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Jailed, Whipped Saudi Blogger Wins 2015 Sakharov Prize

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (file photo)

A Saudi blogger who has been jailed and lashed for his writing has been named as the winner of the European Parliament's 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The 31-year-old Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious police and on charges of apostasy.

After the award was announced on October 29, the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz urged Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to immediately release Badawi.

Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on charges of insulting Islam on the Internet. He was also fined 1 million riyal (about $267,000).

The sentence called for the lashes to be carried out over a period of 20 weeks.

Badawi received his first 50 lashes in public on January 9, 2015.

Further flogging has been suspended more than a dozen times, officially on health grounds, but also after an international outcry.

However, in June 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, says the punishment amounts to a death sentence because he will not be able to survive the lashings.

Badawi is known to have hypertension and his health has worsened dramatically since the flogging began.

On October 29, Haidar said the news that her husband had won the prestigious Sakharov prize was a "message of hope and courage."

Hungarian European Parliament member Tamas Meszerics, whose political group was among those who nominated Badawi for the prize, said Europe "cannot stay silent anymore when individuals face torture or death merely for expressing their ideas in Saudi Arabia."

Amnesty International says Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who was detained “solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International says that, even in Saudi Arabia, "where state repression is rife, it is beyond the pale to seek the death penalty for an activist whose only 'crime' was to enable social debate online.”

Human Rights Watch has called on the Saudi government to drop the charges, saying they are based only on Badawi's involvement in "setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures.”

Badawi's wife and his three children -- two daughters and a son -- obtained political asylum in Canada in 2013.

Badawi's bank accounts in Saudi Arabia have been frozen since 2009.

The European Parliament's freedom of thought award -- a cash prize of 50,000 euro ($57,206) -- was named after Soviet scientist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The award has been handed out since 1988 to honor individuals and organizations who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The 2015 Sakharov prize is to be formally presented at an award ceremony in Strasbourg on December 16.

The other finalists who had been shortlisted for the prize were the assassinated Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the Venezuelan democratic opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica.

Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin in Moscow in February, in a killing that highlighted the dangers faced by critics of President Vladimir Putin and his government.

Mesa de la Unidad Democratica was formed as an election coalition in 2008 to unify the opposition to then President Hugo Chavez's political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

The group is comprised of opposition leaders, activists, and students who have been detained or are under house arrest for what the European Parliament described as "exercising their right to freedom."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AP, and AFP

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Zelenskiy Says Intense Fighting Showing 'Positive Results,' As West Responds To Putin's Nuclear Threat

A Ukrainian soldier reacts as he receives an injection during an evacuation of injured soldiers in a region near the retaken village of Shchurove on September 25.

Ukraine's president said late on September 25 that there was fierce fighting taking place on the front lines of its 7-month-old defense against Russia's invasion but that Kyiv was seeing "positive results."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's battlefield assessment came after he warned in a broadcast interview earlier in the day against dismissing Russian President Vladimir Putin's nuclear threats as Moscow's forces lose ground.

Meanwhile, new British Prime Prime Minister Liz Truss downplayed Putin's recent statements as "saber-rattling" and "bogus threats," and U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had outlined to Moscow the "catastrophic consequences" it would face if it used nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy claimed gains against Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk, northeastern Kharkiv, and the southern Mykolayiv and Zaporizhzhya regions.

"We have positive results in several directions." he said.

Russia and its separatist allies in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine have been holding votes on possible independence and union with Russia that they call referendums but Kyiv and many in the international community have said are a sham.

The votes are scheduled to conclude on September 27.

They were announced amid Ukrainian counteroffensives in northeastern and eastern Ukraine that Kyiv has said have wrested back thousands of square kilometers this month.

Putin and other Russian officials have suggested the votes will result in an irreversible transformation of those areas to make them part of Russia. And Putin suggested this week that Moscow could use all means at its disposal to defend them.

After his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked if Moscow would have grounds for using nuclear weapons to defend the annexed regions.

He said territory "further enshrined" in Russia's constitution "is under the full protection of the state."

Zelenskiy, who has vowed Ukraine will reclaim all of its lost territory, said in an interview with a U.S. broadcaster on September 25 that "maybe yesterday it was a bluff. Now, it could be a reality."

He added of Putin: "He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don't think he's bluffing."

Truss told CNN in a September 25 interview: "We should not be listening to [Putin's] saber-rattling and his bogus threats."

"Instead, what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians because if Putin is allowed to succeed, this wouldn't just send a terrible message in Europe and, of course, huge threats to the Ukrainian population themselves, but it also would send a message to other authoritarian regimes around the world that it's somehow acceptable to...invade a sovereign nation."

U.S. officials were less dismissive of the Kremlin threat.

"If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia; the United States will respond decisively," Sullivan said on U.S. television.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and CNN

U.S. Welcomes Release Of RFE/RL Journalist, Calls On Belarus To Free More Political Prisoners

Aleh Hruzdzilovich (file photo)

The United States has welcomed the release of RFE/RL correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Belarusian authorities for allegedly participating in anti-government demonstrations that he was covering as an accredited journalist.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, commenting on September 25 on the release of Hruzdzilovich and other political prisoners who had been rounded up in a crackdown on dissent, said that the move by the Belarusian authorities was a "step in the right direction" but that more moves need to follow.

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"Too many political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus," Price said in a statement. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."

Hruzdzilovich arrived in Lithuania on September 21 accompanied by his wife, Maryana, after he was released from a prison in the region of Mahilyou where he had been held since May.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, who previously condemned his prison sentence as “illegitimate,” hailed the release of Hruzdzilovich, who had served as an RFE/RL correspondent focusing on human rights since the 1990s.

“Aleh was robbed of time he will never get back with his family while wrongly imprisoned, and I am overjoyed that he will now be reunited with his wife and other loved ones,” Fly said immediately after Hruzdzilovich's release. “I am grateful to members of the international and advocacy communities for their unwavering support of Aleh’s case, but our work is not done.”

Fly noted that two other Belarusians who have been imprisoned since the crackdown -- RFE/RL consultant and blogger Ihar Losik and RFE/RL freelance correspondent Andrey Kuznechyk -- remain behind bars and “should also be released immediately.”

A court in Minsk sentenced Hruzdzilovich in early March for his presence at mass protests challenging the official results of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office. Hruzdzilovich was also ordered to pay 56,000 rubles ($16,600) in compensation to the Mensktrans city transportation agency, which was a plaintiff in the case.

Mensktrans claimed Hruzdzilovich’s participation in three unsanctioned rallies cost it revenue. At one demonstration, Hruzdzilovich said he was working as a correspondent with accreditation issued by the Foreign Ministry, while at the other two protests he was working as a correspondent for the Narodnaya volya (People's Will) newspaper.

Hruzdzilovich was arrested in December amid a harsh crackdown by Belarusian authorities on independent media, rights activists, and democratic institutions in the wake of the protests. The opposition and West say the vote was rigged and that opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the election.

Russia Continues Crackdown On Spreading Anti-Mobilization Protests As Draft Criticism Grows

Russian police detain a protester during a rally against the mobilization of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on September 24.

The number of people detained in Russia for protesting against the country's partial military mobilization has risen to more than 840 and spread to 35 cities across the country, as prominent pro-Kremlin voices have begun questioning the way the draft is being conducted.

As of September 26, at least 842 people have been detained, nearly half of them in the capital, Moscow, according to OVD-Info.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The human rights group, which monitors political arrests and detentions in Russia, has said that there might be more detainees than those published by police and that it was only reporting names it could verify.

OVD-Info's growing list on September 25 did not include possible detentions of anti-mobilization protesters in the capital of the southern Russian republic of Daghestan.

The nationwide demonstrations erupted within hours after President Vladimir Putin on September 21 announced the partial military mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian military forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russian police have been mobilized in cities where protests were called for by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Images on Russian media have shown scenes of police using force against demonstrators, and many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

In Makhachkala, the Daghestani capital, police dispersed an unknown number of protesters on September 25 after a gathering formed to express anger over the call-up, according to Caucasus.Realities.

In one of multiple videos shared on Telegram capturing the confrontation, a police officer is shown beating a protester as two other officers hold the man down.

In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and forcibly annexed in 2014, the Russian-installed leadership said their mobilization would be complete by the end of the day on September 25, a claim that could increase fears of forced mobilization.

The call-up came as Russian forces suffered significant losses of occupied territories in Ukraine's east owing to a counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military. Putin followed up on his mobilization order on September 24 by imposing harsher penalties against Russians who willingly surrendered to Ukrainian forces or refused orders to mobilize.

WATCH: Hundreds came out in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan on September 25 to protest against the partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21 in an effort to step up the ongoing war against Ukraine.

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up
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Russian officials have said that up to 300,000 reserve forces will be called up and that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be drafted to fight. However, Russian media reports have surfaced saying that men who have never been in the military or who are past draft age are being called up, and foreign media have reported that the real goal is to mobilize more than 1 million soldiers, which the Kremlin denies.

Western officials say that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties, accounting for both deaths and injuries, since it launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine in February.

The mobilization to replenish those losses has seen men across Russia sent to register, reports of Russian citizens attempting to flee the country, and even rare complaints by pro-Kremlin voices.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-backed media outlet RT, wrote on her Telegram channel on September 24 that while it had been announced that only people up to the age of 35 would be recruited, "summonses are going to 40-year-olds."

"They're infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite," Simonyan said of the authorities behind the draft.

The same day, the head of the Russian president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

On September 25, two of Russia's most senior lawmakers weighed in on the growing controversy.

In a Telegram post, Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of Russia's Federation Council, said that she was aware of reports that men who should be ineligible for the draft are being called up.

"Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society," she wrote.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, wrote in a separate post that "complaints are being received."

"If a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it," he said. "Authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities."

Balkan Ally Serbia Says It Won't Recognize Russia's Staged Votes In Occupied Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and his Serbian counterpart, Nikola Selakovic, in Belgrade in December 2020.

Russian ally Serbia has said it won't recognize the current votes in Russian-held parts of Ukraine that Kyiv has called "sham" referendums, dealing another international blow to the Kremlin's hastily organized effort at consolidating early gains in its 7-month-old invasion.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said on September 25 in Belgrade that "Serbia cannot accept these results" due to its commitment to the UN Charter and respect for international law, among other things.

Doing so "would completely violate our national and state interests, the preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the inviolability of borders," he said.

Serbia has kept close relations with Russia in particular to bolster its refusal to recognize the 2008 declaration of sovereignty by its former province Kosovo, which is now recognized by more than 100 countries.

Moscow has repeatedly cited the Kosovo case as an example of Western overreach.

Selakovic and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a so-called consultation plan for their countries for the next two years on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week.

It was the first high-level diplomatic document that Serbia and Russia have signed since February 24, when the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

The European Union's rapporteur for EU hopeful Serbia, Vladimir Bilicik, greeted news of the signing as "a major blow to [the] accession process in the Western Balkans."

"Let’s be clear: [Russia] is mobilizing to attack [EU] candidate state [Ukraine], Russia is attacking EU enlargement!" Bilicik said.

Belgrade backed several UN resolutions condemning Russia's invasion but has avoided joining EU-wide sanctions joined by the bloc's other aspiring members.

The so-called referendums in the Russia-held areas in Ukraine of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions have been dismissed as frauds by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.

Moscow has suggested it will defend them as part of Russia after the votes.

Updated

Russia Pressing Men In Occupied Areas Of Ukraine Into Fight Against Ukrainian Forces

Sergei Aksyonov (file photo)

Reports say Russia has already begun rounding up men in occupied parts of southern and eastern Ukraine to compel them to fight their countrymen seven months into the Russian invasion in a widely anticipated move that Kyiv has warned is a breach of international law.

The Geneva Conventions forbid occupation forces from compelling the local population to enlist in the occupier's armed forces.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service quoted the Moscow-installed leader of annexed Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, as saying on September 25 that his authorities had already delivered 1,200 troops to mainland Ukraine in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's partial-mobilization order on September 21.

Aksyonov said on September 25 that "Crimea will finish the mobilization measures today by the end of the day, carrying them out in full," according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

He had previously said mobilized Crimeans would be sent to Sevastopol "for retraining."

But on September 25, Aksyonov said 1,200 "volunteers" had been sent to mainland Ukraine and two more "battalions" were being prepared.

There are concerns that, as in parts of Russia, Moscow-backed authorities are pressing minorities and other vulnerable groups into military service.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Human rights activists said about 5,000 Crimean residents had already received summonses since Putin's call-up announcement on September 21.

Russian authorities reportedly this week forbid Crimeans from leaving the peninsula without the permission of the military authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has vowed to fight until his country wins back "every centimeter" Russia has occupied, has said Kyiv has evidence that occupation authorities are targeting Crimeans to fight for Russia.

He has stressed that forced conscription by occupying armies of local populations contravenes international law.

Moscow incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014, but a UN vote overwhelmingly rejected that annexation and supported Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Russia controls around one-fifth of Ukraine seven months into its full-scale invasion, including the Crimean Peninsula that it forcibly annexed in 2014. But a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month has retaken thousands of square kilometers, according to Kyiv.

This week, Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine organized what Kyiv dubbed "sham" referendums on September 23-27 in four areas where they control large swaths of territory: Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the southeast.

The New York Times on September 25 quoted witnesses and Ukrainian officials as saying all men between the ages of 18 and 35 have been forbidden to leave Russia-controlled territory around Kherson and Zaporizhzhya and ordered to report for military duty.

It quoted sources as saying many young men are in hiding or trying to escape.

The Geneva Conventions also prohibit the transfer of civilians from occupied regions into its own territory, a safeguard that Russia quickly abandoned in this conflict as it vetted and forcibly moved Ukrainians from the war zone into Russian territory by the tens of thousands with the use of "filtration" centers.

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up
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Hundreds came out in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan on September 25 to protest against the partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21 in an effort to step up the ongoing war against Ukraine. The police fired shots in the air to disperse about a 100-strong crowd blocking a road in the town of Endirei. A spontaneous protest rally took place in the local capital, Makhachkala, where hundreds of protesters, mostly women, chanted "No to war!" and some argued with police, saying it was Russia that attacked Ukraine.

Ukraine Says U.S. Decision To Provide NASAMS Air-Defense Systems 'Already Made'

NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems are deployed during preparations ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that U.S. President Joe Biden's administration had already decided to provide Ukraine with sophisticated air-defense systems known as NASAMS as Kyiv fights off a seven-month-old Russian military invasion.

It is thought to be the first public acknowledgement by either side that Ukraine was being given the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System.

There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials of the decision, which reportedly came in late August.

"We absolutely need the United States to show leadership and give Ukraine the air-defense systems. I want to thank President Biden for a positive decision that has been already made," Zelenskiy said in the interview broadcast on September 25, as quoted by Reuters.

Ukrainian officials have reportedly been lobbying for the NASAMS.

"But believe me, it's not even nearly enough to cover the civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, homes of Ukrainians" that have been destroyed or threatened, Zelenskiy said of the purported air-defense boost.

Zelenskiy also thanked U.S. officials for so-called high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) that have already been supplied and other systems helping Ukraine battle the largest army invasion in Europe since World War II.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Mongolia Also Reports Thousands Of Russian Men Entering Since Putin Ordered Call-Up

Mongolian border guards check vehicles arriving from Russia at the Mongolian border checkpoint of Altanbulag on September 25.

There were long lines of cars at a border crossing from Russia to Mongolia on September 25, with thousands of new arrivals to that East Asian country since a Kremlin call-up announcement threatened Russian men with conscription.

The increase in Russian traffic to Mongolia comes amid reports of similar crowding to leave Russia via land routes for Finland, Georgia, and Armenia since President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization on September 21.

Western military experts estimate that Russia has lost tens of thousands of casualties so far in its seven-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

AFP quoted the head of a checkpoint in the Mongolian town of Altanbulag as saying more than 3,000 Russians had crossed into Mongolia there in the past five days, about five out of six of them men.

"From September 21, the number of Russian citizens entering Mongolia has increased," the checkpoint commander said.

There were lines of people with Russian passports at the immigration counter.

Russians can stay 30 days visa-free in Mongolia, and may extend for another 30 days once there.

The call-up is Russia's first since World War II.

Nearly 800 people had been detained amid protests in Moscow and dozens of other cities against Putin's mobilization order by September 24, according to humanitarian group OVD-Info.

Russian media have shown police using force against demonstrators, and eyewitnesses have said the number of protesters have diminished since the first rallies.

Many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

Flights in Russia also filled up and ticket prices skyrocketed to places like Istanbul and other foreign destinations after the call-up was announced.

Based on reporting by AFP

Moldovan Anti-Government Protesters Set Up Tents Outside President's Residence

Shor Party protesters set up a tent in front of the presidency building on September 25.

Supporters of a fugitive businessman's pro-Russian party have led thousands in a protest outside the Moldovan president's official residence in Chisinau to complain about gas and other price hikes and press their demands for early elections.

Some of them set up around a dozen tents in front of the presidential home on September 25 in a repeat of a similar attempt a week earlier to erect an encampment outside parliament.

They shouted chants of "Down with the government!" and "Down with [President] Maia Sandu!"

The protests were organized by the Shor Party, whose wealthy populist leader Ilan Shor has been abroad since 2019 following fraud and money-laundering convictions two years earlier.

Shor's supporters accuse the government and Sandu of doing too little to combat price hikes -- including a 27 percent natural-gas hike announced on September 23 -- and other setbacks exacerbated by Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

But the demonstrators are also demanding an end to the corruption investigations against Shor and other members of the party, which placed third in the 2021 elections behind Sandu's ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) and the Bloc of Communists and Socialists.

Sandu, who was abroad last week, did not comment on the protests.

But government representatives accused "thieves" concerned about justice reform and the fight against corruption of organizing the demonstrations.

Shor was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in 2017 in connection with the loss of around $1 billion from a trio of Moldovan banks and is now wanted internationally.

Multiple Shor Party members had their parliamentary immunity withdrawn after investigations into a rash of massive thefts between 2013 and 2019 that devastated public confidence, including a lucrative airport concession and the banks case.

Shor Party deputy leader Marina Tauber was placed under house arrest on September 14 after losing her parliamentary immunity nearly two months earlier amid suspicion that she falsified a party financial report and accepted financing from a criminal group.

Moldova is among Europe's poorest states with a separatist-led territory, Transdniester, that is heavily populated by Russian speakers and has around 1,500 Russian troops still stationed at a Soviet-era facility despite Chisinau's request for their departure.

It has also faced some of the toughest fallout from Russia's seven-month-old invasion of neighboring Ukraine, including huge flows of Ukrainian refugees and concerns that Russia's military could try to occupy its territory next.

The pro-Western government in Moldova accelerated its EU bid after Russia invaded Ukraine, and was given candidate status alongside Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened Moldova with military retaliation if Moldovan officials "threaten the security of our troops" in Transdniester.

With reporting by dpa
Updated

Iranians Protest For 10th Night Despite 'No Leniency' Warnings

Protesters take to the streets on September 25 in Tehran to protest the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody.

Anti-government protests have erupted in Tehran and other cities for a 10th night over the death of a young Iranian woman after a reported beating at the hands of morality police, despite official warnings that an already deadly crackdown would toughen.

The simmering anger over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death this month has also sparked demonstrations outside Iranian embassies around the world, including in Paris, where French police used tear gas and anti-riot tactics to thwart a march by hundreds of people on Iran's diplomatic compound.

In Iran's capital, students gathered at Tehran University late on September 25 to chant slogans including "Freedom, freedom, freedom!" and "We will fight, we will die, we will take back Iran!"

They also chanted for the release of jailed students.

In the city of Ekbatan, in western Iran, where Amini is from and where much of the resulting unrest has taken place, demonstrators chanted, "Death to Basiji!" in a cry targeting the volunteer militia full of hard-liners who frequently dispense some of the harshest treatment of demonstrators.

Details of many of the protests are piecemeal, as Iranian officials have blocked Internet and other digital connections as they frequently do in areas of intense unrest.

The head of Iran's powerful judiciary earlier in the day pledged to act "without leniency" in the deadly crackdown on protests.

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei's comments on the judiciary's official Mizan Online on September 25 followed a warning the previous day by hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi that the country must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility."

Mizan Online said Mohseni-Ejei had "emphasized the need for decisive action without leniency" against the primary instigators of what he described as "riots."

An official toll said 41 people have so far died in the unrest, but rights groups and other observers suggest the number is likely higher as protests have spread to at least 80 cities and towns.

In the French capital, protesters gathered for a second day to express outrage at Amini's death and express solidarity with Iranians risking their freedom to speak out against the country's hard-line religious leadership.

The French protest began at Trocadero Square in downtown Paris but was met by police in full riot gear and police vans as it approached the Iranian Embassy a short distance away.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, hours earlier called Iran's crackdown "unjustifiable" and "unacceptable."

Officials in Tehran have blamed foreign governments and other outside elements for fomenting the protests.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said on September 25 that it summoned both the British and Norwegian ambassadors over alleged actions and comments related to the unrest.

It said the British envoy was summoned over Persian-speaking media in London's "invitation to riots" among Iranians.

Tehran summoned Oslo's envoy over what it said were "unconstructive comments" by the Norwegian parliament's Tehran-born speaker, Masud Gharahkhani.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 after she fell into a coma following her detention by Iran's morality police for an allegedly loose head covering triggered protests and rallies across Iran.

The public outrage increased after officials suggested the police did not mistreat her despite eyewitness accounts of a beating.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that "we must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time."

Defiant protesters have mostly come out at night -- many of them women frustrated at decades of discrimination embodied by the harsh dress code mandating the wearing of a headscarf, or hijab, in public.

On September 23, state-organized counterdemonstrations took place in several Iranian cities, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators."

WhatsApp, Instagram, and Skype have been blocked and Internet access restricted beyond normal levels, according to web monitor NetBlocks, following older bans on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Telegram.

Amnesty International has cited "a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters." It blamed Iranian security forces for shootings on one night alone, September 21, that left three children and 16 other people dead.

The group urged the international community to take "meaningful action" to force an end to the crackdown.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with President Raisi in New York on September 22 and expressed concern "about reports of peaceful protests being met with excessive use of force leading to dozens of deaths and injuries," according to a spokesman.

He called on Iran's security forces to avoid "unnecessary or disproportionate force" and appealed for "restraint to avoid further escalation."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Tehran Claims U.S. Signaled 'Will' For New Nuclear Deal; Washington Silent

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Iran's top diplomat says Tehran received a new signal from the United States that the "will and goodwill" exist in Washington to reach an agreement to replace the nuclear deal that fell apart after a U.S. pullout four years ago.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on September 25 as saying he responded by urging the U.S. side to demonstrate "realism" so the sides could finalize a deal.

Amir-Abdollahian didn't detail how or at what level any exchange had taken place.

U.S. officials have not confirmed any exchange of messages, although diplomats are said to be working on the Iran nuclear issue during the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York.

IRNA quoted Amir-Abdollahian as saying he had met in New York with EU and other envoys whose countries are party to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but not providing details.

After 16 months of international negotiations in Vienna and indirect talks between Tehran and Washington, the European Union last month put forward a final offer to overcome an impasse for the revival of the JCPOA from 2015.

Tehran responded publicly by saying it wanted stronger "guarantees" that the U.S. side wouldn't again abandon the deal, and Washington signaled it thought the Iranian response "takes us backwards."

The last official meeting in the EU-facilitated negotiations to replace the JCPOA took place two months ago.

Hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi -- whose country has been convulsed by deadly protests in dozens of cities since the death in custody of a young student for reportedly breaking Iran's strict Islamic dress code -- was in New York last week to deliver a speech to the UN gathering.

Vahid Jalalzadeh, who heads Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and accompanied Raisi on his trip, suggested a meeting was sought via Swiss diplomats but did not take place.

Washington has not confirmed any such initiative.

The JCPOA began to collapse when former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, and Tehran has since strayed from compliance with the deal.

The head of Iran's nuclear agency, Mohammad Eslami, was quoted by state television as saying he would travel to Vienna next week for a meeting with the head of the UN's atomic agency, the IAEA.

"I will go to Austria to take part in the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, where I will meet with Director-General Rafael Grossi," Eslami said.

The IAEA's annual conference is scheduled for September 26-30.

With reporting by AFP

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan Trade Accusations At UN Over Recent Border Clashes

Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin speaks at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have continued to blame each other for recent deadly clashes along their border.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 24, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin responded to a speech made earlier to the assembly by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov.

Muhriddin repeated Tajikistan's claim that Kyrgyzstan was responsible for deviating from a cease-fire worked out on September 19 to halt the clashes that broke out the week prior.

Kyrgyzstan has said it is fully complying with the agreement.

Muhriddin accused Kyrgyzstan of creating a false appearance of withdrawing its troops and military equipment from the conflict zone and of hiding them in populated areas near its border with Tajikistan.

Muhriddin said that "the responsibility for any next round of tension on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border will lie exclusively with Kyrgyzstan," while also saying his country was willing "to continue negotiations toward building together an atmosphere of peace."

The comments came after Japarov told the General Assembly on September 20 that Tajikistan had violated agreements worked out by former Soviet republics calling for them to respect each other's territorial integrity.

He said that Tajikistan had launched an unprovoked attack on his country in April 2021 and again on September 14 of this year.

Japarov said he was prepared to "spend as much time as possible to resolve" the border dispute.

The latest fighting over the unresolved Tajik-Kyrgyz border has resulted in the deaths of at least 100 people.

Kyrgyz officials say 59 citizens died in the recent clashes and 183 people were injured.

Tajikistan has put its death toll at 41, but correspondents of RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported a higher number after talking to relatives and friends of the people killed during the clashes. They concluded that 59 people, including 31 civilians, lost their lives and compiled a list of those killed.

Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

Life Along The Kyrgyz-Tajik Border
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The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.

Almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has yet to be demarcated, leading to repeated tensions since the two countries gained independence more than three decades ago.

Updated

Russian Crackdown On Anti-Mobilization Protests Continues; Nearly 800 Detained

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against the mobilization in Moscow on September 24.

Nearly 800 people have been detained in Russia as protests against the country's partial military mobilization continue in cities across the country.

As of September 25, at least 796 people had been detained in 33 cities, with almost half of the total reported in the capital, Moscow, according to OVD-Info.

The human rights group, which monitors political arrests and detentions in Russia, said that some of those detained in the crackdown on dissent following this week's military call-up were minors.

But reports of crackdowns on anti-mobilization protests including in the capital of the southern Russian region of Daghestan, suggest the arrest numbers are continuing to rise.

The demonstrations erupted within hours after President Vladimir Putin on September 21 announced the partial military mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian military forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russian police have been mobilized in cities where protests were called for by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Images on Russian media have shown scenes of police using force against demonstrators, and eyewitnesses have said that the number of protesters have diminished since the first rallies. Many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

In Makhachkala, the Daghestani capital, on September 25, police dispersed an unknown number of protesters after a gathering formed to express anger over the call-up, according to Caucasus.Realities.

WATCH: A spontaneous protest rally took place in the local capital, Makhachkala, where hundreds of protesters, mostly women, chanted "No to war!"

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up
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In one of multiple videos shared on Telegram capturing the confrontation, a police officer is shown beating a protester as two other officers hold the man down.

In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and annexed in 2014, the Russian-installed leadership said their mobilization would be complete by the end of the day, a claim that could increase fears of forced mobilization, particularly of minority Crimean Tatars under occupation.

The call-up came as Russian forces suffered significant losses of occupied territories in Ukraine's east owing to a counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military.

Putin followed up on his mobilization order on September 24 by imposing harsher penalties against Russians who willingly surrendered to Ukrainian forces or refused orders to mobilize.

Russian officials have said that up to 300,000 reserve forces will be called up and that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be drafted to fight.

However, Russian media reports have surfaced that men who have never been in the military or who are past draft age are being called up, and foreign media have reported that the real goal is to mobilize more than 1 million soldiers, which the Kremlin denies.

Western officials say that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties, accounting for both deaths and injuries, since it launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine in February.

The mobilization to replenish those losses has seen men across Russia sent to register, reports of Russian citizens attempting to flee the country, and even rare complaints by pro-Kremlin voices.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-backed media outlet RT, wrote on her Telegram channel on September 24 that while it had been announced that only people up to the age of 35 would be recruited, "summonses are going to 40-year-olds."

"They're infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite," Simonyan said of the authorities behind the draft.

The same day, the head of the president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

On September 25, two of Russia's most senior lawmakers weighed in on the growing controversy.

In a Telegram post, Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council, said that she was aware of reports that men who should be ineligible for the draft are being called up.

"Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society," she wrote.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, wrote in a separate post that "complaints are being received."

"If a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it," he said. "Authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities."

Updated

Russia, Ukraine Trade Accusations Of Shelling In Southern Ukraine Amid Sham Referendums In Occupied Territories

People from Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions vote at a temporary accommodation facility in Novocherkassk, Russia, on September 24.

Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations of shelling in southern Ukraine as four Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Russian forces continued to vote in so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation

Ukraine's military said early on September 25 that dozens of missile attacks and air strikes had been launched against military and civilian targets in Ukraine's south, including 35 "settlements," over the previous 24 hours.

The same day, Russian-backed officials in the southern city of Kherson said that two people had been killed in a missile strike on a hotel the same day.

Authorities in the city of Alchevsk in the eastern Luhansk region, meanwhile, announced that voting in the mostly Russian-occupied territory could take place in bomb shelters.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The reports came as the referendums, which have been dismissed as a sham by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law, entered their third day on September 25.

The voting is taking place in Russian-held areas of Ukraine's Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions.

The voting is widely seen as a way for Moscow to justify the formal annexation of the areas under Russian occupation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week announced a partial military mobilization that could send hundreds of thousands of fresh troops into the war against Ukraine that was launched by Moscow in February.

The call-up came after Russian forces suffered major territorial losses in Ukraine's east as Kyiv launched a major counteroffensive.

Putin has also announced harsher penalties for Russians who dodge the draft or who willingly surrender to Ukrainian forces, making such actions punishable by 10 years in prison.

Ukrainian officials have said that people in Russian-occupied territories have been banned from leaving until the voting finishes on September 27, and that armed groups were entering homes to force people to vote.

Residents of the southern Kherson region told RFE/RL's News Of Azov project reported that people were being offered monetary compensation for a "yes" vote on joining the Russian Federation. Those who agree and fill out a ballot are then given 40,000 rubles (about $690).

RFE/RL was not able to independently verify the claims.

There are no independent observers monitoring the polls, and many of the inhabitants who lived in areas of Ukraine occupied after Russia's unprovoked invasion seven months ago have fled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 24 that regions of Ukraine where the votes are being held would be under Russia's "full protection" if they were annexed by Moscow.

Russia's state-run TASS news agency has reported that the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, could debate legislation to annex the four Ukrainian regions as early as September 29.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Ukrainian President Calls On Russians To Surrender, Dodge Military Draft

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has provided guarantees to Russian soldiers who surrender to Ukrainian forces and called on Russians to dodge their country's recent partial military mobilization.

Speaking in a September 24 address in which he switched to the Russian language, Zelenskiy offered guarantees to Russians who are taken prisoner while fighting in Ukraine and referred to newly enacted penalties in Russia against deserters or those who dodge the draft.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"Ukraine guarantees every Russian soldier who surrenders three things. First, you will be treated in a civilized manner, in accordance with all conventions. Second, no one will know the circumstances of your surrender, no one in Russia will know that your surrender was voluntary. And third, if you are afraid to return to Russia and do not want an exchange, we will find a way to ensure this as well," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy's comments directly addressed Moscow's recent partial mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian forces who have been fighting in Ukraine since Moscow's unprovoked invasion in February and who have recently suffered military setbacks in Ukraine's east due to a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

"It is better not to take a conscription letter than to die in a foreign land as a war criminal," Zelenskiy said. "It is better to run away from criminal mobilization than to be crippled and then bear responsibility in the court for participating in the war of aggression."

Zelenskiy condemned the mobilization effort, announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21, as a "crime," and said that Russian commanders "do not care about the lives of Russians" and just need to replenish "empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled, or the Russian soldiers who were captured."

On September 24, Putin signed amendments that toughened punishments for Russians who voluntarily surrender or who refuse to fight, making such actions punishable by 10 years in prison.

Putin also signed new regulations the same day that stipulated that foreigners serving in the Russian military for at least a year can apply for Russian citizenship without a residence permit.

Pink Floyd's Waters Cancels Poland Concerts After Ukraine War Remarks

Roger Waters speaks at a press conference in Rome in 2018.

Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters has canceled concerts planned in Poland amid anger over his stance on Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine, Polish media reported.

An official with the Tauron Arena in Krakow, where Waters was scheduled to perform two concerts in April, said they would no longer take place.

"Roger Waters' manager decided to withdraw...without giving any reason," Lukasz Pytko from Tauron Arena Krakow said on September 24 in comments carried by Polish media outlets.

The website for Waters' This Is Not a Drill concert tour did not list the Krakow concerts previously scheduled for April 21 and 22.

City councilors in Krakow were expected to vote next week on a proposal to name Waters as a persona non grata, expressing "indignation" over the musician's stance on the war in Ukraine.

Allowing "Roger Waters, an open supporter of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, to play in Krakow...would be shameful for our city," city councilor Lukasz Wantuch said last week on social media. "Let him sing in Moscow."

Waters wrote an open letter to Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska earlier this month in which he blamed "extreme nationalists" in Ukraine for having "set your country on the path to this disastrous war."

Waters has also criticized NATO, accusing it of provoking Russia.

Based on reporting by AP

Iran Fires On Separatist Groups Based In Northern Iraq

The IRGC attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has attacked a militant group's base located in the north of neighboring Iraq, state media reported.

The official government news agency IRNA said the IRGC ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran's West Azerbaijan Province on September 24, attacking what it described as a "terrorist group" based across the border.

The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency said the attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

The IRGC attacks were in response to the support of the separatist group for the recent unrest in the country, as well as their attempt to import weapons into Iran, the report said.

Iran has faced more than a week of protests and unrest over the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Tehran's morality police.

The protests, which started in Amini's home province of Kurdistan, have spread to dozens of cities across the country.

With reporting by AP

Russian Anti-Mobilization Protests Broken Up, Over 700 Arrested

Police gather ahead of a protest in Novosibirsk against the mobilization on September 24.

Russian police have dispersed peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization order, arresting hundreds of people in more than 30 cities across the country.

Police detained more than 700 people on September 24, including over 300 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of those arrested were minors, it said.

The demonstrations followed protests that erupted within hours after Putin on September 21 issued the partial-mobilization order, which was designed to bolster Russia's forces in Ukraine following heavy losses during a recent Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On September 24 , police deployed in force in the cities where protests were scheduled by opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. They moved quickly to arrest demonstrators, most of them young people, before they could hold protests.

People who held individual protests were also detained.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, on September 24 called on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

Even men who had no combat experience had been given conscription orders, Fadeyev said.

Shoigu has told Russian state media that up to 300,000 could be called up, with only those with relevant combat and service experience to be mobilized. The Kremlin has denied reports by two Russian news outlets based abroad -- Nezavisimaya gazeta Europe and Meduza -- that the real target is more than 1 million.

The Kremlin's decision to mobilize forces for a war that has killed or injured as many as 80,000 of its servicemen has sparked fear and anger among parts of the Russian population.

On September 24, Putin signed amendments toughening punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight by up to 10 years in prison, just days after ordering a partial mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine.

Those who voluntarily go into Ukrainian captivity can expect up to 10 years in prison, according to amendments passed by parliament and the Federation Council this week and put into effect by Putin's signature.

Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will face up to 10 years imprisonment if they refuse to take part in combat operations, the Kremlin said.

A separate law, also signed on September 24 , facilitates access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the military.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Russia Toughens Penalty For Voluntary Surrender, Refusal To Fight

Emotional Goodbyes Across Russia As Ukraine Mobilization Begins
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed amendments toughening the punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight, just days after ordering a partial mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine.

Those who voluntarily go into Ukrainian captivity can expect up to 10 years in prison, according to amendments passed by parliament and the Federation Council this week and put into effect by Putin's signature on September 24.

Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will also face up to 10 years imprisonment if they refuse to take part in combat operations, the Kremlin said.

A separate law, also signed on September 24 , facilitates access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the Russian military, following efforts to increase the ranks fighting in Ukraine.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Iran Will Give 'Appropriate' Response To Ukraine's Decision To Reduce Ties

An undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupyansk,

Iran's Foreign Ministry has said Tehran will give "an appropriate" response to Ukraine's decision to downgrade diplomatic ties over the reported supply of Iranian drones to Russia.

Spokesman Nasser Kanaani was quoted by the official government news agency IRNA on September 24 as saying that Ukraine should "refrain from being influenced by third parties who seek to destroy relations between the two countries."

Ukraine said on September 23 that it would reduce Iran's diplomatic presence in the country and withdraw accreditation of the Iranian ambassador over Tehran's decision to supply Russian forces with drones, a move President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called "a collaboration with evil."

Kanaani said Ukraine's decision was "based on unconfirmed reports and resulted from a media hype by foreign parties."

He did not directly refer to drones.

He said that Iran's foreign minister had phone conversations and meetings with his counterparts from Russia and Ukraine over the past few months to help resolve the dispute.

Iran has in the past dismissed accusations by the United States and Ukraine that it is supplying drones to Russia to use in its unprovoked war against its neighbor.

Military authorities in southern Ukraine said on September 24 they had shot down at least seven Iranian drones over the sea near the ports of Odesa and Pivdenniy.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter on September 24 that Iran was supporting Russia "by giving modern drones to (a) backward country for the murders of Ukrainians."

With reporting by Reuters and IRNA

French Lawmakers Want Inquiry Into Alleged Russian Financing Of Political Parties

The National Assembly in Paris (file photo)

Members of the French National Assembly say they have asked the president of the lower house of parliament to set up a committee to investigate alleged Russian financing of political parties.

In a letter to Yael Braun-Pivet shown to reporters on September 24, deputies said the move was prompted by a recent declassification of U.S. intelligence showing Russia had paid hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign political parties "with the aim to...influence elections."

The eight lawmakers, who belong to French President Emmanuel Macron's En Marche party, also noted that Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National party is still paying off a loan granted by Russian banks.

"These facts clearly suggest a Russian will to weigh in the French public debate...they warrant the set-up of an investigation committee to establish if French political parties -- and which ones -- have benefited from Russian financing," they wrote.

The U.S. State Department said on September 13 that Russia had covertly spent more than $300 million since 2014 on efforts to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries.

The information followed a review by the U.S. intelligence community of Russia's efforts to influence other countries' politics, a senior U.S. official said.

The report does not name specific Russian targets but says Russia likely will increasingly turn to covert political financing to undermine international sanctions over its war in Ukraine.

Russia has not publicly commented on the issue.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Removed From Office

Deputy Minister of Defense Dmitry Bulgakov (file photo)

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Bulgakov has been removed from office and transferred to "another post," the Defense Ministry in Moscow said.

Bulgakov will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who previously held the position of head of the National Defense Control Center of Russia.

The Ukrainian military said Mizintsev led the siege of the Ukrainian Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, which earned him the nickname "the butcher of Mariupol."

Mariupol was captured by Russia at the end of May after most of the city was turned into ruins and thousands of civilians were killed during the siege.

The Russian military leadership under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has recently been criticized in circles close to the Kremlin.

Some two weeks ago, Moscow's army had hastily withdrawn from the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, under pressure from Ukrainian counteroffensives.

With reporting by dpa
Updated

Iran's President Says Protesters Should Be Confronted 'Decisively

Iranians protest in the center of Tehran on September 23.

President Ebrahim Raisi has said that Iran must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility," state media reported as the number of people killed in more than a week of anti-government protests more than doubled, according to official accounts.

State media said that at least 35 people have been killed in more than a week of protests in Iran that were sparked by the death of a young woman arrested by the morality police for failing to properly wear a mandatory headscarf, or hijab.

"The number of people who died in recent riots in the country has risen to 35 people," the Borna news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's Sports Ministry, said late on September 23, citing state television.

The official toll had previously stood at 17 dead, including five members of the security forces.

Raisi's comments were made in a condolence telephone call to the family of a security agent stabbed to death last week, allegedy by protesters.

Amnesty International said in a statement on September 23 that it had gathered evidence pointing to "a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters."

The statement said that on the night of 21 September alone, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including at least three children.

The London-based rights group called on the world community to take "meaningful action" against the crackdown in Iran while warning about the risk of further bloodshed amid severe Internet restrictions.

Sweeping arrests have been reported, with the police chief in the northwestern Guilan Province announcing on September 24 "the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women" in his region alone, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Security forces have also arrested activists and journalists, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reporting 17 journalists and columnists have been detained since last week.

They include Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported from the hospital where Amini died.

The government has also imposed Internet restrictions.

Web monitor NetBlocks reported on September 24 that Skype was now restricted in Iran, as part of a crackdown on communications that has already targeted the last accessible international platforms: Instagram, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including Tehran, for eight straight nights since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

The Kurdish woman was pronounced dead three days after the morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing Iran's strict dress code for women, arrested her in Tehran for wearing the headscarf in an "improper" way.

Protests were reported on September 24 in Tehran, Isfahan, and several other cities.

On September 23, state-organized counterdemonstrations took place in several Iranian cities, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators."

The state-sponsored rallies came amid the strongest warning yet from the authorities when the army told Iranians it would confront "the enemies" behind the unrest.

Iran's military said on September 23 it would "confront the enemies' various plots in order to ensure security and peace for the people who are being unjustly assaulted."

"We will not allow enemies to use the situation," a military statement said, according to the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

Iran's intelligence service said it had foiled several bomb attacks during the protests.

According to an intelligence report published by the Mehr news agency on September 24, the attacks were planned by supporters of the former monarchy and militia members in the city of Tabriz in the northwest of the country.

The account could not be independently verified.

Activists said Amini suffered a blow to the head while in custody but Iranian authorities, who say they have opened an investigation, denied she had been beaten.

"Reports from oversight bodies were received, witnesses were interviewed, videos were reviewed, forensic opinions were obtained and it was found that there had been no beating," Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying by Iranian media on September 23.

The minister indicated said the government was investigating the cause of Amini's death, adding, "we must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time."

Vahidi criticized "those who took irresponsible positions...incited violence and followed the United States, European countries, and anti-revolutionary groups."

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Russia Struck Dam On Siverskiy Donets River, British Intelligence Says

Ukrainian paratroopers cross a pontoon bridge across the Siverskiy Donets River in the recently retaken area of Izyum.

Russia struck the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskiy Donets River in northeast Ukraine this week using short-range ballistic missiles or similar weapons, the British Ministry of Defense has said.

The attack on September 21-22 followed an earlier one on the Karachunivske dam near Kryviy Rih in central Ukraine on September 15, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on September 24, adding that Ukrainian forces were advancing further downstream along both rivers.

Russian commanders may be attempting to strike sluice gates of the dams in order to flood Ukrainian military crossing points, the bulletin said.

The attacks are unlikely to have caused significant disruption to Ukrainian operations due to distance between damaged dams and combat zones, it said.

With reporting by Reuters

Belarus's Fate Intertwined With Ukraine's, Opposition Leader Says

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya says neither country wants to be part of another Russian empire. (file photo)

The leader of the Belarusian opposition says Russia views neither Belarus nor Ukraine as independent sovereign states and the two countries should fight together to safeguard their very existence.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in disputed August 2020 presidential election that many consider she won, said in an interview with the Associated Press that "there will be no free Belarus without free Ukraine."

Lukashenka is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has backed Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Tsikhanouskaya said there will be constant security threats to Ukraine and on Belarus's western border as long as Putin is in power.

Tsikhanouskaya said neither country wants to be part of another Russian empire.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

"So Belarus is part of this problem and this problem, this crisis, has to be solved in this context," she said, adding that Lukashenka had to support Russia after its invasion because Putin backed him after the mass protests against his claim of victory in the 2020 election.

Since its invasion, Russia has used Belarus as a staging ground to send troops into Ukraine, and Moscow and Minsk have maintained close military ties.

Tsikhanouskaya said the war in Ukraine was "extremely unexpected" and some Belarusians were especially opposed to the war "against Ukrainians, our brothers and sisters."

She urged the international community to both keep up pressure against Lukashenka -- suggesting new sanctions on Belarusian exports of wood, potash and steel -- and to help Belarusian civil society, including human rights defenders.

There are now six packages of sanctions, pushed for by the opposition, against the Lukashenka regime.

"People are scared, of course," Tsikhanouskaya said. "We live like in a gulag actually in Belarus, but people have this energy to continue."

With reporting by AP

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