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Trump Hails ‘Outstanding’ Relationship With China, Without Citing Specifics

U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a bilateral meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on April 6.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he has made “tremendous progress” in relations with China after meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, a country Trump has heavily criticized in the past.

Without citing specifics, Trump on April 7 said that "we have made tremendous progress…I think truly progress has been made.”

Xi also spoke in vague, but generally positive terms at the presidents' joint press event.

"We have engaged in deeper understanding, and have built a trust -- a preliminary working relationship and friendship," Xi said. "I believe we will keep developing in a stable way to form friendly relations…. For the peace and stability of the world, we will also fulfill our historical responsibility.”

The comments at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in the southern state of Florida were in contrast to the harsh words repeated often during Trump’s presidential campaign, in which he accused China of currency manipulation and unfair trade practices that were costing U.S. jobs.

Just last week, Trump wrote in a Twitter message that the United States could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses and that his meeting with Xi "will be a very difficult one."

The two-day meeting of the two presidents also came at a time of high tensions around the globe.

The U.S. military overnight conducted a missile strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation for its suspected use of chemical weapons.

And they came two days after China ally North Korea test-launched a ballistic missile in violation of United Nations resolutions, raising protests from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other nations.

During the second and final day of meetings with the Chinese leader, Trump’s tone had appeared to soften, and Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that Trump had accepted Xi's invitation to visit China.

“We will be making additional progress," Trump said as the second day of talks winded up. “The relationship developed by President Xi and myself, I think, is outstanding.”

“And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away," he added.

The timing of the U.S. action against the Syrian government could be taken as message to the Chinese -- and the North Koreans -- about the Trump administration’s willingness to use military power.

Days before his meeting with Xi, Trump said he was ready to deal with North Korea alone if China did not do more to restrain Pyonyang.

Nevertheless, any military action against North Korea would be substantially more difficult and risky.

The rogue nation has tested nuclear weapons, and the U.S. military has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, whose capital, Seoul, is within the North's artillery range.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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Jailed Iranian Activist Says 'Overthrow' Of The Regime Is 'Logical' Step

Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat

In a message on the eve of the Persian New Year to honor the hundreds of victims killed in recent nationwide protests, leading jailed Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat said the "overthrow" of the Islamic regime as a "logical" step following months of unrest.

In a letter written from the women's ward of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Hedayat said on March 19 that while toppling the Islamic government was not the initial intent of the movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the hijab law, "this demand has become the objective on a scale that cannot be ignored.”

The Protests That Shook Iran’s Clerical System
Mahsa Amini standing outside. Date unknown. Mahsa Amini standing outside. Date unknown.
Thousands of Iranians, including this defiant unveiled woman, make their way toward the Aichi cemetery in Saqhez, Mahsa Amini's hometown in the western Iranian province of Kurdistan, to mark 40 days since her death.
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
A police motorcycle and a trash bin burn during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Downtown Tehran
Students of Amirkabir University protest against the killing of Mahsa Amini.
Tehran
Mosaic of protest victims' faces.
Mosaic of protest victims' faces.

On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini died from injuries she allegedly sustained in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini died from injuries she allegedly sustained in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Her death six months ago sparked antiestablishment protests that grew into the most widespread and sustained challenge to Iran's clerical regime in decades.

Her death six months ago sparked antiestablishment protests that grew into the most widespread and sustained challenge to Iran's clerical regime in decades.

More than 500 protesters have reportedly been killed in the subsequent state crackdown. Another four people have been executed after trials criticized as grossly unfair by human rights groups.

More than 500 protesters have reportedly been killed in the subsequent state crackdown. Another four people have been executed after trials criticized as grossly unfair by human rights groups.

The Protests That Shook Iran’s Clerical System

RFE/RL’s Radio Farda has independently verified the identities of more than 300 protesters who died at the hands of Iranian security forces.

Here, we profile six people who lost their lives and explain why the monthslong demonstrations are unprecedented.

Nika Shakarami
September 20, 2022

Nika Shakarami, 16

Three days after Amini’s funeral on September 17, 2022, Nika Shakarami left to join demonstrations in Tehran's central Keshavarz Boulevard. After posting a video showing her burning her own head scarf, the 16-year-old was never seen alive again.

Death to the dictator!

Death to the dictator!

Death to the dictator!

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Nika Shakarami in Tehran on September 20, 2022. Twitter / @1500tasvir

Nasrin Shakarami, her mother, last spoke to her around 11:30 p.m. "I could hear her friends mentioning the security forces and saying that they were escaping from them," she said in a video message sent exclusively to Radio Farda.

Tehran

Tehran Province, Iran

Iran's sprawling capital city was the scene of constant protests.

After nine days, police told her family that she was dead. They said her body was found in a courtyard of a nearby four-story building and claimed that she either jumped or was thrown from the roof. They insisted her death had nothing to do with the protests.

But her family believes she was killed by security forces deployed to crush the protests. Nasrin Shakarami said the authorities were "lying" and had pressured her family to echo the official account of her daughter's death.

Mohammad Nayeb-Zehi
September 30, 2022

Mohammad Nayeb-Zehi, 16

By the end of September, the protests reached Sistan-Baluchistan, an impoverished province in southeastern Iran and home to the Baluch minority.

Mohammad Nayeb-Zehi was among the hundreds who gathered on September 30, 2022, at the Great Mosalla, a religious site in the provincial capital of Zahedan, for Friday Prayers.

Zahedan

Sistan-Baluchistan Province, Iran

Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan, an impoverished province that is home to the Baluch minority.

After the sermons ended, worshippers gathered outside a police station, chanting anti-regime slogans and throwing rocks. Police fired on the crowd. Public anger at the authorities had been raised further by reports that a teenage Baluch girl had been raped by a local police official.

Security forces then raided the Great Mosalla and the nearby central mosque, opening fire on worshippers. At least 94 people were killed that day, according to rights campaigners. At least 13 minors were among the dead, including Nayeb-Zehi.

"He was a simple laborer and not political," Nayeb-Zehi’s brother, Ahmad, told Radio Farda. "He was martyred inside the Mosalla while holding his prayer mat."

Yahya Rahimi
October 8, 2022

Yahya Rahimi, 31

Sistan-Baluchistan was the site of the single deadliest day during the protests.

But by October, Iran’s western Kurdistan region had become the epicenter of the demonstrations and the focus of the government’s bloody crackdown. The region, home to the Kurdish minority, was where Mahsa Amini hailed from.

Sanandaj

Kurdistan Province, Iran

Sanandaj, the capital of western Kurdistan Province, was also the scene of major protests.

In the city of Sanandaj, Yahya Rahimi was on his way to work as protesters marched through the streets. As he was driving, two men armed with large sticks attacked his car. As the 31-year-old slowly drove off, a gunshot was heard. Rahimi was dead.

00:00 / NaN:NaN

Twitter / @HengawO

Kurdistan’s police force claimed Rahimi was shot dead by "anti-revolutionary forces." But activists said Rahimi was killed by plainclothes security agents on October 8, 2022, because he had honked his car horn in support of protesters.

"[Government] agents had damaged his car, yet they didn’t leave him alone," Rahimi’s father, Ahmad Rahimi, told Radio Farda. "A few steps farther, they martyred him."

Mehrshad Shahidinejad
October 25, 2022

Mehrshad Shahidinejad, 19

Even as Kurdistan became the hotbed of the protests, antiestablishment demonstrations continued across Iran.

Mehrshad Shahidinejad, a 19-year-old chef and social media influencer, was among the dozens of people who rallied in the central city of Arak on October 25, 2022. It was the last day he was seen alive.

Arak

Markazi Province, Iran

Arak is an industrial city and the capital of central Markazi Province.

Shahidinejad was attacked by security forces, who used tasers and beat him with batons, eyewitnesses told Radio Farda. Security officers then dragged the motionless man away, they said.

Authorities told Shahidinejad’s family that he went into cardiac arrest and was taken to a hospital, where he died. His father identified his body on his birthday on October 26.

Sources close to the family said Shahidinejad’s body was badly bruised and that he had suffered blows to the head.

Kian Pirfalak
November 16, 2022

Kian Pirfalak, 9

Khuzestan, an oil-rich but impoverished province home to Iran’s Arab minority, had been the center of anti-government protests in recent years. But the region had been conspicuously quiet during the latest demonstrations. That changed, however, in November 2022.

As protesters rallied in the city of Izeh, security forces opened fire on a car carrying 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak and his parents. Pirfalak was killed instantly, and his father was hospitalized.

Izeh

Khuzestan Province, Iran

Izeh is a city of around 100,000 in Khuzestan, is an oil-rich province home to Iran’s Arab minority.

State media said Pirfalak was killed in a "terrorist attack" when gunmen on motorbikes shot seven people dead. But Pirfalak’s mother blamed security forces who she said "shot repeatedly" at their car.

"Hear my words about what happened," said Zeynab Molaeirad. "Don’t say they were terrorists. They are lying."

Pirfalak’s death led to an outpouring of grief and anger among Iranians. A video appeared to show a banner with an image of Pirfalak and the words "child-killing government" waving along a highway in Tehran.

Borhan Eliasi
December 31, 2022

Borhan Eliasi, 22

By the end of December, the protests began to fizzle out as the authorities intensified their violent crackdown and publicly executed two young men for their involvement in the demonstrations.

Still, Iranians continued to express their dissent at scattered street gatherings and memorials for the victims of the crackdown. Some spray-painted slogans and hung protest signs in the streets, while others chanted anti-regime slogans from their rooftops and windows at night.

On December 31, 2022, security forces reportedly opened fire on a group of mourners marking 40 days since the deaths of several protesters in the western city of Javanrud.

Javanrud

Kermanshah Province, Iran

Javanrud is a town in Kermanshah, a Kurdish-majority province in western Iran.

Borhan Eliasi, a 22-year-old shopkeeper, was among those shot. He was rushed to a hospital, where he later died. Dozens of people attended his funeral, where mourners chanted anti-regime slogans.

Later, photos posted on social media appeared to show children placing flowers outside the shop where Eliasi worked.

The protests have not culminated in a revolution and the overthrow of Iran’s theocratic regime.

But the demonstrations have illustrated that a significant segment of Iran’s youthful population is no longer willing to tolerate the authoritarian rule of the country’s aging clerics.

More anti-regime protests are likely to rock the Islamic republic in the future as calls grow for greater freedom and political change. Worsening economic conditions are likely to fuel more anger toward the authorities.

Significantly, an increasing number of opposition figures and civil society groups inside Iran have proposed changes that would transform or even replace the current theocratic system with a democracy, moves that were unheard of until recently.

Additional Project Credits

Ivan Gutterman assisted with code and design.

The Fallen

Reports indicate that more than 500 people have been killed in the protests across Iran since September 2022. Radio Farda has verified the deaths of the 317 individuals listed below.

September 2022
September 11
Anoshirvan (Amir Ali) Fouladi, 15
Eslamabad-e-Gharb, Kermanshah Province
Foad Ghadimi
September 18
Foad Ghadimi, 39
Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province
September 19
Reza Lotfi
Dehgolan, Kurdistan Province
Fereydoun Mahmoudi
September 19
Fereydoun Mahmoudi, 33
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
Zkaria Khial
September 20
Zkaria Khial, 16
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Nika Shakarami
September 20
Nika Shakarami, 17
Tehran, Tehran Province
Minoo Majidi
September 20
Minoo Majidi, 55
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Reza Shahparnia
September 20
Reza Shahparnia, 23
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Abolfazl Akbaridoost
September 20
Abolfazl Akbaridoost, 28
Langarud, Gilan Province
Abolfazl Bahou
September 20
Abolfazl Bahou, 17
Qaem Shahr, Mazandaran Province
Mohammad Hosseinikhah
September 20
Mohammad Hosseinikhah, 20
Sari, Mazandaran Province
Milan Haghighi
September 21
Milan Haghighi, 21
Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province
Amin Marefat
September 21
Amin Marefat, 16
Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province
Sadraldin Litani
September 21
Sadraldin Litani, 27
Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province
Farjad Darvishi
September 21
Farjad Darvishi, 29
Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province
Abdullah Mahmoudpour
September 21
Abdullah Mahmoudpour, 16
Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province
Danesh Rahnama
September 21
Danesh Rahnama, 25
Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohsen Gheisari
September 21
Mohsen Gheisari, 32
Ilam, Ilam Province
Parsa Rezadoust
September 21
Parsa Rezadoust, 18
Hashtgerd, Alborz Province
Hadis Najafi
September 21
Hadis Najafi, 23
Karaj, Alborz Province
Rouzbeh Khademian
September 21
Rouzbeh Khademian, 32
Karaj, Alborz Province
Kanan Aghaei
September 21
Kanan Aghaei, 20
Karaj, Alborz Province
Mohammad Hossein Morovati
September 21
Mohammad Hossein Morovati, 18
Varamin, Tehran Province
Mohammad Zamani
September 21
Mohammad Zamani, 15
Tehran, Tehran Province
Omid Barzegar
September 21
Omid Barzegar
Golestan, Tehran Province
Siavash Mahmoudi
September 21
Siavash Mahmoudi, 16
Tehran, Tehran Province
Mohammad Farmani
September 21
Mohammad Farmani, 24
Shahr-e-Rey, Tehran Province
Moahammad Zarei
September 21
Moahammad Zarei
Qarchak, Tehran Province
Mohammad Reza Eskandari
September 21
Mohammad Reza Eskandari, 25
Pakdasht, Tehran Province
Erfan Khazaei Dikouei
September 21
Erfan Khazaei Dikouei, 30
Shahriar, Tehran Province
Mohsen Pazouki
September 21
Mohsen Pazouki, 32
Pakdasht, Tehran Province
Mehdi Babrinejad
September 21
Mehdi Babrinejad, 22
Quchan, Razavi Khorasan Province
Amir Mehdi Hassani
September 21
Amir Mehdi Hassani, 23
Quchan, Razavi Khorasan Province
Mehrdad Ghorbani
September 21
Mehrdad Ghorbani, 18
Zanjan, Zanjan Province
Mehdi Mousavi Nikou
September 21
Mehdi Mousavi Nikou, 16
Zanjan, Zanjan Province
Alireza Fathi
September 21
Alireza Fathi, 22
Qazvin, Qazvin Province
Saeid Mohammadi
September 21
Saeid Mohammadi, 25
Eslamabad-e-Gharb, Kermanshah Province
Iman Mohammadi
September 21
Iman Mohammadi, 22
Eslamabad-e-Gharb, Kermanshah Province
Amir Hossein Basati
September 21
Amir Hossein Basati, 15
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Morteza Norouzi
September 21
Morteza Norouzi, 22
Langarud, Gilan Province
Sayyid Abbas Mirmousavi
September 21
Sayyid Abbas Mirmousavi
Langarud, Gilan Province
Mehrab Doulatpanah
September 21
Mehrab Doulatpanah
Talesh, Gilan Province
Yasin Jamalzadeh
September 21
Yasin Jamalzadeh, 29
Rezvanshahr, Gilan Province
September 21
Farzin Lotfi
Rezvanshahr, Gilan Province
Sasan Ghorbano
September 21
Sasan Ghorbano, 31
Rezvanshahr, Gilan Province
Mohammad Rasoul Momenzadeh
September 21
Mohammad Rasoul Momenzadeh, 24
Rasht, Gilan Province
Behnam Layeghpour
September 21
Behnam Layeghpour, 37
Rasht, Gilan Province
Sina Louh Mousavi
September 21
Sina Louh Mousavi, 15
Amol, Mazandaran Province
Rahim Kalij
September 21
Rahim Kalij, 27
Qaem Shahr, Mazandaran Province
Mohsen Malmir
September 21
Mohsen Malmir, 26
Nowshahr, Mazandaran Province
Amir Hossein Shams
September 21
Amir Hossein Shams
Nowshahr, Mazandaran Province
Merzad Avazpour
September 21
Merzad Avazpour
Nowshahr, Mazandaran Province
Hananeh Kia
September 21
Hananeh Kia, 23
Nowshahr, Mazandaran Province
Hossein Ali Kia
September 21
Hossein Ali Kia
Nowshahr, Mazandaran Province
Milad Zare
September 21
Milad Zare, 25
Babol, Mazandaran Province
Mohammad Hossein Torkaman
September 21
Mohammad Hossein Torkaman, 26
Babol, Mazandaran Province
Abolfazl Mehdipour
September 21
Abolfazl Mehdipour
Babol, Mazandaran Province
Ghazaleh Chalabi
September 21
Ghazaleh Chalabi, 32
Amol, Mazandaran Province
Erfan Rezaei
September 21
Erfan Rezaei, 21
Amol, Mazandaran Province
Mohsen Mohammadi
September 21
Mohsen Mohammadi
Qaem Shahr, Mazandaran Province
Mohammad Javad Zahedi
September 21
Mohammad Javad Zahedi, 16
Sari, Mazandaran Province
Mahsa Mogoui
September 22
Mahsa Mogoui, 18
Fuladshahr, Isfahan Province
Mohammad Reza Sarvi
September 22
Mohammad Reza Sarvi, 14
Shahr-e-Rey, Tehran Province
Setareh Tajik
September 22
Setareh Tajik, 17
Tehran, Tehran Province
Milad Javidpour
September 22
Milad Javidpour, 22
Tehran, Tehran Province
Ali Mozafari
September 22
Ali Mozafari, 17
Quchan, Razavi Khorasan Province
September 22
Javad Heidari, 36
Qazvin, Qazvin Province
Pedram Azarnoush
September 22
Pedram Azarnoush, 16
Dehdasht, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province
Mehrdad Behnam Asl
September 22
Mehrdad Behnam Asl, 21
Dehdasht, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province
Maziar (Mohammad Reza) Salmanian
September 22
Maziar (Mohammad Reza) Salmanian
Rasht, Gilan Province
Amir Mohammad Norouzi
September 22
Amir Mohammad Norouzi, 18
Bandar-e Anzali, Gilan Province
Shirin Alizadeh
September 22
Shirin Alizadeh, 35
Motel Ghoo, Mazandaran Province
Sarina Esmailzadeh
September 23
Sarina Esmailzadeh, 16
Karaj, Alborz Province
Hamid Fooladvand
September 23
Hamid Fooladvand
Pakdasht, Tehran Province
Pouya (Ali) Ahmadpour Pasikhani
September 23
Pouya (Ali) Ahmadpour Pasikhani, 17
Rasht, Gilan Province
Mahmoud Keshvari
September 24
Mahmoud Keshvari, 37
Karaj, Alborz Province
Mohammad Jamebozorg
September 24
Mohammad Jamebozorg, 52
Karaj, Alborz Province
Abdulsalam Qader Golvan
September 26
Abdulsalam Qader Golvan, 32
Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province
Samad Barginia
September 28
Samad Barginia, 55
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Hamid Saneipour
September 29
Hamid Saneipour, 27
Hamedan, Hamedan Province
September 30
Hasti Narui, 7
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mirshekar, 2
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Eghbal Naebzehi, 16
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Omid Sarani, 13
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Jaber Shirozehi, 12
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Rakhshani, 12
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Omid Safarzehi, 17
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Javad Pousheh, 12
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Sadis Kashani, 14
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Samer Hashemzehi, 16
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ali Barahui, 14
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Yasser Shahouzehi, 16
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Matin Ghanbarzehi (Gorgij), 18
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Ali Gamshadzehi, 18
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mahmoud Barahui (Levarzehi), 18
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mousa Anshini, 18
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mousa Devira, 18
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Sadigh (Rafe) Narui, 23
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mostafa Barichi, 24
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ali Agheli (Narui), 28
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Amir Hossein Parnian (Mirkazehi Rigi), 19
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Narui, 24
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ahmad Sarani (Jama Alizehi), 28
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Behzad Rigi, 30
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Hamzeh Narui, 26
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Salman Maleki, 25
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulmajid Rigi (Shahuzehi), 27
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Jalil Rakhshahi, 25
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abubakr Alizehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abubakr Nahtani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ahmad Sargolzaei
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ahmad Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Arman Hassanzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Esmail Abil
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Esmail Hosseinzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Omid Shahnavazi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Amir Hamzeh Shahnavazi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Aminallah Ghaljaei
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Amin Golbacheh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Balal Anshini
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Balal Dehmardeh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Balal Rakhshani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Samer Shahnavazi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Jalil Mohammadzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Jamal Abdulnasser Mohammadhasani (Barahui)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Hamid Isazehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Hamid Narui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Zolfagharjan Hasanzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Soleyman Arab
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Sharifkhan Barahui (Eydozehi)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Salahedin Gamshadzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdullah Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abduljalil Ghanbarzehi (Shahbakhsh)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulrahman Baluchikhah
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulsamad Barahui (Eydozehi)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulsamad Sabetizadeh (Shahuzehi)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulghafour Dehmardeh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulghafour Nourbarahui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdullah Narui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulmalek Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulmanan Rakhshani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Abdulvahid Touhidnia
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Azizallah Kabdani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Ali Akbar Halghehbegoush
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Emran Hassanzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Emran Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Gholamnabi Notizehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Farzad Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Lal Mohammad (Lalbaksh) Anshini
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Lal Mohammad Alizehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mahuldin Shirouzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Majid Baluchzehi (Shahbakhsh)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohsen Gamshadzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Amin Gamshadzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Barahui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Reza Adib Toutazehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Rigi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Farough Rakhshani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Ghaljaei
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Ali Esmailzehi (Shahbakhsh)
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mohammad Omar Shahnavazi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mahmoud Hasanzehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Morteza Hasazehi
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mansour Rakhshani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mehdi Anshini
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Mousa Nahtani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Najmeldin Tajik
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Nematollah Kabdani
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Yasser Shahbakhsh
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Younes Narui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
September 30
Omid Narui
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
October 2022
Mokhtar Ahmadi
October 1
Mokhtar Ahmadi, 19
Marivan, Kurdistan Province
October 2
Khodanur Lojei, 27
Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
Nima Shafiqdoust
October 5
Nima Shafiqdoust, 16
Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province
Sayyid Ahmad Shokrollahi
October 8
Sayyid Ahmad Shokrollahi, 24
Isfahan, Isfahan Province
Mohsen Mousavi
October 8
Mohsen Mousavi, 30
Tehran, Tehran Province
Abolfazl Adinehzadeh
October 8
Abolfazl Adinehzadeh, 16
Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan Province
Mohammad Amini
October 8
Mohammad Amini
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Yahya Rahimi
October 8
Yahya Rahimi, 21
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Peyman Manvari
October 8
Peyman Manvari, 29
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Dariush Alizadeh
October 8
Dariush Alizadeh
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Arian Moridi
October 9
Arian Moridi, 22
Salas-e Babajani, Kermanshah Province
Esmail Dezvar
October 10
Esmail Dezvar
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
Kamal Faqihi
October 12
Kamal Faqihi, 52
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Asra Panahi
October 12
Asra Panahi, 15
Ardabil, Ardabil Province
October 12
Sayyid Mohammad Hosseini
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
Aziz Moradi
October 12
Aziz Moradi
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Ramin Karami
October 12
Ramin Karami, 31
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Armin Sayadi
October 12
Armin Sayadi, 17
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Sina Naderi
October 12
Sina Naderi, 17
Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province
Milad Kord
October 15
Milad Kord, 32
Shahriar, Tehran Province
Sepehr Esmaili
October 15
Sepehr Esmaili, 22
Kiashahr, Gilan Province
Esmail Shanbodi
October 19
Esmail Shanbodi, 29
Shiraz, Fars Province
Ramin Fatehi
October 21
Ramin Fatehi
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Sina Malayeri
October 22
Sina Malayeri, 38
Arak, Markazi Province
Mohammad Khajavi
October 22
Mohammad Khajavi
Dezful, Khuzestan Province
Esmail (Semko) Molodi
October 26
Esmail (Semko) Molodi, 35
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Mehrshad Shahidinejad
October 26
Mehrshad Shahidinejad, 19
Arak, Markazi Province
Ali Rouzbahani
October 26
Ali Rouzbahani, 35
Tehran, Tehran Province
Sayyid Ali Sayyidi
October 26
Sayyid Ali Sayyidi, 25
Parand, Tehran Province
Behnaz Afshari
October 26
Behnaz Afshari
Tehran, Tehran Province
Milad Ostadhashem
October 26
Milad Ostadhashem, 37
Tehran, Tehran Province
Moahammad Shariati
October 26
Moahammad Shariati, 25
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Sarina Saedi
October 26
Sarina Saedi, 16
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Afshin Asham
October 26
Afshin Asham, 28
Qasr-e Shirin, Kermanshah Province
October 26
Maedeh Javanfar, 28
Rasht, Gilan Province
Shahou Khezri
October 27
Shahou Khezri
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Zaniar Aboubakri
October 27
Zaniar Aboubakri
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Kobra Sheikheh
October 27
Kobra Sheikheh, 52
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Fereshteh Ahmadi
October 27
Fereshteh Ahmadi, 32
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Masoud Ahmadzadeh
October 27
Masoud Ahmadzadeh
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
October 27
Fereydoun Faraji, 28
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
October 27
Motaleb Saeed-Pirou, 40
Baneh, Kurdistan Province
Ali Fazeli
October 27
Ali Fazeli, 29
Amol, Mazandaran Province
Hadi Chaksari
October 27
Hadi Chaksari, 30
Amol, Mazandaran Province
October 28
Dastan Rasoul, 31
Baneh, Kurdistan Province
Kumar Daroftadeh
October 30
Kumar Daroftadeh, 16
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohammad Hossein Faraji
October 31
Mohammad Hossein Faraji, 18
Tehran, Tehran Province
November 2022
Momen Zandkarimi
November 2
Momen Zandkarimi, 18
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Nima Nouri
November 3
Nima Nouri, 18
Karaj, Alborz Province
Mehdi Hazrati
November 3
Mehdi Hazrati, 17
Khorramdasht, Alborz Province
Erfan Zamani
November 3
Erfan Zamani, 27
Lahijan, Gilan Province
Nasrin Ghaderi
November 4
Nasrin Ghaderi, 35
Tehran, Tehran Province
November 4
Mobin Mirkazehi, 14
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Yasser Bahadorzehi, 17
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Ali Kordkalahouri (Moradzehi), 25
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Azim Mahmoudzehi
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Younes Salahshouran (Mirbaluchzehi)
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Mohammad Shahbakhsh (Mirbaluchzehi)
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Sadegh Barahoei
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Saeid Sohrabzehi
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Rahimdad Shahlibar
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
November 4
Kambiz Rigi
Khash, Sistan-Baluchistan Province
Abbas Shafiei
November 5
Abbas Shafiei, 42
Karaj, Alborz Province
Mohammad Ghaemifard
November 6
Mohammad Ghaemifard, 18
Dezful, Khuzestan Province
Komeil Amirkhanlou
November 8
Komeil Amirkhanlou, 27
Karaj, Alborz Province
Fayegh Mam-Ghaderi
November 9
Fayegh Mam-Ghaderi, 27
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Sam (Sepehr) Beiranvand
November 9
Sam (Sepehr) Beiranvand, 20
Khorramabad, Lorestan Province
November 10
Ardalan Ghasemi, 48
Gilan-e Gharb, Kermanshah Province
Hemin Hamzeh
November 11
Hemin Hamzeh, 30
Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohammad Hossein Hajiani
November 11
Mohammad Hossein Hajiani, 27
Bushehr, Bushehr Province
Milad Khoshkam
November 13
Milad Khoshkam, 27
Shiraz, Fars Province
Sayyid Ali Araghi
November 15
Sayyid Ali Araghi, 23
Tabriz, West Azerbaijan Province
Isa Biglari
November 15
Isa Biglari, 39
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Zaniar Allahmoradi
November 15
Zaniar Allahmoradi, 26
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Foad Mohammadi
November 15
Foad Mohammadi, 38
Kamyaran, Kurdistan Province
Aylar Haghi
November 16
Aylar Haghi, 23
Tabriz, West Azerbaijan Province
Asad Rahimi
November 16
Asad Rahimi, 30
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohammad Hasanzadeh
November 16
Mohammad Hasanzadeh, 28
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Salar Mojaver
November 16
Salar Mojaver, 30
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Ali Abbasi
November 16
Ali Abbasi
Semirom, Isfahan Province
Moslem Houshangi
November 16
Moslem Houshangi
Semirom, Isfahan Province
Morad Bahramian
November 16
Morad Bahramian
Semirom, Isfahan Province
Asghar Hazhirlotf
November 16
Asghar Hazhirlotf
Tehran, Tehran Province
Ali Moulaei
November 16
Ali Moulaei, 23
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Reza Shariati
November 16
Reza Shariati, 21
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Ashraf Nikbakht
November 16
Ashraf Nikbakht, 45
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Artin Rahmani
November 16
Artin Rahmani, 15
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Kian Pirfalak
November 16
Kian Pirfalak, 10
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Sepehr Maghsoudi
November 16
Sepehr Maghsoudi, 14
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
Sajjad Ghaemi
November 16
Sajjad Ghaemi, 30
Shiraz, Fars Province
Danial Pabandi
November 16
Danial Pabandi, 17
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
Borhan Karami
November 16
Borhan Karami, 32
Kamyaran, Kurdistan Province
Javad Rezaei
November 16
Javad Rezaei, 47
Lahijan, Gilan Province
Mostafa Shabani
November 17
Mostafa Shabani, 44
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Hiva Janan
November 17
Hiva Janan
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Hezhar Mom Khosravi
November 17
Hezhar Mom Khosravi
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Amjad Enayati
November 17
Amjad Enayati, 18
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Azad Hosseinpour
November 17
Azad Hosseinpour
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Ghafour Moloudi
November 17
Ghafour Moloudi
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Milad Maroufi
November 17
Milad Maroufi, 23
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Hamidreza Rouhi
November 17
Hamidreza Rouhi, 20
Tehran, Tehran Province
Arman Emadi
November 17
Arman Emadi
Marvdasht, Fars Province
Asou Ghaderi
November 17
Asou Ghaderi, 22
Baneh, Kurdistan Province
Abdulrahman Bakhtiari
November 17
Abdulrahman Bakhtiari
Saqez, Kurdistan Province
Shahu Bahmani
November 17
Shahu Bahmani, 24
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
November 17
Aram Habibi, 27
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Hamed Mollaei Shahrdashti
November 17
Hamed Mollaei Shahrdashti
Parsian, Hormozgan Province
Hamed Sadighi
November 17
Hamed Sadighi, 20
Dargahan, Hormozgan Province
Shahriar Mohammadi
November 18
Shahriar Mohammadi
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Amir Farasati Shad
November 18
Amir Farasati Shad
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohammad Ahmadi Gagesh
November 18
Mohammad Ahmadi Gagesh, 43
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Mehran Rahmani
November 18
Mehran Rahmani
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Kamal Ahmadpour
November 18
Kamal Ahmadpour
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Omid Hassani
November 18
Omid Hassani, 20
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Hossein Shirazi
November 19
Hossein Shirazi, 41
Shiraz, Fars Province
Habib Fathi
November 19
Habib Fathi
Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province
Foad Savari
November 19
Foad Savari
Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province
Hossein Abdpanah
November 19
Hossein Abdpanah, 70
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province
Mehran Tavan
November 19
Mehran Tavan, 29
Sowme'eh Sara, Gilan Province
Taher Azizi
November 20
Taher Azizi, 30
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Karvan Qadershakeri
November 20
Karvan Qadershakeri, 16
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Jalal Ghorbani
November 20
Jalal Ghorbani
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province
Amir Javad Asadzadeh
November 20
Amir Javad Asadzadeh, 30
Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan Province
Mohsen Niazi
November 20
Mohsen Niazi, 25
Dehgolan, Kurdistan Province
Bahaedin Veisi
November 20
Bahaedin Veisi, 16
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Erfan Kakaei
November 20
Erfan Kakaei, 45
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Reza Sharafi
November 20
Reza Sharafi, 33
Sisakht, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province
Masoud Teymouri
November 21
Masoud Teymouri
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Esmail Golanbar
November 21
Esmail Golanbar
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Jouhar Fatahi
November 21
Jouhar Fatahi
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Jamal Azami
November 21
Jamal Azami
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Tahsin Miri
November 21
Tahsin Miri
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Kourosh Pajokh
November 21
Kourosh Pajokh
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province
Ribaz Salehi Vand
November 22
Ribaz Salehi Vand, 21
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Hemin Aman
November 23
Hemin Aman, 26
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Mohammad Omid Khadiripour
November 24
Mohammad Omid Khadiripour, 32
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Soleiman Shooresh Niknam
November 26
Soleiman Shooresh Niknam, 33
Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province
Reza Kazemi
November 27
Reza Kazemi, 16
Kamyaran, Kurdistan Province
Masoud Doulatshahi
November 28
Masoud Doulatshahi, 38
Tehran, Tehran Province
Ebrahim Sharifi
November 29
Ebrahim Sharifi, 29
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Mehran Samak
November 29
Mehran Samak, 27
Bandar-e Anzali, Gilan Province
Avat Qaderpour
November 30
Avat Qaderpour, 20
Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province
Ehsan Ghasemifar
November 30
Ehsan Ghasemifar, 32
Karaj, Alborz Province
Hamed Salahshour
November 30
Hamed Salahshour, 22
Izeh, Khuzestan Province
December 2022
Borhan Eliasi
December 31
Borhan Eliasi, 22
Javanrud, Kermanshah Province

Hedayat, who is currently in prison for participating in the anti-government protests that erupted after Amini's death last September, listed the names of several protesters who were killed during the unrest, as well as four protesters who were sentenced to death and then executed as part of the judiciary's crackdown aimed at intimidating the demonstrators, thousands of whom have been arrested.

She added that the Islamic authority "has become the most immoral element of Iranians' daily lives and its survival is a denial of our survival, our children's survival, and our land. Therefore, the logic of overthrow is still in place."

The letter emphasizes the protesters' determination to "take back Iran" after the death of Amini.

Along with the execution of four protesters, Iran's judiciary has handed several others death sentences after what rights groups and the U.S. government have called "sham trials."

The executions and death sentences are part of the government's brutal, and often violent, crackdown on demonstrators. Lawmakers have pushed for harsh punishments to try and quell what has become the biggest challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times. Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during the nationwide protests.

The activist HRANA news agency has said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Grenade Blast Kills Mother, Five Children In Central Afghanistan

Five children along with their mother were killed when a grenade exploded in Afghanistan’s central Ghor Province, local officials said on March 20. Abdulhai Zaeem, the provincial director of information and culture, told the dpa news agency that the incident happened on March 19 in the provincial capital Firozkoh, while the children were playing with a hand grenade inside their house. Unexploded military supplies left from decades of war often cause casualties among children in Afghanistan. On March 17, two children were killed and two others wounded when they were hit by an unexploded mortar shell in Logar Province.

Kazakh Ruling Party Dominates Vote, OSCE Sees Some Progress, Some Candidates Cry Foul

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev votes in Astana during his country's parliamentary elections, which were held on March 19.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The ruling Amanat party appears to have won a majority of seats in a general election in Kazakhstan that international observers said showed some progress over previous votes while a number of opposition politicians claimed that the balloting was unfair.

Preliminary official results are expected from the Central Election Committee on March 20, a day after exit polls said Amanat had taken about 53 percent of the votes cast for the 98 seats in the lower house. At least three other parties surpassed the 5 percent threshold in order to enter parliament, according to the polls, with one showing as many as six parties winning seats.

Slightly more than half of the 12 million eligible voters went to the polls, according to the Central Election Committee. The parliamentary elections took place at the same time as local elections across the vast, oil-rich country and complete a political cycle after bloody unrest last year left at least 238 people dead.

“Democracy is a process that requires constant attention and dedication. We have noted some welcome improvements, including related to election laws, but Kazakhstan will only achieve the stated political goal of democratic development if far-reaching reforms continue,” Irene Charalambides, special coordinator and leader of the short-term observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on March 20.

“In particular, greater attention to protecting everyone’s fundamental freedoms is needed. Most notably, the restrictive media space and limited campaign coverage did not match candidates’ efforts to engage in a more dynamic contest,” she added.

The vote follows a referendum in June that marked the end of special privileges for the country's former longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.

The early elections were the first since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations could stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022.

But only 29 of the parliament’s seats are available to the single-mandate candidates, with the rest reserved for party list candidates.

Several candidates in the country's largest city, Almaty, said on March 20 that they would not recognize the results because of "various violations" of voting laws.

Journalist and activist Inga Imanbai told reporters at a news conference with two other independent candidates to the parliament and a candidate to Almaty city council, that a court appeal would be launched because "the votes of independent candidates were stolen."

The four listed various violations, including the improper counting of ballots and government pressure on public employees to vote for certain parties.

"I went to the elections with hope. But I was wrong. However, we will continue to fight for our rights," said Ravqat Mukhtarov, who was a candidate to the Almaty municipal council.

The return of single-mandate district races added some dynamism to a vote dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.

Still, several opposition-minded figures were excluded from races at the parliamentary and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.

Of the seven parties that competed, the most well-established was Amanat, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party bossed by octogenarian Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.

The OSCE noted that "limits on the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms remain and some political groups continue to be prevented from participating as political parties in elections."

While the voting "was organized in a smooth manner overall," the OSCE said "significant procedural irregularities were observed."

“The increased competition, particularly with self-nominated candidates, is a significant development. However, legal and practical hurdles continue to detract from a fully open race among equals,” said Reinhold Lopatka, the leader of the delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

“In the future, the publication of results for each polling station will be important for improved transparency and public confidence.”

Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.

Russian Justice Ministry Requests Disbandment Of Moscow-Based SOVA Analytical Center

The SOVA center primarily carries out sociological research on nationalism and racism in Russia. (file photo)

The Moscow-based SOVA analytical center said on March 20 that Russia's Justice Ministry has asked a court to disband the think tank as a crackdown on providers of independent information continues. According to SOVA, the ministry's March 10 request was based on allegations that the organization had violated its charter by organizing or taking part in 24 events held outside of its place of registration, which is Moscow. Sova said it will appeal the move. The SOVA center conducts sociological research mostly focusing on nationalism and racism in the Russian Federation.

Updated

Rights Group Says Jailed Belarusian RFE/RL Journalist Ihar Losik 'Attempted Suicide'

Ihar Losik

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) rights group has cited several sources as saying that jailed RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik has been taken to a prison medical facility after being found with "cuts to his hands and neck."

The human rights group said on March 20 that Losik was "rescued" after what it characterized as an "attempted suicide," though it was not clear how or to what extent Losik was injured or when the incident occurred. His parents told RFE/RL that, without explanation, they had stopped receiving letters from him more than a month ago.

According to Vyasna, Losik, who on March 21 will have been behind bars for 1,000 days, was in a punitive solitary confinement holding a hunger strike in correctional camp No. 1 in the city of Navapolatsk in the country's northeast when he was found with the wounds.

Losik was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2021 on several charges, including "organizing mass riots, incitement to social hatred," and several other charges that remain unclear.

The journalist has maintained his innocence and calls all charges against him politically motivated.

The husband of exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, as well as four other bloggers and opposition politicians and activists, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms along with Losik at the time.

In January, Losik's wife, Darya Losik, was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of facilitating extremist activity. The charge stemmed from her interview to the Poland-based Belsat television channel, which has been officially labeled as an extremist group by Minsk.

The couple's four-year-old daughter Paulina is currently in the custody of Ihar Losik's parents, who told RFE/RL on March 20 that 10 days earlier their son's lawyer was not allowed to meet his client in the correctional colony.

The lawyer, whose name has not been made public, said he was told he was not allowed to see Losik on March 10 because his client did not apply in advance for the meeting and was supposedly working in the prison and could not be excused.

Ihar Losik's father, Alyaksandr Losik, told RFE/RL that he is currently discussing the situation with the lawyer, with whom he plans to go to Navapolatsk to try to see his son and find out what really happened to him.

It is unclear if Alyaksandr Losik and the lawyer will be allowed to meet with the imprisoned journalist, who has been recognized as a political prisoner by human rights organizations.

The United States has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Ihar and Darya Losik, while RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has also demanded the couple's immediate release and condemned their imprisonment.

Top Afghan Taliban Leader Issues Decree Against Nepotism

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada

The supreme leader of the Taliban has issued a decree against nepotism, barring officials in Afghanistan's Taliban administration from hiring relatives in government positions. The shadowy leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, also ordered all Taliban officials to sack their sons and other relatives who are working in their administration. The decree was posted late on March 18 on the Taliban government's Twitter account. It did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decree, but it followed rumors that many Taliban officials have appointed their relatives to high-ranking government positions rather than professionals or those with experience needed for the posts. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Pakistani Police Arrest Dozens Of Supporters Of Former Prime Minister

Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside a court in Islamabad on March 18.

Pakistani police have arrested dozens of supporters and aides of former Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of a crackdown on those involved in recent clashes with the security forces, Khan's party and police said on March 20. Supporters of Khan's party, Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI), clashed with police in the city of Lahore last week as they attempted to arrest him at his home, and later with police in Islamabad as he arrived to appear before a court on March 18. "Around 285 PTI supporters have been arrested in Lahore and Islamabad," said Khan's aide, Fawad Chaudhry. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Indonesia May End Visa-On-Arrival Policy For Russians, Ukrainians Amid Violations

Russians and Ukrainians have flocked to the Southeast Asian country’s popular resort island of Bali following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine to seek safety and avoid mobilization.

Indonesia may end its visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine following reports of a wave of behavioral-related incidents and visa violations, CNN reported. Russians and Ukrainians have flocked to the Southeast Asian country’s popular resort island of Bali following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine to seek safety and avoid mobilization. About 58,000 Russians traveled to Bali in 2022, with another 22,500 arriving in January alone. About 10,000 Ukrainians arrived over that same period. Many of them have stayed beyond 60 days -- the maximum allowed under Indonesia visa rules -- and have taken up work as guides, hairdressers, and taxi drivers without authorization. To read the original story by CNN, click here.

Montenegrin President Djukanovic To Face Milatovic In Runoff On April 2

Milo Djukanovic, the head of the Democratic Party of Socialists, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991.

PODGORICA -- Longtime Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic will face off next month against a candidate nearly half his age after failing to secure a majority in the first round of a presidential election held in the former Yugoslav republic on March 19.

Djukanovic garnered 35.3 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, edging out Jakov Milatovic, the former economy minister, who received 29.2 percent.

The leader of the pro-Russian Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic, ended up in third place with 19.3 percent of the votes, while Aleksa Becic, the former speaker of parliament, came in fourth with 10.9 percent.

About 64 percent of the nation’s 542,000 registered voters went to the polls, according to the central election committee.

A runoff between Djukanovic and Milatovic to be held on April 2 could prove pivotal as to whether Montenegro can escape two years of political stalemate and return to the path of reform.

The 61-year-old Djukanovic, the head of the Democratic Party of Socialists, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991.

He is running on the slogan "Our President," but his three decades in power have been dogged by perceptions of rampant organized crime and corruption.

Milatovic, 37, is a leading member of the Europe Now movement. He served as economy minister in a government cobbled together by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

He campaigned on boosting prosperity in a country that averaged nearly 3 percent growth for two decades before huge volatility over the past three years caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine that drove energy prices to record highs.

Europe Now shot into the national spotlight with a strong showing in last year's local elections in the capital, Podgorica, within months of being formed.

Polling in Montenegro is frequently unreliable, although some surveys have suggested that broad opposition to Djukanovic far outweighs support.

Following his first-place finish on March 19, Djukanovic said his 6-point lead gave him a “serious advantage” over Milatovic in the next and final round.

However, Milatovic could potentially count on the support of Mandic and Becic as all three share close ties to the Serbian Orthodox Church, experts say.

A Milatovic victory would potentially represent a new era in Montenegro's political life.

In an interview with RFE/RL shortly before the first-round vote, Kenneth Morrison, a specialist in modern Southeastern European history and politics at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom, said that few presidential elections in Montenegro have been as important as this one.

The last comparable national choice came in 1997, he suggested, when, as prime minister, Djukanovic unseated a staunch ally of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for the presidency to put Montenegro on the path toward independence in 2006.

"This election could be equally pivotal in that the outcome could determine the country's future trajectory," Morrison said.

Updated

Xi Arrives In Russia As Ukraine War, Putin Arrest Warrant Deepen Kremlin's Isolation

Chinese President Xi Jinping is greeted by a guard of honor upon his arrival in Moscow on March 20.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived for his first visit to Russia in four years amid Moscow's deepening international isolation over its invasion of Ukraine.

Xi's visit, which began on March 20, gives a rare opportunity to President Vladimir Putin to claim that Russia is not completely walled off from the rest of the world despite his being targeted by an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.

Xi was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying upon arrival that the visit will give "a new impetus" to Russian-Chinese relations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major topic of discussion between the two leaders during their meeting in Moscow.

Last month, China unveiled a peace plan for the Ukraine war that echoes Russian talking points including blaming the West for the unprovoked invasion. The Chinese plan called for a cease-fire and peace talks among other provisions.

The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan.

In an article published March 20 in the Russian publication Russian Gazette, Xi said that China has remained "impartial" and “actively promoted peace talks” but presented no clear proposals in regard to its peace plan.

Ahead of the visit, Putin touted his relationship with Xi and boasted that Moscow-Beijing relations have never been stronger.

In a March 19 article for The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Putin tried to portray Russia and China as close allies united against U.S. hegemony and NATO expansion, including into the Asia-Pacific region.

Putin papered over his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, falsely referring to it toward the end of the article as a domestic “crisis” provoked and fueled by NATO.

In his article, Putin thanked Xi for his “balanced” position on the war and said he is open to China playing a role in bringing it to an end.

Putin has tried to justify his war of aggression against Ukraine on various grounds, including claiming NATO expansion was a threat. In an attempt to connect their respective security concerns, Putin warned NATO was a threat to China as well.

In a statement published in Russian media ahead of the visit, Xi made only a thinly veiled mention of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying "there has been an all-round escalation of the Ukraine crisis."

While noting that China has made "several proposals" on ending the conflict, Xi said "there is no simple solution to a complex issue" and that both parties need to "embrace" a common vision to resolve the crisis.

Putin and Xi have met about 40 times in various capacities over the past 13 years.

Putin described the Russia-Chinese partnership as one of equals, saying there is no “leader and follower.” However, many experts say that China, the world’s second-largest economy and a quickly growing military power, is the clear senior partner in the relationship.

China’s senior status within the relationship is only growing as Russia’s economy suffers under the weight of Western sanctions, deepening the Kremlin's reliance on Beijing for trade, experts say.

China has become a crucial transit route for Russia to import goods banned by the West.

Economic ties, including Russian energy exports to China, will be another key topic of talks.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Battle For Bakhmut Grinds On As EU Ministers Discuss Ammunition For Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian forces at the front line near Bakhmut on March 18.

Ukrainian forces repelled fresh Russian attacks on Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, Kyiv said, as the battle for the ruined city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk continued to exact a heavy toll on both sides while European Union ministers on March 20 prepared to discuss a 2 billion euro ($2.13 billion) plan to supply Ukraine with badly needed ammunition.

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Russian forces launched 69 attacks over the past day on Bakhmut and the nearby locations of Avdiyivka, Lyman, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report.

Russian forces kept shelling civilian settlements in Donetsk and Zaporyzhzhya regions, causing casualties among the civilian population and damaging infrastructure, the military said.

In the Moscow-occupied part of the southern region of Kherson, Russian forces manning checkpoints have been pushing civilians to take up Russian passports, threatening them with violence and imprisonment, the Ukrainian military report said.

The western part of Kherson, including Kherson city, was liberated by Ukrainian forces in November as Russians retreated across the Dnieper River.

In Brussels, EU foreign and defense ministers gather on March 20 to discuss plans to provide 2 billion euros worth of artillery shells to Ukraine under a deal that will include joint EU ammunition purchases.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell voiced hope a deal could be closed at the meeting.

"Together, foreign affairs and defense [ministers] will, I hope, finish the agreement on providing ammunition to Ukraine," Borrell told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is due to address the gathering via video link from Kyiv to brief the ministers on the current situation on the battlefield.

Kyiv has said it need 350,000 shells every month to stave off Russia's offensive in the east and to be able to prepare for a counteroffensive this spring.

EU member states have so far given $13 billion worth of military support to Ukraine since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion.

The bloc's foreign ministers are also due to address Moscow's accountability for forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia as well as measures to facilitate Ukrainian exports.

On March 17, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his role in the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Russia's FSB Raids Moscow Bar After Owners Held Fund-Raising Event For Ukrainian Group

Eyewitnesses said the FSB officers tried to humiliate the workers and customers in the bar, forcing them to sing songs by pro-war artists and paint the letter Z, a symbol of support for the invasion that opponents see as a fascistic emblem.

Officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) raided two Moscow bars, temporarily detaining dozens of workers and customers, after its owners last year allegedly held a fund-raising event for a Ukrainian group.

Members of the FSB anti-terrorism unit raided La Virgen Taqueria and Underdog on March 17, temporarily detaining at least 40 people, according to customers who were present. All were eventually let go. Police allegedly used force against some detainees, eyewitnesses said.

The owners allegedly held a fund-raising event last year for Kyiv Angeles, a Ukrainian volunteer organization that delivers food and medicine to Ukrainian citizens as well as equipment to the armed forces. The bar owners claim the funds went to a Ukrainian animal shelter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come down hard on any signs of domestic opposition to his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine or Russian sympathy toward Ukrainians resisting his war.

Last year he outlawed criticism of the invasion and the Russian military, and since then many citizens have been handed stiff prison terms for violating those laws.


Following the March 17 raid, Pavel Kosov, one of the bar owners, announced he was exiting his investment in the establishments.

He and other owners were detained and questioned last year over the fund-raiser, their lawyer said at the time. It is unclear why the FSB returned on March 17.

In a statement posted on Telegram by their lawyer Konstantin Yerokhin, the owners said they were demoralized and frightened and claimed some of their customers have received multiple threats.

"We are afraid of another raid and other negative developments and are ready to do everything necessary to avoid that," they said in their statement.

Eyewitnesses said the FSB officers tried to humiliate the workers and customers in the bar, forcing them to sing songs by pro-war artists and paint the letter Z, a symbol of support for the invasion that opponents see as a fascistic emblem.

The FSB officers took two payment terminals from the bars and other equipment containing financial information, their lawyer said.

Underdog said it would be closed for an undisclosed period of time while La Virgen Taqueria reopened on March 19 after being closed for two days.

Serbian President Says ICC Arrest Warrant For Putin Will Prolong The War

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the media in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on March 18.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has criticized an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court will prolong the war in Ukraine. "My question is now that you have accused him of the biggest war crimes, who are you going to talk to now?" Vucic told journalists on March 19. Unlike most European countries, Serbia has not imposed sanctions on Moscow after Putin launched his unprovoked war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Iran's Foreign Minister Says He Has Agreed To Meet Saudi Counterpart

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) greets his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in Tehran on January 29. In recent weeks, Iran has expressed interest in holding meetings with regional leaders.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that he had agreed to meet his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, proposing three locations during a news conference. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on March 10 to reestablish relations and reopen embassies within two months after years of hostility, following talks in China. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Pakistani Police File Terrorism Charges Against Ex-PM Khan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with reporters in Lahore on March 17.

Police in the Pakistani capital filed charges on March 19 against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, 17 of his aides, and scores of supporters, accusing them of terrorism and several other offenses after the ousted premier's followers clashed with security forces in Islamabad the previous day. For hours on March 18, Khan's followers clashed with police outside a court where the former prime minister was to appear in a graft case. Riot police wielded batons and fired tear gas while Khan's supporters threw fire bombs and hurled rocks at the officers. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Rights Activists Injured In Attack In Banja Luka Following LGBT Event Ban

Police gather outside the Transparency International office after an attack on activists on March 18.

Several rights activists in Banja Luka, a city in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina, were injured after being assaulted late on March 18, hours after the police banned an LGBT event planned there, citing security concerns. Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the attack took place outside the offices of the Bosnian branch of the global anti-corruption group Transparency International in Banja Luka. Journalist and activist Vanja Stokic said she and other were attacked by a group of "hooligans" armed with sticks and bottles. One activist was taken to the hospital after being hit in the head, she said. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Updated

Polls In Kazakhstan Close In Parliamentary Elections As Authorities Look To Counter Unrest Threat

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev votes during the parliamentary election in Astana on March 19.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Millions of voters in Kazakhstan cast ballots in snap parliamentary elections on March 19 as the Central Asian nation completed a political cycle after bloody unrest last year left at least 238 people dead.

Slightly more than half of the 12 million eligible voters went to the polls to choose lawmakers for the 98-seat lower house, according to the Central Election Committee. The parliamentary elections took place at the same time as local elections across the vast, oil-rich country.

According to three separate exit polls, the ruling Amanat party is in the lead with about 53 percent of the vote. At least three other parties have surpassed the 5 percent threshold in order to enter parliament, according to the three polls, with one poll showing as many as six parties winning seats.

The outgoing parliament had only three parties. The final results will be announced on March 20.

The vote follows a referendum in June that marked the end of special privileges for long-reigning former leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.

The early elections will be the first since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations can stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022.

But only 29 of the parliament's seats are available to the single-mandate candidates, with the rest reserved for party list candidates.

With socioeconomic pressures such as strident inflation compounded by Russia’s war in Ukraine, authorities are aiming to prevent a repeat of the 2022 events now popularly termed Bloody January.

Earlier this week, Toqaev signed a law strengthening punishment for individuals calling for mass disorder -- a crime authorities often equate with calls for spontaneous protests, which are illegal.

According to the law, the punishment for such actions will rise from three years to up to seven years in prison, with the possibility of early release on parole excluded for individuals convicted on the charge.

Toqaev has admitted issuing a "shoot to kill" order to troops last year when peaceful protests against a fuel price spike gave way to violent clashes in cities across the country.

The return of single-mandate district races has added some dynamism to a ballot dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.

But several opposition-minded figures have been excluded from races at the parliament and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.

Of the seven parties competing, the most well-established is Amanat, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party bossed by octogenarian Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.

Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.

Two new parties, Respublica and Baitaq, became the first parties in two decades to be allowed to officially register in the months before the vote.

But like the other pro-establishment parties on the ballot, neither has been critical of Toqaev during the campaign.

Updated

Ukrainian Officials Express Outrage Over Putin's Surprise Visit To City of Mariupol After Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who heads construction and regional development, as he visits the city of Mariupol in Russian-controlled Ukraine on March 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unannounced nighttime visit to Mariupol, the occupied Ukrainian city that symbolizes Kyiv's fierce resistance to Moscow’s invasion, in a possible show of defiance after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a war for his arrest.

Putin flew by helicopter to the port city, which had been destroyed by Russian bombardments and heavy fighting, for a "working visit," Russian state media reported on March 19. He visited several sites in Mariupol and spoke with residents, the reports said.

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The trip was the first by Putin to a region of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces after the launch of his full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. Putin’s trips are almost always highly choreographed by the Kremlin to boost his image at home.

The battle for Mariupol captured international attention as Ukrainian fighters, encircled and holed up in a massive metals plant, heroically defended the city for three months before surrendering in May 2022 as they ran low on food and medicine.

But the battle also highlighted for the world Russia's brutality as its military launched strikes on civilian infrastructure, killing what is believed to be thousands of Mariupol residents, and triggering accusations of war crimes.

In two of the most infamous cases, Russia shelled a theater used as a bomb shelter, killing as many as 600 people, as well as a maternity ward.

Putin’s visit to the symbolic city sparked anger in Kyiv and in the West.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Putin chose to visit at night to hide from Russian TV viewers the destruction he wrought on Mariupol and the ensuing desolation it has caused.

Once a bustling port city with a population of half a million, Mariupol is now home to just about 90,000 people, many of them too old or too ill to leave the ravaged city.

The outskirts of Mariupol are filled with the graves of those killed in the fighting.

"The criminal always return to the crime scene," Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said in a tweet about Putin's visit to Mariupol. "The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and [its] graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse."

Amid the intense Russian bombing and blockage, some Mariupol residents managed to escape to Kyiv-controlled territory. Others went to Russia, many forcibly so, including children.

The alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia is at the center of the ICC's unprecedented March 17 warrant for the arrest of Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children's rights official.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children," the ICC said in a statement on March 17.

The warrant means Putin could be arrested if he enters any of the court's 123 member states.

The Kremlin dismissed the warrant, arguing that it is void because Russia is not in the ICC's jurisdiction. Ukraine is also not a member of the ICC.

Putin’s Mariupol visit comes a day after he toured Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.

Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea following Kyiv's overthrow of Moscow-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was the start of a new phase of Kremlin aggression against Ukraine that would culminate with the full-scale invasion of the country last year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has vowed to regain all territory captured by Russia, including Crimea. Ukraine is preparing a new, major counteroffensive that experts say could begin as early as next month.

In the meantime, Ukraine and Russia have agreed to extend a deal allowing the safe passage of grain exports through Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea.

WATCH: Standing just behind the front line in Donetsk, the former industrial city of Avdiyivka lies in ruins. As Russian shelling continues, the few remaining residents say they're not going anywhere.

Ukrainian Forces Fight Off 'Unlimited' Russian Attacks On The Donetsk Front
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Following several days of talks, Ukraine announced the deal had been extended for 120 days, while Russia said it had agreed to a 60-day extension.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July 2022, has been extended," the United Nations said on March 18 in a statement, referring to the initial agreement brokered last summer by the UN and Turkey with Russia and Ukraine.

The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tons of grain and foodstuffs, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilize markets. The statement also thanked the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.

Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin that the temporary switch to an alternative regional capital in the Zaporizhzhya region -- one of four illegally annexed by Russia last year -- is "likely a tacit acknowledgment" that Russia is failing to meet its objectives in the near future.

On March 3, authorities in the Russian-controlled region issued a decree saying that occupied Melitopol would temporarily replace Zaporizhzhya city as the regional capital until it was controlled by Russia, Britain's Defense Ministry said in an update on Twitter, adding that Russia has never occupied Zaporizhzhya city, which is approximately 35 kilometers from the current front line.

"The quiet declaration of an alternative capital is likely tacit acknowledgement within the Russian system that its forces are highly unlikely to seize previously planned major objectives in the near future," the intelligence update said on March 19.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Current time, Reuters, AFP and dpa

Montenegro Votes For President Against Backdrop Of Crisis, Stalemate

The March 19 vote is the first national election in the tiny Adriatic nation since the narrow defeat of President Milo Djukanovic's party to a mostly pro-Serb coalition in 2020 spelled the end of an era but failed to establish a workable majority.

Montenegro's voters are casting presidential ballots on March 19 in a race between a long-dominant incumbent and a half-dozen challengers that could prove pivotal to whether the ex-Yugoslav republic can escape two years of political stalemate.

It's the first national election in the tiny Adriatic nation since the narrow defeat of President Milo Djukanovic's party to a mostly pro-Serb coalition in 2020 spelled the end of an era but failed to establish a workable majority to move the country forward.

Djukanovic feuded with two subsequent governments and resisted naming a third as he jockeyed to reestablish supremacy for his populist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), culminating in the sudden dissolution of parliament on March 16.

"Few presidential elections in Montenegro have been as important as this one," said Kenneth Morrison, a specialist in modern Southeastern European history and politics at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom.

The last comparable national choice came in 1997, he suggested, when, as prime minister, Djukanovic unseated a staunch ally of Slobodan Milosevic for the presidency to put Montenegro on the path toward independence in 2006.

"This election could be equally pivotal in that the outcome could determine the country's future trajectory," Morrison said.

Djukanovic, 61, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991, when the DPS arose as the successor to the local Communist League.

He won outright five years ago with nearly 54 percent of the vote, and most experts say he is almost certain to advance to a second-round runoff on April 2 for a final presidential term under the constitution.

Since it exited its political union with Serbia and then joined NATO in 2017, Montenegro has stalled on the kind of reforms that once made it a front-runner for the next wave of EU enlargement.

It has struggled to put aside ethno-national divisions, including over identification as Serb versus Montenegrin, as well as tensions in relations with the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, politicians in Belgrade, and pro-Russians in and outside the region.

Polling in Montenegro is frequently unreliable, although some surveys have suggested that broad opposition to Djukanovic far outweighs support.

He is running on the slogan "Our President," but his three decades in power have been dogged by perceptions of rampant organized crime and corruption.

Many observers question whether Djukanovic or any other candidate can successfully bridge the 620,000-strong population's divisions.

Vesko, a voter in Podgorica who did not want his last name published, called it "a circus of a campaign."

"Everyone promises something, everything," he told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "And everyone is sinful."

One of the most recognizable challengers is Andrija Mandic, a veteran politician who heads the right-wing New Serb Democracy party and is supported by the pro-Serb Democratic Front that helped unseat Djukanovic's DPS two and a half years ago.

Mandic was accused alongside Russians and Serbians of plotting a failed coup attempt in 2016, although an appellate court eventually threw out all 13 convictions.

Montenegro has long been one of the Balkans' most conspicuous theaters for pro-Russian disinformation.

Another candidate, pro-NATO and pro-EU Social Democratic lawmaker Draginja Vuksanovic Stankovic, won 8 percent of the vote as a presidential candidate in 2018. She is the lone woman in the race.

The pro-EU Europe Now movement is fielding candidate Jakov Milatovic, a former economic minister campaigning on boosting prosperity in a country that averaged nearly 3 percent growth for two decades before huge volatility the past three years. Europe Now shot into the national spotlight with a strong showing in last year's local elections in the capital, Podgorica, within months of being formed.

Aleksa Becic, a 35-year-old former speaker of parliament from the centrist Democratic Montenegro party, is another pro-EU candidate.

Goran Danilovic heads the conservative United Montenegro party, which has a single seat in parliament.

Internet influencer Jovan Radulovic is the political outsider among candidates and has largely avoided staking out traditional political turf.

Djukanovic set June 11 for snap parliamentary elections after his dissolution of the 81-seat Skupstina.

The DPS this time hopes to erase the razor-thin one-seat margin that the Democratic Front and its allies mustered in 2020.

Montenegrin civil activist Aleksandar Dragicevic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the presidential campaigns were as important for their success in winning over committed voters ahead of early parliamentary elections as picking a president.

Zelenskiy Announces Sanctions On Hundreds Of Individuals, Including Syrian President, Iranian Drone Makers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced sanctions against hundreds of individuals and companies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranians associated with the production of Shahed drones.

Zelenskiy said on March 18 that most of the more than 400 individuals and companies designated for sanctions are Russian and are involved in the defense industry, but Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

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According to a decree issued by Zelenskiy, the sanctions against Assad are imposed for 10 years. The new sanctions also list Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

In addition, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' drone force was placed on the sanctions list. Sanctions were also introduced against other Iranian citizens.

Ukraine severed diplomatic relations with Syria last year. Assad recently visited Moscow and declared his full support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling Russia's war against Ukraine a struggle "with "old and new Nazis."

Russia has backed the Syrian Army in its fight against rebel forces in northern Syria, and Assad has said the presence of Russian troops in Syria is legitimate as his government has requested Moscow's support.

Zelenskiy's sanctions decrees list 141 legal entities, including companies from Russia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia.

"We study in depth each of our sanctioning steps," he said on Telegram. The sanctions are aimed at "all those who produce weapons for terror against Ukraine, who help Russia incite aggression, in particular by supplying Shahed drones, and who support Russia’s destruction of international law."

Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure, including electrical substations and water facilities.

Iran Court Sentences Two To Death Over Deadly Shrine Attack

Workers clean up the scene following an armed attack at the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the Iranian city of Shiraz on October 26, 2022.

An Iranian court has handed death sentences to two men over an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 people in October and was claimed by the militant group Islamic State (IS), the official news agency IRNA reported on March 18. Fars Province judiciary head Kazem Mousavi said the two men had been found guilty of charges including "spreading corruption on Earth" and acting against national security, IRNA reported, adding that the sentences can be appealed. The men are alleged to have collaborated with IS members in the attack. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Updated

UN Says Black Sea Grain Export Deal Extended, But Ukraine, Russia Disagree Over How Long

A grain terminal in the seaport in Odesa

The Black Sea Grain Initiative -- a deal allowing the safe passage of grain exports through Ukraine's ports on the Black Sea -- has been extended following days of talks, but Ukraine and Russia disagree over the length of the extension.

Ukraine said the deal had been extended for 120 days, while Russia said it had agreed to a 60-day extension.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July 2022, has been extended," the United Nations said on March 18 in a statement, referring to the initial agreement brokered last summer by the UN and Turkey with Russia and Ukraine.

The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tons of grain and foodstuffs, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilize markets. The statement also thanked the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also announced that the deal had been extended without saying how long.

"The deal for the grain corridor was due to expire today. As a result of our talks with the two sides, we have secured an extension to this deal," Erdogan said in a speech in the western city of Canakkale.

"This deal is of vital importance for the global food supply. I thank Russia and Ukraine, who didn't spare their efforts for a new extension, as well as the United Nations secretary general," Erdogan said in remarks carried on Turkish television.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister of Reconstruction Oleksandr Kubrakov said the extension would last for 120 days.

Kubrakov thanked Erdogan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, and "all our partners for sticking to the agreements." Due to the joint efforts, 25 million tons of grain had delivered to world markets, he said on Twitter.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension of a deal.

"We are seeing reports from parties to the 'grain deal' that the deal has been extended for 120 days," Zakharkova said in comments carried by Interfax. "We have repeatedly stated...that the Russian side has notified all parties to the deal that it is extending the deal for 60 days."

Moscow proposed the 60-day extension citing concerns that a parallel agreement on Russian food and fertilizer exports was not being respected.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on March 17 that it was vital for global food security that both agreements continue and be fully implemented.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was set to last into late November and was then renewed for 120 days to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The 120-day period was set to expire on March 18.

Ukraine and Russia are important suppliers of food and fertilizer throughout the world. Before the war, Ukraine exported approximately three-quarters of the grain it produced. According to the data of the European Commission, about 90 percent of these exports were shipped from Black Sea ports.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Putin Visits Crimea On Anniversary Of Annexation As Ukraine's Allies Condemn Action

Russian President Vladimir Putin (second left), Sevastopol's Russian-imposed Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev (center), and Metropolitan Tikhon (right), chairman of the Patriarchal Council for Culture, visit a children's center in Sevastopol, Crimea, on March 18.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on March 18 to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine as allies of Kyiv in the fight against the Russian invasion issued statements condemning the annexation.

Russian state TV showed a video of a casually dressed Putin walking with a group of officials in Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.

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Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea triggered a wave of international condemnation and sanctions against Moscow in 2014, and several European countries continue to condemn it.

"Nine years after the illegal annexation of Crimea, Britain continues to stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression," the British Embassy said on Twitter. "In Crimea, Ukrainians suffer: citizens have no freedom, civilians are detained, and children are in 're-education' camps."

The Finnish Embassy said Russia has grossly violated international law and continues to do so.

"Finland does not recognize Russia's illegal annexation. We support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and efforts to restore it. Crimea is Ukraine," the country's Foreign Ministry said.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry marked the anniversary by publishing a poster saying "Crimea is Ukraine. Donetsk is Ukraine. Kherson is Ukraine. Luhansk is Ukraine. Zaporizhzhya is Ukraine."

Sweden does not recognize Russia's illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories, the ministry said, pledging to continue to "steadfastly support Ukraine."

Armed men in uniforms without identification began seizing government buildings, the Simferopol airport, the Kerch ferry crossing, and other strategic objects in Crimea in February 2014. The Russian authorities initially refused to recognize that the men were soldiers from the Russian Army. Later, Putin admitted it was the Russian military.

A referendum on the status of the peninsula was held on March 16, 2014, on the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol. Two days later Putin announced the "accession" of Crimea to Russia.

In Moscow, pro-Kremlin activists rallied on March 18 outside embassies of countries considered "unfriendly" to Russia.

The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia (The Young Guard) said that more than 5,000 people demonstrated outside the embassies of 20 "unfriendly" nations, including the United States, France, Germany, and Poland.

Around 400 activists gathered outside the U.S. Embassy holding posters with messages such as "Crimea with Russia forever" and "The United States, you sow death," according to AFP.

A similar demonstration of some 200 people took place outside the British Embassy, AFP reported.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Bosnian Police Prohibit LGBT Pride Event In Banja Luka

People take part in Sarajevo's third Pride Parade on June 25, 2022.

Police in Banja Luka, a city in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina, has prohibited an LGBT pride event, citing what it said were security concerns. A movie screening and a panel discussion about human rights, organized by the activist groups -- Bh. Pride March from Sarajevo and Geto from Banja Luka -- has been scheduled for March 18. A member of Bh. Pride March told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that it was disappointed with the decision. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Russia Launches Fresh Wave Of Drone Strikes In Ukraine After ICC Issues Arrest Warrant For Putin

A Ukrainian police officer takes cover in front of a burning building that was hit by a Russian air strike in Avdiyivka, Ukraine, on March 17.

Ukraine said Russia launched drone strikes in several areas of the country overnight after the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it had issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes.

The Ukrainian Air Force said Russia launched 16 attack drones early on March 18 and that 11 had been shot down by Ukrainian air-defense systems in the central, western and eastern regions. Among areas targeted were the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv region.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading for the Ukrainian capital, while Maksym Kozytskiy, the governor of the Lviv region, said six drones had targeted that area and three had been shot down.

In the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, a drone struck what was described as a "critical infrastructure facility, sparking a blaze.

Farther west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight in the city of Zaporizhzhya, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name.

According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and Russia's Bryansk Province, which borders Ukraine.

In its regular update on March 18, the Ukrainian military also said Russian forces over the previous 24 hours had launched 34 air strikes, one missile strike, and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire.

According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is continuing to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine's industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.

Elsewhere, three senior U.S. security officials held a video call with a group of their Ukrainian counterparts on March 18 to discuss military aid to Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff said.

WATCH: As Russian shelling continues, the few remaining residents say they're not going anywhere. Despite the risk to life and limb, Ukrainian civilians carry on in the city of Avdiyivka while the defending army says it's holding the line in this hot zone just southwest of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian Forces Fight Off 'Unlimited' Russian Attacks On The Donetsk Front
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"We discussed the further provision of necessary assistance to our country, in particular vehicles, weapons, and ammunition," Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.

He added that Zelenskiy had joined the meeting at the end to give his views on freeing Ukrainian territory occupied by invading Russian forces.

The ICC on March 17 said it had issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine, together with Russia's commissioner for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the ICC move was "justified," telling reporters in Washington that Putin had "clearly committed war crimes."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the questions raised by the ICC "outrageous and unacceptable" and noted that Russia, like many other countries, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.

In Ukraine, Zelenskiy called it a "historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin."

The deportation of Ukrainian children "means the illegal transfer of thousands of our children to the territory of a terrorist state," Zelenskiy said, adding this could not have taken place without an order from Putin.

"Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children on the territory of Russia, scattering them in remote regions -- all this is an obvious state policy of Russia, state decisions, and state evil, which begins precisely with the first official of this state," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address to the nation.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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