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Turkish Leader Warns U.S. On Arming Kurdish Militia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with U.S President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 16.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with U.S President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 16.

Turkey's president has warned the White House against moving forward with a plan to arm Kurdish militia fighters in Syria, even as he told U.S. President Donald Trump he wanted to repair strained relations between the two NATO allies.

In a joint appearance at the White House May 16, both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump struck an optimistic note about their discussions, with Erdogan saying that they were "laying the foundation of a new era."

But Erdogan said that Turkey will never accept U.S. collaboration with the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia battling Islamic State (IS) militants that the White House plans to arm.

Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Washington, along with the European Union, also consider PKK to be a terrorist organization.

Trump told reporters that his talks with Erdogan "will be very successful."

"We've had a great relationship and we will make it even better," he said.

The White House meeting came amid intense and complex diplomacy over the war in Syria, where Turkey and the United States both support forces in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

New Round Of Talks

A new round of Syria peace talks opened in Geneva on May 16, but hopes for a major breakthrough remain dim.

Five previous rounds of UN-backed negotiations aimed at ending a six-year conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people have failed to yield concrete results.

Trump's meeting with Erdogan also comes after Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed at separate talks in Kazakhstan on a plan to set up four "de-escalation zones" in Syria.

Rebels have criticized the plan and the United States has voiced reservations, citing concerns about Iran's role and pointing to the failure of past agreements whose stated intention was to decrease fighting.

Meanwhile, Erdogan, who pushed through a referendum strengthening his powers last month, also said he would pursue "to the end" Turkey's demand for Gulen's extradition.

The Turkish president blames the U.S.-based cleric's supporters for last year's failed coup, which was followed by a purge of tens of thousands of Turkish state employees accused of links to Gulen's network in a crackdown that has drawn criticism from Washington.

Gulen denies any involvement in the plot.

Ahead of the talks, rights activists and opponents of Erdogan urged Trump to raise the issue of human rights and democracy.

"Turkey is under a state of emergency since [the failed coup], during which human rights have been trampled on," said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a legislator from Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. "The media and press freedoms have been placed under government control. Torture and ill-treatment have increased."

Trump congratulated Erdogan after the referendum, while the State Department urged his government to "protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens" regardless of how they voted.

Lobbying For Reza Zarrab

In addition to the extradition of Gulen, Erdogan has also been seeking the release of Reza Zarrab, who is charged with acting as a go-between to help Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and other Tehran clients evade U.S. sanctions.

Court documents made public last month revealed that Zarrab's attorneys, led by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, met with Erdogan on the case in February and afterwards attempted to initiate Zarrab's release from jail through a diplomatic process. Erdogan has since openly called for Zarrab's release.

Giuliani's law firm is registered as a foreign agent for Turkey. A former prosecutor who advised Trump during his campaign, Giuliani appeared on a list of potential nominees for FBI director this week after Trump fired James Comey.

Guiliani's ties with both Trump and Turkey have been under intense scrutiny by the Manhattan judge in the Iran sanctions case, who asked at one point whether Giuliani was working for Erdogan or Zarrab. On May 15, the judge demanded to know more about Giuliani's ties to Trump.

'Political' Settlement?

Giuliani has spoken of trying to arrange a "political" settlement of the case between Washington and Ankara, using Zarrab's past associations with Erdogan as a bargaining chip.

In 2013, U.S. prosecutors say Erdogan pressured Turkish prosecutors to drop criminal charges in a high-level bribery case brought against Zarrab. Erdogan's pressure as then-prime minister resulted in the firing of the prosecutors who brought the charges against Zarrab.

U.S. prosecutors say the 2013 charges pertained to a massive bribery scheme executed by Zarrab involving the payment of tens of millions of dollars to cabinet-level Turkish officials and high-level bank officers in Turkey to facilitate Zarrab's transactions on behalf of Iran.

Ahmet S. Yayla, a professor at George Mason University in the United States and a former Turkish prosecutor, wrote in Modern Diplomacy this week that he believes Erdogan knows that "Zarrab is going to testify against him unless Turkey finds a way to save him from prison," Yayla said.

Yayla wrote that he believes Erdogan will use the U.S. lease on the vital Incirlik air base in southern Turkey as leverage to pressure Trump to accede to his demands.

With reporting by AP, Modern Diplomacy, and Deutsche Welle

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Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant's Grid Connection Cut In Another Reminder Of 'Precarious' Safety Situation

The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.
The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.

Ukraine and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said two power lines connecting the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant to the country’s electricity grid were cut overnight, again highlighting the risk of an accident at the plant.

The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.

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The plant, which stopped supplying electricity to the Ukraine's grid in September 2022, has been rocked by repeated shelling and drone attacks since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Although its six reactors have been shut down, it still needs power to operate cooling systems and other safety features.

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant "lost the connection to both of its external power lines," IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement, adding that this is the eighth time since the start of the war that the plant, Europe’s largest, suffered a complete offsite power outage.

The IAEA team at the site reported that the connection to its sole back-up 330 kilovolt power line was cut around 10:26 p.m. local time on December 1 due to "an external grid fault," Grossi said. This was followed around five hours later by the loss of the plant’s sole 750 kilovolt line -- its main supplier of external electricity.

The cause appeared to be in the outside grid far away from the plant, Grossi said.

"The most recent external power outage is yet another reminder about the precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the plant, which can be affected by events far away from the site itself," Grossi said.

The safety situation at the plant has been a source of concern since it was captured by Russian forces last year, and the two sides have accused each other of compromising its safety.

Enerhoatom, Ukraine's nuclear energy operator, said in its statement that due to the outage the plant switched to 20 diesel generators.

The IAEA said these generators automatically started operating and the staff at the plant, which includes a team of IAEA experts, then reduced the number in operation to eight, which is enough to ensure that the plant’s reactors have enough power for cooling.

The affected 750 kilovolt power line was reconnected shortly after 8 a.m. local time on December 1, and the eight diesel generators were being gradually shut down.

Enerhoatom said the plant was on "the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident" before off-site power was restored.

"The situation was actually saved by the prompt actions of Ukrainian specialists who restored power supply to the plant from the Ukrainian power grid," it said.

It was not possible to verify Ukraine's claims.

With reporting by AFP

Ukraine's Security Service Cancels Former President's Trip To Meet With Orban

Petro Poroshenko, who was Ukrainian president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.
Petro Poroshenko, who was Ukrainian president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.

Ukrainian border guards prevented former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko from leaving the country on what Poroshenko said was a business trip that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said was to start with a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The SBU said on December 2 that it believes that Russia intended to use the meeting, as well as other meetings of Ukrainian politicians with foreign officials, to spread a pro-Russian narrative.

Poroshenko's party, European Solidarity, pointed the finger back at the SBU, saying in a statement that it had “spread a false message” that the cancellation was related to the meeting with Orban. It also said that the “theoretical use of the conversation by Russian special services” was surprising.

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Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.

The SBU said in a statement that Poroshenko was turned back due to his planned meeting with Orban, whom the SBU said "systematically expresses an anti-Ukrainian position."

The SBU said it had received information indicating that Moscow planned to use the meeting "in its information and psychological operations against Ukraine." The purpose of such "provocations," it said, is to "reduce the support of foreign partners and try to split Ukrainian society."

Russia is trying to "change the mood in the partner countries" and encourage politicians to "declare narratives about the need for a negotiation process" with Russia, the statement added.

"According to the received counterintelligence data, it is in this context that information regarding the planned meeting of [Orban], who systematically expresses an anti-Ukrainian position, is a 'friend of Putin,' and calls for the lifting of sanctions from the Russian Federation," the SBU statement said.

After receiving the information, the SBU said it appealed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, the government, and the parliament proposing that this information be taken into account during the process of approving foreign missions of Ukrainian delegations.

Poroshenko said on the morning of December 1 that he was not allowed to leave Ukraine despite an order from the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada that clearly stated that the international business trip was from December 1-8.

Poroshenko said he had planned meetings at the highest level with representatives of the U.S. Congress and the Polish parliament. European Solidarity said in a statement that Poroshenko planned visits to only to the U.S. and Poland.

The party said it is surprising that the Ukrainian government would "justify the actual disruption of opposition leader Petro Poroshenko's visit to Washington with counterintelligence information from the SBU about the likelihood of a meeting between [Poroshenko and Orban]."

The SBU "spread a false message that the cancellation of the travel order signed by the head of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and the travel ban on Poroshenko on December 1 were related to the meeting with Orban," European Solidarity said.

The statement said that Poroshenko's position that there is no question of negotiations with Russia remains unchanged.

It also said that the actions of the SBU create "artificial additional tension" with Hungary, which as an EU member will soon vote on the start of accession talks between Ukraine and the EU in Brussels.

With reporting by AFP

Iran Says Two Revolutionary Guards Killed In Israeli Attack In Syria

Two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members who served as military advisers in Syria have been killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on December 2, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza. A Revolutionary Guards statement did not give details of the attack. Syria earlier said its air defenses repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on December 2.

Updated

Russian Shelling, Drone Strikes Cause Death, Damage In Ukraine's Donetsk, Kherson, And Odesa Regions

Aftermath of Russian shelling of the Donetsk region of Ukraine on November 30.
Aftermath of Russian shelling of the Donetsk region of Ukraine on November 30.

At least two civilians were killed in Ukraine's Donetsk and Kherson regions in shelling by Russian troops that also caused damage to infrastructure and property, regional officials said on December 2.

"One person died in Horlivka [in Donetsk], and six private homes plus three high-rise buildings and an industrial facility were damaged," the region's military administration said in its report, adding that two more people were wounded.

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In the southern region of Kherson, one civilian was killed and another one was wounded by Russian shelling and missile strikes. "Kherson region was struck 82 times with mortars, artillery, Grad missiles, tanks, aircraft and drones," regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram, adding that Russian troops targeted residential areas and an educational facility.

Russian troops also attacked the border region of Chernihiv, injuring civilians in the town of Semenivska in northern Ukraine, the regional military administration said in a statement.

A man suffered shrapnel wounds and was treated at a local hospital, the military administration's press service said.

His daughter, age 4, was injured and transported to a hospital where she will undergo an operation, the administration added. A 4-year-old grandson was not injured.

The heads of the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, and Mykolayiv regions also reported that civilian settlements in their region were hit by Russian shelling, but no civilians were wounded.
https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/news-obstrily-za-dobu-zahybli/32710974.html


The heads of the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, and Mykolayiv regions also reported civilian settlements in their region were hit by Russian shelling but no civilians were wounded.

Earlier on December 2, Russian troops attacked the southern region of Odesa with 11 Iranian-made kamikaze drones, the Ukrainian Air Force Command reported. Ukrainian air defense shot down 10 drones over Odesa and a guided missile in Dnipropetrovsk region, the Command said on Telegram, adding that the drones had been launched from Cape Chauda in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of Odesa region, said no one was wounded but the drone attack caused damages.

"Unfortunately, an infrastructure objective was hit. A fire broke out, which was quickly extinguished by rescuers," Kiper wrote on his Telegram channel, without elaborating.

Inclement weather compounded by Russian attacks on infrastructure facilities have left almost 500 settlements in western Ukraine without electricity, the country's Energy Ministry said in a statement on December 2.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 84 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said on December 2.

It said the fiercest clashes took place around the industrial hub of Avdiyivka in Donetsk, which Russian troops have been attempting to encircle for weeks.

General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, the Ukrainian commander near Avdiyivka, which is under his group's responsibility, said Russian forces have reduced the use of aviation in the area.

"The enemy has reduced the activity of aviation [and] artillery and the total number of combats. Russian forces continue to try to advance with infantry," he said, estimating losses at nearly 500 soldiers.

The battlefield claims could not be independently confirmed.

With reporting by AFP

Iranian Rapper's Violent Re-Arrest For Comments In Video Sparks Outrage

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.

The re-arrest of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has triggered a wave of outrage after reports that armed security agents beat the dissident while taking him into custody even though he is still recovering from being tortured during his previous prison time.

Police detained Salehi, a prominent voice in Iran's recent social and political movements, on November 30 on a street in Babol, northern Iran.

The Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, confirmed Salehi's re-arrest, alleging it was for "spreading lies and unverified statements on social media," a charge of disturbing public opinion.

Salehi had only been out for 12 days after enduring 252 days in solitary confinement and a total of one year and 21 days in prison on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests during the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.

Ye-One Rhie, a German parliamentarian and Salehi's political sponsor, criticized the "violent abduction," linking it to Salehi speaking out about his prison experience. Salehi has said he needs surgery because of injuries sustained from beatings and torture while he was incarcerated.


"When I say he was arrested, I mean he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped without any without any warning, without any identification, without any reasons given why he was beaten and why he was taken so violently," she said.

"To say that he used his time as a free man after he was released on bail to spread false rumors and to spread lies just because he was talking about his time in prison and his time in solitary confinement, that doesn't hold against any rule of law," the German lawmaker added.

Salehi was initially arrested in November 2022 after a period in hiding. His detention then immediately sparked significant attention and demands for his release, both domestically and internationally.

He was sentenced to more than six years in prison but released on November 18 after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence.” It sent the case back to a lower court for a reexamination and possible retrial.

Once out, Salehi produced a video where he described being injected with a substance, likely adrenaline, to prevent unconsciousness during torture. He recounted the severe beatings he endured, leading to broken hands and feet.

He also said in the video that he filed a complaint against the General Directorate of Intelligence in Isfahan, a claim disputed by the Mizan News Agency. However, Salehi's lawyer, Amir Raesian, contradicted Mizan's statement, affirming that a complaint had been filed over his treatment and was under consideration.

Nazanin Boniadi, an actress and prominent opponent of the Islamic republic, condemned Salehi's violent re-arrest, calling it "devastating."

Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

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

Congress Must Pass Aid For Ukraine To Avoid Interruption Of U.S. Support, White House Says

White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.
White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.

The U.S. Congress should act swiftly to provide aid to Ukraine before the end of the month to avoid an interruption in support provided by the United States, White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said.

"We need that assistance immediately so we can provide them assistance in an uninterrupted way," Kirby said on December 1 at a news briefing.

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"We have been consistently providing Ukraine with a truly unprecedented level of security support for over a year and a half. And we were able to provide this with incredible speed," Kirby said.

U.S. aid so far has amounted to $40 billion, and Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.

President Joe Biden last month submitted to Congress a request for more than $105 billion in defense aid, which included $61.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14.3 billion in aid to Israel, but the measure remains blocked.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) told reporters on November 28 that the U.S. Senate next week will begin consideration of a package that includes aid for Israel and Ukraine and he hopes it will achieve bipartisan support.

Schumer said the aid bill is needed even if there is no agreement on funding for border security measures that Republican lawmakers have demanded.

Kirby said every package provided by the U.S. and other countries to Ukraine thus far has been prepared based on comprehensive consultations with the Ukrainian military regarding their needs for its counteroffensive.

In response to a request for comment on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's assessment in an AP interview that "Ukraine did not get all the weapons it wanted," Kirby said, "Ukraine's desire to obtain more weapons is fully justified."

With reporting by Reuters

Azerbaijani Journalist Ordered Detained Amid Clampdown On Independent Media

Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova is the fourth journalist from the Abzas Media outlet to be arrested in recent days.
Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova is the fourth journalist from the Abzas Media outlet to be arrested in recent days.

Independent Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova has been ordered in detention for three months -- the latest journalist from the independent Abzas Media to be detained in a smuggling case that the outlet rejects as trumped up and rights groups say is a part of a crackdown on the outlet's "pioneering journalism" to root out corruption.

The Khatai District Court in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, ordered Absalamova detained on a charges of conspiring to smuggle foreign currency into the country after summoning her for interrogation on November 30.

Absalamova is the fourth journalist of Abzas Media arrested in recent days.

Abzas' director, Ulvi Hasanli, chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi, and employee Mahammad Kekalov were arrested less than two weeks ago after police claimed they found 40,000 euros ($43,800) in cash at the Abzas offices.

The journalists insist the case against them is trumped up in retaliation for reports about corruption among officials.

Critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's government say authorities in the oil-rich Caucasus state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil-society advocates on trumped-up charges.

The crackdown on Abzas Media has sparked a wave of condemnation from human rights groups and journalism watchdogs.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement for the immediate release of Absalamova and her colleagues.

"The continued arrests of Abzas Media journalists are unacceptable and only show how Azerbaijani authorities are unable to forgive the outlet for its bold anticorruption coverage," said CPJ's Carlos Martinez de la Serna.

"Journalists should not be prosecuted in retaliation for their vital public interest reporting, nor should they be used as pawns in diplomatic spats. Azerbaijani authorities must immediately release Nargiz Absalamova, her Abzas Media colleagues, and all other unjustly jailed journalists."

Amnesty International has demanded the journalists' immediate release, saying the government's campaign "fits into a pattern of critics being arrested by the authorities to stifle their dissent," while Human Rights Watch (HRW) chided Azerbaijani authorities for pursuing "dubious, punitive criminal charges against their critics."

Aliyev has repeatedly rejected criticism from rights groups and Western governments accusing him of jailing his opponents and abusing power to stifle dissent.

Earlier this week, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S., French, and German envoys to protest what it called "illegal financial operations" by organizations located in the three countries to support Abzas.

Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 2003, taking over for his father, Heydar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.

Ukraine Repels Russian Drone Attack On Odesa Region 

Broken windows are seen near the site of a Russian missile strike. (file photo)
Broken windows are seen near the site of a Russian missile strike. (file photo)

Russian troops attacked the Odesa region with 11 Iranian-made kamikaze drones overnight, the Ukrainian Air Force Command reported early on December 2. Ukrainian air defense shot down 10 drones over Odesa and a guided missile in Dnipropetrovsk region, the Command said on Telegram, adding that the drones had been launched from Cape Chauda in Russian-occupied Crimea. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Second Batch Of Ukraine Troops Finish Training On Patriot In Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with members of the Patriot air-defense system unit as he visits the Cologne-Bonn Air Force on October 23.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with members of the Patriot air-defense system unit as he visits the Cologne-Bonn Air Force on October 23.

Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, has trained a second group of Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot air-defense system. After more than six weeks, the training of around 70 men and women was nearing completion. The defense of Ukrainian airspace is a central task, said Lieutenant General Andreas Marlow, commander of the multinational Special Training Command, during a visit to the training site. He pointed out that Russian attacks were specifically directed against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Police Raid Gay Clubs, Saunas In Moscow As St. Petersburg Club Shuttered

LGBT activists protest in Moscow in July 2020. On November 30, Russia's Supreme Court declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist.
LGBT activists protest in Moscow in July 2020. On November 30, Russia's Supreme Court declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist.

Russian police have conducted raids on LGBT-friendly clubs and saunas in Moscow, the Caution, News site reported on its Telegram channel.

The overnight raids came just one day after the Supreme Court of Russia declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist and banned all its activities effective immediately in a closed-doors ruling at the Justice Ministry's on November 30.

One of the clubs raided by the police under the pretext of searching for drugs hosted a party for the LGBT community attended by about 300 people.

The police checked the attendees’ documents and photographed their ID cards before releasing them.

Anger, Despair After Russia's Supreme Court Outlaws 'LGBT Movement'
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Similar raids took place in at least two more Moscow nightclubs, a bar, and a sauna under the same pretext of searching for drugs.

Although no drugs were found, masked police officers searching the sauna made everyone lie on the floor face-down, Caution, Moscow quoted witnesses as saying.

In Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, the Central Station gay club was closed down.

“The site we rented refused to allow us to work because of the [new] law. We apologize, we are no longer in business,” the club said on the VKontakte social media site.

The raids came as it remains unclear what or whom the new regulation will affect given that no LGBT social movement is even registered in Russia.

Authorities claim the alleged LGBT movement is, among other things, stirring social and religious unrest.

Activists and rights defenders have warned the newly adopted legislation could lead to the blanket prosecution of not just activists but also those who seek shelter from homophobic violence under a threat of up to 10 years of imprisonment.

On December 1, the human rights initiative LGBT+ Cause announced that it was ending its Russia operation following the Supreme Court's ruling.

"Due to external circumstances, we are forced to announce the self-dissolution of our initiative and, accordingly, the cessation of activities" in Russia, LGBT+ Cause said on Telegram.

LGBT+ Cause has been active in protect the rights of people discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Swiss Have Frozen $8.8 Billion Of Russian Assets

Protesters rally against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine outside the United Nations in Geneva on February 26, 2022.
Protesters rally against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine outside the United Nations in Geneva on February 26, 2022.

Switzerland has frozen an estimated 7.7 billion Swiss francs ($8.81 billion) in financial assets belonging to Russians, the government said on December 1, under sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The figure, a provisional estimate, represented a slight increase from the 7.5 billion francs the Swiss government said it had blocked last year after the neutral country adopted European Union sanctions.

Polish, Ukrainian Ministers Meet To Seek Solutions To Trucker Blockade On Border

An aerial photo shows trucks standing in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border near the village of Hrebenne in southeastern Poland on November 27.
An aerial photo shows trucks standing in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border near the village of Hrebenne in southeastern Poland on November 27.

Ukrainian and Polish government officials met on December 1 in Warsaw to try to find ways to end a weekslong protest by Polish truckers who want the European Union to reintroduce entry permits for their Ukrainian competitors heading for EU countries.

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Polish transport companies have blocked three border crossings with Ukraine since November 6, demanding the reintroduction of the permits, which the EU waived after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

As the government officials seek solutions, Ukraine’s ombudsman pointed to the urgency of the situation, saying it was “catastrophic” for Ukraine, while Slovak haulers also joined the protest at border crossings from their country into war-torn Ukraine.

The officials agreed at the Warsaw meeting to open the Ugriniv-Dolgobychev checkpoint for the passage of empty trucks from Ukraine to increase the capacity at the border and reduce the load on other checkpoints, the Ukrainian Ministry of Community, Territory, and Infrastructure Development said on Facebook.

They also agreed to create lanes for empty vehicles at two other checkpoints on both the Ukrainian and Polish sides and to launch a pilot electronic registration project for one month at another checkpoint.

The ministry emphasized in its message on Facebook that the issue of canceling or making changes to the entry permit policy was not discussed and was not on the agenda.

The protest has resulted in huge lines on both sides of the border, leaving drivers stuck in their vehicles in cold temperatures and with little food. Kyiv on December 1 said that some 2,100 trucks trying to enter Ukraine were blocked on the Polish side.

Ukrainian rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said in a statement that the blockade has put Ukrainian drivers in such a dire situation that they plan to go on hunger strike if the situation is not improved.

"Blocking traffic on the border between Poland and Ukraine: the situation is catastrophic!" Lubinets said.

Ukrainian Truckers Still Stuck At Polish Border After Weeks Of Blockades
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Lubinets said he had contacted his Polish counterpart, Marcin Wiacek, but has not yet received a response.

The Warsaw meeting was between Jadwiga Emilewicz, Ukrainian deputy minister of community, territory, and infrastructure development, and Rafal Weber, Polish secretary of state of the Ministry of Infrastructure. Serhiy Derkach, a Ukrainian government commissioner for Polish-Ukrainian development cooperation, chaired the meeting.

Ukraine rejects the Polish protesters’ demands, saying they are discriminatory. The Ukrainian ministry said this was confirmed on November 30 in a meeting of the Ukraine-Poland-EU Coordination Platform, adding that it is working with the European Commission to develop “strategic solutions that will resolve the situation with queues at the border and reduce tension in the issue of road transportation.”

The Federation of Employers of Ukraine and the Association of International Motor Carriers last month appealed to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding the blockade, which the association estimated has cost the Ukrainian economy hundreds of millions of euros.

With reporting by AFP

U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Three Tankers And Their Owners For Shipping Russian Oil Above Price Cap

The sanctions target three entities and three oil tankers that the U.S. Treasury Department said carried Russian Urals crude above $70 per barrel, which exceeds the price cap by $10. (file photo)
The sanctions target three entities and three oil tankers that the U.S. Treasury Department said carried Russian Urals crude above $70 per barrel, which exceeds the price cap by $10. (file photo)

The United States on December 1 imposed additional sanctions related to the price cap on Russian oil agreed by the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations, the European Union, and Australia to curtail Russia’s revenue from seaborne oil shipments.

The sanctions target three entities and three oil tankers that the U.S. Treasury Department said carried Russian Urals crude above $70 per barrel, which exceeds the price cap by $10.

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the three vessels and the three entities shipped the oil using Western maritime services, such as transportation, insurance, and financing.

The G7 countries -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States -- set the $60 price cap on seaborne exports of Russian crude last December, and the European Union and Australia later agreed to join the mechanism, which bans Western companies from providing the services for oil sold above the cap.

The mechanism is designed to maintain a reliable supply of crude oil to the global market while reducing the revenues that Russia earns from oil, which it in turn uses to fund its war in Ukraine.

OFAC's action announced on December 1 is the third time in as many months that it has imposed sanctions against ships and their owners for carrying Russian oil priced above the cap.

Two companies based in the United Arab Emirates -- Sterling Shipping and Streymoy Shipping Limited -- are named by OFAC as the registered owners of two of the tankers designated. The other ship is registered to HS Atlantica Ltd based in Liberia.

The ships are blocked under the sanctions, while all property held by their registered owners in the United States is blocked and people in the United States and its jurisdictions are blocked from dealing with them.

"Enforcement of the price cap on Russian oil is a top priority for the United States and our Coalition partners," Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.

"By targeting these companies and their ships, we are upholding the dual goals of the price cap by restricting Russia’s profits from oil while promoting stable global energy markets."

The Treasury Department also issued a general license through February 29 authorizing limited safety and environmental transactions involving the targeted entities and vessels, including transactions necessary for their safe docking and anchoring.

With reporting by Reuters

NATO Chief Tells Turkey's Erdogan 'Time Has Come' To Let Sweden Join The Alliance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says he has told Turkey’s president that “the time has come” to let Sweden become a member of the military alliance. Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries that have not yet formally approved Sweden’s accession bid. Stoltenberg told the Associated Press that he urged Turkey to finalize the process as he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 1 on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

Uzbek Court Suspends Trial Over Deaths Of Children Linked To Cough Syrup To Identify More Suspects

The case investigated the deaths of at least 65 children who consumed a cough syrup made by Indian pharmaceuticals company Marion Biotech. (file photo)
The case investigated the deaths of at least 65 children who consumed a cough syrup made by Indian pharmaceuticals company Marion Biotech. (file photo)

Uzbekistan's Supreme Court said on December 1 that the Tashkent city court has suspended the trial of 21 people allegedly responsible for the deaths of at least 65 children who consumed a cough syrup made by Indian pharmaceuticals company Marion Biotech. According to the statement, the case was sent back to investigators to identify more suspects in the high-profile case, which shocked the Central Asian nation in 2022. The current defendants include the former head of the State Agency for Pharmaceutical Network Development and senior employees of Quramax Medical LLC, which imported the syrup to Uzbekistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, click here.

More Than 400 People Punished Under Shari'a Law In Afghanistan, Rights Group Says

The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts. (illustrative file photo)
The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts. (illustrative file photo)

Afghanistan's Taliban-led government announced punishments handed out to 417 people under Shari’a law during a recent 12-month period, according to a report issued this week by Afghan Witness, an organization that monitors human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

Afghan Witness collected the data by reviewing the announcements of Shari’a punishments posted on the website of the Taliban-led Supreme Court. The announcements, which were also were published on X, formerly Twitter, have been made public since the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada announced the return of Shari’a punishments in mid-November 2022.

Akhundzada had previously ordered a return to Islamic retribution and corporal punishments shortly after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Afghan Witness said in a statement on November 29 that it looked at punishments meted out between October 26, 2022 and October 26, 2023, and found 71 announcements handed down to 417 individuals.

It said this included nine “Qisas punishments” during the period, including two that resulted in the execution of alleged murderers, while the remaining seven were pardoned.

Qisas punishments are for offenses seen as violations of the boundaries set by God such as murder, theft, and adultery. Convicts can be executed, flogged, stoned to death, or have limbs amputated.

Afghan Witness said it has yet to record any stonings or amputations, but it said its sources in Afghanistan say there are stoning punishments awaiting approval by Akhundzada.

The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts.

The report said the punishments occurred in 22 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces from October 2022 through September 2023. A gender breakdown of the punished indicates that 220 men were punished compared with 57 women.

The organization also noted that while the sentences are often referred to as “public punishments,” their public nature is often limited.

“Although these punishments are carried out with an audience, including Taliban officials and citizens, they are often fulfilled behind closed doors, or under significant publication restrictions,” Afghan Witness said, adding that this leaves little visual evidence of the punishments being carried out.

The Taliban has framed its implementation of Shari’a punishments as “fair, righteous and desired by Afghanistan’s citizens” and claimed that the punishments act as a deterrent, Afghan Witness said.

After seizing power in August 2021 as U.S-led international forces withdrew from the country, the Taliban dismantled Afghanistan’s judicial system, suspended or scrapped all laws, and replaced judges, prosecutors, and lawyers.

Afghan Witness is a project to independently collect, preserve, and verify information on the human rights, security, and political situation in Afghanistan, according to its website.

The organization aims to provide a reliable source of information for international organizations, policymakers, and the media, and to “raise awareness of the reality of everyday life for Afghans living in the country.”

Popular Uzbek Blogger Gets Eight Years In Prison On Charges He Rejects

Olimjon Haidarov was arrested by masked security officers in July 2022.
Olimjon Haidarov was arrested by masked security officers in July 2022.

A court in Uzbekistan's eastern region of Ferghana sentenced blogger Olimjon Haidarov on December 1 to eight years in prison on charges of extortion, defamation, and libel. Haidarov, who was arrested in late July, has rejected the charges as politically motivated. Haidarov, a popular blogger in Uzbekistan, has raised the issue of the arrest of several bloggers on extortion charges in recent months. In December 2022, a court in Ferghana ordered him to pay a hefty fine for his online reporting of the country's energy shortages. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. click here.

Former Kazakh Security Chief's Cousin's Appeal Against 10-Year Prison Term Rejected

Nurlan Masimov formerly served as police chief of the northern Pavlodar region. (file photo)
Nurlan Masimov formerly served as police chief of the northern Pavlodar region. (file photo)

A court in Kazakhstan has rejected an appeal filed by a cousin of the jailed former head of Kazakhstan's Committee of National Security (KNB) against his conviction and 10-year prison term on charges of bribery and embezzlement.

Nurlan Masimov, 49, a cousin of former KNB chief Karim Masimov, served as police chief of the Pavlodar region in northern Kazakhstan before deadly anti-government protests in January last year that left at least 238 people dead, including 19 law enforcement officers.

The court ruling on December 1 upheld the verdict against Nurlan Masimov and his 10-year sentence. It also upheld the verdict and eight-year sentence handed to co-defendant Damir Sirazidimov, his former deputy, on bribery charges.

But the court cut by two years the seven-year prison term handed to Masimov's other co-defendant, businessman Yevgeny Yevkovich, on a charge of embezzlement.

Kazakh authorities said in July last year that Nurlan Masimov was detained while trying to cross the border into Russia using forged documents.

His cousin, Karim Masimov, a close ally of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev, is serving an 18-year prison sentence over his role in deadly events that followed unprecedented anti-government protests in the former Soviet republic in January 2022.

Karim Masimov's former deputies, Anuar Sadyqulov, Daulet Erghozhin, and Marat Osipov, were sentenced to 16, 15, and three years in prison respectively at the trial in April.

The 58-year-old Masimov was arrested along with Erghozhin and Sadyqulov days after the protests turned into deadly unrest. Osipov was arrested in February 2022.

The protests began in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen in January 2022 over a sudden fuel price hike. But the demonstrations quickly grew into broader unrest against corruption, political stagnation, and widespread injustice.

What's Behind The State Of Emergency And Protests Erupting Across Kazakhstan?
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Much of the protesters' anger appeared directed at Nazarbaev, who ruled Kazakhstan from 1989 until March 2019, when he handed power to President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev. However, Nazarbaev was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.

The protests were violently dispersed by police and military personnel, including troops of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization whom Toqaev invited into the country claiming that "20,000 extremists who were trained in terrorist camps abroad" had attacked Almaty.

The authorities have provided no evidence proving Toqaev’s claim about foreign terrorists.

With reporting by Tengrinews and Orda

Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner From 1980s Has Been Executed

Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)
Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)

An Iranian human rights group has reported the execution of Geda Ali (Hormoz) Saber Motlaq, a political prisoner from the 1980s, and Kamran Rezaei, who was detained during nationwide protests in 2019, amid a jump in capital punishment by authorities in Tehran following unrest triggered by the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Motlaq, 62, was initially arrested in the 1980s for affiliating with the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran and the alleged murder of an official of the Islamic republic. He was subsequently released due to insufficient evidence but was rearrested and sentenced to death after returning to Iran in 2020, despite a lack of concrete evidence against him.

The nature of the charges leading to Motlaq's execution, analysts say possibly Qesas (retributive justice) or for other accusations such as "Moharebeh" (enmity against God), remains unclear. He consistently denied any involvement in the alleged murder.

Rezaei, Iran Human Rights said, was hanged on November 30 in Shiraz Central Prison, and warned it expects more protesters to be executed.

“Political prisoners including protesters are at serious risk of execution," Iran Human Rights Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"Further silence from the international community is not acceptable. The current leaders of the Islamic republic have a history of massacring political prisoners and committing crimes against humanity. It is only the high political cost from the international community that has prevented them from repeating these atrocities.”

Rezaei, a political prisoner, was accused of the "premeditated murder" of a Basij paramilitary member and coerced under torture to confess.

Executions have jumped in Iran this year, according to rights groups and the United Nations.

Earlier in November, a UN report said executions jumped 30 percent in the first seven months of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying information received by the UN human rights office “consistently indicated that the judicial proceedings did not fulfil the requirements for due process and a fair trial under international human rights law.”

Iran Human Rights said that, so far this year, more than 700 people have been executed in Iran, with a marked increase in recent months.

Two days before Rezaei's execution, Hani Shahbazi was executed in Sepidar Prison, Ahvaz. He also was accused of "enmity against God" following the alleged premeditated murder of law enforcement and Basij paramilitary members in 2019.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

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

Second Train In Days Explodes On Main Russian Railway Line In Siberia

A fire glows in the distance after an apparent explosion on Russia's Baikal-Amur Main Line.
A fire glows in the distance after an apparent explosion on Russia's Baikal-Amur Main Line.

A second train has exploded on Russia's main railway line in the Siberian region of Buryatia in recent days. A person who witnessed the November 30 explosion confirmed media reports about the blast on the Baikal-Amur Main Line, saying the explosion occurred on the segment bypassing the Severomuisk tunnel, where a train also exploded one day earlier. Ukrainian media reports cited sources in law enforcement and military entities as saying that the second train exploded while on a bridge by the tunnel. Russian officials have yet to comment on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Fails To Get Elected To UN Ship Agency's Governing Council

The official emblem of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York. (file photo)
The official emblem of the United Nations at UN headquarters in New York. (file photo)

Russia failed on December 1 to win enough votes for reelection to the United Nation's shipping agency's governing council after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had urged countries not to allow Moscow to be part of the UN body's executive arm. The outcome is another blow for Russia after it failed in its bid to return to the UN's top human rights body in October, in an election seen as a key test of Western efforts to keep Moscow isolated. Last year Moscow also failed to win enough votes for reelection to the UN aviation agency's governing council.

Museum Of Prominent Gulag Survivor In Russia's Far East Shut Down

Russian writer and gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov
Russian writer and gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov

Authorities in Russia's Far Eastern town of Debin have shut down a museum devoted to prominent writer Varlam Shalamov, who was widely known for his short stories about his years in a gulag in the Kolyma area, the most notorious part of the Soviet “correctional” system. RFE/RL correspondents reported on November 30 that the museum, located in a local hospital where Shalamov was successsfully treated for starvation-related illnesses in 1943, was closed following debate around the building's possible demolition. In the end, the building was not condemned, but the museum was shut. Regional authorities have refused to comment. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Orban Says Ukraine's EU Accession Not Currently In Hungary's Interest

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said opening European Union accession negotiations with Ukraine is not currently in Budapest's interest and that the 27-member bloc should opt instead for a "strategic partnership" with the war-wracked country.

In a progress report last month, the European Commission -- the bloc's executive body -- recommended opening EU accession negotiations with Ukraine once it meets the required conditions after gaining candidate status together with much smaller Moldova in June last year.

Orban, a right-wing populist who has maintained warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long been at odds with the EU over rule-of-law and corruption concerns and has seen the bloc freeze 22 billion euros ($24 billion) in cohesion funds for Hungary until it introduces judicial and human rights reforms.

In his weekly interview with Hungarian state radio on December 1, Orban said opening membership talks with Kyiv does not coincide with Hungary's interests and we "dare say it, no matter how much pressure they put on us," in an apparent reference to alleged interference from Brussels.

"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.

"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.

Orban again spoke against continuing giving Ukraine financial aid, in what critics see as an attempt by Budapest to blackmail the EU into releasing its frozen cohesion funds in exchange for Hungary not using its veto power as the European Commission seeks unanimous support to ensure a 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) revision of the bloc's budget that would include 50 billion euros for Ukraine.

"Europe has economic problems but in the meantime throws money away -- it sends wagonloads of weapons and money to Ukraine," Orban said.

Orban and his government have repeatedly spoken against the bloc's giving military aid to Ukraine to fight Russia's unprovoked aggression, arguing that such aid would only prolong the war.

The EU will hold a summit on December 14-15.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Kara-Murza Fined For Failing To Follow 'Foreign Agent' Requirement

Vladimir Kara-Murza
Vladimir Kara-Murza

A court in Moscow on December 1 fined imprisoned Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza for a "violation of the law on foreign agents" because while incarcerated he failed to report every three months to the Justice Ministry about his activities due to his designation as a "foreign agent."

The Zamoskvorechye district court ordered Kara-Murza to pay 50,000 rubles ($560) for not filing a report to the Justice Ministry.

Kara-Murza's lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, told the Business FM radio station that since her client is serving a 25-year prison term in a Siberian penal colony, he was unable to file reports with the ministry. Stavitskaya added that her client, who took part in the hearing via a video link, said he would not file any reports even if he was at home because he considers the law on "foreign agents" in "contradiction" of the constitution.

On the same day, Ilya Yashin, another jailed opposition politician, was fined 45,000 rubles ($505) by the Babushkinsky district court because five reports on his YouTube Channel last year did not have a "foreign agent" marking.

The reports about Russian President Vladimir Putin were published on YouTube when Yashin was already being held in custody. The YouTube channel is moderated by Yashin's associates.

Yashin, who took part in the hearing via video link, said the court's ruling "has no meaning" as "the 'foreign agent' label will not get stuck on me despite propaganda’s efforts."

"Nobody will be able to frighten and muzzle me. Most importantly, nobody will be able to break my faith in Russia and its people," Yashin said.

Since 2012, Russia has used its so-called "foreign agent" laws to label and punish critics of government policies. It also has been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The "foreign agent" law allows authorities to label nonprofit organizations and individuals as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activities.

Kara-Murza, 42, was initially arrested in April 2022 after returning to Russia from abroad and charged with disobeying a police officer.

He was later charged with discrediting the Russian military, a charge stemming from Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and a Kremlin push to stamp out criticism of the subject. He was later additionally charged with treason over remarks he made in speeches outside Russia that criticized Kremlin policies.

In April this year, Kara-Murza was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Yashin, 40, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison on a charge of spreading false information about the Russian military amid its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by Business FM, Mediazona, and RFE/RL's Russian Service

Hundreds Of Kyrgyz Vendors Protest Plan To Introduce New Taxation System

 The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place.
The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place.

Hundreds of Kyrgyz vendors at marketplaces across the Central Asian nation rallied on November 30 to protest the government's plan to introduce a new taxation system as of January 1 that will increase taxes overall. The protesters demanded that the previous system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. According to the government's plan, vendors will be obliged to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. Bishkek police said on December 1 that one demonstrator, who allegedly attacked a city official, had been detained. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

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