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Assad Says Syria Faces War 'Waged From Outside'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)
Speaking to parliament on June 3, President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was "facing a real war waged from the outside" and vowed there will be no compromise in the fight with “terrorism.”

"I just want to say that when we describe this as a matter of terrorism, we are no longer talking about the domestic political framework," Assad said.

"We are now facing a real war from outside, and dealing with a war differs from how we would deal with internal sides in Syria. This point must be made clear."

He said Syria was passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.

Assad’s message was similar to previous speeches, in which he blamed terrorists for the country's uprising.

It's his first address since the massacre in Syria's central region of Houla that killed more than 100 people, nearly half of them children. UN observers in the country say there are strong suspicions that a pro-government militia, known as Shabiha, was responsible for the killings.

Assad denied a government role in the Houla massacre, calling it an "ugly crime."

"In reality, even monsters would not carry out what we have seen, especially what we saw in the Houla massacre. I think the Arabic language or the human language cannot describe what we saw and we as Syrians have lived during this period and will continue to feel embarrassment every time we remember it as long as we are alive," Assad said.

"We wish that it does not remain in the memory of our children and grandchildren, we want to keep the lessons [we learn] from this crisis but we don't want these images and emotions to stay in our society."

The president also said unemployed Syrians were being paid to take part in antigovernment rallies.

No Talks With Opposition In Exile

Assad emphasized that the government-sponsored political dialogue was ongoing, but said that the government would not hold talks with members of the exiled opposition.

"They said at the beginning that the problem was the absence of political parties [other than the ruling Baath Party], and we issued the law of [forming] parties," Assad said.

"They said at the beginning that Article 8 [of the constitution, which gave the Baath Party official political monopoly] was a problem, we changed Article 8 and the whole constitution went, and other excuses and reasons that were all changed, but the reality has remained unchanged."

Parliamentary elections were held on May 7, following the approval of a new constitution in a referendum that allowed a multiparty system in the country for the first time in decades.

Opposition groups boycotted the elections.

Annan: Threat Of 'All-Out War' Increasing

Assad's address follows a meeting of the Arab League on June 2 where peace envoy Kofi Annan warned that the "specter of all-out war" was increasing in Syria and that Assad needed to end the conflict peacefully.

"The situation is complex and it takes everyone involved in the conflict to act responsibly if the violence is to stop," Annan said. "But the first responsibility lies in the Syrian government and President Assad."

Anna also warned that achieving a true cease-fire remained as elusive as ever even though UN monitors are now on the ground in Syria.

"Today we have 291 UN military observers and over 90 UN civilians in the mission in Syria able to move freely throughout the country and provide objective reports that can inform the Security Council and all of you," he said.

"But we do not have what this was set up to achieve, an end to the appalling violence and abuses and the launch of the political process for a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."

Meanwhile, opposition activists said that five people were killed across Syria on June 3.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees said the deaths occurred in the provinces of Aleppo, Homs and Hama.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that there were also two explosions in Damascus and Aleppo.

The organization said that there were several injuries when an explosive device was detonated in Aleppo, while a blast was also heard in the Tadamun area of Damascus during Assad's speech.

Monitors say more than 13,400 people have been killed across Syria since an antiregime uprising erupted in March 2011, including nearly 2,300 since the cease-fire technically went into effect on April 12.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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Take A Stand On War, Ukraine's Kostyuk Tells Belarus's Sabalenka At French Open

Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine

Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka after their first-round match at the French Open and the Ukrainian says the Belarusian should take a stronger, more personal stand against Russia's war against Ukraine. Booing and jeering could be heard from the crowd as Kostyuk left the court after a 6-3 6-2 loss to world No. 2 Sabalenka on May 28. Kostyuk has said she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus -- a staging ground for Russia's invasion -- if she feels they have not done enough to speak out against the war. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

NATO Head Urges Kosovo To Ease Tensions With Serbia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Pristina and Belgrade must engage in EU-led dialogue. (file photo)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on May 28 called on Kosovo to tone down tensions with Serbia, two days after violent clashes between Kosovar police and protesters opposed to Albanian mayors taking office in ethnic Serbian areas. Stoltenberg, the transatlantic military alliance's Norwegian secretary-general, said he had spoken to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about Kosovo. He said Pristina and Belgrade must engage in the EU-led dialogue. Serbs, who form the majority of the population in Kosovo's northern region, do not accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Wagner Chief Prigozhin Says Kremlin Blanking Him On State Media Will Provoke Backlash

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin poses with two of his mercenaries as he makes a statement about withdrawing his forces from the embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on May 25.

Russia's most powerful mercenary said on May 28 he was convinced that senior Kremlin officials had banned reporting about him on state media, cautioning that such a misleading approach would lead to a backlash from the Russian people within months. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the private Wagner Group, is the most striking member of President Vladimir Putin's circle to gain widespread notoriety in the 15-month war in Ukraine. Prigozhin claimed that his mercenary forces gained control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut earlier this month -- something Ukraine has denied -- but Russian state television gave him little coverage. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Russia Thwarts Drone Attack On Krasnodar Oil Refinery, Officials Say

Smoke rises from a fire at the Ilsky oil refinery in Krasnodar, Russia, on May 4. Local authorities said the fire was caused by a drone attack.

Russia's air-defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said on May 28. "Several unmanned aerial vehicles tried to approach the territory of the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar Krai," the region's emergency officials said on Telegram. "All of them were neutralized, the infrastructure of the plant was not damaged." The officials did not say who launched the attack. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Russia Targets Ukrainian Capital With 'Largest' Drone Attack As City Marks Kyiv Day

Rescuers work at the site of a building damaged during a Russian suicide drone strike in Kyiv on May 28.

Russian forces targeted Kyiv with multiple waves of air strikes early on May 28, Ukrainian officials said, describing the air raid as the "largest" drone attack on the city since the start of the war.

The strikes came on the last Sunday of May when the Ukrainian capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of the city's official founding 1,541 years ago.

The Tavberidze Interviews

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Vazha Tavberidze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service has been interviewing diplomats, military experts, and academics who hold a wide spectrum of opinions about the war's course, causes, and effects. To read all of his interviews, click here.

Military officials said at least 40 of the aerial drones moving toward Kyiv were shot down by Ukraine's defense systems.

Falling debris killed at least one person and wounded two others in Kyiv, according to the city authorities.

Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration, said Russia used the Iranian-made Shahed drones in the pre-dawn attacks on Kyiv, the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million.

"Today, the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly [unmanned aerial vehicles]," Popko wrote on Telegram.

"The attack was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours," he added.

Several buildings were damaged, and fires broke out, city officials said.

Falling debris set a three-story warehouse on fire in the Holosiyivskiy district in the southwestern part of Kyiv, destroying 1,000 square meters of building structures, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Falling drone debris also caused a fire in the Solomyanskiy district, a busy rail and air transport hub in the city's west.

The roof of a nine-story building was set on fire by debris in the Pecherskiy district, and a shop was damaged in the Darnytskiy district, military administration officials said on Telegram early on May 28.

Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.

Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed his country's air-defense forces and rescue services, calling them "heroes."

"You look up to destroy enemy missiles, aircraft, helicopters, and drones. Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved.... You are heroes!" Zelensky said on May 28, also thanking rescuers.

Drone strikes and artillery fire were also reported from other parts of Ukraine, including the northeastern province of Sumy on the border with Russia and the town of Nikopol in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region.

In the northeastern Kharkiv Province, regional authorities said two people were killed in two separate shelling attacks on May 28.

Also on May 28, the death toll from a missile attack two days earlier on the city of Dnipro, the provincial capital of Dnipropetrovsk, rose to four.

Dnipropetrovsk Governor Serhiy Lysak said three people who were considered missing were confirmed dead. At least 32 people, including two children, were wounded in the May 26 attack.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Tens Of Thousands Take To The Streets Of Belgrade To Protest Mass Shootings, Government Response

The demonstration on Belgrade on March 27 was the fourth such protest in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens took to the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 27 to protest against the government’s response to two mass shootings earlier in the month that killed 18. Protesters called on President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, and Aleksandar Vulin, the director of Serbia's security agency, to resign. Many opponents blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the mass shootings. The demonstration was the fourth such protest in recent weeks. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Ukraine Claims Russia Plotting 'Provocation' At Nuclear Plant, Offers No Evidence

Russian forces currently occupy the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, in southeast Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a "large-scale provocation" at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. A statement released on May 26 by the intelligence directorate of Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would strike the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give the Russian forces the respite they need to regroup ahead of the counteroffensive. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Russian Orthodox Church Fires Archpriest For 'Obstruction' Of Trinity Icon Transfer

Believers pray in front of Andrei Rublev's 15th-century Trinity icon.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on May 27 fired archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration for "obstructing" the transfer of the historic 15th-century Trinity icon to the church from a museum in Moscow. Kalinin was also banned from the priesthood, according to a statement published by the Russian Orthodox Church. "I apparently made a mistake," Kalinin was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency, adding that he accepted the decision "calmly." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Germany Says Russia Set To Expel German Diplomats, Teachers, Cultural Staff

The German Embassy in Moscow (file photo)

Russia will start expelling German diplomats, teachers and employees of German cultural institutions next month, the German Foreign Office said on May 27 -- a move that will further enhance tensions between the two countries that have already had very fraught ties since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year. The German Foreign Ministry sharply criticized Russia’s move, calling the upcoming expulsions a "unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision." To read the original story by AP, click here.

Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates

To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many drivers in Iran are covering their license plates.

Police in Tehran issued a stern warning to road users amid an increase in the number of people covering up the license plates of mopeds with face masks, plastic covers, and badges. It is a criminal offense to cover a registration that can carry a penalty of six months to a year in prison, according to a senior police officer in Tehran on May 27, state news agency IRNA reported. Locals in Tehran say people are covering up their license plates for several reasons. As ever, road users are keen to avoid fines for infractions. In addition, many women who ride small mopeds are no longer wearing head scarves, as in the past, in a continued protest at the requirement. To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many cover their license plates.


Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban

A general view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam, northeast of Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter were killed after the two sides exchange gunfire on the Islamic republic's border with Afghanistan.

The incident on May 27 came amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.

Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.

The official government news agency IRNA quoted Brigadier General Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of the national police as saying that a border outpost in southeastern Iran had come under "heavy attack" by the Taliban, prompting a "a decisive and courageous counteraction" from Iranian border guards.

"The Taliban forces initiated the assault in contravention of international law and principles of good neighborliness," Rezai said.

IRNA said that following the border skirmishes, Brigadier General Ahmadreza Radan, chief commander of the national police, issued a directive to the border guards, asking them to "defend the borders bravely and decisively and not allow any trespassing or encroachment."

A Taliban spokesman said two people were killed in the clashes while accusing Iranian forces of shooting first.

"Today, in Nimroz Province, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counter-reaction," a spokesman for the Taliban-run Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a statement. "During the battle, one person was killed on each side and many were injured."

"The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate does not want to fight with its neighbors," Takor added.

Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi confirmed the clashes in the Kang district of Nimroz Province while calling for "dialogue and negotiations."

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation to be a reasonable way for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.

Iranian news agencies confirmed the death of two Iranian border guards. IRNA said two civilians had been injured in the incident. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a main border crossing with Afghanistan had been closed following the exchange of fire.

Earlier, the hard-line Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said the clashes ended after "a short time." Fars said the two sides had convened a meeting to investigate the cause of "the tensions."

It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.

HalVash, a Baluch rights group, posted a video and photos that it said were from the area where Iranian forces and the Taliban engaged in "heavy" clashes and exchange of fire.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.

The clashes follow a warning by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi who on May 18 called the de facto Taliban regime in Afghanistan not to violate Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.

According to the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obligated to provide Iran with 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River. Iran has accused Afghanistan of not complying with the accord, an allegation that Kabul rejects. Disputes over the distribution of cross-border water supplies have plagued relations between the two neighbors for decades.

Taliban officials have repeatedly claimed that due to low water levels, even if they opened the Kajaki Dam, nothing would reach Iran.

Water from the 1,150-kilometer (690-mile) Helmand River, Afghanistan’s longest, feeds the Hamun Lake in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The region relies heavily on the lake, and officials say it has suffered major issues because of a persistent lack of water.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

At Least Nine People Killed In Avalanche In Northern Pakistan

At least nine people were killed in an avalanche that occurred in northern Pakistan close to the border with China, officials said on May 27. The avalanche occurred early in the morning in the Astore district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region and involved a family from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said. Khalid Khurshid, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan ordered a search-and-rescue mission to go to the scene as soon as possible despite the bad weather. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Ukraine Asks Germany To Provide Taurus Long-Range Missiles

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pose on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 20.

Ukraine has asked Germany to supply it with Taurus cruise missiles, an air-launched weapon with a range of some 500 kilometers, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on May 27. Germany received the request several days ago, the spokeswoman said, confirming a report by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She declined to provide further details or say how likely it was that Germany would supply the missiles to Ukraine. Britain earlier in May became the first country to publicly provide Kyiv with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Suicide Attack Wounds 23 Pakistani Troops In Tribal Area, Officials Say

A convoy of Pakistan security forces was hit by a suicide bomber in the South Waziristan tribal ditrict of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on May 27. 

A suicide attacker slammed his explosives-laden motorcycle into a convoy of military vehicles in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan on June 27, wounding 23 troops, security officials told Radio Mashaal on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. "The military convoy was traveling from Dera Ismail Khan to South Waziristan tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province," one security official said. The wounded have been shifted to the military hospital in Dera Ismail where two of them are in critical condition. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

NATO Urges Kosovo To 'Immediately De-escalate' Tensions After Police Clash With Protesters In Serb-Majority North

Kosovar police officers guard the municipality of Zvecan on May 27.

NATO on May 27 called on Kosovar authorities to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in the Serb-majority northern towns after security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds in three towns and enter municipal buildings in support of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors.

The situation was calm on May 27, RFE/RL correspondents reported, a day after the unrest shook Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- similarly sized communities of 16,000 to 18,000 people where the ethnic Albanian mayors sought to enter municipal buildings and take office amid opposition from Serb-majority protesters. There was heavy police presence in the area, the correspondents reported.

"We urge the Institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately & call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu wrote on Twitter on May 27.

"NATO-[led] KFOR remains vigilant & will ensure a safe & secure environment," Lungescu added referring to the KFOR protection force that was deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after the NATO alliance's bombing forced the Serbian Army out of the territory. KFOR comprises nearly 3,800 soldiers.

Five police officers were injured in Zvecan, authorities said, adding that at least four vehicles had been damaged. There were no immediate reports of possible injuries among protesters who had gathered at the town's main municipal building.

In a move that threatened to further fan tensions, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on May 27 announced that his country's military remained on high alert after he had ordered troops to deploy closer to the border with Kosovo late on May 26.

The decision to keep troops on high alert was made at a meeting of Serbia's National Security Council in Belgrade on May 27, the Serbian presidency said, adding that the move was necessary after the "brutal use of force by [Kosovar Prime Minister] Albin Kurti against the Serbian people in Kosovo."

The unrest prompted the United States and other Western allies to take an unusually harsh line against Kosovar authorities for the aggressive police action after previously assailing the government's decision to hold elections on April 23 following a boycott announced by the main Serb party.

The so-called QUINT states -- United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Britain -- had previously expressed concerns about the situation in northern Kosovo, saying the April elections did not constitute a lasting political solution for the municipalities involved due to the boycott.

In a joint statement on May 26, the group condemned the Kosovar authorities’ use of force and also expressed concerns about "Serbia's decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo and call all parties for maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26 said Kosovo’s government took the action to force access to municipal buildings against U.S. advice.

“We strongly condemn the actions by the Government of Kosovo that are escalating tensions in the north and increasing instability. We call on Prime Minister [Albin Kurti] to immediately halt these violent measures and refocus on the EU-facilitated Dialogue,” he wrote on Twitter.

Blinken urged all sides in the dispute to "refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict."

The European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement that the “European Union condemns in the strongest terms the clashes between Kosovo police and protesters in northern Kosovo, initiated by the attempt of newly elected mayors to enter municipal buildings.

"Everyone must take steps to reduce the tense situation and immediately restore calm. The EU will not accept any further unilateral or provocative moves and peacekeeping and security on the ground should be a priority," the statement added.

The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on May 25 to lead majority Serb municipalities, replacing Serb mayors who had resigned last November to protest a cross-border dispute over vehicle registrations.

The subsequent election to replace the mayors was boycotted by the dominant ethnic Serb party, Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which enjoys the support of neighboring Serbia's government -- paving the way for ethnic Albanian candidates to win with tiny vote totals.

A fourth mayor was sworn in last week -- in North Mitrovica -- in a process that Vucic condemned as an "occupation" of areas of the former Serbian province. Vucic has vowed never to recognize Kosovar independence.

The Serb minority accounts for 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population, which is 90 percent Albanian. But they hold majorities in regions near the Serbian border.

With reporting by Reuters

Governor Says Oil Pipeline Building Damaged In Drone Attack In Russia's Pskov Region

At least one administrative building of an oil pipeline in Russia's Pskov region was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones were coming from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties. According to Baza telegram channel, two kamikaze drones attacked the Transneft oil pumping station. Baza also reported that drones attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine, adding that there were no casualties. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules

A group of female women students at Tehran University of Fine Arts faculty hold a protest on March 07.

Iranian students are coming under increased pressure and disciplinary measures as authorities try to stamp out dissent over the mandatory hijab law.

The Union Council of Iranian Students says students, who have been at the forefront of massive anti-government protests over the hijab law, are being threatened via text messages and through "motorcycle patrols for hijab warnings" to comply with the rule.

It pointed to the recent summoning of students at the University of Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, where they were repeatedly threatened with suspensions and academic bans by university officials, as an example of how authorities were trying to force the students to abandon their opposition to the hijab law.

The council added that university authorities have set up a motorcycle security patrol tasked with confronting students who don't comply with the compulsory hijab, while noting the security presence at the university has substantially increased and closed gates to control the flow of students on campus as they target students based on their clothing.

Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend classes. Protesting students have chanted "Woman, life, freedom!" and "Death to the dictator!" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.

At Noshirvani University in the northern Iranian city of Babol, officials have reportedly formed committees to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement.

The United Students channel uncovered the formation of the Guidance Committee at the university, saying its job is to confront students based on their attire. If students refuse to observe the compulsory hijab, this committee has the authority to refer them to the university's disciplinary committee.

Security forces at the school are allegedly bursting into classes while professors are teaching to issue hijab warnings.

Several other universities, including Al-Zahra University, Beheshti University, and Azad University have reported similar occurances.

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

According to the Committee for the Follow-Up of the Situation of Detainees, over 720 students from across 100 universities in the country have been arrested since the nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini during her arrest.

Many of these detained students have reportedly faced severe penalties, including imprisonment, suspension from education, exile, and monetary fines.

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

Serbia's President Vucic Steps Down As Head Of Ruling Party

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses his supporters during a rally in front of the parliament building in Belgrade on May 26.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stepped down as leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) at a party congress on May 27, saying a new approach was needed to unite the country, but said he would remain head of state. The move came a day after tens of thousands of people from across Serbia and from neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia rallied in the center of Belgrade in a show of support for Vucic following anti-government protests over two mass shootings that killed 18 people earlier this month. Another anti-government protest was scheduled for later on May 27. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Wagner Mercenaries Reportedly Start Withdrawal From Bakhmut As Russia Launches Fresh Attacks, Air Strikes

Wagner mercenaries wave flags of Russia and the Wagner Group atop a building in an unidentified location in this still image obtained from a video released on May 20.

Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner Group have reportedly begun relocating from some of their positions in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the war in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk, according to senior Ukrainian officials and British intelligence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the mercenary group that has spearheaded the attack on Bakhmut, on May 25 said his fighters were starting to leave the city and would be replaced by regular Russian troops.

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Prigozhin claimed his fighters had captured Bakhmut, an assertion rejected by Kyiv officials who said Ukrainian forces still control parts of the devastated city.

At the same time, the Ukrainian side confirmed "certain rotational movements" of Russian forces in Bakhmut.

"Indeed, they are replacing (forces), but how massively, how much he (Prigozhin) will really withdraw the units of this criminal group -- it will take a little time to verify," Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told state television on May 27.

Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement on Telegram that Russian forces were continuing to attack Bakhmut but that overall offensive activity had decreased.

"Yesterday and today there have not been any active battles -- neither in the city nor on the flanks," she said on May 27, adding that Moscow's troops were instead shelling the outskirts and approaches to Bakhmut.

"The decrease in the enemy's offensive activity is due to the fact that troops are being replaced and regrouped," Maliar said. "The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities."

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, also told the BBC in an interview published on May 27 that Wagner mercenaries were leaving Bakhmut, but cautioned that they were "regrouping to another three locations" and "it doesn't mean that they will stop fighting with us."

British military intelligence said in its daily report on May 27 that Wagner fighters "have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions" in and around Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on May 27 that fighting has continued in and around Bakhmut, as Russia pounded the devastated city and its surroundings with air strikes.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on May 27 that Russian forces have continued attacking but "overall offensive activity has decreased."

WATCH: Civilians caught near the front line in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region continue to be evacuated. Serhiy Siryak and his wife, Tamara, from the town of Stepnohirsk, finally decided to leave when their house was destroyed by Russian shelling.

'The Walls Collapsed': Elderly Couple Finally Evacuates From Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Region
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Malyar said Ukrainian troops "firmly hold" the heights north and south of Bakhmut.

Earlier, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report on May 27 that Ukrainian forces repelled 25 Russian assaults on their positions in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

Two people were killed and five others were wounded by Russian shelling in Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on May 27. One person was killed in Chasiv Yar district and one in Vasyukivka, Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.

Fighting has been under way also around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are attempting to consolidate their tactical position, the Ukrainian military said.

A missile strike also hit a village in the eastern Kharkiv region overnight, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said on May 27, adding that the missile caused some material damage but no victims.

Meanwhile, authorities in Russian-occupied Berdyansk, in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhya region, reported several explosions on the outskirts of the city that they blamed on Ukrainian drones. The information could not be independently verified.

Russian officials also reported drone attacks on oil installations in two regions.

In Pskov, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus, at least one administrative building of an oil pipeline was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones came from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

In the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, the local council reported that a drone attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline near Erokhino, some 500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Druzhba is one of the world's longest and densest networks of oil pipelines.

According to the Baza telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services, drones also attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine.

In the Kursk region, the local governor said shelling from Ukraine killed a construction worker near the Ukrainian border.

None of the reported attacks inside Russia could be independently verified.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Tens Of Thousands Gather For Pro-Government Rallies In Serbian Capital

Supporters of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic take part in a rally in support of his policies and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in Belgrade on May 26.

Tens of thousands of supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 26 in support of President Aleksandar Vucic. The president has faced increasing pressure from opponents angered by what they see as a lack of response to two mass shootings, including one at a school, earlier in the month. Vucic has vowed to step up school security and urged citizens to hand over their weapons to police. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.


Pakistan's Imran Khan Calls For Immediate Talks Amid Standoff With Military

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 26 appealed for immediate talks with state officials, as pressure increased on him amid a crackdown on his top aides and supporters that has seen thousands arrested, as well as many leaving his party.

han has been embroiled in a tussle with the military since he was removed from power last year in a parliamentary vote that he says was orchestrated by the country's top generals. The military denies this.

The standoff intensified when earlier this month Khan's supporters were involved in violent protests following his brief arrest on May 9.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s government on May 26 said 17 more Khan supporters would be tried in military courts over recent anti-government violence, bringing the overall number of followers of the former prime minister facing military tribunals so far to 33.

Polish Interior Minister Vows Sanctions on Belarus After Court Upholds Eight-Year Sentence On Journalist

Andrzej Poczobut in a Belarusian court earlier this year.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on May 26 said he will introduce new sanctions on representatives of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime after Belarus’s Supreme Court upheld an eight-year prison term handed to Andrzej Poczobut, a noted journalist and leader of the Polish-Belarusian community. Kaminski called the ruling against the 50-year-old Poczobut “draconian” and said the new sanctions will be announced on May 29. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here.

Russian Arms Maker Kalashnikov Boosts Output Of Kamikaze Drones

A Kalashnikov kamikaze Lancet drone. (file photo)

Russian arms producer Kalashnikov, maker of the world's most widely used assault rifle, said on May 26 it was launching a new division for the production of kamikaze drones -- one of the key weapons used in the Ukraine war. After Ukrainian forces used Western, Israeli, and Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with deadly efficiency in the opening months of the war, Russia began using Iranian-made Shahed drones, while seeking to boost its own production. "Kalashnikov is starting new production of UAVs," the Izhevsk-based Kalashnikov, Russia's biggest producer of automatic weapons and guided artillery, said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

German Chancellor Warns Putin Against Frozen Conflict In Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned President Vladimir Putin against creating a frozen conflict along the borders of the Ukrainian territories seized by Russia, in remarks published on May 26 in the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. "Russia has to understand that the aim cannot be to conclude a kind of cold peace, by turning the current frontier into a new 'border' between Russia and Ukraine," Scholz said. "That would merely legitimate Putin's raid. The aim rather is a fair peace, and a precondition for that is the withdrawal of Russian troops," Scholz said.

Kazakh Activist Sent To Pretrial Detention Instead Of Being Released After Serving Jail Term

Marat Zhylanbaev

The chairman of Kazakhstan’s unregistered Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, Marat Zhylanbaev, has been sent to pretrial detention for two months instead of being released after serving a 20-day jail term. He was jailed for holding a picket in March to demand the release of political prisoners and to ask Western nations to impose sanctions on top Kazakh officials for "helping" Russia evade sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. A court in Astana ruled on May 25 that Zhylanbaev must stay in custody until July 23 on charges of taking part in a banned group's activities and financing an extremist organization. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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