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Russia To Lift EU Vegetables Ban

Russia removed EU vegetables from shop shelves earlier this month as a result of an E. coli outbreak.
The European Commission has announced that Russia has agreed to lift a ban on EU vegetables imposed over a recent E. coli outbreak in Europe.

Russian authorities signed the agreement on June 22 during a visit by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, who was dispatched by the European Union's executive arm to convince Moscow to make good on a pledge to lift the ban.

The commission said each EU state exporting fresh vegetables to Russia will have to certify -- for a limited period -- the origin of the produce and the absence of the E. coli strain responsible for the outbreak in northern Germany.

The certification system for fresh vegetables will be in force until 10 days have elapsed following the last reported human case linked to the E. coli outbreak.

The EU exported about $862 million of vegetables to Russia last year.

compiled from agency reports

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Russian Soldier Accused Of War Crimes Pleads Guilty In Kyiv

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, sits inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Kyiv on May 13.

The first Russian soldier to stand trial on accusations of committing a war crime in Ukraine has pleaded guilty at a hearing in a Kyiv court.

When asked in court on May 18 if he was guilty of killing a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian who was riding a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the northeastern region of Sumy, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie at the hearing, replied, "Yes."

Shishimarin, who comes from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, faces life in prison for the crime.

The killing occurred just days after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The 21-year-old Shishimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted that he shot the civilian in a video posted by Ukraine's Security Service.

"I was ordered to shoot," Shishimarin said in the video as he described the February 28 killing. "I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going."

Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova last month identified 10 soldiers of Russia's 64th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, saying they were suspected of "cruelty toward civilians and other war crimes," that investigators were continuing to gather evidence, and those named were just the first.

She also said at the time that investigations were under way to find out if the 10 Russians took part in the killing of civilians in Bucha.

The retreat of Russian forces from Bucha and other towns near Kyiv revealed harrowing evidence of brutal killings, torture, mass graves, and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in the fighting.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) overwhelmingly approved a resolution to set up an investigation into allegations of abuses by Russian troops in areas of Ukraine they temporarily controlled.

The UNHRC's resolution cited apparent cases of torture, shootings, and sexual violence, along with other atrocities documented by a UN team on the ground.

Russia Expels Dozens Of French, Italian Diplomats In Reciprocal Move

France and Italy expelled Russian diplomatic personnel as part of a coordinated European action over Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia has announced the expulsion of dozens of French and Italian diplomats in a "retaliatory" move for their similar actions as part of a coordinated European action over Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on May 18 that it had informed the French ambassador that 34 employees of French "diplomatic institutions in Russia" had been declared personae non grata and must leave the country within two weeks.

The same day, the ministry said 24 Italian diplomats were also being expelled for similar reasons.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the decision a "hostile act" that he said "absolutely must not lead to an interruption of diplomatic channels because it is through those channels that, if we succeed, peace will be achieved and that is certainly what we want."

France, which in April kicked out 35 Russians with diplomatic status, condemned the May 18 move by Moscow.

At the same time, Rome informed Moscow that 30 Russian diplomats had been told to leave the country "for national security reasons."

With reporting by RIA Novosti

Russian Gymnast Banned For One Year For Wearing Pro-War 'Z' Symbol

Ivan Kulyak won a bronze medal in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha in March.

A Russian artistic gymnast has been banned from competition for one year for displaying the letter "Z" -- a sign of support for Russia's war against Ukraine -- on his outfit during a competition in Qatar in March.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said in a statement dated May 17 that Ivan Kulyak, who won a bronze medal in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, "breached the FIG Statutes, the FIG Code of Discipline, the FIG Code of Ethics, the FIG Code of Conduct and the FIG Technical Regulations" by taping the "Z" symbol to his uniform while he stood on the podium next to Ukrainian gold medalist Illya Kovtun.

Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with the letter "Z," and the symbol has begun appearing on social media and on clothing in support of the war, which began on February 24.

The FIG said Kulyak "is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organized by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision."

Kulyak was also forced to return his bronze medal and ordered to pay back the prize money of 500 Swiss francs (almost $503). He also must make a contribution of 2,000 Swiss francs for the costs of the proceedings.

"If the protective measures keeping Russian athletes from competing are still in place on May 17, 2023, the ban shall continue and expire six months after the removal of said measures," the federation's disciplinary commission said in its ruling.

Kulyak has 21 days to appeal the decision.

Russia Claims Nearly 1,000 Ukrainians 'Surrendered' In Mariupol

Ukrainian soldier sit in a bus after they were extracted from the Azovstal steel plant in territory held by the separatists in eastern Ukraine on May 17.

Russia says that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant -- their last stronghold in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol -- have given themselves up.

Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on May 18 that 694 Ukrainian fighters at Azovstal had "surrendered" over the past 24 hours, including 29 wounded soldiers.

Konashenkov said that 265 Ukrainian troops, including 51 wounded, had laid down their arms during the previous 24 hours.

That brings the total number of Ukrainian troops who have left the plant this week to 959. All of them were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the numbers.

On May 17, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said negotiations for the fighters' release were ongoing, as were plans to extract those who are still inside the sprawling steel plant.

She added that Kyiv would not disclose how many fighters remained inside until all were safe.

Mariupol has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting since Russia launched its war against Ukraine on February 24.

Kyiv has said it hopes to exchange the surrendered Ukrainian fighters for Russian prisoners of war. Russia has yet to confirm whether the soldiers would be part of a prisoner swap, but some lawmakers in Moscow have come out strongly against such a move.

Reports have estimated that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters had been holed up in Azovstal's sprawling maze of tunnels and bunkers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that "the most influential international mediators are involved" in the current negotiations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP and dpa

Nine Dead In 'Anti-Terrorist Operation' As Protests Roil Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan

Local media reports quoted witnesses as saying several protesters were injured during the fresh clashes.

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities say nine people, including a police officer, have been killed in "an anti-terrorist operation" in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region as the government tries to quell protests sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody.

The Interior Ministry said on May 18 that a security officer was killed, and eight soldiers were injured during the latest clashes in the restive region, which borders Afghanistan and China.

It added that eight others were also killed, and 11 wounded, while more than 70 "active members of a terrorist group" were apprehended.

The unrest was sparked by protests in recent days that have seen demonstrators take to the streets to demand the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of the regional capital for their inaction after the death of a kidnapping suspect in police custody in November 2021.

The ministry said the situation in the region was now "stable" and that public transportation and other social institutions had resumed operations. RFE/RL correspondents, however, reported from the region that schools and state entities in Badakhshan remain closed.

According to the ministry, "criminal groups" blocked a highway connecting the Rushon district with the regional capital, Khorugh and clashed with law enforcement officers for a second day as they tried to clear the road.

The Interior Ministry said the decision to start the "anti-terrorist operation" was made because the highway was blocked by "members of an organized criminal group with the goal to destabilize the social and political situation" in the region.

It added that the protesters were supported by unnamed international terrorist groups, who, according to the ministry, supplied the protesters with weapons and ammunition and sent their representatives to the region "to conduct terrorist acts."

It provided no evidence to back up the claim.

The day before, the ministry said one protester was killed and three law enforcement officers wounded as security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters.

Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed civil rights activist Ulfatkhonim Mamatshoeva, who was accused by Tajik authorities of organizing the protests.

Mamatshoeva's relative told RFE/RL that police detained the activist early in the morning on May 18.

The protesters have insisted their actions are peaceful and that they have a right to peaceful demonstrations.

Opposition groups based abroad have called on Tajik authorities to stop what they called the "persecution of peaceful demonstrators" in Badakhshan.

The protests started earlier in the week after the regional authorities refused to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot, and Khorugh Mayor Rizo Nazarzoda.

The situation in the restive region that borders with Afghanistan has been tense since November 2021 when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Locals rallied at the time to demand a probe into Ziyobekov's death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to fire into the crowd, killing at least one person.

The violence then continued for several days.

Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.

Tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.

While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

War Crimes Court Sentences Kosovo Veterans To Prison For Witness Intimidation

Nasim Haradinaj appears in court at the start of his trial in October 2021 at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

A war crimes court in The Hague has sentenced two Kosovo war veterans to 4 1/2 years in prison each after finding them guilty of witness intimidation, obstructing the administration of justice, and violating the secrecy of court proceedings.

Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association, had pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial in October at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

Witness intimidation has been a major problem as investigators built their cases, and the court has struggled to protect people who offer to assist its investigations.

"This judgment clearly paints those acts for what they are: criminal and not patriotic," presiding Judge Charles Smith said as he sentenced Gucati and Haradinaj on May 18.

Hysni Gucati appears in court in October2021.
Hysni Gucati appears in court in October2021.

The court is mandated to investigate and prosecute suspects in war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 guerrilla war against rule from Belgrade.

Gucati and Haradinaj were acquitted of the charge of seeking retaliation.

The two will each have to pay a 100-euro ($105) fines and the time spent in detention on remand will be deducted from the sentence. They have been in custody since September 2020.

The veterans' association represents former ethnic Albanian separatists who fought Serbian troops during the Kosovo war, in which more than 10,000 people were killed.

The most prominent Kosovar to be indicted to date is former President Hashim Thaci on charges of murder, torture, and persecution. He has denied the charges.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of the fighting.

The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo’s independence. Serbia does not, however, and tensions between Kosovo and Serbia persist.

With reporting by AFP

Russian Strikes Continue, Ukraine Says, As Efforts Under Way To Free Azovstal Fighters

Buses carrying Ukrainian soldiers who were holed up at the Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of Russia's forces in Mariupol on May 17.

Russian forces continue to launch missile strikes and bombard military targets and civilians across Ukraine as talk are under way to release the fighters who have been transferred out of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said negotiations for the fighters' release were ongoing, as were plans to extract those who are still inside the sprawling steel plant.

Officials have not said how many remain inside Azovstal after a group of 264 Ukrainian fighters -- including some who were seriously wounded -- were ferried out of the plant on May 16 and taken to Russian-occupied territory.

Hundreds Of Ukrainian Fighters From Azovstal Steelworks Surrender
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that "the most influential international mediators are involved" in the current negotiations.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Ukraine's armed forces' General Staff said in an update on May 18 that in Mariupol, Russian solders are continuing to block units in the Azovstal steel mill.

The Ukrainian military said that Russian forces are also attacking in Donetsk in the east, and continue to shell border areas of Chernihiv and Sumy.

Concerns for the fate of the Ukrainian fighters evacuated from Azovstal grew after Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called the them "criminals" who must be "brought to justice." Volodin said the Azovstal fighters should be excluded from any future exchanges, according to Interfax.

Malyar said Volodin's comments were a political statement "conceived as internal propaganda." She said that from Ukraine's perspective, both the operation to extract more soldiers from the steelworks and the process of negotiating the fate of those already out are ongoing.

Months of Russian bombardment reduced Mariupol to rubble and killed thousands of civilians before Ukraine ceded control of the strategic Sea of Azov port, where hundreds of troops and civilians had been holed up in underground bunkers of the sprawling Azovstal industrial complex.

More Ukrainians Evacuated From Mariupol's Besieged Azovstal Steelworks
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While Russia called it a surrender, Ukraine said the plant's garrison had successfully completed its mission to tie down Russian forces and called the defenders heroes.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 18 that staunch Ukrainian resistance was likely to have forced Moscow to use thousands of Chechen fighters in the Mariupol and Luhansk areas, underlining its "significant resourcing problems in Ukraine."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Ukrainian fighters would be treated "in accordance with international standards," and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed this.

The Ukrainian military said Russia was "continuing its offensive" in the east of the country, adding "the enemy focused its main efforts on Donetsk" in the east.

Russia is drawing forces to Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, an analyst told RFE/RL's Donbas.Realities.

"We are now receiving indirect evidence that forces are concentrated in the area of the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk...which Russian forces are likely to try to surround," analyst Kirill Mikhailov of the Conflict Intelligence Team said.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian shelling hit a hospital in Severodonetsk.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, regional governor of Donetsk, said on Telegram that Russian attacks in the region killed seven civilians on May 17.

The reports about the violence could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on May 17 in a speech to European Union defense ministers and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Russia was preparing for a long-term military operation as its forces try to take full control of the east and south of Ukraine.

He implored the ministers not to let Russia prolong the conflict and called on them to coordinate arms deliveries to Ukraine.

"We want to defeat the enemy and liberate our territories as soon as possible," he said. "That is why we are very interested in receiving international aid, buying weapons as quickly as possible, and in the right quantities. We need tanks, armored vehicles, long-range weapons."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after the meeting that the European Union "will not let Ukraine run out of equipment."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC, and TASS

NATO Chief Says Finland, Sweden Have Officially Applied For Membership

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (left) receives Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin prior to a meeting in Stockholm on April 13.

Finland and Sweden have handed in their official applications for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ending their longtime neutrality status amid growing concerns over Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on May 18 after receiving the application letters from the two Nordic countries' ambassadors at alliance headquarters in Belgium.

"The applications you have made today are an historic step. Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO," Stoltenberg said.

Both Sweden and Finland are members of the European Union, and the latter shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia.

The two Nordic countries' choice to join NATO marks a watershed in the current European security architecture.

Helsinki chose to remain neutral in the postwar era following two wars with the Soviet Union that saw Finland lose 1-10th of its territory, while Sweden has been traditionally nonaligned for the past two centuries.

The application has set in motion a process that is expected about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

Erdogan said on May 16 he could not agree to the accession of two countries that support "terrorist organizations," a reference to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdish militia People's Defense Units (YPG) in Syria.

If Turkish objections are resolved, the two Nordic countries could become members within a few months, fast-forwarding a process that usually takes eight to 12 months.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he also was confident Turkey would support the move by both countries, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price likewise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.

The White House said earlier that U.S. President Joe Biden will host Niinisto and Andersson for a meeting on May 19 to discuss the applications as well as the broader topic of European security.

The two countries have moved quickly toward joining NATO since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The steps taken by the two Nordic neighbors have prompted warnings from Russia, which would see NATO expand right up to its western border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 16 that while Russia did not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, any deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP

U.S. Launches Program To Document War Crimes In Ukraine

Cemetery workers exhume the corpse of a civilian killed in Bucha, outside Kyiv, from a mass grave in April.

The U.S. State Department has announced the launch of a new program to capture and analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The goal of the program will be the documentation, verification, and dissemination of open-source evidence to ensure that Russia is held accountable for its actions, the U.S. State Department said on May 17 in a statement.

Known as the Conflict Observatory, the program will make its reports and analyses available on its website.

"The Conflict Observatory will analyze and preserve publicly and commercially available information, including satellite imagery and information shared via social media, consistent with international legal standards, for use in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms," the statement said.

The online platform will help refute Russia's disinformation efforts and shine a light on abuses, the statement added.

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing atrocities during its unprovoked invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

'I Came To Identify My Son': In Bucha, Relatives Retrieve Bodies Of Loved Ones
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Russia denies targeting civilians and claims that evidence of atrocities presented by Ukraine was staged.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last week there were many examples of possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court is also working with Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish prosecutors in investigating war crimes allegations against Russian forces.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Surprises Cannes Film Festival

Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a screen during the opening ceremony of the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 17.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has delivered an unscheduled address to the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, assuring attendees that "hatred will disappear and dictators will die."

The actor-turned-politician referred to the connection between cinema and reality, making references to films like Apocalypse Now and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"We need a new Chaplin who will demonstrate that the cinema of our time is not silent,” Zelenskiy said in his surprise video message to the ceremony in Cannes, France.

"Today, the cinema is not silent. Remember these words. The power they've taken from the people will be returned to the people."

He received a standing ovation from the audience gathered at the festival's main venue.

The festival, which was canceled in 2020 and scaled back last year because of COVID-19, had an eye turned to the war in Ukraine as it kicked off this year largely without pandemic protocols.

Several films from Ukrainian filmmakers, including Sergei Loznitsa's documentary The Natural History Of Destruction, are scheduled to be shown.

Mariupolis 2, a documentary about the conflict by Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol last month, will get a special screening.

Twenty-one films will vie for the festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, over the next 12 days. Top Gun: Maverick!, Elvis!, and the zombie comedy Final Cut are all premiering during the festival.

Final Cut, whose premiere opened the festival, was renamed from its original title, Z, after Ukrainian protesters noted that the letter Z symbolizes support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Festival organizers have barred Russians with ties to the government.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Russia Scraps Several Key Car Safety Standards As Western Producers Exit Market

Russian employees work at the assembly line of the Lada Izhevsk automobile plant, part of the Avtovaz Group, in Izhevsk.

MOSCOW -- Russia's government has relaxed safety and emission standards for locally built vehicles as it looks to stimulate production following an exodus of Western manufacturers over Moscow's war in Ukraine.

According to a government resolution quietly approved on May 12, airbags and seat-belt pretensioners, which lock seat belts in place in the event of a crash, will no longer be mandatory in automobiles.

The resolution, which will be valid until February 1, 2023, also allows the production of vehicles without anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability controls (ESC), and emergency signal systems, all standard safety equipment for new cars in most parts of the world.

The safety systems were introduced in car-making standards in Russia after leading foreign automobile makers came to the market in the early 2000s.

However, major car producers have exited the market since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The most recent major automaker to leave was Renault, which on May 16 said it was selling its 100 percent stake in Renault Russia to the city of Moscow, while its 67.69 percent interest in AvtoVAZ will be sold to the state-owned Central Research and Development Automobile and Engine Institute, with a provision to buy back that stake "at certain times during the next 6 years."

'Deeply Alarmed' UN Calls On Tehran To Halt Imminent Execution Of Iranian-Swedish Doctor

Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia.

The United Nations says it is "deeply alarmed" by the imminent execution in Iran of Swedish-Iranian doctor and academic Ahmedreza Djalali, and called for an immediate halt to it.

Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on May 17 that the authorities in Tehran should revoke Djallali's death sentence immediately.

Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was arrested in Iran in 2016 during an academic visit. Jalali specializes in disaster relief and has taught at European universities. Rights groups have condemned his detention.

He was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Iran has threatened to execute him by May 21.

"Use of the death penalty for espionage offenses is incompatible with international human rights law. Countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes,' which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing," Throssell said in the statement.

Many Western groups say the threat to execute Djalali is tied to the current trial of an Iranian in Stockholm for his alleged role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

Tehran has denied the cases, which have strained relations between Iran and Sweden, are linked.

Russia Leaves Baltic Council Amid Standoff With West Over Ukraine War

Russia says it is quitting the Council of the Baltic Sea States, accusing the organization of becoming "an instrument of anti-Russian policy" and "increasingly bogged down in Russophobia and lies."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 17 that it is leaving the regional grouping that also includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the European Union amid tensions with the West over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The statement came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country will intensify its military collaboration with Sweden and Finland as the two countries seek NATO membership in the wake of Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Last month Russia quit the Council of Europe under threat of expulsion after its membership was suspended over its invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Belarusian Publisher, Associate Arrested After Opening New Bookstore

The Knihauka bookstore in Minsk

MINSK -- Police in Minsk have detained the director of a publishing house, Andrey Yanushkevich, and his associate, Nasta Karnatskaya, after they opened a general bookstore in the Belarusian capital.

Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya were detained on May 16 soon after a visit from well-known pro-government propagandist journalists Ryhor Azaronak and Lyudmila Hladkaya.

Azaronak and Hladkaya started berating the bookstore staff for selling books in Belarusian that they said were inappropriate.

The two questioned why the store was selling a book about the Radziwill family, who influenced historic developments in what is today Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus.

They also accused the bookstore owners of selling a book with a photo of a gathering that was "reminiscent of a Nazi parade." The picture in the history book was actually of Lithuanian armed forces in Vilnius in 1939.

Hours after the visit of the two journalists, police arrived at the bookstore and conducted a search, after which, Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya were detained.

Andrey Yanushkevich publishes books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.
Andrey Yanushkevich publishes books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.

Yanushkevich's relatives say they do not know the grounds on which the two were detained. It also remains unclear whether Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya are facing any charges.

Yanushkevich Publishing House issues books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.

In January 2021, the State Control Committee confiscated the publishing house's equipment and suspended its bank account for several months. Earlier this year, city authorities ordered it to vacate its offices in Minsk.

In recent months, Belarusian authorities have suspended the activities of several independent publishing houses -- Limaryus, Knihazbor, Haliyafy, and Medysont -- for the "violation of regulations on registration at the Information Ministry."

A crackdown on independent media and publishing houses has intensified in the country since mass anti-government protests followed an August 2020 presidential election that proclaimed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner, while the opposition and the West say the poll was rigged.

With reporting by Nasha Niva

Russia Will Not Ban YouTube, Minister Shadayev Says

Maksut Shadayev, Russia's Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Minister (file photo)

The Russian minister overseeing digital communications says the government has no plans to block the video sharing platform YouTube despite threats to do so over parent company Alphabet Inc's failure to delete content Moscow has deemed illegal.

Speaking at an education event in Moscow on May 17, minister of digital development, communications and mass media, Maksut Shadayev, said "Russia must remain part of the global network," though it must "learn to filter information" in the Internet.

"We do not plan to ban YouTube. First of all, when we restrict something, we must clearly understand that our users do not suffer... A ban is an extreme move that can be only possible, to my understanding, when we have a competitive alternative," he said.

Last month, Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, openly accused YouTube of "spreading fake news" about Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In March, Roskomnadzor demanded Alphabet stop the spread of videos on its YouTube platform that it said were "threatening Russian citizens."

Shadayev said Russia "must build up barriers to avoid too much pressure on Internet users."

Days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Roskomnadzor ordered media across the country to publish information about the war in Ukraine only if it is provided by official sources.

It also has forbidden describing what several Western nations have called an "unjustified and unprovoked" attack on Ukraine as an invasion or a war, instead insisting it be called a "special military operation."

Over the past year, Russia has tightented the screws on opposition voices, forcing the closure of most independent media outlets and limiting the free flow of information.

On March 4, Roskomnadzor blocked Facebook, claiming the world's largest social-media platform was discriminating against Russian media and information resources such as RT, RIA Novosti, and Sputnik.

A day later, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.

The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.

It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a penalty possible of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.

Multiple websites of RFE/RL, BBC, and other independent media outlets have been blocked over what Russian regulators claim is erroneous reporting.

Some Russian journalists have left Russia after their companies had to stop or suspend operations following the criminalization of the coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Several have since started up their own streams on YouTube to cover and discuss the ongoing war.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

Moscow Expels Two Finnish Diplomats In Tit-For-Tat Move

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto are seen at a joint news conference on Finland's security policy decisions in Helsinki on May 15.

Moscow says it is expelling two Finnish diplomats in retaliation for Helsinki's decision to expel a similar number of Russian diplomats in April.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on May 17 that it had summoned Finnish Ambassador to Russia Antti Helantera to inform him of the move, citing "Finland's confrontational course towards Russia."

Finland has provided arms to Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February, and lawmakers in Helsinki are expected later on May 17 to formally endorse joining the NATO security alliance.

Last month Finland expelled two staff members of the Russian embassy in Helsinki in reaction to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

European nations have expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats since the unprovoked invasion was launched on February 24.

Moscow Court Postpones Hearing Into Navalny's Appeal For Week

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence on May 17.

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court has delayed a hearing into jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's appeal against his latest sentence.

The court started the hearing on May 17 but postponed it for one week after Navalny, who took part in the hearing via a video link from a prison in the Vladimir region, asked the court to give him time to get better acquainted with case documents. The next hearing will be held on May 24, the court said.

Navalny, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in March while he was already serving another prison term from a separate case, said he wanted to compare the texts of his verdict and sentence with what a court pronounced at his trial.

Navalny also said that his family members were scheduled to visit him on May 20, and he did not want to lose the visit, which is granted just a few times a year, as he may be transferred to another penal colony if his sentence is upheld.

A court handed down a new sentence against Navalny -- nine years in prison -- on March 22 after finding him guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated. That sentence is expected to come into force if the Moscow court rejects the appeal.

Navalny was arrested in January last year upon his arrival to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with what European labs defined as a Soviet-style nerve agent. He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole because of his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.

Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning with a Novichok-style chemical substance. The Kremlin has denied any role in the attack.

International organizations consider Navalny a political prisoner. The European Union, U.S. President Joe Biden, and other international officials have demanded Russian authorities release the 45-year-old Kremlin-critic.

Navalny is currently serving his term in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov, some 200 kilometers east of Moscow.

With reporting by Mediazona

Sweden, Finland To Submit Bids To Join NATO Together

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde signs the country's application for NATO membership on May 17.

Finland and Sweden announced they will submit their bids to join NATO together, as the two countries expect to be able to smooth out a threat from Turkey to block the military alliance's expansion.

"I'm happy we have taken the same path and we can do it together," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on May 17 during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Finland's parliament on May 17 overwhelmingly endorsed a bid to join NATO, abandoning more than seven decades of neutrality.

Lawmakers voted 188-8 in favor of the proposal put forward by Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, which came hours after neighboring Sweden signed a formal request to become a member of the Western alliance.

However, opposition from Turkey, which accuses Sweden and Finland of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism, has complicated their accession, which must be unanimously approved by the alliance's 30 members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants, and Turkish Justice Ministry sources quoted by the official Anadolu news agency said Sweden and Finland had failed to respond positively to 33 Turkish extradition requests over the past five years.

But Niinisto told Sweden's parliament in an address to lawmakers on May 17 that he was confident that "with the help of constructive talks, the situation will be resolved."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he also was confident Turkey would support the move by both countries, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price likewise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.

The White House said earlier that U.S. President Joe Biden will host Niinisto and Andersson for a meeting on May 19 to discuss the applications as well as the broader topic of European security.

The two countries have moved quickly toward joining NATO since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The steps taken by the two Nordic neighbors have prompted warnings from Russia, which would see NATO expand right up to its western border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 16 that while Russia did not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, any deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 17 echoed Putin's comments, saying that Finland and Sweden joining NATO probably wouldn't make "much of a difference," as the two countries had long participated in the alliance's military drills.

But he warned that Russia would closely monitor NATO's activities in the future member states.

"NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the east. So in this sense there is probably not much difference. Let's see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Hundreds Detained In Yerevan Anti-Government Protests

Police officers are seen detaining protesters attempting to block streets in Yerevan on May 17.

Armenian police have detained more than 400 people in Yerevan as protesters blocked streets during opposition-led demonstrations to force Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian from office.

Groups of protesters began blocking streets at 8 a.m. local time in an attempt to disrupt traffic and step up pressure on Pashinian's government. Opposition leaders claimed that demonstrators blocked more than 50 streets in various parts of the capital.

Riot police clashed with protesters and detained many of them as they stepped in to unblock the streets. The police reported a total of 414 arrests by the afternoon, a daily record since the opposition began a civil-disobedience campaign on May 1.

Hundreds Arrested As Opposition Blocks Roads In Armenian Capital
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Demonstrations organized by the opposition since April 17 have called on the public to commit acts of civil disobedience, accusing Pashinian of what they said were unacceptable concessions made during negotiations with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian has faced heavy criticism since he and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed last month in Brussels to begin drafting a peace treaty to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and set up a joint commission on demarcating their common border.

The demonstration and clashes on May 17 came a day after police detained almost 100 drivers who took part in a car rally in Yerevan.

The previous day, police detained almost 100 drivers who took part in a car rally in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan wants the peace deal to be based on five elements, including a mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity.

Pashinian has publicly stated that the elements are acceptable to Yerevan in principle, fueling opposition claims that he is ready to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia lost control over parts of the breakaway region in a 2020 war that ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire that an estimated 2,000 Russian troops have been deployed to monitor.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Pashinian, who said he had agreed to the 2020 cease-fire to avoid further losses, said he would not sign any peace deal with Azerbaijan without consulting ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

With reporting by AFP

UNICEF Says Ukraine War Exacerbating Issue Of Severe Child Hunger

A Ukrainian farmer is seen in a field with a tractor. Ukraine is one of the world's largest suppliers of grain.

The United Nations' children's agency says war in Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain suppliers, is threatening to plunge the world into a "spiraling" food crisis, exacerbating the problem of severe hunger among a growing number of children.

UNICEF said in a report released on May 17 that the cost of life-saving treatment for the most severely malnourished children is set to jump by as much as 16 percent due to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which comes on top of strains on the food system created by the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and child suffering from wasting,” she added.

The report says prices of raw ingredients for ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) have jumped amid the global food crisis sparked by the war and pandemic, while global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.

Without an influx of funds before the end of the year, as many as 600,000 more children could join the 10 million severely wasted children already suffering from not having access to the food packets.

“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A 16 percent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” Russell said.

Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in one in five deaths among this age group, according to UNICEF.

To prevent a worsening of the crisis, the agency called on governments to increase wasting aid by at least 59 percent above 2019 levels, and to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes.

Ukraine Hopes Soldiers Evacuated From Mariupol Can Be Part Of Prisoner Exchange

A video released by the Russian Defense Ministry on May 17 shows Ukrainian soldiers as they are searched by separatist military personnel after leaving the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol.

Ukraine's deputy defense minister has expressed hope that the 264 Ukrainian fighters evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol will be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war.

Hanna Malyar's comment at a briefing came after Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called the evacuated soldiers "criminals" who must be "brought to justice." Volodin said the Azovstal fighters should be excluded from any future exchanges, according to Interfax.

Malyar said Volodin's comments were a political statement "conceived as internal propaganda." She said that from Ukraine's perspective both the operation to evacuate more soldiers from the steelworks and the process of negotiating the fate of those already out are ongoing.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said earlier that the Ukrainian fighters -- including 53 who were "seriously wounded" -- were ferried out of the plant on May 16 and taken to Russia-controlled territory and that efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.

Hundreds Of Ukrainian Fighters From Azovstal Steelworks Surrender
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Russia's Defense Ministry said 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered," including 51 gravely wounded.

Malyar said the badly wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk, while another 211 were evacuated through a humanitarian corridor to the town of Olenivka. Both areas are controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Months of Russian bombardment reduced Mariupol to rubble and killed thousands of civilians before Ukraine ceded control of the strategic Sea of Azov port, where hundreds of troops and civilians had been holed up for weeks in underground bunkers in the sprawling Azovstal industrial complex.

While Russia called it a surrender, Ukraine said the plant’s garrison had successfully completed its mission to tie down Russian forces and called the defenders heroes.

"The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said in a statement on May 17.

"The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel.... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time," the statement added.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on May 16 that Ukrainian military and intelligence negotiators as well as the Red Cross and the United Nations orchestrated the evacuation.

"Ukraine needs its heroes alive," Zelenskiy said.

However, he warned that the Ukrainian fighters may not be freed immediately, adding that negotiations over their release will require "delicacy and time."

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 17 that Ukrainian fighters who "surrendered" would be treated "in accordance with international standards," and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed this.

The Russian Defense Ministry earlier announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the steelworks for treatment in a town held by separatists, while Kyiv said the Ukrainian fighters would be exchanged for captured Russian soldiers.

The Ukrainian military leadership said the Azovstal defenders forced Moscow to station some 20,000 troops in Mariupol, preventing them from rapidly capturing other parts of the country.

While the evacuation of the last Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol marked a defeat for Ukraine, Russia's bombardment turned the port with a prewar population of some 400,000 into rubble and rendered it unusable.

British military intelligence said in its daily bulletin on May 17 that Russia's growing reliance on indiscriminate artillery bombardment in the conflict betrayed a limited capacity to accurately identify targets and "an unwillingness to risk flying combat aircraft routinely beyond its own front lines."

The bulletin posted on Twitter said that in another operational theater, the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, Russia's heavy use of artillery destroyed or damaged an estimated 3,500 buildings during its failed advance toward the Ukrainian capital.

Some 80 percent of the damage has been caused to residential buildings, the U.K. bulletin said, cautioning that Russia will likely continue to rely heavily on massive artillery bombardment in its attempt to regain momentum in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military said Russia was "continuing its offensive" in the east of the country, adding "the enemy focused its main efforts on Donetsk" in the east.

Russia is drawing forces to Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, an analyst told RFE/RL's Donbas.Realities.

"We are now receiving indirect evidence that forces are concentrated in the area of the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk...which Russian forces are likely to try to surround," analyst Kirill Mikhailov of the Conflict Intelligence Team said.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian shelling struck a hospital in Severodonetsk.

"Massive artillery shelling, including from tanks, continues in Severodonetsk. The hospital in Severodonetsk came under artillery fire. The building is almost completely destroyed. The number of victims is currently being determined," police said.

The report could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on May 17 in a speech to European Union defense ministers and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Russia was preparing for a long-term military operation as its forces try to take full control of the east and south of Ukraine.

The Kremlin's main efforts are now focused on "encircling and destroying groups of the armed forces of Ukraine in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, creating and maintaining a land corridor from Russia to Crimea, and completing the occupation of southern Ukraine," Reznikov said.

He implored the ministers not to let Russia prolong the conflict and called on them to coordinate arms deliveries to Ukraine.

"We want to defeat the enemy and liberate our territories as soon as possible,” he said. "That is why we are very interested in receiving international aid, buying weapons as quickly as possible, and in the right quantities. We need tanks, armored vehicles, long-range weapons."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after the meeting that the European Union “will not let Ukraine run out of equipment."

In Kyiv, Zelenskiy said he had a "long and meaningful" phone conversation on May 17 with French President Emmanuel Macron about the war.

The two leaders spoke about "the course of hostilities, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal, and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process," Zelenskiy said on Twitter. He said he also raised the issue of fuel supply to Ukraine.

Among the other topics discussed were more defense support from France, a sixth package of EU sanctions, and possible ways to export Ukrainian agricultural products.

Macron told Zelenskiy that arms supplies from Paris would "increase in intensity in the days and weeks to come," according to a statement from the French presidency. The supply of humanitarian equipment would also increase, the statement said.

The U.S. State Department on May 17 announced the launch of a new program to capture, analyze, and preserve evidence of war crimes and other atrocities.

The State Department said the Conflict Observatory will encompass the documentation, verification, and dissemination of open-source evidence of the actions of Russian forces in Ukraine.

The new program, which is being established with an initial $6 million investment, will include satellite imagery and information shared on social media.

"This new Conflict Observatory program is part of a range of U.S. government efforts at both national and international levels designed to ensure future accountability for Russia’s horrific actions," the State Department said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sweden on May 17 signed a formal request to join NATO, a day after Stockholm said it would seek membership in the 30-member Western military alliance amid security concerns sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The move came a day after Finland also announced that it was seeking to join the alliance.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC, and TASS

Four RFE/RL Journalists Attacked After Deadly Anti-Government March In Tajikistan

Protesters are seen in Khorugh, Tajikistan, on May 16.

Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed an activist accused of organizing a protest march in Tajikistan's restive Gorno-Badakhshan region that turned deadly.

The vehicle of the journalists from RFE/RL's Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) was blocked by another car in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, and several men in civilian clothes came out of the car, forced journalists Mullorajab Yusufi and Barot Yusufi out of their vehicle, and attacked them.

The men punched Mullorajab Yusufi several times in the body and head and confiscated the journalists' equipment and personal phones.

The attackers refused to identify themselves or explain their behavior. Before leaving the scene, they told the journalists their equipment would be returned.

About 30 minutes later, Anushervon Orifov and Nasim Isamov of Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, were attacked the same way, apparently by the same assailants.

The attacks took place after the journalists conducted separate interviews with well-known civil rights activist Ulfatkhonum Mamatshoeva, whom Tajik authorities accused of organizing the May 16 deadly protests in the volatile Badakhshan region. Mamatshoeva denies the accusation.

RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly condemned the attacks in a statement.

"We strongly condemn the two separate attacks on our Radio Ozodi and Current Time journalists in Dushanbe earlier today. We have called on the Tajik authorities repeatedly to stop the government’s pressure campaign against free media," Fly said.

Fly said he has written to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhruddin to complain about accreditations that have been withheld and threats against RFE/RL journalists.

"It is time for the Tajik government to stop trying to undermine independent reporting that benefits the Tajik people," Fly said.

Earlier in the day, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said one protester was killed and three law enforcement officers were wounded the previous day as security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters calling for the resignation of political leaders in the region.

A large group of youths began a march in Khorugh, the region's capital, after authorities in Badakhshan refused to consider the resignation of the head of the region, Alisher Mirzonabot, the mayor of the city, and other officials.

Local Protests in Tajikistan Turn Deadly
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The Interior Ministry said in a statement that one of the protest leaders, whom it identified as Zamir Nazrishoev, born in 1993, was "wounded and died in hospital" as security forces repulsed "an armed attack" when protesters headed toward regional administration buildings.

RFE/RL cited several sources claiming that Nazrishoev died under different circumstances. No details were immediately available.

Video footage sent to RFE/RL shows law enforcement officers using rubber bullets and tear gas on demonstrators. Two sources in Khorugh confirmed to RFE/RL that three people were injured and were taken to the hospital.

The ministry said that the regional prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case against the organizers of the protest.

The situation in Badakhshan has been tense since November 2021, when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Local people rallied at the time, demanding a probe into Ziyobekov's death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to fire into the crowd, killing at least one person.

Violence continued for several days.

Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.

Tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.

Orban Warns Of Recession, Other Problems For Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán signs the documents in parliament in Budapest declaring him prime minister for the fourth consecutive time on May 16.

BUDAPEST -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned of an era of insecurity and war in Europe after the National Assembly elected him prime minister following the victory of his Fidesz party in elections last month.

Orban, who took the oath of office after the assembly voted 133-27 to elect him to his fourth consecutive term, said the country faces a decade of war and a recession, but he pledged to protect jobs, family benefits, and pensions.

"This decade will be an era of dangers, insecurity, and wars," he said in his acceptance speech.

The war in Ukraine and the European sanctions policy in response to it have led to an energy crisis and inflation that he predicted will cause "a period of recession and economic downturn."

While Orban repeated familiar complaints about Brussels "abusing its power" by pushing back member states' sovereignty, he said Hungary's place is in the European Union for the next decade.

He also said Hungary would not block EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine as long as they posed no risk to Hungary's energy security.

Hungary and other member states, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have rejected the EU's proposed sanctions designed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Diplomats in Brussels currently are negotiating the package as they seek to achieve the required unanimity of all 27 EU members.

Orban has clashed with the EU, most recently over LGBT rights and rule-of-law issues, but he said the importance of Hungary being a member of NATO had never been more obvious.

With reporting by Reuters

Kazakh Businessman Abilov Returns To Politics, To Form New Party

Bolat Abilov speaks at a rally in memory of those killed during the January events in Almaty on February 13.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Bolat Abilov, a prominent businessman and once an opposition figure in Kazakhstan, has announced a return to politics after he quit the Central Asian country's political scene almost nine years ago, as he looks to establish a new political party.

Abilov and his associates told reporters in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, on May 16 that the new party will be called Bizding Tangdau (Our Choice).

Abilov said that once the party is registered, it will establish an independent commission to investigate political assassinations in Kazakhstan, including the killings of opposition politicians Zamanbek Nurqadilov in 2005 and Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly in 2006.

It will also look into the deadly dispersal of anti-government protests in January this year, the killing of at least 16 oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen in 2011, the deadly dispersal of Kazakh youth in Almaty by Soviet troops in 1986, and Soviet-era famine in Kazakhstan in the 1930s.

The 64-year-old politician added that the new party will work on leaving Russian-led groupings such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

According to Abilov, one of the main goals of his party will also be renaming cities, streets, and other geographic objects that are currently named after former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

In September 2013, Abilov, who was then the chairman of the Azat (Free) party, announced his decision to quit politics without giving any explanation.

Abilov is one of the most successful businessmen of post-Soviet Kazakhstan. He left pro-presidential political circles and joined the opposition in the early 2000s.

Before 2013, he faced numerous trials on charges tied to his financial and opposition activities. He was fined or sentenced to several days in jail on numerous occasions at the time.

More Than 90 Detained In Yerevan As Car Protest Snarls Traffic

An opposition protester is arrested in Yerevan on May 16.

YEREVAN -- Police in Yerevan have detained dozens of drivers who took part in a car rally in the Armenian capital as opposition-led demonstrations continue in an effort to force Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian from office.

Anti-government demonstrations organized by the opposition since April 17 have called on the population to commit acts of civil disobedience, accusing Pashinian of making unacceptable concessions during negotiations with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. `

Police in Yerevan said on May 16 that at least 91 people who attempted to take part in the car rally were detained, most of them near the Razdan sports stadium on the edge of the city center.

Police warned drivers "to avoid committing traffic violations and any attempts to restrict the rights of other citizens to move around the city."

Opposition politicians said earlier that they planned to resume protests in Yerevan on May 17.

Pashinian has faced heavy criticism since he and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed last month to start drafting a bilateral peace treaty to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and set up a joint commission on demarcating their common border at talks in Brussels.

Azerbaijan wants the peace deal to be based on five elements, including a mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity.

Pashinian has publicly stated that the elements are acceptable to Yerevan in principle, fueling opposition claims that he is ready to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia lost control over parts of the breakaway region in a 2020 war that ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire that an estimated 2,000 Russian troops have been deployed to monitor.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Pashinian, who said he had agreed to the 2020 cease-fire to avoid further losses, said he would not sign any peace deal with Azerbaijan without consulting ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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