Syrian Army Retakes Last IS Stronghold
Syrian state media say government forces have retaken the last stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the country.
SANA news agency reported on November 19 that government forces and their allies took complete control of Albu Kamal, a town near the border with Iraq.
Lebanon's Al-Manar TV, affiliated with Hizballah, also reported that IS fighters had been defeated in Albu Kamal.
With the town retaken, IS fighters remain holed up in only a few villages and patches of desert in Syria, losing large swaths of its so-called caliphate in the past year to the Syrian Army and U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces.
The Syrian Army had declared victory over IS fighters in Albu Kamal earlier this month but the militants then staged a counterattack and retook the town.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on November 29 that most IS fighters withdrew from the town, with fighting continuing on the outskirts of Albu Kamal.
Based on reporting by Reuters and AP
All Of The Latest News
Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Kara-Murza Additionally Charged With Treason
MOSCOW -- Jailed Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza reportedly has been charged with high treason.
Russian media quoted unnamed law enforcement officials and sources as saying that the high-treason charge against Kara-Murza stems from his alleged cooperation with organizations in a NATO member for many years.
If convicted, the staunch Kremlin opponent faces up to 20 years in prison.
The 41-year-old politician was detained in April and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disobeying a police order. He was later charged with spreading false information about the Russian military while speaking to lawmakers in the U.S. state of Arizona.
Kara-Murza has rejected the charge, calling it politically motivated.
His arrest comes amid a mounting crackdown on Russian opposition figures and any dissent to the ongoing war in Ukraine that Moscow launched against its neighbor on February 24.
In August, Kara-Murza was additionally charged with carrying out activities of an undesirable organization for taking part in organizing a conference in Moscow last year to support political prisoners in Russia that was sponsored by the foreign-based Free Russia Foundation. That group has been declared "undesirable" in Russia.
The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.
Russian lawmakers have since dramatically widened the scope of the law, including to bar Russian nationals and organizations anywhere in the world from taking part in the activities of such "undesirable" groups.
In early March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian military that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza is best known for falling deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.
Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of "intentional poisoning."
U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.
With reporting by TASS, RT, and Izvestia
European Leaders Meet In Prague To Talk Energy, Security In Face Of Ukraine War
Leaders from more than 40 countries are gathering in Prague for an inaugural summit of a continental forum aimed at bringing Europe together in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.
The stated aim of the European Political Community -- a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron -- is to improve cooperation between European Union countries and nonmembers such as Britain, Turkey, and the states of the Western Balkans and the Caucasus region.
Among those set to meet in Prague Castle on October 6 are the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Switzerland.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal is set to attend in person while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to join by video.
The gathering has been billed by Brussels as a "platform for political coordination," but despite the rhetoric, few concrete results are expected from the summit.
Russia, which is not invited, will loom over the meeting as discussions focus on the economic and security fallout from its invasion of Ukraine.
The meeting is likely be dominated by differences about how to cap gas prices to contain soaring energy costs driven by the war.
The group meets for a plenary session followed by a family photograph.
Participants will then hold several smaller roundtable discussions on security, energy, climate, and the economy.
Participants are then expected to outline the conclusions during a working dinner.
While the usefulness of the meeting has been doubted by observers, some say the the most important events will be the bilateral meetings held on the sidelines.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said he will meet Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev together with Macron and EU chief Charles Michel in Prague to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Countries pushing to join the EU -- Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the Western Balkan states -- have had reservations about the event, concerned that it could end up being a consolation prize to replacing serious membership discussions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attendance has also been viewed with reluctance by EU members Greece and Cyprus, who have long-standing disputes with Ankara.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and Politico.eu
Schmidt Says Bosnian Election-Night Decrees Have Country 'On Right Track'
High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schmidt says he's pleased with the "definite momentum" in the Balkan country since his dramatic election-night intervention to alter and unblock key institutions.
In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL, he also said that while "the country has priority and should make decisions on its own," he could invoke his international authority again "if I don't see another way to solve problems or difficulties."
Schmidt also acknowledged that his amendment of election laws, the constitution, and the formation of the legislature in the Bosniak and Croat federation that makes up half of Bosnia was motivated by the desire to avert a "blockade" by the largest ethnic Croatian party, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZBiH).
"It seems to me that we are somewhat on the right track," Schmidt said in the German-language interview on October 5.
Critics have accused Schmidt, the UN's overseer of civilian and administrative aspects of the 26-year-old peace deal that still governs Bosnia along ethnic lines, of dealing a major blow to Bosnian democracy by using his so-called "Bonn powers" to sidestep local officials.
But he said his move "is not a test of who will win here" but rather allows elected politicians to "show what they know and can do" to overcome decades of political stalemate.
"I think that we have reached a certain stage, and some other things must happen for sure -- yes, there are some weaknesses -- but I think that overall we can still say that we are on the right path, and that's how I understood everyone I talked to [after the election], including the representatives 'under scrutiny.'"
Bosnia is made up of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a majority Bosniak and minority Croatian population, and the Republika Srpska, where majority Serbs led by Milorad Dodik have threatened secession.
Schmidt cited leaders' inability to form a government or appoint a president within the federation since elections in 2018, despite the HDZBiH party's popularity among Croats, as a major factor in his decision to intervene.
"That is absurd," said Schmidt, who took over as high representative with wide-ranging powers just over a year ago. "Until now, the situation was such that we had this blockade, which was created by the HDZ," he said.
Schmidt's election-day changes to the upcoming process of cantonal appointments and a new 30-day deadline mean "that blockade won't be able to go on like that anymore."
"I think that, because of that, it is a very pragmatic and correct decision," he told RFE/RL.
Two of the three seats in the ethnically partitioned Bosnian presidency were won by moderates over more ethno-nationalist candidates, with the exception being the victory of a Dodik ally for the Serbs' seat.
Losers included the HDZBiH's nominee, feeding long-running resentment that majority Bosniak votes can tip the balance for the Croats' seat.
Schmidt said his tenure so far had "really made a strong impression on me how big the difference is between the ruling political structures and normal people."
That situation "is something that needs to be broken, and the high representative cannot do it alone -- that must be done by the citizens."
Schmidt said he'd therefore amended the federation's constitution to give lawmakers one year to adopt legislation to allow citizens to submit proposed laws to parliament.
Responding to questions about Russia and Serbia's perceived encouragement of Bosnian Serb secessionist efforts, Schmidt said he spoke by phone with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on October 5 and said both men "are basically of the same opinion here and we believe the Dayton agreement [of 1995] must be accepted and the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina is inviolable."
"People don't want war here...and I think that Mr. Dodik also knows that," he said.
He cited Russia's aggression against Ukraine and said that while Moscow's influence in Bosnia remained to be seen, "I don't think that we currently have any acute danger for Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Schmidt said he desired "strongly...that in the coming years [Bosnia] will finally start the path toward European integration."
Kazakh Opposition Activists Detained At Rally Demanding Jailed Leader's Release
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Several activists from the unregistered opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (KDP) have detained during a rally in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, where they were demanding the immediate release of their jailed leader, Zhanbolat Mamai.
Dozens of KDP activists marched from a subway station in Almaty toward the headquarters of the ruling Amanat party on October 6 chanting "Down with Amanat (the ruling party) that served [former Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev," and "Free Zhanbolat!"
Police officers followed the activists as they marched.
When the activists reached Amanat headquarters, they unfolded posters saying "[President Qasym-Zhomart] Toqaev, release Zhanbolat!"
At that moment, police began detaining the activists and taking them away in police cars.
One of the detained activists, Aruzhan Duisebaeva, told RFE/RL by phone that police beat at least one of the activists while in custody.
The rally was held the day after a court in Almaty extended Mamai's pretrial detention until at least November 12.
Mamai, who was arrested in February, may face up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests in January, which he and his supporters reject as politically motivated.
Mamai, known for his strong criticism of the authoritarian government, has been trying to register the KDP for years but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government.
He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.
Meanwhile, the ruling Amanat party at its congress on October 6 in Astana, the capital, officially proposed incumbent Toqaev as its candidate for an early presidential election scheduled for November 20.
Large Demonstration In Budapest Demands Better Conditions For Teachers
Tens of thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated in Budapest against low pay and poor working conditions for teachers, who have launched an "I want to teach" campaign and called for civil disobedience to demand higher wages.
The demonstration on October 5 started with students forming a chain stretching for kilometers across Budapest, and students temporarily blocking a downtown bridge in the morning.
The protest later grew into the biggest anti-government demonstration since Prime Minister Viktor Orban's reelection in April.
Protesters carried posters that read "We are with our teachers" and "No teachers, no future." One banner said, "Do not fire our teachers" and another said, "For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present."
The demonstration was organized by civilians in solidarity with teachers who were fired due to civil disobedience actions.
Orban's government has said it can only meet teachers' demands once the European Union releases billions of euros of long-held-up pandemic recovery funds.
Brussels has not yet signed off on the release because of corruption concerns and rule-of-law disputes.
A month ago, thousands demonstrated for better working conditions for teachers, some of whom temporarily stopped work in protest as schools reopened after summer recess.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
HRW Says Iran 'Ruthlessly' Stifles Protests, Calls For International Action
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Tehran of employing excessive repressive measures, including lethal force, against participants in weeks-long nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death last month of a young woman arrested by Iran's morality police.
Mahsa Amini died on September 16, three days after being detained by morality police because of "improperly" wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is mandatory for women in Iran to wear while in public.
Authorities said the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, an allegation rejected by her family and activists, who say she was subjected to beatings while in custody.
Her death has sparked a wave of protests across the country despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown on any dissent will continue.
At least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest, according to a human rights group.
HRW said it had so far compiled a list of 47 individuals who have been killed, most by bullets, according to rights groups or credible media outlets. The names included at least nine children, two of them girls, and six women.
"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said October 5.
The New York-based group said it had documented numerous incidents of security forces unlawfully using excessive or lethal force against protesters in 13 cities across Iran.
"Videos showed security forces using shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns against protesters in largely peaceful and often crowded settings, altogether killing and injuring hundreds. In some cases, they shot at people who were running away," the group said.
"The Iranian authorities' brutal response to protests across many cities indicates concerted action by the government to crush dissent with cruel disregard for life," HRW's Tara Sepehri Far said.
"The security forces' widespread shooting of protesters only serves to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government," Far said.
HRW said that the international community should take action and make sure those responsible answer for their deeds.
"Concerned governments should cooperate to increase pressure on Iran and undertake a United Nations-led independent inquiry into serious abuses committed during the protests and recommend avenues for holding those responsible to account," HRW said.
Ukrainian Forces Advance In Regions Seized By Russia As Putin Vows 'Stabilization'
Ukrainian forces have continued their advance in the south and east, retaking territory occupied by Moscow, even as President Vladimir Putin said he expected the situation to "stabilize" in the four Ukrainian regions incorporated by Russia last week.
Putin also ordered his government to seize immediate control over Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled region of Zaporizhzhya, prompting Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN nuclear agency, to depart for Kyiv for consultations on the facility with Ukrainian authorities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address late on October 5 that Novovoskresenske, Novohryhorivka, and Petropavlivka settlements to the northeast of the city of Kherson had been "liberated."
Kherson is the capital of one of four partially Russian-occupied regions that the Kremlin formally seized, along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya.
Oleksandr Starukh, the Ukrainian governor of Zaporizhzhya, said early on October 6 that shelling by Russian forces killed at least two people overnight, damaged or destroyed several residential buildings, and caused widespread fires.
In the eastern region of Luhansk, which has been almost completely under Russian control since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion in February, Ukraine also claimed victories over Russian forces.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.
The region's Ukrainian governor, Serhiy Hayday, told Ukrainian television that Kyiv's military liberated six settlements in Luhansk. He did not specify the names of these settlements out of concern that Russian forces would then attack them.
"I will hold a pause until the official information of the General Staff. I can only say that these are six settlements," Hayday said.
Britain's Ministry of Defense confirmed the Ukrainian advance in Kherson in its daily intelligence bulletin on October 6.
"Advancing south, Ukrainian units have pushed the front line forwards by up to an additional 20 kilometers," the bulletin said.
Putin indirectly acknowledged Moscow's difficulties in asserting its control over the regions it seized, voicing hope the situation will "stabilize."
"We are working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories will stabilize," Putin told Russian teachers during a televised video call on October 5.
Putin also ordered the Russian state to seize complete control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, a move immediately rejected by Kyiv.
"The Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant is now on the territory of the Russian Federation and, accordingly, should be operated under the supervision of our relevant agencies," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin as saying.
The plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, is still run by Ukrainian engineers.
Rosenergoatom, Russia's nuclear power operator, said it would transfer the Ukrainian employees to a new Russian-owned organization.
Ukraine's state nuclear energy company, Enerhoatom, said Putin's decree and other Russian documents regarding the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant were "worthless, absurd, and inadequate."
The International Atomic Energy Agency's Grossi on October 5 said he was headed to Kyiv by train and would visit Moscow later this week.
Grossi said negotiations on a safe zone around the plant were more important than ever.
As Ukrainian forces continued to make advances into several of the four regions seized by Moscow, a senior Russian lawmaker called on military officials to tell the truth about developments on the ground.
"We need to stop lying," the chairman of the lower house of parliament's Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, told a journalist from state-run media.
"The reports of the Defense Ministry do not change. The people know. Our people are not stupid. This can lead to loss of credibility."
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Russian Service
U.S. Intelligence Agencies Said To Believe Ukrainians Were Behind Killing Of Russian Nationalist's Daughter
U.S. intelligence agencies believe a car bombing that killed the daughter of Kremlin-connected far-right ideologue Aleksandr Dugin was authorized by elements within the Ukrainian government, according to U.S. media reports.
The United States took no part in the attacks, was not aware of the plan beforehand, and would have opposed the killing had it been consulted, according to unidentified sources briefed on the intelligence who are quoted in the reports.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.
The U.S. intelligence community's assessment that the Ukrainian government was complicit in the car bombing, which occurred in Moscow on August 20, was first revealed by The New York Times.
It is still unclear who the United States believes signed off on the killing or if the U.S. intelligence community believes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was aware of the plot or authorized it.
It appears to corroborate Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), which accused Ukraine's secret service of carrying out the bombing just days after it took place.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak denied that Kyiv was behind the bombing immediately after it was reported.
When asked about the U.S. intelligence assessment, Podolyak reiterated the Ukrainian government's denial.
"Again, I'll underline that any murder during wartime in some country or another must carry with it some kind of practical significance," Podolyak told The New York Times in an interview on October 4.
"It should fulfill some specific purpose, tactical or strategic. Someone like Dugina is not a tactical or a strategic target for Ukraine."
The U.S. officials, who are also quoted by CNN, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss secret information and matters of sensitive diplomacy.
Ukrainian government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN and The New York Times, and the news outlets said U.S. agencies, including the CIA, declined to comment.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on August 22 the United States unequivocally condemned the intentional targeting of civilians anywhere.
He declined to say then whether Washington knew who was behind the attack that killed Dugina.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that Dugina was driving her father's car on the night she was killed, and that her father was the actual target of the bombing, one of the sources said.
According to family members, Dugin and his daughter, who was described as a journalist and political analyst, had attended a festival outside Moscow and he had decided to switch cars at the last minute.
In a statement released by a close associate on August 22, Dugin described his daughter as a "rising star" who was "treacherously killed by enemies of Russia."
Dugin, a Russian ultranationalist and philosopher, has been a fierce proponent of Russia's war in Ukraine.
The killing raised concerns in Washington that such attacks could provoke Moscow to carry out its own strikes against senior Ukrainian officials.
If the intelligence indicating Ukraine's involvement is accurate, it would signal an expansion of Ukraine's covert operations. Ukrainian strikes thus far inside Russia have largely been limited to attacks on fuel depots and military bases in cities along the Russia-Ukraine border.
The Ukrainian government also has quietly acknowledged killing Kremlin-installed officials in regions of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.
With reporting by The New York Times and CNN
OPEC+ Agrees To Cut Output In Move Favoring Russia While Ignoring U.S. Pleas
The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel, which includes Russia, has agreed to cut output by 2 million barrels per day, its deepest cut in production since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision rebuffed U.S. President Joe Biden, who had urged OPEC+ not to cut production, a move that is likely to result in higher prices, which benefits Russia as it uses oil revenues to fund its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The White House responded by saying Biden was "disappointed by the shortsighted decision" at a time when the global economy is dealing with "the continued negative impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's invasion of Ukraine."
The decision "will have the most negative impact on lower- and middle-income countries that are already reeling from elevated energy prices," national-security adviser Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said in the joint statement.
Biden called on his administration and Congress to explore ways to boost U.S. energy production and reduce OPEC's control over energy prices.
The White House also said Biden was ordering another release of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to reduce prices.
The next release will continue "as appropriate to protect American consumers and promote energy security, and (Biden) is directing the secretary of energy to explore any additional responsible actions to continue increasing domestic production in the immediate term," the White House statement said.
The White House also expressed concern that the production cut signaled closer cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has used oil revenues to fund its war in Ukraine.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the announcement made clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia.
"Today's announcement is a reminder of why it is so critical that the United States reduce its reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels," Jean-Pierre added.
Biden has been trying to lower fuel costs for Americans while simultaneously cutting the amount of revenue Russia receives from energy exports.
Average gasoline costs have fallen by more than $1 a gallon for U.S. consumers from highs earlier this year. Biden, a Democrat, had touted the drop as the U.S. heads into midterm elections in five weeks that could shift control of Congress to Republicans.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Ukraine Added To Spain-Portugal 2030 World Cup Bid In Sign Of European Solidarity
Ukraine has been added to Portugal and Spain's bid to host the 2030 World Cup, creating a joint European application to host the soccer tournament in eight years time.
Ukrainian Football Association President Andriy Pavelko said hosting World Cup matches in 2030 would be “the dream of people who survived the horrors of war or are still in the occupied territories and over whom the Ukrainian flag will surely fly soon.”
Pavelko spoke on October 5 alongside his counterparts from Portugal and Spain ahead of the presentation of the formal bid at the headquarters of the UEFA, football’s European governing body, in Nyon, Switzerland.
Pavelko said the project is backed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but no details were given about how many games of the 48-team tournament would be staged in Ukraine or in which cities.
The original bid from Spain and Portugal was announced two years ago with the goal of bringing the World Cup back to Europe 12 years after Russia hosted.
“Now it’s not the Iberian bid, it’s the European bid,” Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales said. “Together we represent the power of transformation football has in society.”
The European bid is facing competition from a joint bid from four South American countries -- Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Their bid aims to mark the centenary of Uruguay hosting the inaugural 1930 World Cup.
The members of FIFA, football’s world governing body, will choose the host of the 2030 World Cup in a vote scheduled to take place in 2024.
Based on reporting by AP and AFP
Media Watchdog Condemns Tajik Journalist's Imprisonment, Demands His Immediate Release
DUSHANBE -- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the imprisonment of noted Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati, who was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on October 4 on charges that he and his supporters have called unfounded.
In a statement issued hours after Ghurbati's verdict and sentence were pronounced in Dushanbe, the CPJ called the punishment "harsh and unjustified."
A court in Dushanbe found Ghurbati guilty of publicly insulting an authority, the minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group.
Ghurbati pleaded not guilty to all charges and called the case against him groundless.
Ghurbati and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for his articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.
Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation. His trial is pending.
“Authorities in Tajikistan should refrain from contesting Ghurbati’s appeal, immediately release him, Imomali, and all other journalists currently imprisoned for their work, and stop their campaign of intimidation against the country’s beleaguered independent press,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in the statement.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.
Belgian Court Backs Treaty That Paves Way For Prisoner Swap With Iran
A court in Brussels has backed a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran, potentially opening the way for an Iranian diplomat imprisoned on terrorism charges to return home in exchange for a Belgian aid worker.
The ruling, according to the Belgian media, lifts a temporary ban on using the treaty that was handed down by an appeals court earlier this year.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo's government has said that the treaty is the only solution for the release of Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Tehran.
Vandecasteele, 41, was detained by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.
In exchange, Iran would likely take back Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was last year sentenced to 20 years in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018.
The Belgian opposition has alleged that the agreement with Tehran was tailor-made to permit Assadi's release, while Iranian exiles have also mounted a fierce campaign against the deal, leading a group of 11 human rights organizations to appeal to Brussels to cancel the agreement.
The groups said the treaty could result in the release of a convicted terrorist and “legitimize Iran’s hostage-taking.”
They also warned that the agreement violates the commitment of Belgium and the European Union to hold perpetrators of terrorist acts accountable.
Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Crew Of Four, Including Russian Cosmonaut, Launches From U.S. On Mission To ISS
A Russian cosmonaut and three astronauts launched from the United States on October 5 on a five-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
It was the first launch of a cosmonaut from the United States in 20 years and took place despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.
The group of four spacefarers launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket.
Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina joined Koichi Wakata of the Japanese space agency and NASA astronauts Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, and Navy Captain Josh Cassada. Wakata, who is making his fifth flight, is the only one of the foursome who has traveled to space before.
“Awesome! said Mann as they reached orbit. "That was a smooth ride uphill. You’ve got three rookies who are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”
They’re due to arrive at the space station on October 6 and won’t return to Earth until March. They will replace a U.S.-Italian crew that arrived in April.
The space agencies recently agreed to swap seats on their flights to the ISS in order to ensure a continuous U.S. and Russian presence aboard the ISS.
Kikina, the fifth Russian woman in space, will replace NASA’s Frank Rubio, who launched to the space station two weeks ago from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.
Kakina said she was surprised to be selected for the seat swap after encountering “many tests and obstacles” during her decade of training. “But I did it. I’m lucky maybe. I’m strong,” she said.
As for the war in Ukraine, Mann said all four have put politics and personal beliefs aside, “and it’s really cool how the common mission of the space station just instantly unites us.”
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Ukrainian Supreme Court Judge Fired Over Russian Citizenship Following Journalistic Investigation
KYIV -- The Ukrainian Supreme Court has dismissed one of its judges following a recent finding by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, that he has Russian citizenship.
In a directive published on October 5, Supreme Court Chairman Vsevolod Knyazyev ordered that Bohdan Lvov be stripped of his powers as a judge and dismissed from the court, effective immediately.
A Supreme Court statement said the decision was based on confirmation from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) that official Russian registries indicate he possesses Russian citizenship.
Using multiple sources, Schemes journalists found that Russian government databases contain Lvov's past applications for Russian passports and the use of a Russian passport that bears his name to register his co-ownership of a Moscow apartment and to transfer that ownership share to his wife in 2012.
Under Ukrainian law, judges may not have dual citizenship. Sensitivity about Ukrainians in positions of power with ties to Russia has intensified since Moscow launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
In a Facebook post on October 3, the Supreme Court said that the SBU's "verification" of information related to Lvov's case continued.
Meanwhile, Schemes learned from multiple sources that the SBU had suspended the 55-year-old judge's access to state secrets and reported his Russian citizenship to several state bodies, including the State Migration Service and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office.
Lvov, who was also dismissed from his position as chairman of the Supreme Court's Commercial Court of Cassation, Ukraine's top court for economic and property disputes, denies that he has ever had Russian citizenship, despite the evidence.
He alleges that documents have been falsified in a bid to discredit him and undermine Ukraine's judicial system. He asserts that the results of a polygraph examination show that he does not have Russian citizenship, but he has not provided substantial evidence to support his claim.
In his 2017 application for a Supreme Court judgeship, he did not acknowledge any foreign citizenship.
Lvov made no immediate comment following the announcement of his dismissal.
Since the initial Schemes report was published, Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has launched a criminal investigation into the judge's failure to declare the Moscow real estate in past annual financial declarations. NABU has summoned Schemes journalists as witnesses in this investigation.
On September 30, an online petition appeared on the president's website urging Zelenskiy to start an investigation into the Schemes' findings and, if confirmed, to strip Lvov of his Ukrainian citizenship -- an act permitted under Ukrainian law for the voluntary acquisition of foreign citizenship.
By the evening of October 6, the initiative had received more than 22,000 signatures out of the 25,000 required for Zelenskiy to consider this proposal.
Lvov has requested the State Bureau of Investigation and the SBU open investigations into the Schemes report, but neither body has commented publicly about their responses to his appeal.
A representative of the SBU, however, earlier told Schemes that the position of the Security Service "remains unchanged -- representatives of the judicial branch of government must possess Ukrainian citizenship only."
The SBU itself underwent a change of leadership earlier this year for allegedly failing to stamp out collaboration with Russia in its own ranks.
Elizabeth Owen contributed to this report
Kazakh Online Newspaper Says It Received Pig's Head With Editor's Photo In Its Mouth
An online newspaper in Kazakhstan has received a parcel containing a severed pig’s head with a torn photo of the media outlet's editor in chief in its mouth.
Gulnara Bazhkenova, the editor in chief of Orda.kz, wrote on Facebook on October 5 that a private delivery service brought the parcel to the newspaper's offices in Almaty.
"Orda.kz's editorial team has faced frequent attacks, including threats and provocations, lately," Bazhkenova wrote.
Bazhkenova said earlier that unknown individuals painted a text containing threats to her and her newspaper on a pavement close to Orda.kz's headquarters in Almaty.
Orda.kz focuses on political, economic, and social events and developments in the Central Asian nation.
Attacks on independent media outlets in the country have been frequent for years, especially before presidential or parliamentary elections.
Kazakhstan is holding an early presidential election on November 20.
EU Approves Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia
The European Union has given its final approval to a new round of sanctions on Russia over its war against Ukraine, the bloc's executive arm said on October 5.
The EU’s eighth sanctions package is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.
The sanctions package “extends the list of restricted items which might contribute to the Russian Federation’s military and technological enhancement or to the development of its defense and security sector,” the new EU sanctions regulation said.
The new sanctions extend a ban on imports from Russia of steel and steel products, imports of wood pulp and paper, imports of machinery and appliances not yet covered by existing sanctions, and imports of intermediate chemicals, plastics, and cigarettes.
The sanctions also ban the export of EU goods used in aviation, such as tires and brakes, and extend a ban on the export of electric components, including certain semiconductors and less sophisticated components than those already banned.
In addition, the sanctions ban the export of certain chemical substances, nerve agents, and goods that have “no practical use other than for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The sanctions also target more individuals at the Russian Defense Ministry, people involved in Moscow's referendum votes in occupied parts of four regions of Ukraine, and those participating in evading sanctions.
The sanctions package comes on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the final papers on the annexation of the four regions. Ukraine, meanwhile, has said its military is in the process of reclaiming the regions.
The EU said it was motivated to impose the sanctions by Russia’s repeated threat to use weapons of mass destruction, a reference to Putin’s comments that he would defend Russian territory “with any means at our disposal.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the agreement on the eighth sanctions package.
"We will never accept Putin's sham referenda nor any kind of annexation in Ukraine. We are determined to continue making the Kremlin pay," she said.
The agreement is to be formalized on October 6 if no EU country raises an objection. Sanctions require the unanimous backing of all 27 EU member states.
The sanctions stop short of imposing measures sought by Poland and the Baltic states, including a complete ban on nuclear energy cooperation, diamond imports, and the blacklisting of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"The package could have been far stronger," said Andrzej Sados, Poland's ambassador to the EU. "But given that we require unanimity...it is important that we have this strong response to Russia's latest aggressive steps."
The new sanctions package also includes a price cap on maritime transport to third countries of Russian crude oil. It does not affect the exceptions allowing certain EU member states to continue importing crude oil and petroleum products from Russia by pipeline.
Von der Leyen has also urged the EU to introduce a temporary price cap on imported gas to help bring down soaring energy costs. She said a cap on gas would be a temporary solution until a new EU price index can be developed that ensures the better functioning of the market.
The gas price cap has divided the EU as some countries are concerned it could make securing supplies harder.
With reporting by Reuters
Kazakh Court Extends Pretrial Detention For Opposition Politician Mamai
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, has extended the pretrial detention of Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan.
Mamai's wife, Inga Imanbai, wrote on Facebook on October 5 that her husband's pretrial detention was prolonged until at least November 12.
The 34-year-old Mamai was arrested in late February. He faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests in January. He and his supporters reject the accusations as politically motivated.
In August, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) called on Kazakh authorities to release Mamai and other political prisoners and stop the criminal prosecution of those who died during unrest in the Central Asian nation in January.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged Kazakh authorities to release Mamai and drop all charges against him, also calling them politically motivated.
Mamai, known for his harsh criticism of the nation's authoritarian government, has been trying to register the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government. He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.
Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.
Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.
Toqaev recently broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his clan left the oil-rich nation's political scene following the unprecedented deadly anti-government protests in January.
The unrest, which started over a fuel price hike, quickly spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had long plagued the country. At least 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed during the dispersal of the protests by security forces and police.
Several participants in the protests have been handed lengthy prison terms across the country in recent months on charges of organizing mass disturbances and riots. More trials are pending.
Russia Expels Lithuania's Charge d'Affaires In Tit-For-Tat Move
In a tit-for-tat move, Russia has expelled Lithuania's charge d'affaires and suspended the operations of a cultural center at the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement on October 5 that Virginia Umbrasene was labeled as persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia within five days.
The order comes two days after Lithuania declared Russia's envoy to the Baltic state, Sergei Ryabokon, persona non grata over his actions, which Lithuanian authorities described "incompatible" with his diplomatic status and which interfered with internal Lithuanian affairs.
Lithuania's Foreign Ministry also strongly protested against the Russia's decision on 30 September to illegally annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, parts of which were partially occupied by Russian troops.
Iran Charges Former Bayern Munich Player Ali Karimi Over Support For Protests
Former Iranian international footballer Ali Karimi has been charged in absentia by authorities in Tehran over his support for anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets across the country in recent weeks after the death of a 22-year-old woman who was being held in custody for failing to "properly wear" an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
The Dubai-based Karimi, a former soccer player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran’s national soccer team, has been under pressure from the security forces in recent days over his posts on social media, including on Instagram, where he has nearly 12 million followers.
Karimi, widely regarded as one of the greatest Iranian players of all time, has condemned Amini’s death while lending his support to the protesters, particularly women. He has also urged security forces not to allow “innocent blood to be shed.”
The semiofficial Mehr News agency reported that Karimi has been charged with unlawful “assembly and collusion with the intention of acting against national security,” an accusation often used by Iran against dissidents and critics.
Karimi was one of the first celebrities to condemn the death of Mahsa Amini, who died three days after being detained by Iran's morality police on September 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.
Her death has sparked a wave of protests across the country despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown on any dissent will continue.
Videos posted on social media showed demonstrations taking place in several cities across the country on the evening of October 4 and in the morning of October 5.
In one of the videos, protesters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, are seen gathering on Shariati Street with many women blocking it completely.
In a video from Ferdowsi University in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, students can be heard chanting "Referendum, referendum," a reference to their demand to hold a vote to change the how Iran is run.
In another video, a girl's school brought a member of the IRGC-run Basij paramilitary, to talk to the students. The girls then welcomed the speaker by removing their hijabs and shouting "Get lost, Basiji!"
Amid the protests there have been many reports of arrests and deaths as security forces clamp down. Meanwhile, the government has imposed restrictions on access to the Internet, while reports published on social media on October 5 indicate that a number of Persian- and Kurdish-language channels broadcast over the Eutelsat satellite in Iran have experienced outages.
News of Amini's death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardships exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program.
Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based rights organization, says at least 154 people, including 9 children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Office Of Golos Voters' Rights Movement, Activists' Homes Across Russia Searched
MOSCOW -- Police have searched the Moscow office of Golos (Voice), a movement that monitors elections and defends voters' rights, as well as the homes of the group's members in Moscow and other parts of Russia.
Grigory Melkonyants, the movement's co-chairman, said on October 5 that Moscow police confiscated computers, flash memory cards, payment cards, and his passport during an early morning that was executed "on completely trumped-up reasons."
According to Melkonyants, police said the searches were conducted because the Golos members were "witnesses" in a probe launched against Mikhail Gusev, a member of the movement from the city of Ivanovo, who was charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces.
Police also searched the homes of leading Golos members Arkady Lyubarev and Vitaly Kovin in Perm, Irina Matlseva in Ivanovo, Natalya Guseva in the Chelyabinsk region, as well as journalist Denis Kamalyagin and two members of the Yabloko opposition party -- Nikolai Kuzmin and Katerina Novikova -- in the city of Pskov.
Golos member Vitaly Averin said the searches were held over the organization's "fight for fair and free elections, and for a humane state governed by the rule of law."
Earlier in the day, police in Moscow searched the home of noted mathematician and elections analyst Sergei Shpilkin.
Officially established in 2013, Golos has monitored elections in Russia and other countries since the early 2000s. Last year, the Justice Ministry declared the movement and its 20 regional coordinators "foreign agents," a tool critics say the government uses to harass and restrict dissenting voices.
Last Native Speaker Of Aleut Language In Russia Dies
The last native speaker of the Aleut language in Russia, Gennady Yakovlev, has died at the age of 86 in Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka region.
The chairwoman of the regional council of the Aleut district of the Kamchatka region, Galina Korolyova, said on October 5 that Yakovlev died in his native village of Nikolskoye on Bering Island.
Korolyov also spoke the so-called Medny dialect of Aleut.
Until recently there were only two known native speakers of the Aleut language in Russia -- Yakovlev and Vera Timoshenko. Timoshenko, who spoke the so-called Bering dialect of the Aleut language, died in March 2021 at the age of 93.
Yakovlev and Timoshenko were experts on the Aleut language, culture, and history who actively consulted Russian and foreign researchers and linguists.
Aleut, the sole language in the Aleut branch of the Eskimo-Aleut linguistic stem, used to be widely spoken by indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands, Commander Islands, and the Alaskan Peninsula.
According to experts, there are fewer than 100 to 150 remaining active Aleut speakers.
With reporting by Kam24
Kazakhstan Summons Russian Ambassador Over Demand To Expel Ukrainian Ambassador
ASTANA -- Kazakh authorities have rejected a demand by Russia's Foreign Ministry to expel Ukraine's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Petro Vrublevskiy, over his comments in August about killing Russians.
Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said on October 5 that the tone of Moscow's request to expel the Ukrainian ambassador, made the day before, was "dissonant to the character of the allied mutual ties between Kazakhstan and Russia as equal strategic partners."
Smadyarov also said that Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Aleksei Borodavkin was summoned to the Foreign Ministry later in the day over the situation.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on October 4 that Moscow was "outraged" by the fact that Vrublevskiy remained in Kazakhstan, adding that Kazakh Ambassador to Russia Ermek Kosherbaev had been summoned over the issue.
Smadyarov said that Astana and Kyiv had a "full understanding" of the situation and that a decision on the diplomat leaving Kazakhstan would be made solely by Kyiv.
Vrublevskiy found himself at the center of a scandal in August, after he said in an interview with noted Kazakh blogger Dias Kuzairov that "the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill in the future."
Moscow and Russian organizations in Kazakhstan demanded Astana expel the diplomat for his controversial statement, but Kazakh authorities refused, though they did ask Kyiv to replace him.
On October 4, a court in the northern city of Pavlodar sentenced Kuzairov to five days in jail on hooliganism charges after he asked Russian citizens who fled to Kazakhstan to evade a mobilization to fight for Russia in the war it launched against Ukraine if they supported the conflict.
Kazakhstan, which has aligned itself as Russia's economic ally, has not officially condemned Moscow's military aggression against Ukraine since it was launched in late February.
Binoche, Cotillard, Other French Film Stars Cut Hair In Support Of Iranian Women
A group of French female films stars led by Oscar winners Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard have posted videos of themselves cutting their hair in support of women in Iran who are protesting the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.
In the videos, posted on an Instagram account named Support Women Iran and with the hashtag #hairforfreedom, the stars can be seen lopping off handfuls of hair while looking directly into the camera.
"For freedom!" Binoche says while shaking a fist full of hair at the camera.
Amini died on September 16, three days after Iran's notorious morality police detained her because of how she was wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is mandatory for women in Iran to wear while in public.
Officials have said the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, but that claim has been rejected by her family amid reports from eyewitnesses that Amini was beaten while in custody.
"She died for letting a few strands of hair show," a note accompanying the videos on Instagram says.
Since Amini's death, protests have erupted across Iran, with some women showing up at the demonstrations, removing their hijabs, and cutting their hair.
"Since Mahsa's death, the Iranian people, women in the lead, have been demonstrating at the risk of their lives. These people only hope for access to the most essential freedoms," the note says.
The Instagram post comes a day after more than 1,000 people involved in the French film industry signed a petition "supporting the revolt by women in Iran."
Iranian-American Baquer Namazi, 85, Leaves Iran
An 85-year-old Iranian-American previously barred from leaving Iran has now left and arrived in Oman, state media report.
Baquer Namazi has left Iran, semiofficial Iranian website Khabaronline said on October 5, publishing a video showing him boarding a private plane accompanied by a man in Omani traditional dress.
Oman on October 4 thanked Iran for handing over U.S. citizen Namazi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on its website.
Namazi, a former UNICEF official, holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship and is one of four Iranian-Americans, including his son, Siamak, who had been detained in Iran or barred from leaving the country.
The United Nations said in a statement on October 1 that following appeals by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Iranian president, Tehran had agreed to allow Namazi to leave the country for medical treatment and that his son had been granted a furlough.
Baquer Namazi suffers from a heart condition and was hospitalized several times while in prison.
Siad and Baquer Namazi both received 10-year prison sentences in 2015 for "collaborating with the hostile American government" -- charges they both denied.
Washington also rejected the allegations and called for their immediate release.
Siamak Namazi was based in Dubai with Crescent Petroleum Co. and was detained while visiting family in Tehran in 2015.
Baquer Namazi was arrested at the Tehran airport. He served two years of his sentence before being placed on a medical furlough but was forced to remain in Iran until the latest announcement.
Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP
Iran Summons British Envoy As Tehran Blames Foreign 'Enemies' For Unrest
Iran has summoned the British ambassador to Tehran, accusing U.K. officials of trying to provoke further unrest in the country amid a wave of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was detained for Islamic dress-code violations over the way she was wearing a hijab.
Officials in Iran have tried to portray more than two weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have spread across the country as a foreign plot.
The Foreign Ministry in Tehran said in a statement that British officials were interfering in Iran's internal affairs and had made comments showing it is one of the countries involved in "anti-Iranian activities."
There was no immediate comment from the British ambassador or government officials in London on the matter.
After a summer of sporadic protests over poor living conditions, water shortages, and economic hardships, a new wave of unrest was unleashed in Iran following Amini's death on September 16.
Three days before she died, Amini was taken into custody by Iran's morality police for the alleged "improper wearing" of a hijab.
Officials say the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, but relatives said Amini had no history of illness and was healthy when detained.
Eyewitness accounts of the arrest say she was beaten by security officials.
Since then, anti-government protests have gained strength and broadened to include many parts of the country.
On October 3, President Ebrahim Raisi appealed for national unity while admitting "weaknesses and shortcomings" in the country.
But he also echoed other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in blaming the United States, Israel, and the West for inciting the unrest.
Anger Over Russia's Battlefield Defeats Bursts Into The Open, Posing A Challenge For Putin2
Ukrainian Forces Prepare For Potential Attack By Belarus3
Dead Russian Soldiers Litter Roads Around Liberated Lyman4
EU Approves Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia5
Ukrainian Forces Advance In South, Repel Russian Attacks In Donbas6
Bulgarian President Didn't Sign Document Backing Ukraine Because Of Wording On NATO Membership7
Ukrainians Prepare For Possible Russian Nuclear Attack With Iodine Tablets And Humor8
Russia's 'Sham' Referendums In Ukraine Met With Silence From Central Asia9
Top Official At Hermitage Museum In St. Petersburg Leaves Russia In Protest At The War In Ukraine10
China Builds A New Symbol In The Balkans -- At The Site Of A NATO Bombing