to meet his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Moscow is seeking to enhance economic ties with Tehran after the West imposed punishing sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Iran is also under wide-ranging Western sanctions.

Russian auto production has plummeted since the imposition of sanctions, because manufacturers can no longer import microprocessors and other parts needed for final assembly.

Several Western and Asian companies have idled their Russian plants for the time being while some have announced they are permanently leaving the market.

Exports of Western cars to Russia have also sunk sharply.

Khatibi did not say how many cars he expects to export this year to Russia.

While the exit of Western models opens a door for Iran Khodro, Russia's economy is expected to contract sharply in the coming years, hurting demand for big-ticket items like cars.

With reporting by AFP

Ship Carrying Grain For Ethiopia Sets Sail From Ukraine

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

A United Nations-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain has set sail from a Black Sea port for Ethiopia, the first shipment of its kind in a program to assist countries facing famine.

The Liberian-flagged Brave Commander departed from the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne, east of Odesa, on August 14, according to regional Governor Maksym Marchenko.

The ship is expected to sail to Djibouti, where the grain will be unloaded and transferred to neighboring Ethiopia under the World Food Program initiative.

Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey on July 22 to restart Black Sea grain deliveries after a five-month stoppage triggered by Moscow's invasion.

Russia's Navy blockaded ports in Ukraine -- one of the world's largest exporters of grain -- amid a large-scale invasion of the country.

The blockade sparked fears of a global food shortage and caused prices of grain to skyrocket, hitting impoverished countries hard.

Ethiopia is one of five countries that the UN considers at risk of starvation.

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

Based on reporting by AP

Moscow Canceling Registrations Of Opposition Candidates By The Dozens As Political Clampdown Intensifies

Maria Volokh (right) already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Moscow has been canceling en masse the registration of opposition candidates for municipal elections next month as the Kremlin clamps down on dissent.

Russian authorities have historically not concerned themselves much with municipal elections because they tend to focus on very local issues, such as apartment building repairs and park improvements.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has intensified his crackdown on any sign of dissent since he launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and it is now filtering down to the lowest levels of government, opposition members say.

Vladimir Zalishak, a deputy representing Moscow's Donskoi district, told RFE/RL that nearly a hundred would-be opposition candidates had been disqualified by local election commissions on the alleged violation of a controversial administrative clause.

He said the clampdown on potential municipal candidates was a sign that the authorities are "hysterical and panicking."

Zalishak said police were launching administrative investigations into would-be candidates on the ground that they had publicly demonstrated "prohibited symbols." Those found guilty are banned from running for office for a year.

Russia last year jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, outlawed his Anti-Corruption Foundation on extremism charges, and banned symbols associated with his group.

Police are now scrolling through the social media accounts of opposition members looking for old posts that contain the symbols before they were banned, he said.

Zalishak said his registration was canceled after police found a Navalny-related symbol on a post from 2019.

Maria Volokh, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, did not have any posts on her social media but the authorities still found a way to cancel her registration, she told RFE/RL.

The police sent a letter to Volokh's local election commission, claiming falsely that she had Dutch citizenship. Volokh studied in the Netherlands for several years but never received citizenship.

She said she intended to contest the decision.

Volokh was seeking to run for a seat on the council representing Moscow's Tver district.

Volokh already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Zalishak said most of the individuals who had their candidacy canceled were opponents of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Russian Demand For Schengen Visa Surges Amid Calls For European Travel Ban

Russians are racing to secure Schengen visas amid calls for a ban on travel to Europe, the daily Kommersant has reported, citing executives at tour agencies.

Marina Shirokova, a manager at Vizakhod, told the Russian newspaper that demand for Schengen visas had surged about 40 percent over the past two weeks as fears grow that European travel could soon be off-limits.

A Schengen visa is a 90-day visa that allows a person to travel to any of the 26 European members of the Schengen area for tourism or business purposes. Each member country of the Schengen zone can issue Schengen visas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on August 8 called on the European Union to ban Russian tourists to punish Moscow for its brutal invasion, now in its sixth month.

Three days later, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that his country will bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by Estonia from entering the Baltic country because of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

However, he said it will still remain valid for entry into other member countries.

Russians are already facing difficulties in traveling to Europe amid a backlash over the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. Several countries have stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians in a sign of protest.

Moreover, the EU has closed its airspace to Russia.

As a result, many Russians with Schengen visas having been flying to Europe via the Baltics or Finland. Now that path could become more difficult if Estonia moves ahead with its plan.

The number of Russians traveling to Europe is down about 90 percent compared with the prewar period, Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, told Kommersant.

She said Russians seeking Schengen visas were mainly interested in traveling to resort destinations in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece.

Germany, Europe's largest country, has come out against a blanket visa ban on Russians. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it would hurt "innocent people."

Updated

One Dead After Fireworks Blast Starts Fire At Armenian Market

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

At least one person is reported dead and some 20 injured after a strong explosion hit a fireworks storage area at a large market in Armenia's capital on August 14, triggering a blaze.

The city mayor's office said there were an unknown number of people trapped under rubble. The blast and fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan.

Yerevan Market Ablaze As Fireworks Storage Explodes
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Rescue workers were struggling to pull people out of the rubble, a spokesman for the Yerevan mayor's office told RFE/RL. The explosion was in an area where fireworks are stored, he added.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said at least one person was killed and 20 others were injured.

The ministry earlier said firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze.

The market is about 2 kilometers south of the city center.

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

Ukraine Targets More Russian Arms Depots As Safety Fears Grow At Occupied Nuclear Plant

This house was damaged on August 12 in a Russian rocket attack in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region. The strike killed three people and wounded 13 others, according to the mayor.

Ukrainian officials have reported that more Russian munitions depots were targeted by the military amid mounting safety concerns over a Russian-occupied nuclear plant in the south of the country.

"Large" depots in the Kherson region were destroyed overnight, Yuriy Sobolevskiy, the first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, said on August 14.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"There is confirmed information about the destruction of objects both in Nova Kakhovka and in Muzykivka. Quite large military warehouses with weapons and ammunition were located there. Military equipment was also stored there," he told Ukrainian media.

For several weeks, Ukraine's military has tried to lay the groundwork for a counteroffensive to reclaim southern Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea and fell to the Russians soon after the February 24 invasion.

A local Ukrainian official reported on August 13 that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper River in the region, further crippling Russian supply lines.

The British Defense Ministry said on August 13 that damage to bridges across the Dnieper meant that "ground resupply for the several thousand Russian troops on the west bank is almost certainly reliant on just two pontoon-ferry crossing points."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian forces not to use the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant for military purposes.

In his regular nightly address late on August 13, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would target Russian soldiers who either shoot at or from what is Europe's largest nuclear power plant.

"Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots using the plant as cover, must understand that he becomes a special target for our intelligence agents, for our special services, for our army," Zelenskiy said.


Zelenskiy said recent shelling at the plant had increased the threat of a radiation leak, and that Ukrainian diplomats and partner states "will do everything to ensure" that new sanctions block the Russian nuclear industry.

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Zelenskiy, who did not give any details, repeated accusations that Russia was using the plant as nuclear blackmail.

The G7 group of advanced economies has called on Moscow to withdraw its forces from the power station.

Ukraine's defense intelligence agency earlier warned of fresh Russian "provocations" around the plant, while the exiled mayor of the town where the plant is located said it had come under fresh Russian shelling.

But local Russian-installed official Vladimir Rogov wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces were shelling the plant.

The UN nuclear chief warned on August 11 that "very alarming" military activity at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant could lead to dangerous consequences for the region and called for an end to attacks.

Rafael Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine, who blame each other for the attacks at the plant, to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess damage and evaluate safety and security at the sprawling nuclear complex where the situation "has been deteriorating very rapidly."


Elsewhere, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on August 13 that its forces had taken control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the main city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, most of which Moscow-backed separatists have controlled since 2014.

Russian troops and separatist forces are trying to seize Ukrainian-held areas north and west of the city of Donetsk, but the Ukrainian military said on August 13 that its forces had prevented an overnight advance toward the smaller cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Reuters, and AP

Rushdie Off Ventilator And Able To Talk After Knife Attack

A banner saying "the execution verdict of Salman Rushdi will be carried out" is hung at Tehran University in 2012. A year after Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death.

Salman Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and is able to speak after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack.

Rushdie's agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed the information on August 13 to U.S. media without providing further details.

Earlier in the day, the man accused of attacking him on August 12 at a nonprofit education and retreat center in western New York pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a "preplanned" crime.

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. A judge ordered him held without bail.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye in the attack. He was likely to lose the injured eye, Wylie said after the attack.

Rushdie has faced years of death threats for his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims see as blasphemous.

Matar, 24, is accused of running onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Rushdie at least 10 times in the face, neck, and abdomen.

There was no official reaction to the attack in Iran, but several hard-line newspapers praised the attacker.

"A thousand bravos...to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York," wrote the Kayhan newspaper, whose editor in chief was appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed."

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran's leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran's government has distanced itself from Khomeini's decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book's Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn't focused on the writer.

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution's website.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the "vicious attack" and praised Rushdie for his "refusal to be intimidated or silenced."

In a statement on August 13, Biden said that he and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, "together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery."

He added that Rushdie "stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear."

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told the AP news agency on August 13

Flags of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group Hizballah are visible across the village, AP reported, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini, and slain Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Two More Ships Loaded With Grain Leave Ukrainian Port, Turkey Says

A Turkish-flagged bulk carrier leaves the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk on August 5, one of 16 that have left the country loaded with grain in the two weeks since a UN-brokered deal to ensure safe passage.

Two more ships carrying tons of grain left a Ukrainian Black Sea port on August 13, the Turkish Defense Ministry has said.

The Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey's southern Iskenderun Province, the ministry said.

The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey's Tekirdag carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds, it added.

The departure of the two ships brings to 16 the number of vessels that have left the country loaded with grain in the two weeks since a UN-brokered deal to ensure safe passage for the vessels went into effect, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that in less than two weeks, Ukraine had managed to export the same amount of grain from three ports as it had done by road for the whole of July.

"This has already made it possible to reduce the severity of the food crisis," he said in his nightly video address on August 13.

Before the UN-brokered deal, the blockage of Ukrainian ports trapped tens of millions of tons of grain in the country, raising fears of severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Hungary Says Russia Delivering Extra Gas

A general view of Hungarian oil and gas group MOL's main Danube refinery in Szazhalombatta

Russian state-run natural gas giant Gazprom has started delivering additional gas to Hungary, the country's Foreign Ministry says.

The ministry said trade negotiations with Moscow led to an agreement that resulted in Gazprom starting to deliver "above the already contracted quantities."

"It is the duty of the Hungarian government to ensure the country's safe supply of natural gas, and we are living up to it," ministry official Tamas Menczer said on Facebook on August 13.

An additional volume of 2.6 million cubic meters per day are to arrive from the south through the TurkStream pipeline until the end of August, he said. Negotiations were under way for September deliveries, he added.

The agreement that Menczer referred to was linked to Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto's visit to Moscow in July to discuss the purchase of an additional 700 million cubic meters of natural gas.

"In light of what is known about the current European market conditions, it is clear that the acquisition of such a large amount is impossible without Russian sources," Menczer said, mentioning Szijjarto's visit.

The European Union last month approved a plan under which countries are expected to voluntarily reduce their natural gas consumption by 15 percent between August 1 and March 31 compared to the average consumption over the same period the past five years.

The plan is intended to prepare the bloc for a possible halt in Russian natural gas supplies.

The plan, published as a European Council regulation on August 8, will apply for one year. Hungary, which relies on gas piped in directly from Russia, had demanded some exceptions to the voluntary rule.

The rule says Russia’s “military aggression against Ukraine…has led to gas supplies declining markedly, in a deliberate attempt to use gas supply as a political weapon.”

Based on reporting by AFP
Updated

Suspect In Rushdie Attack Charged With Attempted Murder As Author Remains Hospitalized

Iranian women are seen holding banners that read "Holly Koran" and "Kill Salman Rushdie" during a demonstration in Tehran on February 17, 1989.

The suspect in an attack on author Salman Rushdie has been charged with attempted murder and attempted assault and is being held without bond, authorities in the western New York community where the attack occurred said on August 13.

Hadi Matar, 24, was arraigned late on August 12 on charges of attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree, New York state police said in a statement.

An attorney for Matar entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Jason Schmidt, the district attorney in Chautauqua County, said state and federal law enforcement agencies were working on the investigation.

Matar, a resident of New Jersey, was taken into custody at the scene. Investigators are working to understand the planning and preparation that preceded the attack and determine whether additional charges should be filed, Schmidt said.

Rushdie remained hospitalized on a ventilator with a damaged liver and nerve damage, his agent, Andrew Wylie, said. Wylie added that he was likely to lose an eye.

Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel The Satanic Verses drew death threats from Iran's leader in the 1980s, was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution, a spiritual retreat center in a rural corner of southwest New York State where he was scheduled to speak.

The center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.

The suspect stormed the stage as Rushdie was being introduced and attacked him and moderator Henry Reese, New York State Police said in a statement.

Eyewitnesses said the attack lasted for nearly 20 seconds, with Hatar allegedly continuing to punch and stab Rushdie even as onlookers rushed to restrain him. Reese suffered a minor head injury.

There was no official reaction to the attack in Iran, but several hard-line newspapers praised the attacker.

"A thousand bravos...to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York,"
wrote Kayhan newspaper, whose editor in chief was appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed."

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran because many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran's leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran's government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book's Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn't focused on the writer.

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution’s website.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the "vicious attack" and praised Rushdie for his "refusal to be intimidated or silenced."

In a statement on August 13, Biden said that he and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, "together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery."

He added that Rushdie "stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the attack was a strike on the freedom of expression.

"No one should be threatened or harmed on the basis of what they have written. I'm wishing him a speedy recovery," Trudeau said in a tweet.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also condemned the attack.

"What a despicable act," Scholz said on Twitter, adding that he wished the author strength for his recovery.

"The world needs people like you who are not intimidated by hate and fearlessly stand up for freedom of expression," he said.

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Montenegro Declares Three Days Of Mourning For Victims Of Mass Shooting

Emergency service personnel, police, and investigators work at the scene of the shooting in Cetinje on August 12.

The government of Montenegro has declared three days of national mourning for the victims of a mass shooting in town of Cetinje that has shattered the community.

The shooting on August 12 took the lives of 11 people, including the attacker.

The three-day nationwide mourning period, which will last through August 15, was announced on August 13 as new details about the shooting came to light.

Among the dead were two children. Six people were wounded and were still being treated. Three of them have life-threatening injuries.

Police director Zoran Brdanin said it was still not clear what motivated the attack, which began around 3:30 p.m. when a 34-year-old man from Cetinje, identified only by the initials V.B., used a hunting rifle to shoot at a family who were tenants in his house.

The two children, one aged 8 and the other 11, and their mother were the first shot.

The gunman then went into the streets and door-to-door, shooting people using the same firearm. He killed seven more people and injured six before he was shot dead, Brdanin said.

One police officer was seriously wounded in an exchange of fire, Brdanin added.

A police statement said law enforcement officers sent to the scene came under fire from the attacker and responded by firing at him at least 20 times and seriously injuring him.

“It is still being investigated if he died as the result of the serious injury (by police) or as the result of being shot at by a local citizen,” the statement said.

The prosecutor coordinating the investigation, Andrijana Nastic, told journalists on August 12 that the gunman was killed by a passerby and that a police officer was among the wounded.

A government statement said flags will be flown at half-staff on all state buildings and public institutions and public entertainment programs will not be held during the period.

A visit by Patriarch Porfirije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to another town in Montenegro has been postponed out of respect for the mourning period, the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral announced.

Porfirije's visit to the town of Herceg Novi has been pushed back to August 29-30 from its originally planned dates of August 14-15, the church leadership said. The visit was planned on the occasion of the 640th anniversary of the founding of Herceg Novi.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Zelenskiy Says Ukrainian Forces Will Target Russian Troops Who Shoot At Nuclear Power Plant

Kyiv and Moscow continue to trade accusations about the dangers of fighting near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, Europe's largest.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukrainian forces will target any Russian soldiers who shoot at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant as the two sides continue to trade blame over recent incidents of shelling at the plant.

"Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots using the plant as cover, must understand that he becomes a special target for our intelligence agents, for our special services, for our army," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on August 13.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The situation at the plant caused heightened alarm this week at the United Nations and the UN's nuclear energy watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Both have said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the plant, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a demilitarized zone to be set up around it.

Zelenskiy in his nightly address said recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation, and he said Ukrainian diplomats and partner states "will do everything to ensure” that new sanctions block the Russian nuclear industry.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its forces from the plant, which has been under Russian control since shortly after the February 24 invasion. Ukrainian engineers are operating the facility under Russian supervision.

Ukraine's defense intelligence agency earlier on August 13 warned of fresh Russian "provocations" around the plant, while the mayor of the town where the plant is located said it had come under fresh Russian shelling.

Russia has disputed the claims, saying Ukrainian forces fired nine artillery shells at the area near the plant. Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that the strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.

On the battlefield, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on August 13 to have taken full control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of Donetsk, while Ukraine's military command said later that "fierce fighting" continued in the village.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Ukraine's military, meanwhile, said it struck a fourth bridge spanning the Dnieper River.

British military intelligence said in its daily assessment on August 13 that the strike further crimped Russia’s ability to resupply forces on the river’s northwest, or right, bank.

General Valery Zaluzhniy, commander of Ukraine's armed forces, said he spoke by phone about Russian casualties in the war with U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Zaluzhniy reported on Facebook that one-fifth of the Russian units involved in the hostilities in Ukraine had been defeated.

"We note that the enemy is suffering significant losses, primarily in manpower," Zaluzhniy said.

He also reported that active fighting continued along the 1,300 kilometers of the front line.

The mayor of Mykolayiv said his city was one of those shelled on August 13.

"Near 8 o'clock in the evening, Mykolayiv was shelled. In one of the districts, a rocket exploded near a residential building," Mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych said. "Currently, we know about one wounded person," he wrote on Telegram.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military reported fierce battles took place on August 13 in the Avdiyivka direction, where Russian troops tried to break through Ukrainian defenses.

The General Staff also reported that in the Slovyansk direction Russian troops tried to break through Ukrainian defenses but were unsuccessful and withdrew.

With reporting by Reuters

Flow Of Russian Oil To Czech Republic Resumes, Pipeline Operator Says

Oil supplies through the pipeline were suspended on August 4 to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Russian oil flows to the Czech Republic through the Druzhba pipeline resumed on August 12 after more than a week, Czech pipeline operator MERO said.

Oil supplies through the pipeline were suspended on August 4 to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said the reason was Western sanctions prevented paying transit fees to Ukrainian transit company Ukrtransnafta.

"Supplies of Russian oil through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline on the Czech territory resumed at 8 p.m. today," MERO said in a statement.

Czech refiner Unipetrol confirmed its refineries again started receiving oil through Druzhba, and added that the weeklong outage had not affected its operations.

Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said earlier that the resumption followed a resolution of the issue with fees.

A European bank agreed to process the payment for the transit, removing the cause of the stoppage.

Flows to Hungary and Slovakia were restarted on August 10 after Hungarian refiner MOL and its Slovak unit Slovnaft found a workaround by paying the fee to Ukrtransnafta themselves.

Central European countries are partially dependent on Russian oil and have secured exemptions from the European Union's incoming ban on imports until they adjust their shipping routes and refineries so that they can receive oil from other sources.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Shelling Hits Towns Near Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine Says, As Russian Troops Remain At Facility

UKRAINE – Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near the city of Enerhodar, Zaporizhia region. July 2019

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster by shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which the United Nations says should have a demilitarized zone declared around it.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, but there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in on the situation, echoing Guterres in saying the power plant must not be used as part of any military operation.

"I support call for demilitarisation of area starting with full withdrawal of Russian forces, and urge the @iaeaorg to visit," he said on Twitter, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Russia must immediately hand back full control to rightful sovereign owner Ukraine," he said.

Ukraine's Enerhotam agency said the Zaporizhzhya complex in south-central Ukraine was struck five times on August 11, including near where radioactive materials are stored. The governor of the Zaporizhzhya region said the plant was hit again on the evening of August 12.

Russian-appointed officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of shelling the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, the state-run TASS news agency said.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that Ukraine's strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.

The Ukrainian military denies having struck the plant, saying Russian troops struck it themselves and are using it as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby towns and cities.

Shelling overnight of one of those towns, Marhanets, injured three civilians, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Ukrainian forces control Marhanets and other towns and cities on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, and they have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side in recent days.

A UN Security Council meeting on August 11 discussed the situation, and Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

The United States backed the call for a demilitarized zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Speaking at the Security Council meeting, he said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe" comparable in scale with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.

Ukrainian UN Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of using "elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups" to stage the shelling, which he said poses "an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, to Europe, and the world as a whole."

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, meanwhile, on August 12 reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.

Other parts of the main front line have been comparatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has been intensifying in anticipation of a planned counteroffensive in the south.

In the province of Mykolayiv, the governor’s press officer said the region is still experiencing shelling, but it has become "a little quieter."

Dmytro Pletenchuk, the press officer of the Mykolayiv military administration, said this is because there is currently a shortage of ammunition in the Russian military.

Ukrainian forces have hit Russian ammunition warehouses, and the Russian forces have now switched to more outdated weapons systems, he said on Ukrainian television.

"Now the situation has changed. There is a shortage of ammunition among the Russians. And that is very good. We feel the result of the work on their warehouses -- it has become a little quieter in Mykolayiv, but the region is being shelled," he said.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, shelling killed two civilians and wounded 13 others in Kramatorsk, the last major city under Ukrainian control in the eastern Donetsk region.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Facebook the bombardment damaged at least 20 buildings and caused a fire to break out. He called for remaining residents to evacuate.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, and Reuters

Relatives Of Victims Of Ukrainian Airlines Flight Shot Down By IRGC Begin March To Ottawa

People hold placards with photos of the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as they gather to take part in a march to mark its first anniversary, in Toronto on January 8, 2021.

Several relatives of victims of a passenger flight that was shot down in Iran in January 2020 by missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have set off on a 400-kilometer protest march in Canada.

The march started on August 10 in Toronto and is scheduled to end in 15 days in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, in front of the Canadian prime minister's office.

The march started at a cemetery in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill in which some of the people who were on the flight are buried.

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, spoke at the cemetery, emphasizing that the families remain determined to bring justice after 31 months of struggle.

"These families have spent this time fighting against an inefficient oppressive government," Esmaeilion said, "The families want justice for their loved ones and all those who were killed that day in a vicious and planned crime."

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed on January 8, 2020, while en route to Kyiv, killing all 176 people onboard.

After days of official denials, Iran admitted that an IRGC unit had inadvertently shot down the plane amid heightened tensions with the United States over the U.S. drone assassination of top IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad.

The victims were mostly Iranians and Canadians. Their families have demanded transparency and accountability.

The Iranian government has allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.

Canada said last year that it found no evidence of premeditation in the downing of the airliner. A Canadian court awarded $84 million and interest to the families of six of the victims.

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

Shooting Rampage Leaves 11 Dead After Family Dispute In Montenegrin Town

Police cordon off the crime scene after the August 12 shooting rampage in Cetinje, southwestern Montenegro.

A man went on a shooting rampage in a town in Montenegro, killing 10 people before he was shot dead in a gun battle with police, state television reported.

Montenegro state TV quoted police as saying that six other people, including a policeman, were wounded. The shooting occurred after a dispute within a family, the police said. They said children were among the 10 people killed.

The violence occurred on August 12 shortly after 4 p.m. local time in Cetinje, a town of about 18,000 in southwestern Montenegro.

The attacker, who was initially counted as one of the victims, was identified as being 34 years old.

Two people were treated at a hospital in Cetinje. Several others were brought to a hospital in Podgorica, according to news reports. The senior state prosecutor is on the scene along with the emergency services and the police.

The Montenegrin police administration has not yet released a statement on the incident.

Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said the shooting was a tragedy worse than any in the collective memory of Montenegrins.

"I call on all the citizens of Montenegro to be with the families of the innocent victims, their relatives, friends, and all the citizens of the capital of Cetinje," Abazovic said on Telegram.

With reporting by AP

Russia-Backed Separatists In Ukraine Set Date For Trial Of Foreigners Accused Of Being Mercenaries

Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities" in June.

Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk have set August 15 as the date for the trial of five foreigners accused of joining Ukrainian armed forces as mercenaries.

The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic said on August 12 that Matias Gustavsson of Sweden, Vjekoslav Prebeg of Croatia, and Britons John Harding, Andrew Hill, and Dylan Healy will face trial.

According to the separatists, the five men are charged with being mercenaries, preparing for terrorist activities, and conducting activities aiming to seize power. If found guilty, the men may face the death penalty.

Last month, Britain's Foreign Office condemned what it called the "exploitation" of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes following the capture of Healy and Hill. Another Briton, Paul Ury, who was captured along with Healy and Hill, died in July while in the separatists' custody.

In early June, two other Britons -- Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner -- and a Moroccan national -- Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death by the separatists for "mercenary activities."

All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by pro-Russia separatists while fighting Russian forces.

Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany condemned the death sentences.

The European Court of Human Rights on June 30 intervened in the case and warned Moscow it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.

The British government insisted that as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion that was launched in February or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians forced to flee their homes.

With reporting by Interfax
Updated

Salman Rushdie Hospitalized On Ventilator, With Damaged Liver, Severed Arm Nerves, After Attack

Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, a book banned in Iran as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Salman Rushdie remains hospitalized on a ventilator, with a damaged liver and nerve damage, his agent says, after the author was attacked as he prepared to give a lecture in rural New York state.

Police identified the man who allegedly stabbed Rushdie on August 12 as Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene in Chautauqua, New York by troopers providing security for the event.

No charges have been filed against Matar yet; police told reporters they have yet to determine a motive.

Andrew Wylie, Rushdie's agent, said in a statement that Rushdie had undergone surgery and had suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm and that he was likely to lose one eye.

Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s and spent years in hiding, was stabbed just before he was to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, a spiritual retreat center in a rural corner of southwest New York State.

The center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.

The suspect stormed the stage as Rushdie was being introduced and attacked him and moderator Henry Reese, New York State Police said in a statement.

"Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known," the statement said.

A state trooper who had been assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody, the statement added. Reese suffered a minor head injury.

Eyewitnesses said the attack lasted for nearly 20 seconds, with Hatar allegedly continuing to punch and stab Rushdie even as onlookers rushed to restrain him.

Rushdie, 75, is the author of The Satanic Verses, a book banned in Iran because many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

The Swedish institution that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 denounced the fatwa, saying reward money for Rushdie's death was a "flagrant” breach of international law.

Rushdie published a memoir about his life under the fatwa called Joseph Anton, the pseudonym he used while under British police protection. His second novel, Midnight Children, is set during the 1947 partition of India and won the Booker Prize. His new novel, Victory City, is due to be published in February.

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and "as a home for freedom of creative expression," according to the institution’s website.

Rushdie was Born in Mumbai, India, and holds British and U.S. citizenship. He has lived in New York since 2000, according to Politico.

Since dropping his alias and partially coming out of hiding in 2001, Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

With reporting by AP, Sky News, CBS, and Politico

Kyrgyz Court Acquits Noted Rights Activist In High-Profile Case

Human rights activist Kamiljan Ruziev told RFE/RL on August 12 that the Karakol city court concluded there were no elements of crime in his case and found him not guilty. (file photo)

KARAKOL, Kyrgyzstan -- A Kyrgyz court has acquitted well-known rights activist Kamiljan Ruziev on fraud and forgery charges in a high-profile case that rights groups call trumped-up.

Ruziev told RFE/RL on August 12 that the Karakol city court concluded there were no elements of crime in his case and found him not guilty.

Kyrgyz Ombudswoman Atyr Abdrakhmatova confirmed Ruziev's acquittal on Facebook.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security arrested Ruziev in May 2020 outside the Karakol city courthouse while the court was considering a lawsuit Ruziev had filed against the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) and the prosecutor-general’s office for failing to investigate his complaint that law enforcement officers had threatened him.

Ruziev was charged with fraud and forgery at the time, but later the fraud charge was dropped.

On August 10, the Bishkek-based Equal Rights Coalition, which comprises several leading human rights groups in the Central Asian country, issued a statement saying that instead of trying Ruziev the authorities "should thoroughly investigate Ruziev's complaint" to find out if his claims about abuse of power by the security officials who arrested him really took place.

Ruziev, who heads the Karakol-based human rights organization Ventus, has said he was arrested in retribution for his human rights activities.

For more than 20 years, Ruziev has been defending the rights of prisoners and others who have complained of torture and harassment at the hands of the police and government officials.

Human Rights Watch and Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, have demanded Kyrgyz authorities drop the charge against Ruziev and investigate his claims that he was threatened by law enforcement.

At this point, it is unclear if the authorities will launch a probe into Ruziev's claim against the UKMK officers.

Skyrocketing Inflation Pushes Iranians Away From Basic Food Items, Experts Say

According to one leading expert, fruit consumption has decreased by 50 percent in Iran because of rising prices. (file photo)

Skyrocketing inflation is forcing an increasing number of Iranians to limit buying fruit and vegetables, industry experts say, as Iran continues to grapple with crippling international sanctions.

Asadollah Kargar, the head of the Fruit and Vegetable Sellers Association, said that fruit consumption has decreased by 50 percent because of rising prices.

“This increase in the price of fruit has caused some households in Iran to buy waste and throw away fruits,” he was quoted as telling the Resalat newspaper on August 11.

The Statistics Center of Iran said recently that inflation for food items in July hit 90.2 percent.

Kargar’s comments echo other remarks from major food producers.

Last month, a top official with the Beef Production and Distribution Union said that beef sales had dropped 20 percent, while the head of the Food Industry Federation said sales of overall food industry products had fallen by half.

The chairman of the Dairy Products Industry Association said household consumption in his sector had decreased by 20 percent in recent months, due to an 80 percent increase in prices for dairy products.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s government has struggled to curb the price hikes, which have raised social tensions. In May, the government announced "economic surgery," a series of policies that include reforming subsidies and halting the devaluation of the exchange rate used to import essential goods such as food.

Raisi's government also promised to give Iranians four million rials ($13) in subsidies for two months. But prices have continued to outpace the subsidies.

The economy has been devastated by years of sanctions imposed by the United States after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Talks to revive that deal are ongoing.

Extreme inflation has rattled public institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and child-care centers, which are facing possible food shortages.

The economic woes have led to sizable protests in recent months, many of which have been met by crackdowns from security forces.

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

Belarusian Court Orders Harsher Prison Confinement For Opposition Activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski

Belarusian oppositionist Syarhey Tsikhanouski (file photo)

A Belarusian court has ordered imprisoned video blogger and opposition activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski into harsher confinement conditions after finding him in violation of unspecified prison rules.

The Vyasna human rights center said on August 11 that Tsikhanouski, who has been held in solitary confinement-type conditions in a prison colony since before he was sentenced in December 2021, will end up in a more restrictive prison.

The court in the eastern city of Mahilyou said Tsikhanouski will be transferred to prison for three years for unspecified violations.

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly what those alleged violations were.

Tsikhanouski is the husband of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is now the widely considered to be the leader of Belarus’s opposition.

A popular video blogger, Tsikhanouski intended to challenge Alyaksandr Lukashenka who was running for re-election as president in 2020. But he was disqualified and arrested before the vote.

Tsikhanouskaya subsequently mobilized voters and won the election, according to the opposition and Western countries who say Lukashenka rigged the results.

She has been living in Lithuania since fleeing Belarus due to concerns about her safety and that of the couple's two children.

Svyatlana also confirmed the news of the harsher punishment for her husband, but she said in a post to her Telegram channel that she did not know the reasons for the decision or where he would be sent.

Leading Russian Hospital Offers To Treat Jailed Ex-Kyrgyz President

Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A leading Russian hospital has said it would provide treatment to former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, whose health is reportedly deteriorating as he serves an 11-year prison sentence in Bishkek.

It's unclear if Kyrgyz authorities will authorize Atambaev's departure, even for medical treatment offered by the Central Clinical Hospital of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation.

Atambaev's defense team officially requested that prison authorities transfer Atambaev to the elite Moscow hospital, defense lawyer Sergei Slesarev told RFE/RL on August 11.

There was no immediate comment on the request by prison authorities or government officials.

Atambaev, who was convicted and sentenced in 2020 for his role in the illegal release of a notorious crime boss, has in the past complained of numbness in his limbs. Another lawyer said that he had lost weight, had low blood pressure, and looked unwell.

Although Kyrgyz authorities typically cede to Moscow's requests, the government may be more reluctant to let Atambaev go, fearing he would not return to Kyrgyzstan, where he faces multiple other investigations.

Kyrgyzstan’s first president, Askar Akaev, has been living in Moscow openly since being ousted in 2005 by anti-government protests.

Bishkek authorities still want him on corruption charges and he visited Kyrgyzstan last year for the first time since he fled the country, and he was questioned in an investigation involving a major gold mine operation.

However, he was allowed to return to Moscow.

The 65-year-old Atambaev is currently involved in another trial linked to 2019 violence at his compound near Bishkek involving an Interior Ministry summons. A standoff between security forces and his supporters resulted in the death of a senior security officer and more than 170 injuries.

In that case, Atambaev and 13 others have been charged with murder, attempted murder, and other charges.

In June, prosecutors filed another charge against Atambaev over deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 that claimed almost 450 lives.

At that time, Atambaev led an interim government, which took over following anti-government protests that toppled then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Nazarbaev Makes Rare Public Appearance, Along With Ousted Aides

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN – Former President Nursultan Nazarbaev made a rare public appearance, attending the opening of a new mosque in the Kazakh capital, accompanied by top associates who were pushed out in the wake of the January political unrest that roiled the country.

The August 12 visit to a ceremony unveiling a new mosque in the Central Asian capital was the only the third time since the January violence that the 82-year-old Nazarbaev has been seen in public.

Nazarbaev gave only brief opening remarks about the mosque's construction.

Nazarbaev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades before resigning in 2019 and picking his long-time ally, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, as his successor.

But he retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying substantial powers with the title of “Elbasy” or leader of the nation.

In January, protests that started over a fuel price hike spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had plagued the country under Nazarbaev. More than 200 people were killed in the unrest, and hundreds arrested.

In the wake of these events, Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.

In June, a Toqaev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbaev's name from the Kazakhstan's constitution and annulled his status as Elbasy.

Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and would not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.

Russia Blocks Social Network Account Of Rights Group Over Ukraine War Coverage

OVD-Info is a nongovernmental organization whose compilations of arrests and detentions nationwide are widely followed inside Russia. (file photo)

Russian authorities have blocked the main social media account for police watchdog OVD-Info over its coverage of the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine.

OVD-Info said its account on VK, the dominant Russian social media network also known as VKontakte, had been blocked on the orders of prosecutors.

The group, a nongovernmental organization whose compilations of arrests and detentions nationwide are widely followed inside Russia, said the Prosecutor-General's Office declared that its reports about casualties among Ukrainian civilians and Russian troops were "false."

The Prosecutor-General's Office had no immediate statement on the order.

The organization's main website was ordered blocked in December, after a court accused it of promoting terrorism and extremism.

An appeals court later threw out that ruling and ordered a new hearing, although the website remained blocked and OVD-Info had to set up a new site.

The group's other media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram still appeared to be working as of August 12.

Since the February 24 invasion, Russian authorities have clamped down on independent media and civil society groups in particular where coverage of the Ukraine war is concerned. The Kremlin has ordered that the invasion be called a "special military operation,” and has criminalized “discrediting the armed forces.”

According to Roskomsvoboda, a group that promotes uncensored online media, more than 5,000 websites have been fully blocked since the beginning of the invasion.

Ukraine's Pipeline Operator Says Oil Flow From Russia Through Druzhba Resumes

Ukraine had halted Russian oil shipments through Druzhba on August 4 after Western sanctions prevented it from receiving transit fees from Moscow. (file photo)

The flow of Russian oil has resumed to Hungary and Slovakia through the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba oil pipeline, Ukraine's Naftogaz said on August 11.

Ukraine's pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta said it resumed operations upon receiving payment from Hungarian energy group MOL on the evening of August 10.

Ukraine had halted Russian oil shipments through Druzhba on August 4 after Western sanctions prevented it from receiving transit fees from Moscow.

Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft and MOL said on August 10 that oil flows were poised to resume through the pipeline.

The suspension also affected the Czech Republic. All three countries rely heavily on Russian crude and have limited ability to import alternative supply by sea.

Ukrtransnafta said that no funds were received from Transneft. Instead MOL, the Hungarian oil company, took the initiative to pay a transit fee for the Russian oil.

Ukrtransnafta also said that it had not received any data on transit fee payment from the Czech Republic so far, or any official letters from Transneft informing that the company operating the section of the Druzhba pipeline in the Czech Republic would pay transit frees for the oil flows to that country.

The chairman of the Czech pipeline operator said that oil flows through the Druzhba pipeline to the Czech Republic should resume within two days as problems with paying transit fees are resolved.

Based on reporting by Reuters

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