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Serbia Arrests 21 Over Far-Right Attacks On Police During EuroPride March

Those arrested by Belgrade police on October 10 are believed to be far-right hooligans who were protesting against the pan-European LGBT pride march that drew about 1,000 people to the center of the Serbian capital on September 17.
Those arrested by Belgrade police on October 10 are believed to be far-right hooligans who were protesting against the pan-European LGBT pride march that drew about 1,000 people to the center of the Serbian capital on September 17.

Serbia has arrested 21 people in connection with attacks against police during EuroPride events in Belgrade last month.

Those arrested on October 10 are believed to be far-right hooligans who were protesting against the pan-European LGBT pride march that drew about 1,000 people to the center of the Serbian capital on September 17 even though the event and counterdemonstrations were officially banned by authorities.

Scattered incidents were reported throughout the event, with officials saying anti-gay activists threw bottles at police and attempted to break through cordons set up by authorities to block LGBT activists' paths.

More than 80 people were arrested on the day of the event, and criminal charges were brought against 11 people.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said in an October 10 statement announcing the new arrests that as long as he is in charge, "no one will beat policemen with impunity."

"Violence will not be tolerated, no matter who it comes from," Vulin said.

The 21 people arrested were identified only by their initials and will face criminal charges for participating in attacks on officers while they were performing official duties.

The statement did not specify which far-right groups the arrested individuals might belong to.

Police searches of dozens of locations related to the case resulted in the confiscation of a large quantity of pyrotechnic devices, batons, knives, firearms, narcotics, and other illegal items, according to the Interior Ministry.

Some of those arrested will face charges related to the illegal production, possession, and trafficking of weapons and explosives, as well as the production and sale of illegal drugs.

Marko Mihailovic, the coordinator of Serbia EuroPride, told RFE/RL that he supported the arrests but hopes that more such actions will come.

"We regularly report and forward to the police information about attacks on members of the LGBT population who contact us, but so far there has been no reaction from the police to such reports," Mihailovic said.

A similar message was issued by the LGBT association Da Se Zna (To Be Clear).

In a statement on the organization's Instagram account, Da Se Zna said it had recorded "a total of 16 incidents motivated by homophobia and transphobia, and more than half of them involved physical violence."

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Floods Prompt Evacuation Of Town In Russia's Tyumen Region

Residents of Ishim work to bolster flood defenses in Russia's Tyumen region
Residents of Ishim work to bolster flood defenses in Russia's Tyumen region

Authorities in Russia's Western Siberian region of Tyumen have urged the residents of Ishim to evacuate as the city is expected to be inundated with water in the coming hours. "The Ishim River's level has risen critically," authorities wrote on Telegram. Ishim city has a population of some 65,000. Several villages in the area are also being evacuated to the Kazan region. Tyumen regional chief Aleksandr Moor has warned residents that they could face fines if they refuse to evacuate. At least 125,000 people have already been evacuated from flooded areas in southern Russia and northern Kazakhstan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Several Arrested As Georgians Protest 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.
Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.

Thousands of Georgians protested a controversial "foreign agents" bill that has roiled the Caucasus nation as lawmakers from the ruling party gave it an initial green light despite scuffles in parliament.

An estimated 5,000 people gathered outside the parliament building late on April 15 urging authorities to scrap the bill that would force foreign-funded entities to register as foreign agents -- a move many have likened to similar legislation enforced in Russia that has been used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Some of the protesters clashed with riot police deployed outside the parliament building late on April 15, the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that 14 demonstrators were arrested and one police officer was injured "as a result of the protesters' violent actions."

Earlier, scuffles broke out in parliament after opposition lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present the bill.

Elisashvili punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to calm down.

Thousands Protest, And Lawmakers Brawl, As Georgian "Foreign Agents" Bill Reappears In Parliament
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Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

Earlier this month Mdinaradze said the Georgian Dream party plans to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also give wide oversight powers to the authorities and introduce potential sanctions for undefined criminal offences.

This new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: the term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutious "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Georgia's opposition has called it the "Russian law," while the ruling party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation.

And its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Once approved by the legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its coalition allies, the bill will proceed to a first reading in parliament.

Most protesters dispersed on the evening on April 15 after activists urged them to return on April 16 for the next parliamentary meeting.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine Downs All Nine Drones Launched By Russia

Ukrainian forces are running out of air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in Congress. (file photo)
Ukrainian forces are running out of air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in Congress. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defense systems shot down all nine drones launched by Russia at Ukraine's territory early on April 16, the country's air force said in a statement. The drones were destroyed above the Kherson, Mykolayiv, Khmelnytskiy, Poltava, Cherkasy, and Dnipropetrovsk regions, the air force said. In recent weeks, Russia has drastically stepped up its attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as Ukrainian forces are running out of sufficient air defense systems and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in the House of Representatives due to Republican opposition. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Biden Hosts Czech PM As He Promotes Passage Of Ukraine Aid Stalled In Congress

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office in Washington on April 15.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office in Washington on April 15.

President Joe Biden urged the U.S. House to immediately take up Senate-passed supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel on April 15 as he hosted Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office. The visit came as Biden aimed to highlight the efforts other nations are making to support Ukraine. Biden appealed to Congress to pass the funding bill so that the U.S. could do its part to help Ukraine, saying, “As the Czech Republic remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine.” Fiala praised the U.S. president for his leadership in support of Ukraine, adding, “We are also doing our best.”

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant 'Getting Dangerously Close' To Accident, IAEA Chief Warns

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)

Recent drone attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine have raised the risk of a nuclear accident to a new level, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency warned on April 15, calling on the UN Security Council to do everything in its power to minimize the risk.

"We are getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident. We must not allow complacency to let a roll of the dice decide what happens tomorrow," Rafael Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the council.

The plant has come under a series of drone attacks since April 7 for which Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other. A team of international specialists at the plant confirmed that attacks on April 7 took place and said one of the attacks hit the containment dome of the Unit 6 reactor building.

Damage to the structure was superficial, but the attack “sets a very dangerous precedent of the successful targeting of the reactor containment,” Grossi said.

The other two attacks on April 7 were in close proximity to the main reactor buildings and resulted in at least one casualty, Grossi said.

In addition, experts at the site have been informed by the plant’s operators of a drone strike against the site’s oxygen and nitrogen production facility, two attacks on a training center located just outside the site's perimeter, and reports of a drone shot down above the turbine hall of Unit 6, he said without specifying when those attacks occurred.

The attacks have not led to a radiological incident, but “they significantly increase the risk at Zaporizhzhya [nuclear power plant], where nuclear safety is already compromised,” Grossi said, according to a transcript of his comments posted at the IAEA’s website.

"These reckless attacks must cease immediately," Grossi said.

The power plant has been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after their invasion started in February 2022, and the IAEA has deployed technicians at the facility. It has been shut down but still requires electricity to power its safety and cooling systems.

The plant is currently relying on just two lines of external power, and in the past year there have been at least four occasions when the plant has had only one line of external power supply, Grossi said.

Grossi is also concerned about an increase in isolated drone incursions in the vicinity of the facility and in the nearby town of Enerhodar and other areas of nuclear safety degradation.

Former U.S. National-Security Adviser Says Strong Israeli Response To Iran Attack Would Be Justified

John Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said Israel can't be sure the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads.
John Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said Israel can't be sure the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads.

PRAGUE -- Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says Israel is entitled to retaliate against Iran for its weekend attack, including destroying its nuclear weapons program, and stands by his comment that President Joe Biden is "an embarrassment" for urging Israel not to respond.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Bolton said if Iran targeted the United States using hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones as it did on April 13 against Israel, Washington would retaliate at a minimum by destroying the bases and facilities from which the attacks were launched.

"I am firmly of the belief that if the U.S. faced that kind of attack, there's no doubt [what] we would do. Why should we deny the Israelis the right to…react the same way we would?"

John Bolton: Israel Has Right To Respond To Iranian Attack
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Bolton spoke with RFE/RL from Washington as Israel weighs its response to Iran's attack, which Iran said was in response to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, last month that killed two brigadier generals.

Almost all of the missiles and drones were shot down by Israeli defense systems or intercepted by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Biden has said he wants to prevent the conflict in the Middle East from spreading and urged caution, telling Israel to "think carefully and strategically" before launching a response against Iran that could trigger a wider war.

But Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said that because Israel can't be sure that the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads, it is in Israel's long-term interests to consider responding by destroying Iran's nuclear weapons program. And if Israel decided to do so, the United States should support the move, he said.

The April 13 attack has raised fears of another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, and the risks are high because "we're in uncharted territory," said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based Le Beck International consultancy.

A full-scale war is the nightmare scenario that could be triggered by an Israeli attack on nuclear sites in Iran, Horowitz said in an interview with RFE/RL on April 15.

"If we reach this point, we may see weeks of Israeli strikes in Iran, the full-scale engagement of Hizballah in an attack against Israel, an Israeli ground incursion in Lebanon, and Iranian attempts to close the Persian Gulf," Horowitz said.

The region is now "closer to such a scenario than we were before," and even if there is no specific trigger, a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between Iran and Israel "could get us there if outside parties don't act as they did so far to de-escalate tensions."

Bolton wrote the book Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America At The United Nations after serving as U.S. ambassador to the UN from August 2005 until December 2006. As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001-2005, he advocated tough measures against the nuclear weapons programs of both Iran and North Korea.

In his interview with RFE/RL, Bolton said Israel is already engaged in a war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and EU, and has been attacked by Hizballah militants from the north.

In addition, he noted that Huthi rebels in Yemen backed by Iran have targeted international shipping in the Red Sea and there have been attacks by Iran-aligned militant groups in Iraq and Syria.

Bolton accused the Biden administration of refusing to look at the conflict in the Middle East in a strategic sense. He also said that all the terrorist groups operating in the region are armed, equipped, trained, and financed by Iran, thus as strong response is justified.

"Iran is the puppet master here. That's the wider war we're already in," he told RFE/RL. "This is not separate battles between Israel and Hamas and Gaza, or the Huthis trying to close the Red Sea in the Suez Canal to international commercial traffic. This is all controlled by Iran," he added.

He defended his criticism of Biden as "an embarrassment," saying the wider war that the U.S. administration and other say they fear already began on October 7, the day that Hamas militants attacked Israeli towns, taking around 250 hostages and killing more than 1,100 people. More than 100 hostage are still in captivity.

Bolton, who spent 17 months as an adviser to former President Donald Trump, said he could not predict what Israel's response will be nor the outcome of an Israeli war cabinet meeting on April 15, but said Prime Minister Netanyahu knows the Iran nuclear threat "better than anyone else in Israel or, frankly, in the United States."

If forced to predict, he said, he would say the response would be "lower level" and would come within a few days.

Bolton, Trump's third national-security adviser, was asked for his resignation in September 2019 after months of division over the direction of foreign and national security policy.

Bolton wrote a book the following year about his time serving in the White House. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir angered Trump for portraying him as ignorant of basic geopolitical facts. The White House tried to stop the book's release, but a judge denied its request. Trump reacted to the publication by calling Bolton "incompetent" and "a boring fool."

With reporting by Kian Sharifi

U.S. Sanctions Belarus Entities Over Support For Russian War On Ukraine

A poster depicts Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the words "War Criminals" at a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London in March 2022.
A poster depicts Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the words "War Criminals" at a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London in March 2022.

The United States on April 15 imposed sanctions on 12 Belarus entities and 10 individuals over their alleged support for Russia's war on Ukraine, the Treasury Department said in a statement. Among the entities targeted are a machine tool building firm, a company that sells control systems for the Belarusian armed forces, and a company that produces radio communication equipment. The department said its action “builds on U.S. sanctions imposed in response to Belarus’s fraudulent August 2020 election, as well as President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s support for Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

Srebrenica To Rename Its Streets…Without Any Mention Of The Genocide

Members of the municipal council in Srebrenica vote on the proposal to rename the city streets.
Members of the municipal council in Srebrenica vote on the proposal to rename the city streets.

SARAJEVO -- Ethnic Serb members of the municipal council in Srebrenica have voted to rename many of the city's streets to commemorate Serb war victims while ignoring the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.

Despite international appeals to rethink the plan and a boycott by Bosniak members of the council, the proposal to rename 25 streets in Srebrenica and the neighboring village of Skelani was approved on April 15 in a move that critics have said is a further attempt to wipe the historical record of Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Under the plan, a square and a part of a street has been renamed "Republika Srpska," after Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity. Another street will be named after a controversial World War I Serb commander.

The July 1995 massacre, which was carried out by Bosnian Serb forces, has been ruled an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

Radovan Karadzic, the first president (1992-1995) of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by the ICTY for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander, was also sentenced to life by the same court for the part he played in the genocide.

The controversial proposal was approved despite appeals by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which instead called for an "inclusive and transparent solution" for street names in the city.

Last month, the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed the Streets for Peace Project, an initiative by young people in the city to rename the streets using neutral, inclusive names such as Street of the Future, Street of Tolerance, and Children of Srebrenica.

Around 8,000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 massacre. (file photo)
Around 8,000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 massacre. (file photo)

The move also comes as the UN General Assembly is scheduled on April 17 to debate a draft UN resolution that declares July 11 "The International Day of Reflection and Remembrance of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide" ahead of an expected vote on May 2.

Partially modelled on a similar resolution for the Rwandan genocide, where up to 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the document is being developed by a group of countries including Rwanda, Germany, France, and the United States.

The resolution has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Republika Srpska, who threatened that, if it was adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and the United Kingdom over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's war in 1995, has reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file phto)
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file phto)

Under the new plan, Srebrenica City Park will be renamed the Park of Major Kosta Todorovic after a World War I Chetnik commander.

Chetniks were originally Serbian paramilitary groups fighting against the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and World War I.

During World War II, Chetnik forces committed war crimes in Bosnia, including mass killings and forced expulsions. Their leader, Draza Mihailovic, was sentenced to death by Yugoslav authorities in 1946, but Serbian authorities rehabilitated him 70 years later, in 2015.

Some Serb military and paramilitary formations called themselves Chetniks during the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Also as a result of the April 15 decision, a part of Marshal Tito Street was renamed Republika Srpska Street.

Josip Broz Tito was the leader of the partisan movement and the president of communist Yugoslavia from World War II until his death in 1980. His name adorned hundreds of streets and squares in the former Yugoslavia.

Mostar-Belgrade Air Route Reopens After More Than 3 Decades

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) arrived at Mostar airport welcomed by Borjana Kristo, chairwomen of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, and Dragan Covic (right), deputy chairmen of the House of Peoples of the Bosnian parliament.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) arrived at Mostar airport welcomed by Borjana Kristo, chairwomen of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, and Dragan Covic (right), deputy chairmen of the House of Peoples of the Bosnian parliament.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic landed at the Mostar airport in the southern Bosnia-Herzegovina on April 15 in an official reopening of the direct air link between Belgrade and Mostar after more than three decades. Vucic landed to meet a delegation of Bosnian officials at the airport on April 15, reopening a route that was closed in November 1991 as war began to tear through Yugoslavia during its bloody breakup. Air Serbia will operate the flights three times a week. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Iran Takes Legal Action Against Analyst, Newspaper Over Criticism Of Israel Attack

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.

Iran's judiciary has initiated legal proceedings against the Tehran-based Etemad newspaper and political analyst Abbas Abdi over comments related to the Islamic republic's interactions with Israel, according to the Mizan News Agency.

Mizan, which is linked to the judiciary, reported on April 14 that the action is aimed at countering those “disrupting societal psychological security.”

Abdi, an analyst considered close to Iranian reformists, commented on Iran's strike on Israel over the weekend in an article published in Etemad saying Israel's recent actions were a reaction, not an act of aggression, and that Tehran did not need to respond.

He also criticized the Islamic republic's strategy of deterrence, saying the use of conventional weapons against a nation whose existence Iran does not recognize or seeks to annihilate is futile and has a disproportionate cost compared to any potential benefits.

Iranians Voice Concern Following Attack On Israel
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Mizan also reported legal actions against the economic newspaper Jahan Sanat and an unnamed economic journalist following their evaluations of the IRGC's missile and drone attacks on Israel and their repercussions on financial markets.

Legal scholar Mohsen Barhani criticized the charges as unfounded, saying the criminal articles used against the publication and author don't exist under current Iranian law.

In a related development, the IRGC's Intelligence Organization issued a warning on social media platforms cautioning users against expressing support for Israel, underscoring ongoing surveillance and potential consequences for users aligning with or endorsing Iran's sworn enemy. The organization also encouraged individuals to report any pro-Israeli activities among their peers.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Iran launched over 300 drones and missiles late on April 13. The "vast majority" were largely intercepted by Israel's air-defense systems and those of its allies.

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

Belarusian Journalist Sentenced To 15 Days For Sending Links Court Says Were 'Extremist'

Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)
Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)

Dzianis Nosav, a journalist for the Vecherny Babruysk newspaper, was sentenced to 15 days in jail by a court in Belarus for sending links to "extremist resources" to his friends. According to human rights defenders Vyasna, Nosav was detained in the city of Babruysk, about 135 kilometesr southeast of Minsk, last week. The group, which disclosed news of the sentence on April 15, gave no further details. Nosav was previously detained in September 2022 after a search of his house by security officials. Many Belarusian journalists have been detained in the country since unrest broke over an August 2020 presidential election claimed by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Georgian MP Punches Lawmaker Over 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Thousands Protest, And Lawmakers Brawl, As Georgian "Foreign Agents" Bill Reappears In Parliament
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A Georgian opposition lawmaker attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present a controversial "foreign agents" bill in parliament that has roiled the Caucasus nation because of its similarities to legislation in Russia used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Aleko Elisashvili rushed the podium on the parliamentary floor on April 15 and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to quell.

"Your Russian mother is a motherf***er," Elisashvili could be heard yelling as he lunged at Mdinaradze to strike him in the head.

Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

"I don't respond to threats with street methods. We will give a proper response," Mdinaradze said.

Earlier this month Mdinaradze said the Georgian Dream party plans to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets receiving foreign funding and engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

Georgians March Against Russian-Style 'Foreign Agents' Law
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The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offenses.

As the scuffle took place inside parliament, several hundred protesters were gathered outside to express their anger over the reintroduction of the law. There were no reports of violence.

This new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: The term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutory "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

The party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation and does not imitate Russia's foreign agents law, but the newly resurrected On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill is seen as a product of Georgia's homegrown struggle for political power.

Its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Once approved by the legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its coalition allies, the bill will proceed to a first reading in parliament.

4 Civilians Killed As Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pleads For Patriot Systems

A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.
A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on April 15 again called for Kyiv's Western allies to "urgently" deliver desperately needed additional air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Russian artillery and missiles continued to wreak havoc among civilians and destroy critical infrastructure.

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Four people were killed in Siversk in the eastern region of Donetsk, the head of the region's administration, Vadym Filashkin, said on April 14.

"Four men aged between 36 and 86 died as a result of the shelling," Filashkin said. "The Russians are trying to kill as many of our people as possible, and the only way to protect themselves is to evacuate to safer regions of Ukraine."

Kuleba, in a video address to the Second Black Sea Security Conference jointly co-hosted by Ukraine and Bulgaria in Sofia, said Ukraine's air defense was critical for the protection of its neighbors as well and urged faster moves to supply its forces with defensive systems such as the U.S.-made Patriot.

"Ukrainian air defense is now protecting not only Ukrainian skies from Russian air terror, it also shields neighboring Moldova, Romania, and Poland from the immediate threat of missiles and drones entering their airspace," Kuleba said.

"We urgently require additional Patriot and other modern air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition," Kuleba said. "I take this opportunity to once again urge all our partners to take extraordinary and bold steps."

On April 14, Kuleba told Ukrainian television that negotiations were under way for the delivery of more Patriots, but voiced disappointment that the process was too slow.

"With all my due respect and gratitude to the United States of America, do you believe that the U.S. Army does not have one spare Patriot battery that it can transfer to Ukraine?" he said.

Meanwhile, on April 15, traffic was halted on the bridge that links Moscow-occupied Crimea with Russia, as the Russia-appointed chief of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, announced an air-raid alert in the city.

Social media reports said explosions caused by the work of Russian air-defense systems could be heard in the area, but the information could not be independently verified.

With reporting by Reuters

Heavy Rains, Lightning Kill 36 In Pakistan

A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.
A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.

Lightning and heavy rains have killed at least 36 people, mostly farmers, across Pakistan in the past three days, officials said on April 15, as authorities in the country's southwest declared a state of emergency. Most deaths occurred when lightning struck farmers harvesting wheat and rains caused houses to collapse in eastern Punjab Province, said Arfan Kathia, a spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority. He said more rains were expected this week. Rains, which also lashed the capital, Islamabad, killed seven people in southwestern Balochistan Province over the weekend, and eight died in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan.

Updated

'On The Brink': Leaders Call For Restraint As World Awaits Israeli Response To Iran Attack

Billboards across Tehran on April 15 blasted Israel and praised Iran's capabilities as world leaders urged a de-escalation of tensions between the archenemies.
Billboards across Tehran on April 15 blasted Israel and praised Iran's capabilities as world leaders urged a de-escalation of tensions between the archenemies.

Leading diplomats and politicians across the globe, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, urged restraint as the world waited for Israel's response after it endured an unprecedented air attack by Iran over the weekend.

Tehran fired more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel late on April 13, almost all of which were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Only a few missiles reached Israeli territory, causing modest damage to an air base and critically wounding a 7-year-old girl.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

The Israeli war cabinet met on April 15 as some hardliners within the right-wing government were said to be advocating a harsh response, while others were pushing for a more moderate decision.

The Israeli military's chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, said the country would respond but provided no details.

"This launch of so many missiles, cruise missiles, and drones into Israeli territory will be met with a response," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory, while an influential member of the war cabinet said the country will retaliate in the "fashion and time" of its choosing.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed alarm over the situation.

"We're on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it," said Borrell. "We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear."

The United States reiterated its "ironclad commitment" to the security of Israel but reportedly told the Jewish state it will not take part in any retaliatory action.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby, asked about Biden's call with Netanyahu over the weekend, declined to say whether Biden had urged to the Israeli leader to exercise restraint in responding to the attack.

"We don't want to see a war with Iran. We don't want to see a regional conflict," said Kirby, adding that it was up to Israel to decide "whether and how they'll respond."

Countries including France, Belgium, and Germany summoned the Iranian ambassadors. The French Foreign Ministry said France was working with its partners to de-escalate the situation.

While Russia, seen as close to Tehran, has stopped short of publicly criticizing Iran for the attack on Israel, the Kremlin on April 15 said "further escalation is in no one's interests" and called on finding a solution through "political and diplomatic methods."

Iran, which said it was responding to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus early last month that killed two brigadier generals, called on Western nations to "appreciate" the restraint it showed since the embassy attack and warned it will act more "resolutely" if "Israel crosses red lines."

Speaking late on April 14 at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "maximum restraint" amid fears that Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel could turn into a larger regional war.

“The Middle East is on the brink.... Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate,” Guterres said.

After the meeting ended without any resolution, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said "there has to be a Security Council response to what happened.”

U.S. officials said Washington had been in indirect contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries before and after the attack, without providing details, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani cautioned on April 15 that no pre-arranged deal was made with any country regarding how Tehran would approach its military response to Israel.

WATCH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that his country would emerge victorious following an unprecedented attack from Iran. According to the Israeli military, over 300 drones and missiles were intercepted during the aerial assault by Iran, its first-ever direct attack on Israel.

Israel Promises Victory After Iranian Attack Risks Broader Middle East Conflict
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Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by a raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, on October 7. The raid left 1,200 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war in Gaza began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters
Updated

Nearly 125,000 Evacuated Due To Floods In Kazakhstan, Russia

An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11
An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11

Almost 125,000 people have been evacuated from areas hit by massive floods in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan where water levels continue to rise in several regions.

Following massive snowfalls in winter, unusually warm weather triggered the sudden melting of snow that in turn lead to the rapid swelling of rivers such at the Ural and the Tobol, in what specialists say may be the effect of global climate change.

In northern Kazakhstan, where more than 111,000 people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas since the start of this month, some 4,500 people were evacuated on April 14 alone from Petropavl, a city of some 20,000 people, near the Ishim River.

Residents Scramble To Evacuate As Floodwaters Engulf Kazakh City
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The village of Bolshaya Malyshka, some 30 kilometers north of Petropavl, was also hit hard, with rescuers evacuating almost 900 residents early on April 15, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry of Kazakhstan.

A resident of the village of Podgora, near Petropavl, told RFE/RL that he had "never seen such a flood before." Residents were concerned by the lack of drinking water, despite reassurance by Mayor Serik Mukhamediev that the water "should come soon."

In neighboring southern Russia, nearly 13,000 people have been evacuated from areas threatened by flooding in Russia's southern region of Kurgan as water levels continued to rise, with the Tobol River near the capital city of Kurgan reaching 6.73 meters, the regional government reported early on April 15.

A state of emergency was declared on April 8 in Kurgan, a city of some 300,000. The ministry said that 62 settlements with some 19,000 people across the region are at risk of flooding.

Water continued to rise in the region's Ketovsky district, it said. The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that in the Kurgan region, 880 residential buildings had already been flooded.

The first to be affected by the massive floods was the city of Orsk, followed by Orenburg, both on the Ural, and now floods have reached the Kemerovo and Tomsk regions in western Siberia.

In the Kemerovo region, the Mrassu River overflowed its banks.

Residents of villages told Current Time that their household belongings and animals had been washed away and nobody has come to their aid, despite the ministry reporting that the flood situation in the region is under control.

In the Tomsk region, 143 houses and 93 household plots were flooded, said the regional head Vyacheslav Chernous.

A total of 84 people, including eight children, were evacuated, Chernous said on Telegram.

The water level in the Tom River near the center of Tomsk city reached 7.64 m -- 14 centimeters above dangerous levels.

The water level in the Ob River in the Tomsk region also exceeded dangerous levels, and authorities in the Tyumen region are thinking about ordering a mandatory evacuation.

In the Ivolginsky district of Buryatia, 11 houses were flooded, said Governor Alexey Tsydenov. Authorities evacuated 22 people, including six children, from the flooded area.

Tsydenov said the flood was caused by an ice blockage on the Selenga River.

"Today, according to the plan, the blockage will be blown up by sappers from the Eastern Military District and the Emergency Situations Ministry," Tsydenov wrote.

The authorities will allocate money for rent for three months to residents of the Orenburg region affected by floods, the press service of the regional government reported on April 15, saying in a statement that the allocation would include “10,000 rubles ($107) for a citizen living alone and 20,000 rubles for a family of two or more people."

Those who live in an apartment on the second floor of an apartment building or higher will be provided with payment for only one month, while citizens who live outside the emergency zone will not receive any compensation, the statement said.

Armenia, Azerbaijan To Clash At UN Top Court

An overview of the court during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (file photo)
An overview of the court during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (file photo)

Azerbaijan and Armenia will fight out a long-running "ethnic cleansing" dispute at the top United Nations court from April 15, just as military tensions are ramping up between the historic enemies. Robed lawyers from the two countries embark on two weeks of hearings, wrestling over interpretations of international law. The legal battle before the International Court of Justice dates from September 2021 when both sides filed tit-for-tat suits against each other within a week. Both sides accused the other of "ethnic cleansing" and of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Jordan Summons Iranian Ambassador To Protest Interference In Its Afairs

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on April 14 said his country had summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against Iranian comments that were interference in the kingdom's internal affairs. In remarks given to the state-owned Mamlaka public broadcaster, Safadi was referring to comments in Iran's official media in recent days that warned Jordan would be the next target in the event it cooperated with Israel in a showdown with Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister To Lead Delegaton On Pakistan Visit

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.

A high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia led by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah will visit Pakistan on April 15-16 as part of efforts to increase economic cooperation between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said on April 14. "This visit is aimed at lending positive impetus to enhanced bilateral cooperation and mutually rewarding economic partnership," it said in a statement. Saudi Arabia has vowed to invest up to $25 billion into various sectors in Pakistan over the next two to five years.

U.S. Speaker Says Will Try To Pass Israel Aid, But Ukraine Package Uncertain

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) on April 14 said he would try to pass aid to Israel in the upcoming week, after Iran's mass drone and missile attack, but didn’t say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other U.S. allies. Johnson, who is struggling to unify his fractious Republican majority and avoid an ouster threat, recounted two failed attempts to pass standalone aid for Israel. "We're going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now," Johnson told Fox News without providing details.

Flash Flooding Kills At Least 33 People In Kabul, Other Afghan Regions

An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.
An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.

Flash flooding caused by heavy rains has destroyed hundreds of homes and killed at least 33 people over the past three days in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and across the country, the de facto Taliban rulers said on April 14. "Unfortunately, 33 people have been martyred and 27 injured as a result of the floods, while approximately 606 houses have been destroyed in villages," Taliban spokesman Mullah Janan Sayiq said. A resident of the village of Bast in Helmand Province who did not want to be identified told RFE/RL that "the floods have destroyed our agricultural lands and houses, our animals have been destroyed. Our area is between two rivers." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.

Updated

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Calls For Urgent Aid To Counter Russian Air Strikes

Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.
Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukraine's allies to provide additional support, adding that "every day of delay in the delivery of aid results in more destroyed homes and ruined lives," while his defense minister visited outmanned and outgunned troops on the "tense" front lines as conditions worsened near the embattled town of Chasiv Yar.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on April 14, Zelenskiy argued that "the world has everything necessary to stop any missiles, Shahed drones, or other forms of terror."

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"It only requires decisions that can restore true and lasting security," he added.

Visiting the front lines on April 14, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said that "the situation is tense," a day after Kyiv warned that the conditions on the eastern front had "deteriorated" to dangerous levels.

Ukrainian officials have over the past two days warned about the perilous situation near the strategic town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, amid a major Russian offensive.

If Russia takes the town -- which had a prewar population of about 13,000 – it would "create conditions for a deeper advance" toward Kramatorsk, a major rail and logistics hub for Ukrainian forces some 30 kilometers away, commander in chief Oleksandr Syrskiy said.

Syrskiy said Russia's top leadership had ordered the military to capture Chasiv Yar in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II.

According to Ukraine's military, Russia attacked Ukraine with 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight on April 13-14, all of them launched from Russia's western Kursk region.

"Defenders shot down all 10 drones over the Kharkiv region," air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said.

A civilian truck was struck by a Russian drone in the Sumy region, local prosecutors reported, killing the driver.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War wrote on April 13 that Russia was "taking advantage" of Ukraine's shortages of artillery shells and air-defense equipment by operating variously in three different areas with "alternating emphasis."

"Russian forces likely lack the ability to conduct more than one simultaneous, effective, large-scale operational effort as they have throughout the war," it wrote. "Russian forces are now able to use multiple alternating offensive efforts to stretch Ukrainian defensive capabilities amid Ukrainian artillery and air-defense shortages."

Responding to Iran's massive overnight drone and missile attack against Israel, Zelenskiy wrote on X on April 14 that Shahed drones were "an instrument of terror."

"We in Ukraine know very well the horror of similar attacks by Russia, which used the same Shahed drones and Russian missiles, the same tactics of mass air strikes," he wrote.

"The obvious collaboration between the two regimes in spreading terror must face a resolute and united response from the world."

Ukraine Commander Says Moscow Seeks Fall Of Chasiv Yar By May 9

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.

Russia's top leadership has ordered the military to capture the city of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II, Ukraine's top military commander said on April 14. "The realization of the Russians' plans is hindered by the heroic defense of our brigades, which literally 'bite into the ground' to hold back the enemy's daily attacks," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said. The fall of Chasiv Yar, which had a prewar population of about 13,000 and is just west of the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, would be a significant setback for Kyiv. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Officials Urge Evacuation Of Parts Of Kurgan Region Amid Flooding

The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.
The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.

Officials in Russia's Kurgan region in the southern Urals are urging residents of districts threatened by flooding to evacuate immediately. Kurgan region Governor Vadim Shumkov wrote on Telegram on April 14 that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing. He warned that electricity and natural-gas supplies could soon be cut off. The newspaper Kommersant wrote that 62 settlements with a population of about 19,000 people were in the endangered area. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Bulgaria's Georgieva Appointed To New Five-Year Term Atop IMF

 Kristalina Georgieva
Kristalina Georgieva

Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, will serve as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a second five-year term, the Washington-based fund said on April 13. Georgieva, 70, said in a statement that she was "truly honored to continue to lead the IMF as managing director." She added that “"a more challenging global context demands an even more effective IMF. I will continue to devote all my energy to serve our members." The IMF is traditionally led by a European, while the World Bank is led by an American. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.

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