Obama: U.S., Israel Have 'Differences' On Peace Plan
Millions of people around the world watched or listened to U.S. President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East. But in the hours after he finished, with reactions just starting to pour in, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared to be the first world leader to offer an official response -- and he was less than pleased.
"The New York Times" reported that Netanyahu voiced his disapproval even early, by way of a "furious" phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before Obama spoke.
The U.S. president's call for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders, plus accompanying land swaps -- and Netanyahu's swift rejection of the idea as leaving Israel existentially vulnerable -- had set the stage for a previously-scheduled meeting between the two leaders at the White House on May 20 that, after initial handshakes, was destined to turn tense.
Speaking at a joint press appearance after the two leaders met for lengthy talks in Washngton, Obama tried to downplay disagreements between the allies. "Obviously, there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language,” he said. “And that's going to happen between friends."
"But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats," he added.
Following the talks with Obama, the "Jerusalem Post" daily quoted an unnamed official as saying that the Israeli prime minister came out of the meeting more encouraged than when he went in.
Netanyahu, however, maintained that a return to 1967 borders would make security for Israel impossible, and said "peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality."
"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible [and] because they don't take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground -- demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years," the Israeli leader said.
The Six-Day War of 1967 saw Israeli forces counter Arab threats along the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian borders and resulted in Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. Sinai has since been returned to Egypt.
Since the war, Israel had built settlements in territories won during the war, a number of which have major Jewish populations. Israel also insists that parts of the territories gained in the war provide essential buffer zones for the tiny state.
The settlements have generated widespread international criticism, along with criticism by a segment of Israelis. Washington, while expressing opposition to the settlements, insists an agreement on the issue should emerge through the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and has blocked UN actions labeling them as illegal.
Palestinians ultimately hope to form a state that unites the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, creating a capital in East Jerusalem.
Earlier this year, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki announced that he would seek recognition for a Palestinian state on Israeli-occupied lands at the United Nations in September.
In his May 19 speech, Obama implicitly warned the Palestinians against pursuing UN recognition of statehood.
Impediments To Peace
Alongside Netanyahu today, he also reiterated another point made in his speech: While encouraging Israel to make concessions, Washington also expects Palestinians to prove that they are prepared to work toward peace.
"It is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist and so for that reason, I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that's been made between Fatah and Hamas," Obama said.
In early May, the Palestinian Fatah movement, which controls areas of the West Bank, signed a unity accord with former rival Hamas, an Iranian-backed militant Islamist movement which de facto runs the Gaza Strip. While Fatah has backed a negotiated peace with Israel, Hamas calls for Israel's destruction. It is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
Reconciliation between the two groups is considered by many, including Netanyahu, to be a new impediment to a final settlement.
Touching on another message presented in his speech the day before, Obama said he and Netanyahu feel that the spirit of change currently sweeping the Middle East and North Africa potentially provide momentum to the long-stalled peace process.
"We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring but also acknowledged that there are significant perils as well, and that it's going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold," he said.
Both the United States and Israel have welcomed the prospect for democracies emerging in the region, while fearing the potential rise of Islamist-rooted governments.
While Obama and Netanyahu affirmed their countries' bond in front of reporters, other sharp points of disagreement emerged in the talks, including the strategy advanced in Obama's speech that the future status of Jerusalem, as well as the fate of Palestinian refugees, should be dealt with after a return to pre-1967 borders.
Netanyahu said confirmation of all of Jerusalem as part of Israel and a guarantee of Palestinian refugees returning to only Palestinian lands must be part of an initial deal.
Meanwhile, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni praised Obama's Middle East vision today, and the UN, EU, U.S., and Russian negotiators of the Middle East Peace Quartet also issued a statement in support of Obama's stance.
Obama is scheduled to address the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a major pro-Israel lobbying group, on May 22.
Before he leaves Washington, Netanyahu will address a joint session of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress on May 24, a rare privilege for a visiting leader.
The Israeli position has generally garnered staunch Republican support, and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Obama's speech "threw Israel under the bus."
Russian Governor Says Ukrainian Artillery Fire On Shelter In Belgorod Region Kills One
One person was killed and two injured in the Belgorod region of Russia as a result of shelling of a temporary shelter for civilians, the governor of the region said on May 30.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov blamed Ukrainian forces for artillery fire that hit the shelter, which he said housed displaced people, including elderly civilians and children.
"A security guard was killed and two people were injured," Gladkov said on Telegram, adding that the two injured people were hospitalized in serious condition.
Gladkov's post included images showing a damaged building, a hole in the ground apparently caused by the impact of a strike, and adults and children boarding buses.
The shelling occurred in the Shebekino district of the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine and has experienced an increase in attacks in recent weeks, prompting residents to seek shelter in temporary accommodation centers.
Gladkov called the situation in the region "actually a war," using a word that Russian authorities have avoided when describing hostilities in Ukraine.
There has been no comment on the shelling from the Ukrainian side.
The Ukrainian government last week rejected Moscow's allegation that a Ukrainian "sabotage group" was responsible for clashes that erupted on the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Gladkov said then that eight people were injured on May 22 in the fighting, which he said spilled into the Graivoron district, which borders Ukraine, prompting most of the residents in Graivoron and neighboring villages to evacuate.
A group calling itself the Free Russia Legion, which claims to be made up of Russians cooperating with Ukrainian forces, took responsibility for that attack.
Moscow earlier on May 30 was the target of a drone attack as more Russian territory comes under fire amid expectations of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Five of the eight drones that took part in the raid were shot down, the Russian Defense Ministry said, while three others were jammed and forced to veer off course. Three apartment buildings were lightly damaged in the assault. The information could not be independently verified.
With reporting by AFP
Iran Starts Retrial Of Journalist Who Covered Woman's Death In Morality Police Custody
A court in Iran on May 30 began the closed-door trial of a female journalist on charges linked to her coverage of a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody last year sparked months of unrest. Niloufar Hamedi, along with another female journalist, Elaheh Mohammadi, who went on trial on May 29, face several charges including "colluding with hostile powers" for their coverage of Amini's death. Hamedi's husband said the trial session "ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Kosovo Tennis Federation Accuses Serbia's Djokovic Of Fueling Tension
The Kosovo Tennis Federation has accused Serbia's Novak Djokovic of aggravating an already tense situation after the world No. 3 wrote that Kosovo was "the heart of Serbia" on a camera lens following his first-round win at the French Open. "Despite a general message against violence, the statement 'Kosovo is the heart of Serbia' and further statements after the match, made by such a public figure...directly result in raising the level of tension between the two states, Serbia and Kosovo," Kosovo Tennis Federation President Jeton Hadergjonaj said on May 30 in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
NATO Launches Arctic Maneuvers, Vowing To Protect Newest Member Finland
NATO countries are in the middle of Arctic military maneuvers, vowing on May 30 to defend their newest member, Finland, which is hosting its first joint NATO exercise since becoming the 31st member of the Western alliance in April. Nearly 1,000 allied forces from the United States, Britain, Norway, and Sweden joined some 6,500 Finnish troops for the Northern Forest exercise at an artillery training ground above the Arctic Circle just a two-hour drive from the Russian border. U.S. Army Major General Gregory Anderson is overseeing the exercise, which continues through June 2. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Retirees Join Workers In Fresh Wave Of Protests Over Pensions, Living Conditions
A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights.
Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.
Telecommunications retirees were a large part of the protesters, while in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, workers from the Maad Koush factory, a critical supplier to the Hormozgan Steel Company production chain, joined in as they continued into the third day of their strike despite threats of dismissal and arrest.
Meanwhile, the Nepheline Syenite Complex workers' strike in the city of Kalibar, East Azerbaijan Province, extended into its second day.
Government officials have described the complex in Kalibar as the Middle East's sole nepheline syenite mineral-rock-processing unit, a critical material for aluminum, glass, plastic, and rubber ceramics production.
Worker representatives have warned officials that if their "indifference to workers' demands" continues, the government will be "responsible for any subsequent incident."
In recent weeks, social-security retirees and telecommunications retirees have held numerous gatherings to voice their anger over deteriorating living conditions, the issue of fixed pensions in a high-inflation environment, and the overall mounting costs of living.
The retirees also claim that part of their legitimate benefits, including the payment of welfare and supplies, have been cut off for some time without explanation. They are demanding they be fully compensated.
In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, protesters gathered outside Khuzestan Province's main Telecommunications Company building on May 29, voicing their grievances with slogans like "Injustice and oppression are enough, our tables have nothing on them."
Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.
Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.
Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Official Warns Iranian Film Industry Over Dissent After Cannes Festival
The head of the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has warned the country's film industry that dissent will be dealt with harshly after several people from the sector participated in the Cannes Film Festival without obtaining permission from Tehran.
Mohammad Khazaie said on May 29 that the individuals who traveled to the French seaside resort for the festival earlier this month will be barred from operating in Iran's film industry, saying they cannot both "wear the coat of opposition" and work in Iranian cinema.
While only one Iranian film, Terrestrial Verses, was officially entered in the competition, dissident director Mohammad Rasolof, who was recently released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, was asked to be a jury member. However, he was not granted permission to attend the event.
Still, several Iranian-born celebrities attended the festival and made statements calling for an end to oppression in the country and an end to state violence against dissent. One of the most notable statements came from Iranian model Mahlagha Jaberi, whose red-carpet dress featured a noose as the neckline.
Khazaie said he was also concerned over the underground production and distribution of films and noncompliance with religious issues.
"We will cut ties with anyone who, for any reason, works with smuggled and unlicensed films in Iran and abroad, and works against Iran," Khazaie warned.
This includes all elements of the film industry, from actors and producers to technical staff, he added.
Khazaie's comments were likely directed at the film Me, Maryam, The Children, And 26 Others, directed by Farshad Hashemi. The film was shown by the Independent Filmmakers Union of Iran at the Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), despite being made in Iran without observing the Islamic republic's censorship laws, including the mandatory hijab for female actors.
Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran -- where the law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public -- since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police on September 16 for an alleged hijab offense.
While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.
Several Iranian cinematographers and prominent public figures have also been summoned by the police or arrested, including director Hamid Porazari.
Other celebrities, including prominent Iranian actresses Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayoun Riahi, and Pantea Bahram, have been interrogated and faced legal action after they made public appearances without wearing the mandatory hijab to show support for the protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
IMF To Enable $900 Million Disbursement To Ukraine
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission has completed its first review of a $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, and the country has met the required conditions, paving the way for a payout of around $900 million, the IMF said on May 30. IMF staff have also raised their forecast for Ukraine's economic growth this year to a range entirely in positive territory from a previous prediction that was between -3 percent and +1 percent, the IMF said in a statement on the review of the four-year Extended Fund Facility Arrangement approved in March.
Norway Says Beluga Whale With Apparent Russian-Made Harness Swims South To Sweden
Norwegian authorities say a beluga whale, which was first spotted in Arctic Norway four years ago with an apparent Russian-made harness and alleged to have come from a Russian military facility, has been seen off Sweden's coast nearly 2,000 kilometers to the south. "During the last few weeks, it has moved quickly and swam several hundred kilometers" before reaching waters off Sweden's west coast, Olav Lekve of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said. Whale-watchers in Norway have nicknamed it Hvaldimir, combining the Norwegian word for whale -- hval -- and the Russian first name Vladimir. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Bulgaria's Top Court Rejects Russian's Asylum Request
Bulgaria's Supreme Court has rejected a request for political asylum by 27-year-old Russian Aleksandr Stotsky, who fled Russia immediately after the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Stotsky, a supporter of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, requested political asylum, arguing that he risked being sent to fight in Ukraine upon returning to Russia. He staged an anti-war protest outside Russia's Embassy in Sofia. Stotsky's asylum request was rejected by Bulgaria's authority for refugees and a Sofia court, which ruled he was in no danger if he returned to his homeland. Stotsky is set to appeal the Supreme Court ruling. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.
More Than 150 Tajik Migrant Workers Detained By Moscow Police, Sources Say
More than 150 Tajik migrants workers have been detained by Moscow police, several of the laborers told RFE/RL, saying they were being held in the courtyard of a police station.
The men said they were woken up by police in the early morning on May 30 before being taken “in four buses” to the Mitino district police headquarters. Police gave no reason for their arrest, the men said.
“We are now at the police station...The officers didn’t tell us why we’re taken here,” a Tajik worker told RFE/RL by phone on condition of anonymity.
Contacted by RFE/RL, Tajikistan’s embassy in Moscow confirmed it is aware of the incident and trying to clarify the situation.
There have been no immediate public comments or statements from either Russian police or Tajik officials.
The workers said they temporarily live in converted railway cars near the construction site where they work in the Mitino district.
There have been several reports of Tajik immigrants being rounded up or beaten in recent days by police in Russia, a top destination for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Tajikistan.
Dozens of Tajik men were rounded up by police in two separate arrests in Moscow’s Mozhaysky district and the town of Kotelniki in Moscow Province last week.
Russian media reported that in at least one incident police had responded to calls from local residents. The residents allegedly complained that a group of Tajik men forced local school children to leave a neighborhood stadium so they could play soccer there themselves.
On May 24, Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to Dushanbe, Semyon Grigoryev, over reports that some 100 Tajik students were detained and beaten by police in Russia's Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
According to the students, they were severely beaten by security officers who raided a dormitory housing Tajik students on May 19.
Lithuania Calls For Extra NATO Forces On Border
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda is urging a stronger NATO presence on the alliance's eastern flank as Russia's war on Ukraine continues. "This is a front line that needs to be very strong. We need air and missile defense and a greater presence of allied forces in the region," Nauseda said on May 30 after a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vilnius. "Germany's long-term commitment to Lithuania's security is indispensable for NATO's entire eastern flank," he said. Currently, 760 German soldiers belong to a NATO combat unit in Lithuania led by Germany.
Pushkin Statue Removed From Latvian Park
Authorities in Latvia's capital, Riga, have moved a statue of 19th-century Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin from a downtown park to a warehouse, local media reported on May 30. The statue is to be transferred to a local art museum, reports said. The statue, made by Russian sculptor Aleksandr Tartynov, was erected in 2009 as a gift from the city of Moscow. However, Latvian authorities never gave official approval for the statue to be placed in Riga's Kronvalda Park. In August, authorities demolished a monument in Riga dedicated to the Red Army. In October, two monuments to Soviet soldiers were dismantled in the city of Daugavpils. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Russian Director, Writer Held In Detention Over Play
A Moscow court on May 30 rejected requests by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk have their pretrial detention changed to a different form of restraint such as house arrest. No reason for the decision was given and the two will remain in detention until at least July 4 on suspicion of justification of terrorism over the production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The play, written by Petriichuk, is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich was the director of the production that sparked the charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
A Moscow court on May 30 rejected a request by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich to have her pretrial detention changed to a different form of restraint such as house arrest. No reason for the decision was given and Berkovich will remain in detention until at least July 4 on suspicion of justifying terrorism for her production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The production is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich has pleaded not guilty. The author of the play, Svetlana Petriichuk, has also been detained. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Thousands Of Striking Romanian Teachers March In Bucharest For Higher Pay, More Investment
Tens of thousands of striking Romanian primary and secondary school teachers marched to the government building in downtown Bucharest on May 30, calling for better pay, more investment in education, and a reform of the country's education system. Union organizers have estimated that 15,000-20,000 teachers are attending the protest march, which will then head toward Cotroceni Palace to call for a meeting of their representatives with President Klaus Iohannis. Union leaders have rejected the government's compromise offers during several rounds of negotiations since the strike started on May 22. Health-care employees and railway workers have also signaled that they are preparing to go on strike. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.
Russian Drone Attack Damages High-Rise Apartment Building In Kyiv
At least one person was killed, several wounded, as Russia launched a fresh wave of drone attacks on Kyiv in the pre-dawn hours of May 30. According to authorities, 29 out of 31 Iranian-made drones were shot down by air defenses; however, falling debris caused fires in several districts of the Ukrainian capital, including a high-rise apartment block. Its upper floors were decimated, windows shattered throughout, and parked cars damaged below.
Japarov Says Former Kyrgyz Leader Bakiev To Be Arrested If He Returns
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov says the government has no plans to invite former President Kurmanbek Bakiev to the country, but if he does try to come back he will be arrested given there is an outstanding criminal case against him.
Speaking in an interview with the state news agency Kabar on May 30, Japarov said a court sentence handed to Bakiev was still in effect and there was currently no legal basis to annul it.
“There is a decision by the court. He was sentenced to 30 years. That decision is still in force today. If he comes, of course, he will be arrested. We all must learn to live under the law,” Japarov said.
Bakiev, 73, fled Kyrgyzstan for Belarus with members of his family following anti-government protests in 2010. A Bishkek court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison after convicting him of involvement in the killing of almost 100 protesters during the uprising.
In Kyrgyzstan, many people see their former leaders as stained by corruption and, in some cases, with blood on their hands.
Japarov has moved recently to try and reconcile differences over the former leaders, including holding an unprecedented summit in February that saw all five of the country’s previous presidents since Kyrgyzstan regained independence 31 years ago meet with the current head of state in a bid to foster forgiveness and unity.
The summit has raised speculation that Japarov is looking to allow former leaders the freedom to return without facing legal consequences.
But inside the Central Asian nation, Bakiev, Kyrgyzstan’s second president, remains arguably the biggest pariah.
Japarov said in the interview with Karab that he feels the sentence should be annulled, but that’s not a decision he can make at the moment.
“I want to cancel the court's decisions. But I have no right either. I only have the right to grant or refuse clemency if Kurmanbek Bakiyev asks for mercy.,” Japarov said.
“I have to make a decision whether to grant it or not, taking into account the opinion of the people who suffered in 2010," he added.
Pro-Imran Khan Pakistani TV Journalist Returns Home After Being Freed
A prominent Pakistani television journalist who went missing last week, apparently because of his public support for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, returned home early on May 30 after being released by his captors, his family and his employer said. Sami Abrahim’s brother, Ali Raza, took to Twitter to confirm his release. BOL TV confirmed his release in a news announcement. Abrahim went missing last week when eight people in four vehicles intercepted his car on his way back home from work in the capital, Islamabad, and took him away, according to his family and BOL TV where Abrahim works.
NATO To Send More Troops To Kosovo As U.S. Says Pristina Suspended From Military Exercises
PRISTINA -- NATO has decided to deploy 700 more troops to Kosovo to help stop violent protests in the north of the country and the United States canceled Kosovo's participation in ongoing NATO exercises after clashes broke out between ethnic Albanian authorities and local ethnic Serbs.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on May 30 that in addition to sending 700 more troops, another battalion had been put on standby. Stoltenberg warned that NATO troops "will take all necessary actions to maintain a safe and secure environment for all citizens in Kosovo" after the clashes occurred on May 29.
About 30 members of its forces were injured, KFOR said in a statement.
Speaking in Oslo after talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, Stoltenberg condemned the violence, saying that "such attacks are unacceptable and must stop."
He did not say when the additional troops would be deployed but urged both sides to "take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, refrain from further irresponsible behaviour, and engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue, which is the only way to lasting peace."
The current peacekeeping force in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, on May 30 sealed off the municipality building in the town of Zvecan, where the violence occurred.
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said the decision of Kosovar authorities to forcibly install Albanian mayors in Zvecan and two other Kosovar Serb-majority towns, Leposaviq and Zubin Potok, had had a negative impact on Kosovo's reputation and reversed efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
He quoted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who warned that the actions would affect U.S.-Kosovo relations, and that the cancellation of Kosovo's participation in the military exercise was the first consequence.
"Today there was no activity for Defender Europe '23.... For Kosovo, those exercises are over," Hovenier said.
The NATO allies' largest military exercises in the Balkan region are being hosted by Kosovo. They began on May 21 and were set to last until June 2.
"We have asked [Kosovar Prime Minister Albin] Kurti to take steps toward reducing tensions in the north. He has not responded to these requests and we are analyzing what our other actions will be," Hovenier said.
Kurti has defended his government's decision to send mayors to municipal buildings, calling it constitutional.
Hovenier said the United States had two demands for the Kosovo government: not to insist that mayors work from municipal buildings and to withdraw police officers from the municipal buildings in the three towns.
Mayors of the towns were sworn in despite a turnout of under 3.5 percent in the April 23 by-elections amid a Serbian boycott.
Ethnic Serbs earlier on May 30 gathered in front of town halls in Kosovo's north following the violence as EU officials scrambled to bring leaders of Serbia and Kosovo together.
On May 30, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovar authorities and ethnic Serb protesters to "immediately de-escalate" tensions in Kosovo's north, while sources told RFE/RL that the special representative of the European Union for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, was trying to organize a meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kurti.
The sources cautioned that it appeared unlikely either side was ready to meet or hold talks.
Vucic asked the leader of the Quint group -- an informal decision-making group comprising Germany, Britain, France, the United States, and Italy that focuses on major international issues -- to urge Pristina to guarantee the safety of Serbs in Kosovo.
While diplomatic efforts buzzed behind the scenes, Kosovo police said that the situation in Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok was calm as protests continued, although cars belonging to journalists from various media outlets were targeted by several attacks on May 30, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo reported.
Among the vehicles attacked was a car in which an RFE/RL news crew was traveling in Zubin Potok. There were no injuries in the attack, which involved an explosive device and occurred while the vehicle was moving.
Crowds of several hundred people gathered earlier outside municipal headquarters in Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, with alarm sirens sounding and pepper spray and bottles flying, as local and international pressure mounted for Kosovar officials to de-escalate the situation.
KFOR soldiers, wearing full riot gear, have put a metal barrier around the municipal building in Zvecan, and are attempting to maintain cordons to keep the two sides apart in the three municipalities and to prevent the crowds from overrunning the buildings where so-called “parallel” administrations backed by neighboring Serbia operate.
Charles Kupchan, a member of the American Council on Foreign Affairs and professor at Georgetown University, told RFE/RL on May 30 that the government of Kosovo should withdraw from efforts to appoint Albanian mayors in municipalities with a Serbian majority in the north as such moves "are useless and counterproductive in the long run."
"We need to see the government of Serbia and the government of Kosovo sit down together and try to work out the details of the agreement [on the normalization of relations]. Self-governance for the Serbian community seems to be one of the main obstacles. I think what is happening in the north now is a distraction from this important step of the agreement," he said.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
Russia Launches New Deadly Air Strikes On Kyiv; Drones Hit Moscow Buildings
Russia launched a fresh wave of drone strikes on Kyiv on May 30 -- the fourth attack in three days -- killing at least one person and wounding several others, but Ukrainian authorities said most of the drones were shot down by the capital's air defenses, while Moscow was subjected to a rare drone attack that damaged several buildings.
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The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said on Telegram that fires broke out in several districts of the capital, and falling debris set a high-rise building on fire in Kyiv's Holosiyivskiy district.
"One person died. In total, four victims were hospitalized in the Holosiyivskiy district. Medics provided help on the spot," Klitschko wrote, adding that 20 people were evacuated.
The acting head of Ukraine's National Police, Ivan Vyhivskiy, said on Telegram that 13 people were wounded in the attack on Kyiv and its surroundings in addition to the person who died -- a young woman.
"Nine people were wounded in Kyiv, and a 33-year-old woman died. Four citizens were injured in the Kyiv region," the press service of the National Police quoted Vyhivskiy as saying.
The Ukrainian military said the attack solely consisted of Iranian-made drones and it lasted from shortly before midnight until 4:30 a.m. local time.
"A total of 31 kamikaze drones attacked from the north and south. The air defense forces destroyed 29 drones," the military said.
Almost all drones were shot down on the outskirts of Kyiv and above the capital.
Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.
Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.
The capital's military administration said only Iranian-made drones were involved in the May 30 attack -- the 17th on Kyiv this month.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he continues to speak with Ukraine's Western partners about providing further air defense systems to repel Russian attacks. This included a conversation on May 30 with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
"Now, precisely in Ukraine, on our land, in our sky, it is being decided whether freedom and civilization -- global leadership in this century -- will be preserved. It is decided by us, together with America, together with Europe, together with all our allies and partners," Zelenskiy said, thanking all countries that are helping Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said eight drones were shot down or jammed in Moscow in what it said was a "terrorist attack" by the "Kyiv regime." Baza's Telegram channel said more than 25 drones had been involved in the attack.
The reports could not be independently verified.
"Several buildings suffered minor damage" in the attack, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Telegram. "No one has been seriously wounded."
An emergency services representative told RIA Novosti that drones hit two residential buildings in Moscow. The information could not be independently verified.
Russia's Investigative Committee said no one was wounded.
Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the Kremlin later and was briefed on the attack, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He was quoted later as saying that Ukraine sought to frighten Russians.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak told the Breakfast Show YouTube channel on May 30 that the country had nothing to do with the drone attack.
"Of course we are pleased to watch and predict an increase in the number of attacks. But, of course, we have nothing directly to do with this," he said. Ukraine has denied similar attacks in the past.
The United States is still gathering information on reports of the drone strike, the White House said. Spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated the U.S. position that it does not support attacks inside of Russia.
The European Union condemned the attacks on Kyiv, with EU spokesman Peter Stano saying that such actions "indiscriminately terrorize" Ukrainian civilians.
"In the last 24 hours, Kyiv endured three waves of Russian missile and drone attacks. These attacks shows that Putin is not serious about stopping his war and he wants to continue his escalation against the Ukrainian people," Stano said on Twitter.
The latest attack on Kyiv came a day after Russian forces carried out rare daytime air strikes on the Ukrainian capital on May 29.
Eyewitnesses said they heard at least 10 explosions in Kyiv, as the sky above the city filled with blast clouds and smoke trails.
The city's military administration said that air defenses shot down all 11 Iskander missiles launched in the daytime attack. The claim could not be independently verified.
Speaking to RFE/RL near a subway station in Kyiv's Podil district, several locals said air raids had become the reality of their everyday lives since the war began.
"These attacks are yet another problem we have to deal with because of this war," pensioner Ivan Chihir said.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Drone Attack Causes 'Minor Damage' In Moscow, Says Mayor
A drone attack took place in Moscow on the morning of May 30, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel. As a result of the attack, "several buildings suffered minor damage," Sobyanin said. "At the moment, no one has been seriously wounded," Sobyanin added. Telegram channels report that more than ten drones were shot down in the Moscow region on the morning of May 30. An emergency services representative told RIA Novosti that drones hit two residential buildings in Moscow. According to him, there were no casualties. The information could not be independently verified. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Belarus Has No Immediate Plans To Adopt Russian Currency, Lukashenka Says
Belarus and Russia have no plans to adopt a joint currency in the near future, Belarus's strongman leader announced on May 29. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, speaking at a meeting with the head of Russia's central bank, said that introducing the Russian ruble in Belarus would not be "an easy process," and that the authorities in Minsk had no intentions so far of doing so. "When it comes to creating a single currency and so on, this is not an easy process and, probably, not [one] for today," Lukashenka said during talks with Bank of Russia chief Elvira Nabiullina. To read the original story by AP, click here.
- By RFE/RL
Zelenskiy Pays Tribute To Americans Who Fought For Ukraine In Memorial Day Message
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 29 thanked U.S. citizens who have fought for Kyiv following Russia's full-scale invasion of February 2022. Speaking in English in a video address marking the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, Zelenskiy said it was important to remember the price paid by many to "give light to freedom." "We Ukrainians will always be grateful to the U.S. and every American for extraordinary support which helps us [fight] Russian tyranny." An unknown number of Americans have volunteered along with other foreign nationals to fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers. Casualty figures are not known.
Kosovo Ex-President Thaci, On Trial For War Crimes, Allowed To Visit Sick Mother
Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, who is on trial in The Hague on 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was in Kosovo on May 29 to visit his sick mother, the court said. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers said that "due to compelling humanitarian grounds...the Trial Panel has instructed the Registry to manage a custodial visit to Kosovo for Hashim Thaci to meet family." Thaci remained in the custody of the Specialist Chambers, it added. Local media reported that Thaci, 55, who has been in custody since November 2020, was in the village of Buroje at his mother's house. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Sanctions On Iran For 50 Years
Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to impose sanctions on Iran for 50 years. The sanctions, among other restrictions, include a complete ban on trade with Iran, investments, and transferring technologies. The restrictions also forbid Iranian transit across Ukrainian territory as well as the use of its airspace and prevents the withdrawal of Iranian assets from Ukraine. The bill has already been approved by the National Security and Defense Council. Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Iran Wants To Upgrade Syria's Air Defense
Iran wants to boost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military by upgrading the country's air-defense system, the Fars news agency reported on May 29. In an interview with the news agency, Iranian General Said Hamzah Kalandari said that although Syria had its air-defense capabilities, the "Syrian brothers" will be supported with equipment and tactical upgrades. The general, who is active in the Defense Ministry, said the aim was to contain Israeli attacks. Along with Russia, Iran is Assad's most important ally. Iran has been expanding its political and military relations in the region since the 1990s.
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