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Policemen, Militia Leader, Killed In Separate Attacks

Gunmen have killed two policemen in an ambush before setting fire to their vehicle in Samarra, north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, local police say.

The officers were stopped while on patrol and shot with automatic weapons, according to a police official.

Separately, a Shiite militia leader has been killed along with his wife and three children in a targeted bomb blast at their home in Haswa, south of Baghdad.

Police have identified the dead man as a leader in the Mahdi Army, whose forces - loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - often attacked Sunni neighborhoods at the height of Iraq's sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007.

compiled from agency reports

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U.K., Poland To Build New Temporary Villages In Ukraine

A Polish soldier passes by as people sit in a bus after they crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border on March 18, 2022. More than 3 million Ukrainians fled across the border, mostly women and children, after Russia's invasion, according to the UN.

Britain and Poland will build two temporary villages in western and central Ukraine to provide housing for those forced from their homes by Russia's invasion, London said, pledging 10 million pounds ($12.3 million) in funding. Almost 118,000 Ukrainians have been hosted by British families as part of the government's response to Russia's February 2022 invasion, but some are finding it increasingly difficult to get permanent housing. Britain's government said the villages in Lviv and Poltava would be able to house more than 700 people, a fraction of the millions either displaced in Ukraine or who have fled the country. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

IS-K Claims Suicide Attack Near Foreign Ministry In Kabul That Killed Six

Taliban fighters stand guard at the explosion site near the Foreign Ministry in Kabul on March 27.

Islamic State-Khorasan, an offshoot of the Islamic State militant group, has claimed a suicide attack that killed six people and wounded 12 others on March 27 near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

After the Taliban's return to power in 2021, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) has emerged as the Taliban's main rival in the war-wracked country.

Ahead of the March 27 attack, security forces spotted the bomber and shot at him but could not prevent him from reaching a checkpoint in Malik Asghar Square, where he detonated his explosive vest, according to Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for the Taliban's security command in Kabul.

A Kabul hospital run by EMERGENCY, an Italian NGO, said on Twitter that it had admitted 12 wounded patients, including a child, as well as two people who were dead on arrival.

IS-K later claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in a statement on Amaq, the militant group's news arm.

The attack took place a day after the Taliban claimed it had killed three key Islamic State militants during a raid in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh Province.

Islamic State has staged several attacks in Afghanistan recently.

On January 11, an IS suicide bomber killed at least 10 people when he blew himself up near the Foreign Ministry, not far from the site of the March 27 attack.

IS also claimed a bombing near a checkpoint at the Kabul military airport on January 1 that killed up to 20 people and an attack in December on a Kabul hotel frequented by businesspeople. At least five Chinese nationals were wounded in the December attack on the hotel.

In September, two Russian Embassy employees were killed in an IS suicide attack outside Moscow's mission in Kabul.

The Taliban has responded to the attacks by stepping up raids on suspected IS hideouts.

Last month, Taliban security forces said they had killed two senior IS members -- Qari Fateh, the regional IS intelligence and operations chief, and another senior leader, Ijaz Amin Ahingar, in two separate raids in Kabul.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

Afghan Girls' Education Advocate Arrested By Taliban, UN Says

Matiullah Wesa

The UN Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on March 28 that a prominent activist for Afghan girls' right to education has been detained by Taliban authorities. "Matiullah Wesa, head of PenPath1 and advocate for girls’ education, was arrested in Kabul Monday. UNAMA calls on the de facto authorities to clarify his whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family," the mission said in a statement on Twitter. Wesa's brother, Samiullah, confirmed the arrest to AFP and said the activist was beaten and forcefully taken away.

Russia Launches Fresh Wave Of Drones Against Ukraine As Fighting Rages In East

Ukrainian soldiers of the 28th Brigade walk together at their position on the front line near Bakhmut on March 27.

Russia launched another wave of Iranian-made drones on Kyiv and its surroundings, but Ukraine's air defenses shot down almost all of them and there were no immediate reports of casualties, the military said on March 27, as heavy fighting continued in and around Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

An air-raid alert initially declared late on March 27 in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Luhansk was later extended to the regions of Kherson, Zhytomyr, and Kirovohrad.

"Russian forces used 15 Shahed-136 attack drones to launch air strikes on Ukraine, and 14 of them were destroyed by the Ukrainian military," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily bulletin.

"The probability of launching further missile and air strikes remains high throughout the territory of Ukraine," the General Staff cautioned.

Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv City Military Administration, reported that 12 drones were shot down overnight near the Ukrainian capital.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported explosions in the Obolon and Svyatoshyn districts of the capital. A fire engulfed a shop in the Svyatoshyn district but it was rapidly contained and no victims were reported, Klitschko said. The fire was apparently triggered by falling debris from a downed drone.

In the east, the General Staff said that fighting raged on several fronts in the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian forces repelled 62 attacks over the past 24 hours. Russian forces continued to launch assault after assault on Bakhmut, the ruined mining city that has become the epicenter of Moscow's offensive.

Lately, the Russian military has also stepped up the shelling of Maryinka and Avdiyivka, two Ukrainian-controlled towns on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk that has been under the control of Moscow-backed forces since 2014.

In Avdiyivka, Russian shelling has shut down all public services and municipal workers have been evacuated. Only about2,000 civilians out of a prewar population of some 30,000 remain in the city.

Vitaliy Barabash, the chief of Avdiyivka's military administration, has said continuous Russian bombardments have turned the town into "a place from postapocalyptic movies."

WATCH: Ukrainian soldiers have been honing their skills to shoot down Iranian-made drones with machine guns.

Sky Hunters: Ukrainian Border Guards Gun Down Iranian-Made Drones
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Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise visit on March 27 to frontline positions in the region of Zaporizhzhya, where he also met with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi to discuss the protection of Europe's largest nuclear power station.

Zelenskiy told the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it was not possible to restore safety at the plant with Russia still in control of the facility.

"Without the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and adjacent territory, any initiatives to restore nuclear safety and security are doomed to failure," Zelenskiy told Grossi, according to a statement from the president's office.

He also drew Grossi's attention to the constant pressure that power plant personnel are under from Russian forces, the statement said.

"I met with Zelenskiy today in Zaporizhzhya City & had a rich exchange on the protection of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and its staff. I reiterated the full support of the IAEA to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities," Grossi said on Twitter.

Zelenskiy's office said in an earlier statement that the president had met with troops "in frontline positions" in the Zaporizhzhya region.

The latest fighting came as Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany has delivered 18 of the promised advanced Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Amnesty Report Says 'Hypocrisy' Of Western States Laid Bare By Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Shoes symbolizing war crimes committed against Ukrainian civilians are seen in Old Town Square in Prague in an installation marking the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 unleashed numerous war crimes and generated a global energy and food crisis, but it also laid bare the hypocrisy of Western states that reacted to the Kremlin’s aggression, Amnesty International said in its annual report on human rights.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Amnesty International said that while the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was swift and forceful, countries applied human rights law on a case-by-case basis in a "staggering show of blatant hypocrisy and double standards" and left a lack of meaningful action on grave violations by some of their allies.

“States cannot criticize human rights violations one minute and in the next condone similar abuses in other countries just because their interests are at stake. It’s unconscionable and undermines the entire fabric of universal human rights," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, in a news release accompanying the report.

The organization said its report examining the human rights situation in 156 countries in 2022 highlights double standards throughout the world on human rights and the failure of the international community to unite around human rights and universal values. It also found that double standards and inadequate responses to human rights abuses around the world fueled impunity and instability.

The report said, for example, that while EU member states opened their borders to Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression, many kept their doors shut to those escaping war and repression in Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya.

It also said that while the United States has been a vocal critic of alleged Russian violations in Ukraine and has admitted tens of thousands of Ukrainian war refugees, it expelled more than 25,000 Haitians between September 2021 and May 2022.

The report cited in particular the refusal to confront Israel’s "system of apartheid against Palestinians" and inaction against China's human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province.

These double standards emboldened countries like China, and enabled Egypt and Saudi Arabia to evade, ignore, and deflect criticism of their human rights record, Amnesty International said.

Callamard also said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a "chilling example" of what can happen when states think they can flout international law and violate human rights without consequences.

“Had the system worked to hold Russia accountable for its documented crimes in Chechnya and Syria, thousands of lives might have been saved then and now, in Ukraine and elsewhere. Instead, what we have is more suffering and devastation,” Callamard said.

Russia has been accused by other human rights groups and Western governments of being responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya and of human rights abuses in Syria, including its participation in bombing of civilian targets.

Russia Fails At UN To Get Nord Stream Blast Inquiry

The two Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Europe were hit by unexplained leaks in September 2022, raising suspicions of sabotage.

Russia failed on March 27 to get the UN Security Council to ask for an independent inquiry into explosions in September on the Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia and Germany. Only Russia, China, and Brazil voted in favor of the Russian-drafted resolution, while the remaining 12 council members abstained. A resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, the United States, or Britain to pass. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Hungarian Parliament Approves Finland's Bid To Join NATO

The Hungarian parliament votes for the ratification of Finland's NATO membership in Budapest on March 27.

Hungary's parliament on March 27 approved Finland’s bid to join NATO, putting an end to months of delays and bringing the Nordic country one step closer to becoming a full member of the Western military alliance. Hungary's government had frustrated allies in NATO and the European Union by repeatedly postponing the vote after nearly all other alliance members ratified Finland's bid. While Hungary's approval was greeted with relief in Helsinki and elsewhere, NATO accession for Sweden remains up in the air. Finland and Sweden jointly applied for membership following Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Three Kazakh Activists Detained In Almaty After Demonstrating For Release Of Relatives From Xinjiang

The demonstration and detentions in Almaty took place as Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (right) met in Astana with Ma Xingrui (left), the Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang, on March 27.

Police detained three Kazakh activists in Almaty on March 27 after they demonstrated near the Chinese consulate to demand the release of their relatives from China’s Xinjiang Province.

Activists Akikat Kaliolla, Nurzat Yermekbay, and Zauatkhan Tursyn were taken to the police department of the Medeu district, according to another activist, Baibolat Kunbolatuly, son of Tursyn. They were held at the police department for several hours and released without charge, Kunbolatuly told RFE/RL.

There was no comment from authorities, and calls by RFE/RL to the police department were not answered.

Kaliolla published a video on Facebook purporting to show the demonstrators and police officers following behind them.

One of the demonstrators, Almakhan Myrzan, held a photograph of her brother, religious researcher Baqytkhan Myrzan, who died earlier this month in custody in a penitentiary in Xinjiang.

Myrzan sharply condemned the authorities for her brother's death, which she confirmed to RFE/RL on March 9. He had been sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018 for performing an Islamic ritual at a religious event.

She also said that authorities in Xinjiang had ignored demands by Myrzan's relatives in China and Kazakhstan to release him due to a medical condition.

Almakhan Myrzan has been among dozens of people who for more than two years have been picketing the Chinese Embassy in Astana and the consulate in Almaty to demand the release of relatives held in correctional facilities in China.

China has been accused of human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities over the existence of mass detention camps in Xinjiang Province. The crackdown has seen Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Xinjiang's other indigenous ethnic groups sent to the camps.

Beijing denies the facilities are internment camps, saying its actions are aimed at combating terrorism, but people who have fled the province say people from the ethnic groups are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities officially referred to as reeducation camps.

The demonstration and detentions in Almaty took place as Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev met in Astana with Ma Xingrui, the Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang.

Toqaev hailed the "eternal friendship" with Beijing as he welcomed the "deepening all-round cooperation with China," Kazakhstan's presidency said.

China is among key investors in the oil-rich country, which is home to a large Uyghur diaspora, while around 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in Xinjiang.

Ma said Kazakhstan was a "priority area" of mutual cooperation.

"In general, China's cooperation with Kazakhstan is carried out through Xinjiang," Ma added.

Ma's visit to Astana, which was not widely reported, took place 10 days after the Kazakh ambassador to China, Shakhrat Nuryshev, made a trip to Xinjiang and met with Ma.

Kazakh authorities refrain from openly criticizing the policies of China, one of their main creditors. They have responded to the demands of ethnic Kazakhs for the release of their relatives by saying that what is happening in China is an internal affair of the country, and have said the applications of separated family members are considered "through diplomatic channels."

With reporting by AFP

Iranian Workers' Group Strikes Over Wages As Inflation Continues To Soar

The strike comes after several weeks of protests, dubbed Protest Sundays, in front of government agencies in Shush.

Employees and retirees in the southwestern Iranian city of Shush have gone on strike to protest living standards and to push the government to approve wage and social payment increases in the Iranian New Year.

Videos published on social media showed crowds gathering in front of the local governor's office while chanting, "Enough oppression! Our tablecloth is empty."

The strike comes after several weeks of protests, dubbed Protest Sundays, in front of government agencies in Shush.

On March 26, a rally took place in front of the Shush governor's building, where workers and retirees from the Haft Tapeh sugarcane company joined others to protest.

The Supreme Labor Council has resolved to raise the minimum wage for workers in the Iranian New Year, which commenced on March 21, by only 27 percent compared with the previous year. Annual inflation in Iran has been running at around 40 percent for the past two years.

During a gathering of workers over the weekend, labor activists highlighted the ongoing rise in the inflation rate and the increasing costs of food and other expenses. They argued that the wages set by the Supreme Labor Council are "oppressive" and called for a salary increase that corresponds with price growth and living expenses to better support working families.

Prices have grown as living standards have fallen in Iran due to crushing sanctions imposed on the country by the United States over Tehran's nuclear program.

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 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

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

Schools Evacuated In Bulgaria Because Of Bomb Threats

Police monitor a school in Burgas, Bulgaria, that received a bomb threat on March 27.

Dozens of schools in Bulgaria were evacuated on March 27 after bomb threats were e-mailed to the schools. Schools in the capital, Sofia, and the cities of Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea were among those affected. Students were told to line up with their backpacks and jackets before being evacuated, and police were sent in to search for explosives. No bombs have been found. Bulgaria is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on April 2, and voting takes place mainly at schools. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.

Iranian Lawmaker Says New Hijab Plan Prohibits Physical Punishment

Iranian parliament member Hossein Jalali (file photo)

An Iranian parliamentarian says the government's new strategy to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab will eliminate physical punishment for women and instead carry financial and administrative penalties that have been approved by the leader of the Islamic republic.

Iranian parliament member Hossein Jalali said on March 27 that the new plan includes a financial penalty of up to 30 billion Iranian Rials ($60,000) for those who breach the compulsory hijab law, while additional penalties consist of revoking a person's driver's license, canceling their passport, and prohibiting Internet access for those women who do not adhere to the hijab requirement.

Under the new proposals, physical punishment will not be allowed, Jalali said. Violators instead will be punished according to a predetermined table.

To help limit physical confrontations, surveillance cameras will be used to monitor public spaces for women not wearing the hijab and offenders will be tracked down and punished afterward. Police and judicial authorities will be tasked with collecting evidence and identifying violators, Jalali said.

SPECIAL REPORT: The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System

The Cultural Commission of the Iranian parliament said earlier that shop owners and the operators of businesses such as shopping malls and accommodation centers will also be responsible for implementing the rules.

Officials have recently moved to seal off the businesses of some "violators," including this week when a hotel in the city of Kashan and a shopping center in the capital, Tehran, were closed because employers were not observing the mandatory hijab rule.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Long-simmering tensions boiled over after the death in custody in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, with Iranians flooding streets across the country in protest. Women and even schoolgirls have put up unprecedented shows of defiance in the unrest, one of the biggest threats to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters. Rights groups say more than 500 people have died in the protests.

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

As Expected, Kazakhstan's Ruling Party Takes Majority Of Seats In Parliamentary Vote

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev speaks at Norouz celebrations in Astana on March 21.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- As expected, the ruling Amanat party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan earlier this month, official results show, in a vote the Central Election Commission said had several "minor" violations but that some opposition politicians claimed was marred by issues.

The Central Election Commission said on March 27 that Amanat received 53.9 percent of the votes to win an allocation of 40 seats of the 69 seats on offer in parliament through the party list distribution system. In addition, according to the commission, candidates nominated by Amanat won 22 of the 29 seats on offer in single-mandate contests.

The March 19 vote followed a referendum in June 2022 that marked the end of special privileges for long-reigning former leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.

It was the first vote since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations could stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022 that left at least 238 people dead.

The second-place Auyl party won eight seats in the party-list distribution after it took 10.9 percent of the votes; the Respublika party won six seats with 8.59 percent; the Ak Zhol party won six seats with 8.41 percent; the People's Party of Kazakhstan won five seats with 6.8 percent; and four mandates were handed to the opposition Nationwide Social Democratic Party (JSDP), which had 5.2 percent of the votes.

The return of single-mandate district races added some dynamism to a ballot dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.

But several opposition-minded figures were excluded from races at the parliament and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.

Several candidates said after the elections that they would not recognize the results because of "various violations" of voting laws and that they would launch a court appeal because "the votes of independent candidates were stolen."

The various violations include improper counting of ballots and government pressure on public employees to vote for certain parties.

The Oraganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted after the vote that "limits on the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms remain and some political groups continue to be prevented from participating as political parties in elections."

While the voting "was organized in a smooth manner overall," the OSCE said "significant procedural irregularities were observed."

Of the seven parties to compete in the elections, the most well-established is the ruling Amanat party, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party led by Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.

Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.

Updated

Suicide Attack Near Foreign Ministry In Kabul Kills At Least Six

Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of the explosion near the Foreign Ministry in Kabul on March 27.

At least six people were killed and 12 others were wounded on March 27 when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for the Taliban's security command in Kabul, said security forces spotted the bomber and shot at him but could not prevent him from reaching a checkpoint in Malik Asghar Square, where he detonated his explosive vest.

A Kabul hospital run by Emergency, an Italian NGO, said on Twitter that it had admitted 12 wounded patients, including a child, and two people were dead on arrival.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, but after returning to power in 2021, the Taliban has been targeted by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), an offshoot of the Islamic State militant group that has emerged as the Taliban's main rival in the war-wracked country.

IS-K has staged several attacks in Afghanistan recently.

On January 11, an IS-K suicide bomber killed at least 10 people when he blew himself up near the Foreign Ministry, not far from the site of the March 27 attack.

IS-K also claimed a bombing near a checkpoint at the Kabul military airport on January 1 that killed up to 20 people and an attack in December on a Kabul hotel frequented by businesspeople. At least five Chinese nationals were wounded in the December attack on the hotel.

In September, two Russian Embassy employees were killed in an IS-K suicide attack outside Moscow's mission in Kabul.

The Taliban has responded to the attacks by stepping up raids on suspected IS-K hideouts.

Last month, Taliban security forces said they had killed two senior IS-K members -- Qari Fateh, the regional IS-K intelligence and operations chief, and another senior leader, Ijaz Amin Ahingar -- in two separate raids in Kabul.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

Poland Detains Man For Allegedly Spying For Russia

The flags of NATO, Poland, and Ukraine. Poland, the largest country on NATO's eastern flank, finds itself increasingly targeted by Moscow's intelligence services as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues.

Poland has detained a foreign citizen on charges of spying for Russia, prosecutors said on March 27, as the largest country on NATO's eastern flank finds itself increasingly targeted by Moscow's intelligence services. Prosecutors in the northern Polish city of Gdansk said in a statement that the suspect had been detained on March 21. "The findings made in the case show that the suspect acted for the benefit of Russian intelligence by obtaining and collecting information...on critical infrastructure in the Pomeranian and Kuyavian-Pomeranian regions and on the activities of services and bodies responsible for security," they said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

IOC Should Stick To Ban On Russian, Belarusian Athletes, Poland Says

IOC President Thomas Bach (file photo)

Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from the 2024 Olympics in Paris unless Moscow pulls its forces out of Ukraine, Poland said on March 27, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it plans to let them compete as neutrals. "We strongly believe that now is not the time to consider the opening up of a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to the Olympic Games in any status," the Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Saudi, Iranian Foreign Ministers To Meet During Muslim Holy Month

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have agreed to meet during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi state news agency SPA said on March 27, under a deal to restore ties. Both ministers spoke by phone for the second time in a few days, SPA said. "The two ministers also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting between them during the ongoing month of Ramadan," SPA said. Ramadan is likely to end on April 20. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy Makes Surprise Trip To Zaporizhzhya, Meets IAEA Chief

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, on March 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to frontline positions in the region of Zaporizhzhya, where he also met with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi to discuss the protection of Europe's largest nuclear power station as fighting rages with invading Russian forces across the eastern flank of the country.

Zelenskiy told the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on March 27 that it was not possible to restore safety at the plant with Russia still in control of the facility.

"Without the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and adjacent territory, any initiatives to restore nuclear safety and security are doomed to failure," Zelenskiy told Grossi, according to a statement from the president's office.

The president also drew Grossi's attention to the constant pressure that power plant personnel are under from Russian forces, the statement said.

There has been no comment from the IAEA on Grossi's meeting with Zelenskiy, but Grossi tweeted earlier that the meeting was to discuss safety issues around the nuclear plant, which is held by Russian forces and has been forced to switch to emergency diesel generators on several occasions after fighting nearby knocked out power lines.

"I met with Zelenskiy today in Zaporizhzhya City & had a rich exchange on the protection of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and its staff. I reiterated the full support of the IAEA to Ukraine's nuclear facilities," he said.

Grossi said he would be visiting the plant "to assess first-hand the #nuclear safety & security situation at the facility."

Zelenskiy's office said in an earlier statement that the president on March 27 spoke with troops "in frontline positions" in the Zaporizhzhya region and presented them with state awards, while also being apprised of the "operational situation in the relevant areas of the front, the provision of ammunition and equipment."

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued unabated in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said, with the Russians keeping up the pressure on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point of Moscow's offensive in the east, and also increasingly targeting Avdiyivka, another city in Donetsk.

Two civilians were killed and 29 injured in Russian shelling of the city of Slovyansk, local officials said.

Zelenskiy released a video of the shelling in Slovyansk on his Telegram channel, describing the attack as "terrorism."

Ukrainian forces repelled more than 60 Russian attacks in Bakhmut and its surroundings, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily report, as the invading forces continued to indiscriminately bombard both military and infrastructure targets, causing damage and casualties among civilians.

"The probability of missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high, as the enemy uses terror tactics," the General Staff said, adding that Russian attacks mainly targeted Avdiyivka, Lyman, Kupyansk, and Maryinka.

Russia has repeatedly denied it has targeted civilian infrastructure since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 even as residential and cultural buildings across the country have been constantly hit during the war.

The situation in Bakhmut remains "continually difficult," the commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said during a visit to the front line on March 27, according to the Defense Ministry.

IN PHOTOS: Following months of brutal assaults spearheaded by Russia's Wagner mercenary troops, Ukraine's military claims to have stabilized the beleaguered eastern city of Bakhmut.

The current fighting in and around Bakhmut has reached "the most intense phase," Syrskiy said, adding, "The enemy has suffered significant losses in human resources, weapons, and military equipment but continues to conduct offensive operations."

Ukrainian military officials say Russian forces are appearing to also be turning their focus on Avdiyivka, less than 100 kilometers southwest of Bakhmut, where incessant Russian shelling has shut down all public services and municipal workers have been evacuated from the city. Only about 2,000 civilians have been left out of a pre-war population of some 30,000.

Avdiyivka is some 20 kilometers northeast of Donetsk, the city that has been under Russian-backed forces' occupation since 2014.

Vitaliy Barabash, head of the city's military administration, said on Telegram on March 26 that Avdiyivka has been turned into "a place from post-apocalyptic movies" by intensive Russian shelling.

The latest fighting came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany has delivered promised Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

"Yes, we delivered Leopard tanks as we announced," Scholz told a press conference in Rotterdam when asked to confirm a news report that Germany had delivered 18 of the advanced Leopards.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Russia Defeats Iraq In First Home International Soccer Match Since Ukraine Invasion

Russia's Aleksandr Sobolev (left) and Iraq's Ali Adnan challenge for the ball during the international friendly soccer match in St.Petersburg, Russia, on March 26.

Russia eased to a 2-0 win over Iraq in a friendly on March 26 as it played its first international match on home soil since November 2021, after being barred from global competitions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Official attendance at the 68,000-seat Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg was 23,818. The stadium had been due to host last year's Champions League final before Russia was stripped of that honor. Both European soccer body UEFA and global governing body FIFA decided in February 2022 that all Russian teams would be suspended from their competitions following the invasion. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Russia Claims Ukrainian Drone Downed In Tula Region, Three Injured

Russia has said in the past that Ukrainian drones have flown into its territory and caused damage, an assertion that Kyiv denies.

Russian air defenses halted a Ukrainian drone attack on a Russian town on March 26 in which three people were hurt and apartment blocks were damaged, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Kyiv did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has previously denied Russian assertions that its drones -- also known as unmanned aerial vehicles -- have flown into Russian territory and caused damage to civilian infrastructure. The Russian ministry said the attack on the town of Kireyevsk, in the Tula region 220 kilometers south of Moscow, involved a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh drone. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Pakistani PM Accuses President Of Acting Like Opposition

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (file photo)

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has accused the country's president, Arif Alvi, of abandoning neutrality to criticize his government as if he were part of the political opposition. In a five-page letter, Sharif said Alvi was failing in "certain legal duties." He suggested that Alvi was demanding similar actions as ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan's Tehrik-e Insaf party. Sharif's letter came in response to a letter from Alvi urging the prime minister to organize elections in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Pakistani Ex-PM Khan Sets Out Economic Rescue Plan At Rally

Imran Khan (bottom left) speaks to supporters from behind a bulletproof shield at a rally in Lahore early on March 25.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan led a rally in the eastern city of Lahore in the early hours of March 26, setting out his ideas to revive the country's spiraling economy and accusing the government of lacking a rescue plan. Local authorities warned Khan not to hold a public rally in view of a possible terrorist attack. The 70-year-old politician, who was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence motion in April 2022 and is campaigning for early elections, blames the government for being part of a "regime-change operation" against him. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Afghan Women's Protest For Education Halted In Kabul By Taliban

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul on March 26, 2022, demanding that high schools be reopened for girls.

At least 20 Afghan women marched in the capital, Kabul, on March 26 to demand the right to education for women and girls before being rounded up by a Taliban patrol.

The demonstration comes amid UN and other international condemnation over ongoing strictures under the Taliban-led government to keep women and girls out of schools, jobs, media, and other aspects of life since the hard-line militant group took power after U.S.-led international forces left in 2021.

Participants in the demonstration told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Taliban enforcers arrived shortly after they began their planned march from the Red Bridge area in western Kabul and corralled the protesters to prevent them from continuing.

Video footage shared on social media showed around two dozen veiled women marching with small signs with "education is our right" written on them.

The demonstration was organized by the Afghan Women's Political Participation Network.

Organizers reportedly planned to march toward the Asif Mayel Girls' School, one of dozens of schools violently attacked by Taliban fighters or sympathizers.

"For almost two years, the future and fate of Afghan women have been taken hostage and we have been completely removed from society," one of the protesters, Momine Eftekhari, told Radio Azadi.

"Education is a standard with an educational curriculum that is the right of everyone. Not only is it the right of boys but girls, but unfortunately we have been deprived of education, work, and sports for more than 19 months."

She said the situation was "no longer tolerable [and] that's why we took to the streets."

Putin Arrest Warrant Gives Russian Journalist Hope For Resistance

Marina Ovsyannikova attends a court hearing in Moscow in July 2022.

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova said the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin has given her "some sort of hope" that resistance might be sparked within the country's elite. Ovsyannikova worked for the Russian state broadcaster Channel One for more than 10 years before she decided to stage a protest against the invasion of Ukraine. Ovsyannikova fled Russia and is now living in Paris. She made her comments to BBC One's Sunday program.

Taliban Claims Delegation Visited Afghan Consulate In Neighboring Tajikistan

Khorugh, the capital of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan region

The Taliban-led Afghan government's foreign office has claimed a delegation traveled to an Afghan consulate in Khorugh, the capital of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan region, although no Tajik official sources confirmed any such visit on March 25. Relations are strained between the Taliban leadership in Kabul and Dushanbe, which has been outspoken in its demand that the unrecognized Afghan government boost inclusiveness since it took over after the withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops in August 2021. The Taliban said its delegation was surveying repairs to the consulate following an avalanche that killed 16 people and buried dozens of buildings on February 15. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Kazakh Journalist Who Rejected Election Results Launches Hunger Strike In Jail

Duman Mukhammedkarim was cleared as a candidate in the March 19 elections to the national parliament only after protesting his initial disqualification.

Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim has launched a hunger strike as he serves a 25-day jail term over his plan to hold a rally to protest the official results of this month's parliamentary and local elections, his lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, said on March 26. Mukhammedkarim was cleared as a candidate in the March 19 elections to the national parliament only after protesting his initial disqualification. He announced his refusal to recognize the results, which awarded a majority to the ruling Amanat party after a process that international observers said showed some progress over previous votes but the opposition said was undemocratic. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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