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U.S. Official: Trump To Expand Travel Ban To Six More Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump will issue an expanded version of his travel ban on January 31, a U.S. official said, a decision that could impact thousands of immigrants.

The issuance of visas that can lead to permanent residency for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania will be suspended, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said during a call with reporters on January 31.

The targeted immigrant visas are distinct from nonimmigrant visas typically issued to visitors, which will not be impacted by the ban, Wolf said.

It is not a total travel ban, unlike Trump’s earlier effort that generated outrage around the world for unfairly targeting Muslims.

Wolf said the six countries failed to meet U.S. security and information-sharing standards, which prompted the new restrictions. The issues mentioned by Wolf ranged from subpar passport technology to a failure to adequately exchange information on terrorism suspects and criminals.

"These countries, for the most part, want to be helpful," Wolf said, "but for a variety of different reasons simply failed to meet those minimum requirements that we laid out."

Belarus, which had been considered for inclusion in the expanded travel ban, took measures to correct deficiencies lately and will not face visa restrictions, Wolf said.

The original travel ban -- issued during Trump's first week in office in January 2017 -- barred nearly all immigrants and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. The policy was revised amid court challenges, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in June 2018.

The existing version of the ban includes the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. North Korea and Venezuela also face visa restrictions.

Wolf said those restrictions will remain in place.

Immigration crackdown is a central topic of Trump's 2020 reelection campaign.

In 2015, during Trump's campaign for president, he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

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Reports Say Russian Ammunition Depot in Northern Crimea Hit By Explosion; Residents Being Evacuated

Refat Chubarov, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatar community, said in a Facebook post that the explosion occurred at an ammunition depot. (file photo)

Russian news reports say that an ammunition storage unit in northern Crimea was hit by an explosion, and local residents were being evacuated.

Video and photographs posted to Telegram and other social media showed the blast occurring early August 16 in the Dzhanskoi district of the Russian-occupied Black Sea peninsula, not far from the administrative border with mainland Ukraine.

TASS, Interfax, and RIA-Novosti quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying the explosion occurred at a temporary storage facility for ammunition. No casualties were immediately reported.

Refat Chubarov, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatar community, also said in a post to Facebook that the explosion occurred at an ammunition depot.

The explosion comes roughly a week after a series of explosions tore through Russia’s Saky air base, in a western district of Crimea, destroying a number of Russian warplanes.

There’s been no confirmation as to what caused those explosions, though most observers suggest Ukrainian forces were responsible.

With reporting by Crimea.Realities, a project of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service

Iran Says It's Responded To Final EU Nuclear Proposal; Details Unclear

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by local media as saying that the American side had "verbally accepted" two demands made by Tehran. (file photo)

Iran says it has responded to a final European Union-brokered proposal on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, though details of the response were not immediately released.

The official IRNA news agency reported on August 16 that negotiators had submitted their reply and suggested that Tehran still wouldn't accept the EU proposal, despite warnings there would be no more negotiations.

“The differences are on three issues, in which the United States has expressed its verbal flexibility in two cases, but it should be included in the text,” the IRNA report said. “The third issue is related to guaranteeing the continuation of (the deal), which depends on the realism of the United States.”

"Iran has submitted a written response to the draft text of a Vienna agreement and has announced that an agreement will be concluded if the United States reacts with realism and flexibility," the agency reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted earlier quoted by IRNA as saying that "the American side has verbally accepted the two demands" made by Tehran.

The possibility of reviving the deal, which could lead to the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil output, has helped trigger a fall in global oil prices.

The landmark agreement has been on hold since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018, and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The main countries negotiating with Iran have been waiting for Tehran's response to the final draft which was submitted by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week.

IRNA quoted an unidentified Iranian diplomat as saying that "the European Union's proposals were acceptable so long as they provide assurances to Iran on various points related to sanctions and safeguards" as well as pending issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia resumed talks with Iran on the accord earlier in August after a months-long hiatus. The United States has been participating indirectly.

With reporting by AP and AFP

DJ In Russia-Annexed Crimea Jailed For Using Ukrainian Song Clip

The man who was identified as a DJ in the cafe acknowledged that a customer had asked him to play the video in question. (illustrative photo)

A court in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea has sentenced a local DJ to 10 days in jail for playing a video clip of a song by Ukrainian rapper Yarmak.

The Lenin district court in Crimea said on August 15 that a Russian citizen in the town of Shcholkine was sentenced to 10 days in jail for playing the clip of the song "The Wild Field," which it said contains "the Nazi symbols of the Azov regiment that is banned in Russia," in a local cafe.

The man who was identified as a DJ in the cafe acknowledged that a customer had asked him to play the video in question.

Earlier, local media showed a video in which a man who introduced himself as Dmitry Gent said he had requested the clip.

Another video by media showed the DJ, who identified himself as Yury Radionov, saying that he had never seen the video and had no idea about its content before he played it at the customer’s request.

Created in 2014 as the Azov Battalion after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the Azov Regiment is a far-right, volunteer group that is part of Ukraine’s National Guard. It espouses an ultranationalist ideology that U.S. law enforcement has linked to neo-Nazi extremism. But supporters see it as a patriotic and effective segment of the country’s defense forces, particularly since the all-out invasion by Russian forces began in February.

Russia falsely claims that Ukraine is controlled by Nazis and used that allegation among its justifications for its unprovoked invasion.

The Azov Regiment fought Russian troops for months in the southern city of Mariupol before around 2,500 fighters surrendered in mid-May.

On August 2, the Supreme Court of Russia designated the Azov Regiment as a "terrorist" organization.

RFE/RL Urges Ukraine To Probe Who's Behind Alleged Surveillance Of Commentator Portnikov

Ukrainian journalist and RFE/RL contributor Vitaliy Portnikov (file photo)

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has urged a thorough and transparent investigation after the discovery of a listening device in the apartment where a political commentator for its Ukrainian Service was living in the Lviv region of Ukraine.

Prominent Ukrainian journalist and longtime contributor to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Vitaliy Portnikov filed a report with the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) after discovering the device in his rental apartment on August 10.

SBU agents inspected Portnikov's apartment and removed the equipment.

They say they are still working to establish the capabilities of the device and how it got there.

“We urge Ukrainian authorities to investigate the possible surveillance of Vitaliy Portnikov thoroughly and transparently,” Fly, the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster's president and CEO, said in a statement on August 15. “A free press means freedom from harassment and intimidation. It is important that democratic governments ensure that journalists are not targeted for their work, even during a time of war.”

Ukraine is in the midst of all-out war against Russian forces who rolled across the border unprovoked on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on an eight-year conflict that began with the annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Putin and his authorities have waged an intense crackdown on dissent and criticism of a war that Kremlin calls a "special military operation," including a battle for global opinion.

Kyiv has also mobilized its intelligence resources to fight what it says is "hybrid warfare" by the Russians.

Death Toll From Yerevan Market Explosion Rises To 16

The explosions at the market in Yerevan sparked a devastating fire.

Emergency officials said the death toll from a fire triggered by an apparent fireworks explosion in Yerevan rose to 16, as searchers continued to look for victims and survivors.

Emergency Situations Minister Armen Pambukhchian said in a post to his official Facebook account on August 16 that another 18 people, including an Iranian citizen and a Russian citizen, were still unaccounted for.

A blast and subsequent fire at the Surmalu market, about 2 kilometers south of Yerevan's center, sent a cloud of smoke over the capital on August 14. The explosion occurred in an area where fireworks and other pyrotechnics were stored.

Officials have signaled that the blast appeared to be accidental and not the result of terrorism.

Painter Of Iconic Brezhnev-Honecker 'Kiss' On Berlin Wall Dies At 62

Artist Dmitry Vrubel touches up his famous mural in Berlin in April 2014.

Dmitry Vrubel, the author of the iconic painting on the Berlin Wall depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany's communist leader, Erich Honecker, has died in the German capital at the age of 62.

Chief editor of The Art Newspaper Russia, Milena Orlova said on Facebook that Vrubel died late on August 14.

Titled "My God! Help Me Survive This Deadly Love," Vrubel's painting on the remains of the Berlin Wall became a symbol of Germany's unification in 1990.

Sometimes also referred to as "The Fraternal Kiss,' the graffiti artwork became enormously popular and has decorated souvenirs in Germany ever since.

In 2009, Vrubel's painting was removed from the wall's remains, but the artist painted it again.

In June, Vrubel was hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. In early August, he underwent heart surgery.

Vrubel had lived in Germany since 1990.


Russia-Backed Separatists Say Swede, Croat, Briton In Ukraine Face Possible Death Penalty

The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic said the five men would be charged with being mercenaries. (file photo)

Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk have charged five foreigners captured in Ukraine with being mercenaries in a trial process that began on August 15, Russian media said.

The Russian TASS news agency quoted the judge in the case as saying the charges against three of the men -- Swede Matias Gustavsson, Croat Vjekoslav Prebege, and Briton John Harding -- carry the death penalty.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Reports said all five pleaded not guilty to charges of mercenary activities and training to "seize power by force."

The separatist-administered court's next hearing for the five is reportedly scheduled for October.

The leaders of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) last week accused Gustavsson, Prebeg, Harding, and Britons Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy of joining Ukraine's armed forces.

They said the five would be charged with being mercenaries, preparing for terrorist activities, and activities aimed at seizing power.

Last month, Britain's Foreign Office condemned the “exploitation” of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes following the capture of Healy and Hill. Another Briton, Paul Ury, who was captured along with Healy and Hill, died in the separatists' custody.

In early June, two other Britons -- Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner -- and a Moroccan national -- Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death by the separatists.

All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by pro-Russia separatists while fighting Russian forces.

Britain, the United Nations, Ukraine, and Germany condemned the death sentences, and the European Court of Human Rights warned Moscow that it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out.

The British government insists that, as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

The Ukrainian government has set up a recruitment channel and Westerners have been traveling to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia's unprovoked invasion or to assist in providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in wartime.

With reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL's Russian Service

Navalny Says He's Been Placed In Solitary As Retaliation For Starting A One-Man Union

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny says he was placed in punitive solitary confinement for violating prison dress code by having an unbuttoned jacket, a punishment in retaliation for his decision to set up a one-man labor union in the penal colony.

Navalny said on social media on August 15 that the penal colony's acting warden handed him three days in solitary, but warned it could be prolonged if he "does not change his attitude."

An extension would mean Navalny wouldn't be able to meet his family in September at a scheduled three-day visit that is given to inmates three times a year.

Last week, Navalny said he had established a labor union -- of which he is the sole member -- and managed to have stools that were hurting the backs of inmates seated at sewing machines replaced with proper chairs.

Navalny was arrested in January last year upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with what European labs said was a Soviet-style nerve agent.

He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.

In March, Navalny was sentenced in a separate case to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt of court charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated.

He was transferred in June to Correctional Colony No. 6 in the town of Melekhovo in the Vladimir region east of Moscow after the Moscow City Court rejected his appeal against the nine-year jail term.

Navalny is still able to use Telegram and other social media through his representatives.

Iranian President Signs Decree Further Restricting How Women Can Dress

Under the new order, "violators" will be fined and female government employees will be fired if their social media profile pictures do not conform to Islamic laws. (file photo)

An order by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to enforce the country's hijab and chastity law has resulted in a new list of restrictions on how women can dress.

The IRIB news agency, which is affiliated with Iranian state television, quoted Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani as saying at the National Conference of Hijab and Chastity on August 14 that under the new order, "violators" will be fined, while female government employees will be fired if their social media profile pictures do not conform to Islamic laws.

Golpayegani is the secretary of Iran’s "Headquarters for Enjoining Right and Forbidding Evil," which is responsible for determining and enforcing behavioral models in society.

Based on the new Hijab and Chastity law, women who publish their pictures without a hijab on the Internet will be deprived of some social rights for six months to one year.

The news comes amid recent reports that authorities in Iran are increasingly cracking down on women deemed to be in violation of wearing the hijab, which is mandatory in public in Iran.

In recent weeks, women judged not to be in compliance have been barred from entering government offices, banks, or riding on public transportation.

The notorious Guidance Patrols, or morality police, have become increasingly active and violent. Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, forcing them into vans, and whisking them away.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over nine years of age after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

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

Another Belarusian Activist Gets Prison Term Over His Anti-Lukashenka Views

Belarusian activist Mikita Palyayonak (file photo)

A Belarusian activist has been handed a prison term for his criticism of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his regime.

The Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center said on August 15 that the Vitsebsk regional court in the country's east sentenced 28-year-old Mikita Palyayonak to four years in prison after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, organizing an extremist group, and inciting hatred.

It is not clear how Palyayonak pleaded.

Also, on August 15, the Hrodna regional court in the country's west started the trial of Dzyanis Ivashyn, who was arrested in March last year.

Ivashyn's trial is being held behind closed doors, though diplomats from the embassies of Austria, Britain, and the Czech Republic were allowed into the hearing. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Belarusian human rights organizations have recognized Ivashyn as "a political prisoner."

Many in Belarus have faced trials since a disputed presidential election in August 2020, with authorities brutally suppressing dissent in any form.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the 2020 vote was rigged to extend Lukashenka's rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Many of Belarus's dissident leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.

U.S. Basketball Star Griner Appeals Russian Conviction Amid Reported Talks On Prisoner Swap

U.S. basketball start Brittney Griner (file photo)

Brittney Griner has appealed her nine-year sentence for drug possession in a Russian court, as reports suggest talks are continuing between Moscow and Washington over a possible prisoner swap involving the U.S. women's basketball star .

Griner's lawyers were quoted by Russian media as saying she was requesting an acquittal or a reduced sentence.

A two-time Olympic champion and six-time Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) all-star, the 31-year-old Griner has been in Russian detention since police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. She was returning at the time to Russia, where she has competed since 2014.

Griner admitted in court to an "honest mistake" in packing the cartridges.

U.S. President Joe Biden has assigned a hostage negotiator to Griner's case and said his administration is "working hard" toward her release.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said early this month that Washington would "pursue" Russia's offer -- expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- to discuss at the presidential level a possible prisoner swap.

U.S. officials have said their proposal also involves former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he denies.

News reports suggest a deal could involve jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

CNN has quoted multiple sources as saying that the Russian side is also pressing for the handover of Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) who was convicted last year of murder in Germany in the death of an emigrant Chechen former fighter.

Based on reporting by, AP, and Interfax

Iranian Activist Rezaei Still In Custody Despite Being Granted Bail

Iranian student activist Ronak Rezaei (file photo)

Ronak Rezaei, an Iranian student and labor activist arrested in May during protests over the deadly collapse of a building, remains in prison despite being granted bail by a court.

Sources with knowledge of the situation told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on August 14 that a court had set bail for Rezaei, but Iranian "security and judicial institutions" had obstructed her release and the situation remains unresolved because the judge involved in the case is on a pilgrimage to the hajj.

Rezaei was arrested in a raid on her home after the collapse of the partially finished 10-story Metropol building on May 23, in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 43 people. Accusations that the accident was caused by government negligence and endemic corruption sparked protests.

Rezaei spent about a month in the detention center of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) before being transferred to Sepidar prison in Ahvaz on July 2.

Farzane Zilabi, Rezaei's lawyer, has called the proceedings against her client "propaganda."

According to Zilabi, the judicial authorities did not allow her to be with her client during the court proceedings.

Rezaei is a master's student in cultural studies at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran. She was in Abadan to do research on her thesis.

The collapse of a large section of the Metropol building, which was under construction, was one of Iran's deadliest such disasters in years.

Authorities have blamed the accident on isolated corruption and lax safety standards. So far, 13 people are reported to have been arrested for construction violations.

In recent years there have been several cases of buildings collapsing in Iran. Experts largely attribute the incidents to a disregard for safety standards and corruption in urban management.

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

Moscow Court Launches Bankruptcy Proceedings For RFE/RL's Entity in Russia

RFE/RL had to close its Moscow bureau in March after 30 years operating in the Russian capital.

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has begun bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity, RFE/RL LLC, after local tax authorities initiated the process earlier this year, a move that prompted the broadcaster to suspend operations in the country.

The Arbitration Court of Moscow ruled on August 15 to start bankruptcy proceedings, which were initiated by the Federal Tax Service on March 4, saying that RFE.RL LLC owes some 7 million rubles ($112,000) to the tax authorities for 2021.

RFE/RL LLC in Moscow represents RFE/RL's interests in Russia. It was established in 2020 due to Russia's controversial law on "foreign agents."

The bankruptcy proceedings stem from Russian media regulations requiring that RFE/RL and other outlets deemed “foreign agents” mark themselves as such with a lengthy notice in large text for all written materials, an audio statement with all radio materials, and a text declaration with all video materials.

They also coincided with a new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that took effect on March 5 and allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who distribute "false news" about the Russian Army at a time when Moscow had invaded neighboring Ukraine.

RFE/RL has refused to comply with this mandate and since last year Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has filed more than a thousand administrative charges against RFE/RL LLC and its director, ordering them to pay almost 1 billion rubles ($16 million) in fines.

The official start of the bankruptcy proceedings was sparked because RFE/RL LLC was unable to pay its taxes because its bank accounts were blocked by court bailiffs last year.

RFE/RL considers Russia's law on foreign agents to be an expression of political censorship that does not allow journalists to carry out their professional activities. RFE/RL has appealed the Russian authorities' moves against its activities with Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Many international journalist organizations and foreign governments have expressed support for RFE/RL and freedom of speech in Russia.

In March, after 30 years of operations in the Russian capital, RFE/RL had to close its bureau there. Some 27 journalists contributing to RFE/RL's programs currently are listed in the Justice Ministry's registry of foreign agents.

Websites of RFE/RL's Russian Service and several of its projects, as well as their accounts on social networks, have been blocked in Russia.

Despite that, the popularity of RFE/RL's Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, remains very high.

In March, days after Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, more than 18 million Internet users visited Radio Svoboda's sites.

Since January, more than 100 million users have visited the sites.

Kyrgyz Blogger Detained Over Post Questioning Development Of Iron-Ore Mining

Kyrgyzstan's Jetim-Too mountain region

BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz blogger has been detained on a charge of making public calls for mass disorder and violence after he posted online materials questioning the legality of the government's plans to develop iron-ore mining in the Central Asian nation's Jetim-Too mountain region.

The Interior Ministry said on August 15 that 19-year-old Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev was detained a day earlier after investigators questioned him regarding his post on a Facebook account called Polit Uznik (Political Prisoner).

The ministry did not specify which post sparked the teen's detention, saying only that "recently, many disputes appear regarding the development of iron-ore mines at Jetim-Too," adding that the Polit Uznik account in Facebook distributes "controversial, false information."

Polit Uznik posted a handwritten statement from Jekshenaliev while in custody in which he calls the case again him "100 percent politically motivated."

Polit Uznik also said the post in question was an old video in which a former security chief raises environmental issues when talking about the government’s

On August 14, President Sadyr Japarov condemned unspecified "defenders" of the environment in the region, calling them "false patriots and liars."

Japarov, who initiated the project to develop iron-ore mining in Jetim-Too, called on law enforcement "to work" with such persons. He did not elaborate.


Iran Hints Nuclear Deal Near As U.S. Says It's Responding Privately To EU 'Final Text'

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

The United States said on August 15 that it would respond privately to the European Union's "final draft" of a text to salvage the hobbled nuclear deal with Iran, as the international community awaited a response from Iran amid signals that Tehran might eventually sign off on the proposal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by state agency IRNA as saying "the American side has verbally accepted
Tehran's "two demands."

He did not specify what "demands" he was referring to, and the statement appeared to fly in the face of tough words from Washington.

But Amir-Abdollahian vowed that Tehran would send its "final proposals in writing by midnight" on August 15. It was unclear late on August 15 whether those proposals had been sent.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has served as coordinator for the long-stalemated talks between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 deal.

"If our opinion is accepted, we are ready to conclude and announce the accord at a meeting of foreign ministers," Amir-Abdollahian said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington's reaction would not be made publicly but would go directly to Borrell.

Price also said the only path to a return to the agreement was if Tehran stopped making "extraneous demands."

Public stagnation in the talks on renewing the deal exchanging sanctions relief for curbs on Iran's nuclear activities have given way to hints in recent weeks that a deal is within reach.

Amir-Abdollahian said recently the coming days were important in finding a solution to the remaining issues holding up a final deal, and called on Washington to show some "flexibility" to allow the talks to move forward.

"We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months, or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.... We have told them that our red lines should be respected," Amir-Abdollahian said, according to the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Borrell said on August 8 that a 25-page draft had been delivered to the capitals involved for decisions on acceptance.

The draft, according to Borrell's spokesman, was a "final text" that needed a yes-or-no answer from all of the participants, as there was "no more space for negotiations."

The State Department has previously indicated that the United States was ready to "quickly conclude a deal" to revive the 2015 agreement based on the EU proposals.

The spokesman said Washington will wait to see if Tehran's "actions match their words" following repeated signals that Iranian officials might endorse the deal.

Iran has so far said it is considering the draft amid "more comprehensive discussions in Tehran."

Amir-Abdollahian said that "like Washington, we have our own plan B if the talks fail."

Enrique Mora, the European Union’s top negotiator, has said he's “absolutely” optimistic about the talks’ progress.

Iran struck the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Washington unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear pact under then-President Donald Trump in 2018. Iran reacted by gradually backtracking on its obligations under the deal, such as uranium enrichment.

Negotiators from Iran, Russia, and the EU -- as well as the United States, indirectly -- resumed talks over Tehran’s nuclear deal on August 4 after a months-long standstill in negotiations.

With reporting by Fars and Reuters

Kosovo Walks Back Power Cutoffs To Consumers Amid Energy 'Emergency'

KEDS noted that under the system, consumers will receive electricity for six hours, then supplies will be cut for two hours. (file photo)

Kosovar authorities say electricity supplies have resumed as normal after its main power distributor announced periodic brownouts starting on August 15 that it blamed on high import costs and production woes.

Nonetheless, officials in the Balkan state signaled that there would be challenges ahead as a result of the current "energy crisis and state of emergency."

"Regular electricity supply is back," the Kosovar Economy Ministry said on Facebook.

It credited cooperation between the local KEK energy company and its counterpart in neighboring Albania for resolving the immediate problem.

"Institutions will continue to do their best to maintain regular electricity supply in the coming days," the ministry said.

"However, given the situation, they ask all citizens and businesses to take frugal measures and be as careful as possible in using electricity."

Kosovo's electricity distribution company KEDS had warned that it would limit power supplies to customers from August 15 to six hours on and two hours off due to flagging local production and the high cost of importing electricity from abroad.

KEDS said in a statement that it was informed by the national grid operator KOSTT that the cuts were necessary because it will have to rely solely on domestic production for supplies.

It has been pushing regulators to allow price hikes for consumers.

The Economy Ministry said "cooperation with Albania will be followed by other measures to address the energy crisis and the state of emergency we are in."

Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants rely mainly on two aging coal-fired power plants for domestic electricity production. Some of the output has been limited due to scheduled summer maintenance at the plants.

European electricity prices reached record highs in the first week of August as a prolonged heat wave across the continent disrupted power markets that were already under strain from Russia’s cuts to the continent’s gas supplies amid its war with Ukraine.

With reporting by Koha

Heavy Shelling Reported In Donetsk Region As Ukrainian Forces Make Gains In Kherson

Ukrainian soldiers fire toward Russian troops at a position in the Donetsk region on August 12.

Heavy shelling by Russian forces in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk was reported overnight, with officials in Kyiv saying they are managing to repel many of the attacks while recapturing ground in the southern Kherson region.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his overnight address late on August 14 that despite the heavy and constant bombardment by Russian forces, "We must fight at all levels and on all fronts, strengthen our state as much as possible, preserve our unity, and attract even more countries to our anti-war coalition.

"The stronger Ukraine will be, the weaker Russia will be, and therefore, the less time this war will last," he said in the address, noting Kyiv is pushing for new sanctions against Russia by the international community, especially ones that target the movement of Russian citizens.

For several weeks, Ukraine's military has tried to lay the groundwork for a counteroffensive to reclaim southern Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea and fell to the Russians soon after the February 24 invasion.

Particularly heavy fighting has focused on the village of Pisky, near Donetsk Airport, according to the British Defense Ministry, which said on August 15 that it is likely Moscow is in the advanced planning stages to hold a referendum aimed at making the region part of Russia, "though it is unclear if the final decision to go ahead with a vote has yet been taken."

"The Kremlin will likely see the military’s failure to occupy the entirety of Donetsk Oblast thus far as a setback for its maximalist objectives in Ukraine," it said in a daily statement on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant -- Europe's largest nuclear power station -- continues to be a source of major concern for the international community.

Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling at the plant has increased the threat of a leak of radiation.

Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations. It is in Enerhodar, a city seized by Russian troops in early March soon after they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," a statement by 42 nations worldwide that was published by the European Union on August 14 said.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Tehran Blames Rushdie For Attack; Blinken Slams 'Despicable' Iranian Press

Hadi Matar, 24 (center), listens to his public defense attorney, Nathaniel Barone (left), address the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, on August 13.

Tehran says Salman Rushdie is to blame for the stabbing that left the award-winning author seriously wounded as Washington slammed Iranian state media for its "despicable" reaction to "this heinous attack."

In its first reaction to the stabbing, Tehran on August 15 "categorically" denied any link with the attack that occurred three days earlier in the western part of New York state.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie's insults against religion. His 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.

"[Regarding] the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of...reproach and condemnation," Kanaani told a news briefing on August 15. "No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard."

Rushdie was taken off a ventilator on August 14 and was able to speak after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack as he was preparing to speak at a panel on the topic of freedom of creative expression at the Chataqua Institution.

Tehran was initially silent on the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran's state media for its reaction.

"Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life," Blinken said in a statement issued late on August 14. "This is despicable."

The man accused of attacking the author of the novel The Satanic Verses has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime.

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment. A judge ordered him held without bail.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye in the attack. He is likely to lose the injured eye.

Matar, 24, is accused of running onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Rushdie at least 10 times in the face, neck, and abdomen.

NBC News quoted a law enforcement official as saying that Matar's social media accounts showed him to be sympathetic to Shi'ite extremism and the causes of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

There are no definitive links to the IRGC, but the initial assessment indicates he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, the official said, according to NBC.

"More than a literary giant, Rushdie has consistently stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press," Blinken said in his statement.

"While law enforcement officials continue to investigate the attack, I am reminded of the pernicious forces that seek to undermine these rights, including through hate speech and incitement to violence," he added.

The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for many years because of the fatwa, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward.

In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Born in Mumbai, India, Rushdie holds British and U.S. citizenship and has lived in New York since 2000.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told AP on August 13

Flags of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group Hizballah are visible across the village, AP reported, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini, and slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

At Least Seven Dead, 22 Still Missing As Rescuers Fight Yerevan Market Fire

An unknown number of people were trapped under rubble after a blast and subsequent fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan. 

Firefighters and rescue crews found a seventh body and were using special cameras to search for survivors on August 15 as they continued to battle a blaze at a large market in Yerevan a day after an explosion triggered the fire.

They said that, aside from the seven confirmed deaths, 22 others remain missing at the site of the disaster, including six Iranians and a Russian national.

A least 12 more victims were being treated at a local hospital for their injuries.

Officials say the fire at the Surmalu market, about two kilometers south of the center of Armenia's capital city, still has not been completely contained.

Yerevan Market Ablaze As Fireworks Storage Explodes
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Emergencies Minister Armen Panbukhchian told reporters late on August 15 that he could not confirm reports that rescuers had located a possible survivor under rubble.

"We do not confirm this information at the moment," he said. "We are now carrying out search and rescue operations in this area, including using special equipment, that is, cameras."

Panbukhchian was earlier quoted as "almost" ruling out terrorism as a cause of the incident.

“Watching the footage of the explosion, we almost rule out such a theory [that a bomb had been planted], because first there was smoke, then fire covering some small area, then came an explosion," he said. "Quite a large amount of explosive materials was stored there."

A blast and subsequent fire at Surmalu sent a towering cloud of smoke over the capital on August 14, shared on social media. The explosion was in an area where fireworks and other pyrotechnics are stored.

The building surrounding the site of the blast and fire was initially still standing but very shaky, according to Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Davit Hambaryan.


UN Denies Delaying Ukraine Nuclear Visit, Zelenskiy Warns Of Loss To 'Terrorism, Nuclear Blackmail'

The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhya region.

Amid concerns over a captured nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the United Nations has dismissed suggestions that it is behind any delays getting international inspectors to the Zaporizhzhye facility, as concerns mount amid reports of shelling around the plant, which Ukraine and occupying Russian troops each blame on the other.

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Ukrainian and international warnings have intensified as safety crews work at gunpoint and Russians allegedly prepare to divert energy production from Zaporizhzhye, which is Europe's biggest nuclear plant with six Soviet-designed reactors.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York on August 15 that the world body's nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acts independently but the Ukrainian and Russian sides must agree on a visit.

Dujarric said it was "just not the case" that the UN's executive arm was delaying any trip by IAEA people.

"The UN Secretariat has no authority to block or cancel" a visit to Zaporizhzhya, he said, and moreover has "the security, the logistics capacity" in Ukraine to support it.

"But there needs to be an agreement with Russia and Ukraine," Dujarric added.

The UN comments followed a pledge by Moscow to do "everything necessary" to allow IAEA experts to visit the Zaporizhzhya plant and Russia's defense minister reportedly speaking to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the situation at the facility.

Guterres has urged that a demilitarized zone be created around Zaporizhzhya, in southeastern Ukraine near the center of fighting in the five-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow's overtures came one day after 42 countries from around the world signed a statement urging Russia to withdraw its armed forces from Europe's largest nuclear station, saying their presence posed "a great danger."

Kyiv and some Western leaders have accused Moscow of "nuclear blackmail" in its assaults on Ukrainian nuclear facilities as well as its implied threats to deploy its nuclear arsenal if Ukraine's supporters cross the Kremlin's red lines.

In his nightly video address on August 15, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the international community needs to act to prevent an accident or other catastrophic events at Zaporizhzhya due to Russian actions.

"If now the world does not show strength and decisiveness to defend one nuclear power station, it will mean that the world has lost," Zelenskiy said, according to Reuters. "It will lose to terrorism, and give in to nuclear blackmail."

Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling at the plant had increased the threat of a radiation leak. Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells there, which officials in Kyiv deny.

The situation at the plant has caused heightened alarm at the United Nations and the IAEA. Both have said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the plant.

"In close cooperation with the Agency and its leadership, we will do everything necessary to make it possible for IAEA specialists to appear at the station," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on August 15.

Moscow later said that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had spoken to Guterres about the security of Zaporizhzhya.

"Sergei Shoigu conducted telephone negotiations with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the conditions for the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It did not elaborate.

Guterres' office did not immediately confirm the conversation or its substance, and it was unclear if spokesman Dujarric's comments reflected any conversation with Shoigu.

On August 14, the statement by 42 countries condemned Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and said the presence of Russian military forces at the plant was preventing authorities from maintaining nuclear and radiation safety obligations.

"It is undeniable that Russia’s invasion and its continued presence at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities significantly raise the risk of nuclear incidents and accidents," the statement released on the European Union's website says.

"We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its military forces and all other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, its immediate surroundings, and all of Ukraine so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities can resume their sovereign responsibilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and the legitimate operating staff can conduct their duties without outside interference, threat, or unacceptably harsh working conditions.

"Deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety, security, and safeguards principles that all members of the IAEA have committed to respect," the statement added.

This statement was issued on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, the United States, as well as the European Union.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Iran's Top Automaker Eyes Russian Market Following Western Pullout

Iran Khodro new crossover model, the Rira

Iran's leading automaker is seeking to grab a share of the Russian market after Western producers halted output or exited the market following sanctions.

Iran Khodro CEO Mehdi Khatibi made the announcement on August 14 as he unveiled the company's latest model -- the crossover Rira.

"We are going to pay special attention to the Russian market, and we are also thinking of partnering with Russian investors," he said.

"The Russian market, with its capacities, will be one of our important markets," Khatibi added.

Iran Khodro will begin exporting to Russia this year, he said.

Khatibi said he had been in negotiations "with Moscow," but he did not clarify whether the talks just revolved around exports or also included possible local production.

Iran Khodro had briefly exported cars to Russia during the 2000s, according to Iranian media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Iran in July to meet his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Moscow is seeking to enhance economic ties with Tehran after the West imposed punishing sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Iran is also under wide-ranging Western sanctions.

Russian auto production has plummeted since the imposition of sanctions, because manufacturers can no longer import microprocessors and other parts needed for final assembly.

Several Western and Asian companies have idled their Russian plants for the time being while some have announced they are permanently leaving the market.

Exports of Western cars to Russia have also sunk sharply.

Khatibi did not say how many cars he expects to export this year to Russia.

While the exit of Western models opens a door for Iran Khodro, Russia's economy is expected to contract sharply in the coming years, hurting demand for big-ticket items like cars.

With reporting by AFP

Ship Carrying Grain For Ethiopia Sets Sail From Ukraine

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

A United Nations-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain has set sail from a Black Sea port for Ethiopia, the first shipment of its kind in a program to assist countries facing famine.

The Liberian-flagged Brave Commander departed from the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne, east of Odesa, on August 14, according to regional Governor Maksym Marchenko.

The ship is expected to sail to Djibouti, where the grain will be unloaded and transferred to neighboring Ethiopia under the World Food Program initiative.

Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey on July 22 to restart Black Sea grain deliveries after a five-month stoppage triggered by Moscow's invasion.

Russia's Navy blockaded ports in Ukraine -- one of the world's largest exporters of grain -- amid a large-scale invasion of the country.

The blockade sparked fears of a global food shortage and caused prices of grain to skyrocket, hitting impoverished countries hard.

Ethiopia is one of five countries that the UN considers at risk of starvation.

More than a dozen grain ships have now left Ukraine since the July 22 agreement.

Based on reporting by AP

Moscow Canceling Registrations Of Opposition Candidates By The Dozens As Political Clampdown Intensifies

Maria Volokh (right) already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Moscow has been canceling en masse the registration of opposition candidates for municipal elections next month as the Kremlin clamps down on dissent.

Russian authorities have historically not concerned themselves much with municipal elections because they tend to focus on very local issues, such as apartment building repairs and park improvements.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has intensified his crackdown on any sign of dissent since he launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and it is now filtering down to the lowest levels of government, opposition members say.

Vladimir Zalishak, a deputy representing Moscow's Donskoi district, told RFE/RL that nearly a hundred would-be opposition candidates had been disqualified by local election commissions on the alleged violation of a controversial administrative clause.

He said the clampdown on potential municipal candidates was a sign that the authorities are "hysterical and panicking."

Zalishak said police were launching administrative investigations into would-be candidates on the ground that they had publicly demonstrated "prohibited symbols." Those found guilty are banned from running for office for a year.

Russia last year jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, outlawed his Anti-Corruption Foundation on extremism charges, and banned symbols associated with his group.

Police are now scrolling through the social media accounts of opposition members looking for old posts that contain the symbols before they were banned, he said.

Zalishak said his registration was canceled after police found a Navalny-related symbol on a post from 2019.

Maria Volokh, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, did not have any posts on her social media but the authorities still found a way to cancel her registration, she told RFE/RL.

The police sent a letter to Volokh's local election commission, claiming falsely that she had Dutch citizenship. Volokh studied in the Netherlands for several years but never received citizenship.

She said she intended to contest the decision.

Volokh was seeking to run for a seat on the council representing Moscow's Tver district.

Volokh already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.

Zalishak said most of the individuals who had their candidacy canceled were opponents of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Russian Demand For Schengen Visa Surges Amid Calls For European Travel Ban

Russians are racing to secure Schengen visas amid calls for a ban on travel to Europe, the daily Kommersant has reported, citing executives at tour agencies.

Marina Shirokova, a manager at Vizakhod, told the Russian newspaper that demand for Schengen visas had surged about 40 percent over the past two weeks as fears grow that European travel could soon be off-limits.

A Schengen visa is a 90-day visa that allows a person to travel to any of the 26 European members of the Schengen area for tourism or business purposes. Each member country of the Schengen zone can issue Schengen visas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on August 8 called on the European Union to ban Russian tourists to punish Moscow for its brutal invasion, now in its sixth month.

Three days later, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that his country will bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by Estonia from entering the Baltic country because of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

However, he said it will still remain valid for entry into other member countries.

Russians are already facing difficulties in traveling to Europe amid a backlash over the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. Several countries have stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians in a sign of protest.

Moreover, the EU has closed its airspace to Russia.

As a result, many Russians with Schengen visas having been flying to Europe via the Baltics or Finland. Now that path could become more difficult if Estonia moves ahead with its plan.

The number of Russians traveling to Europe is down about 90 percent compared with the prewar period, Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, told Kommersant.

She said Russians seeking Schengen visas were mainly interested in traveling to resort destinations in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece.

Germany, Europe's largest country, has come out against a blanket visa ban on Russians. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it would hurt "innocent people."


One Dead After Fireworks Blast Starts Fire At Armenian Market

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

At least one person is reported dead and some 20 injured after a strong explosion hit a fireworks storage area at a large market in Armenia's capital on August 14, triggering a blaze.

The city mayor's office said there were an unknown number of people trapped under rubble. The blast and fire at the Surmalu market sent a towering cloud of smoke over Yerevan.

Yerevan Market Ablaze As Fireworks Storage Explodes
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Rescue workers were struggling to pull people out of the rubble, a spokesman for the Yerevan mayor's office told RFE/RL. The explosion was in an area where fireworks are stored, he added.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said at least one person was killed and 20 others were injured.

The ministry earlier said firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze.

The market is about 2 kilometers south of the city center.

Video posted on social media showed black smoke rising from the Surmalu market, which is a sprawling complex where, among other things, fireworks and other pyrotechnics are sold.

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