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UN Calls For More Water Cooperation In Central Asia

The Kokaral dam in the North Aral Sea
The Kokaral dam in the North Aral Sea
The UN says more cooperation among Central Asian states sharing the shores of a key river could be the key to future peace and security in the region.

In a fresh report, the UN Environmental Program, or UNEP, said the Amu Darya river is being taxed by big hydropower projects upstream and demand for irrigated agriculture downstream, leading to "major natural resource challenges" for Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The report notes the Aral Sea -- which relies in part from water from the Amu Darya -- has seen water levels drop by 26 meters and the shoreline recede by several hundred kilometers.

It also said pollution from mining, metals, petroleum and chemical activities along the river and air pollution in the form of dust and salt from dried out parts of the Aral Sea are challenges to human health.

"From a security perspective climate change, water, energy and agriculture constitute the main areas of interest for this report as they reveal the potential for increasing instability and even confrontation as more flows are impounded upstream reducing those water availability and quality downstream," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

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Iran Takes Legal Action Against Analyst, Newspaper Over Criticism Of Israel Attack

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, on April 14.

Iran's judiciary has initiated legal proceedings against the Tehran-based Etemad newspaper and political analyst Abbas Abdi over comments related to the Islamic republic's interactions with Israel, according to the Mizan News Agency.

Mizan, which is linked to the judiciary, reported on April 14 that the action is aimed at countering those “disrupting societal psychological security.”

Abdi, an analyst considered close to Iranian reformists, commented on Iran's strike on Israel over the weekend in an article published in Etemad saying Israel's recent actions were a reaction, not an act of aggression, and that Tehran did not need to respond.

He also criticized the Islamic republic's strategy of deterrence, saying the use of conventional weapons against a nation whose existence Iran does not recognize or seeks to annihilate is futile and has a disproportionate cost compared to any potential benefits.

Iranians Voice Concern Following Attack On Israel
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Mizan also reported legal actions against the economic newspaper Jahan Sanat and an unnamed economic journalist following their evaluations of the IRGC's missile and drone attacks on Israel and their repercussions on financial markets.

Legal scholar Mohsen Barhani criticized the charges as unfounded, saying the criminal articles used against the publication and author don't exist under current Iranian law.

In a related development, the IRGC's Intelligence Organization issued a warning on social media platforms cautioning users against expressing support for Israel, underscoring ongoing surveillance and potential consequences for users aligning with or endorsing Iran's sworn enemy. The organization also encouraged individuals to report any pro-Israeli activities among their peers.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Iran launched over 300 drones and missiles late on April 13. The "vast majority" were largely intercepted by Israel's air-defense systems and those of its allies.

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

Belarusian Journalist Sentenced To 15 Days For Sending Links Court Says Were 'Extremist'

Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)
Belarusian journalist Dzianis Nosav (file photo)

Dzianis Nosav, a journalist for the Vecherny Babruysk newspaper, was sentenced to 15 days in jail by a court in Belarus for sending links to "extremist resources" to his friends. According to human rights defenders Vyasna, Nosav was detained in the city of Babruysk, about 135 kilometesr southeast of Minsk, last week. The group, which disclosed news of the sentence on April 15, gave no further details. Nosav was previously detained in September 2022 after a search of his house by security officials. Many Belarusian journalists have been detained in the country since unrest broke over an August 2020 presidential election claimed by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Georgian MP Punches Lawmaker Over 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Aleko Elisashvili (bottom right) rushed the podium on the parliamentary floor on April 15 and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
Aleko Elisashvili (bottom right) rushed the podium on the parliamentary floor on April 15 and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

A Georgian opposition lawmaker attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present a controversial "foreign agents" bill in parliament that has roiled the Caucasus nation because of its similarities to legislation in Russia used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Aleko Elisashvili rushed the podium on the parliamentary floor on April 15 and punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to quell.

"Your Russian mother is a motherf***er," Elisashvili could be heard yelling as he lunged at Mdinaradze to strike him in the head.

Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

"I don't respond to threats with street methods. We will give a proper response," Mdinaradze said.

Earlier this month Mdinaradze said the Georgian Dream party plans to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets receiving foreign funding and engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

Georgians March Against Russian-Style 'Foreign Agents' Law
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The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offenses.

As the scuffle took place inside parliament, several hundred protesters were gathered outside to express their anger over the reintroduction of the law. There were no reports of violence.

This new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: The term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutory "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

The party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation and does not imitate Russia's foreign agents law, but the newly resurrected On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill is seen as a product of Georgia's homegrown struggle for political power.

Its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Once approved by the legal affairs committee, which is controlled by Georgian Dream and its coalition allies, the bill will proceed to a first reading in parliament.

4 Civilians Killed As Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pleads For Patriot Systems

A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.
A woman stands near her apartment building, which was damaged in a night attack in the town of Selydove, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on April 14.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on April 15 again called for Kyiv's Western allies to "urgently" deliver desperately needed additional air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Russian artillery and missiles continued to wreak havoc among civilians and destroy critical infrastructure.

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Four people were killed in Siversk in the eastern region of Donetsk, the head of the region's administration, Vadym Filashkin, said on April 14.

"Four men aged between 36 and 86 died as a result of the shelling," Filashkin said. "The Russians are trying to kill as many of our people as possible, and the only way to protect themselves is to evacuate to safer regions of Ukraine."

Kuleba, in a video address to the Second Black Sea Security Conference jointly co-hosted by Ukraine and Bulgaria in Sofia, said Ukraine's air defense was critical for the protection of its neighbors as well and urged faster moves to supply its forces with defensive systems such as the U.S.-made Patriot.

"Ukrainian air defense is now protecting not only Ukrainian skies from Russian air terror, it also shields neighboring Moldova, Romania, and Poland from the immediate threat of missiles and drones entering their airspace," Kuleba said.

"We urgently require additional Patriot and other modern air-defense systems, weapons, and ammunition," Kuleba said. "I take this opportunity to once again urge all our partners to take extraordinary and bold steps."

On April 14, Kuleba told Ukrainian television that negotiations were under way for the delivery of more Patriots, but voiced disappointment that the process was too slow.

"With all my due respect and gratitude to the United States of America, do you believe that the U.S. Army does not have one spare Patriot battery that it can transfer to Ukraine?" he said.

Meanwhile, on April 15, traffic was halted on the bridge that links Moscow-occupied Crimea with Russia, as the Russia-appointed chief of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, announced an air-raid alert in the city.

Social media reports said explosions caused by the work of Russian air-defense systems could be heard in the area, but the information could not be independently verified.

With reporting by Reuters

Heavy Rains, Lightning Kill 36 In Pakistan

A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.
A motorcycle and cars drive through a flooded road caused by heavy rain in Peshawar on April 15.

Lightning and heavy rains have killed at least 36 people, mostly farmers, across Pakistan in the past three days, officials said on April 15, as authorities in the country's southwest declared a state of emergency. Most deaths occurred when lightning struck farmers harvesting wheat and rains caused houses to collapse in eastern Punjab Province, said Arfan Kathia, a spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority. He said more rains were expected this week. Rains, which also lashed the capital, Islamabad, killed seven people in southwestern Balochistan Province over the weekend, and eight died in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan.

Updated

'On The Brink': Leaders Call For Restraint As World Awaits Israeli Response To Iran Attack

The UN Security Council holds an emergency meeting at UN headquarters in New York on April 14.
The UN Security Council holds an emergency meeting at UN headquarters in New York on April 14.

Leading diplomats and politicians across the globe, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, urged restraint as the world waited for Israel's response after it endured an unprecedented air attack by Iran over the weekend.

Tehran fired more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel late on April 13, almost all of which were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Only a few missiles reached Israeli territory, causing modest damage to an air base and critically wounding a 7-year-old girl.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

The Israeli war cabinet was set to meet on April 15, with some hard-liners within the right-wing government said to be advocating a harsh response, while others were pushing for a more moderate decision.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory, while an influential member of the war cabinet said the country will retaliate in the "fashion and time" of its choosing.

"We're on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said he spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late on April 14, told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

"We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear."

Added British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in an interview on April 15 with the BBC: "I think they're perfectly justified to think they should respond because they have been attacked, but we are urging them as friends to think with head as well as heart, to be smart as well as tough."

Iran, which said it was responding to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus early last month that killed two brigadier generals, called on Western nations to "appreciate" the restraint it showed since the embassy attack and warned it will act more "resolutely" if "Israel crosses red lines."

The United States reiterated its "ironclad commitment" to the security of Israel but reportedly told the Jewish state it will not take part in any retaliatory action.

Speaking late on April 14 at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "maximum restraint" amid fears that Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel could turn into a larger regional war.

“The Middle East is on the brink.... Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate,” Guterres said.

After the meeting ended without any resolution, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said "there has to be a Security Council response to what happened.”

The Iranian launch came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over the continuing war in the Gaza Strip and a deadly air strike on April 1 believed to have been carried out by Israel on the Iranian Consulate in Syria.

U.S. officials said Washington had been indirect contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries before and after the attack, without providing details, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani cautioned on April 15 that no pre-arranged deal was made with any country regarding how Tehran would approach its military response to Israel.

WATCH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that his country would emerge victorious following an unprecedented attack from Iran. According to the Israeli military, over 300 drones and missiles were intercepted during the aerial assault by Iran, its first-ever direct attack on Israel.

Israel Promises Victory After Iranian Attack Risks Broader Middle East Conflict
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Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by a raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, on October 7. The raid left 1,200 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war in Gaza began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

While Russia, seen as close to Tehran, has stopped short of publicly criticizing Iran for the attack on Israel, the Kremlin on April 15 said "further escalation is in no one's interests" and called for finding a solution through "political and diplomatic methods."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters
Updated

Nearly 125,000 Evacuated Due To Floods In Kazakhstan, Russia

An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11
An aerial view of the flooded Kurgan region on April 11

Almost 125,000 people have been evacuated from areas hit by massive floods in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan where water levels continue to rise in several regions.

Following massive snowfalls in winter, unusually warm weather triggered the sudden melting of snow that in turn lead to the rapid swelling of rivers such at the Ural and the Tobol, in what specialists say may be the effect of global climate change.

In northern Kazakhstan, where more than 111,000 people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas since the start of this month, some 4,500 people were evacuated on April 14 alone from Petropavl, a city of some 20,000 people, near the Ishim River.

The village of Bolshaya Malyshka, some 30 kilometers north of Petropavl, was also hit hard, with rescuers evacuating almost 900 residents early on April 15, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry of Kazakhstan.

A resident of the village of Podgora, near Petropavl, told RFE/RL that he had "never seen such a flood before." Residents were concerned by the lack of drinking water, despite reassurance by Mayor Serik Mukhamediev that the water "should come soon."

In neighboring southern Russia, nearly 13,000 people have been evacuated from areas threatened by flooding in Russia's southern region of Kurgan as water levels continued to rise, with the Tobol River near the capital city of Kurgan reaching 6.73 meters, the regional government reported early on April 15.

A state of emergency was declared on April 8 in Kurgan, a city of some 300,000. The ministry said that 62 settlements with some 19,000 people across the region are at risk of flooding.

Water continued to rise in the region's Ketovsky district, it said. The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that in the Kurgan region, 880 residential buildings had already been flooded.

The first to be affected by the massive floods was the city of Orsk, followed by Orenburg, both on the Ural, and now floods have reached the Kemerovo and Tomsk regions in western Siberia.

In the Kemerovo region, the Mrassu River overflowed its banks.

Residents of villages told Current Time that their household belongings and animals had been washed away and nobody has come to their aid, despite the ministry reporting that the flood situation in the region is under control.

In the Tomsk region, 143 houses and 93 household plots were flooded, said the regional head Vyacheslav Chernous.

A total of 84 people, including eight children, were evacuated, Chernous said on Telegram.

The water level in the Tom River near the center of Tomsk city reached 7.64 m -- 14 centimeters above dangerous levels.

The water level in the Ob River in the Tomsk region also exceeded dangerous levels, and authorities in the Tyumen region are thinking about ordering a mandatory evacuation.

In the Ivolginsky district of Buryatia, 11 houses were flooded, said Governor Alexey Tsydenov. Authorities evacuated 22 people, including six children, from the flooded area.

Tsydenov said the flood was caused by an ice blockage on the Selenga River.

"Today, according to the plan, the blockage will be blown up by sappers from the Eastern Military District and the Emergency Situations Ministry," Tsydenov wrote.

The authorities will allocate money for rent for three months to residents of the Orenburg region affected by floods, the press service of the regional government reported on April 15, saying in a statement that the allocation would include “10,000 rubles ($107) for a citizen living alone and 20,000 rubles for a family of two or more people."

Those who live in an apartment on the second floor of an apartment building or higher will be provided with payment for only one month, while citizens who live outside the emergency zone will not receive any compensation, the statement said.

Armenia, Azerbaijan To Clash At UN Top Court

An overview of the court during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (file photo)
An overview of the court during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (file photo)

Azerbaijan and Armenia will fight out a long-running "ethnic cleansing" dispute at the top United Nations court from April 15, just as military tensions are ramping up between the historic enemies. Robed lawyers from the two countries embark on two weeks of hearings, wrestling over interpretations of international law. The legal battle before the International Court of Justice dates from September 2021 when both sides filed tit-for-tat suits against each other within a week. Both sides accused the other of "ethnic cleansing" and of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Jordan Summons Iranian Ambassador To Protest Interference In Its Afairs

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on April 14 said his country had summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against Iranian comments that were interference in the kingdom's internal affairs. In remarks given to the state-owned Mamlaka public broadcaster, Safadi was referring to comments in Iran's official media in recent days that warned Jordan would be the next target in the event it cooperated with Israel in a showdown with Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister To Lead Delegaton On Pakistan Visit

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.

A high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia led by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah will visit Pakistan on April 15-16 as part of efforts to increase economic cooperation between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said on April 14. "This visit is aimed at lending positive impetus to enhanced bilateral cooperation and mutually rewarding economic partnership," it said in a statement. Saudi Arabia has vowed to invest up to $25 billion into various sectors in Pakistan over the next two to five years.

U.S. Speaker Says Will Try To Pass Israel Aid, But Ukraine Package Uncertain

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) on April 14 said he would try to pass aid to Israel in the upcoming week, after Iran's mass drone and missile attack, but didn’t say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other U.S. allies. Johnson, who is struggling to unify his fractious Republican majority and avoid an ouster threat, recounted two failed attempts to pass standalone aid for Israel. "We're going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now," Johnson told Fox News without providing details.

Flash Flooding Kills At Least 33 People In Kabul, Other Afghan Regions

An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.
An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.

Flash flooding caused by heavy rains has destroyed hundreds of homes and killed at least 33 people over the past three days in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and across the country, the de facto Taliban rulers said on April 14. "Unfortunately, 33 people have been martyred and 27 injured as a result of the floods, while approximately 606 houses have been destroyed in villages," Taliban spokesman Mullah Janan Sayiq said. A resident of the village of Bast in Helmand Province who did not want to be identified told RFE/RL that "the floods have destroyed our agricultural lands and houses, our animals have been destroyed. Our area is between two rivers." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.

Updated

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Calls For Urgent Aid To Counter Russian Air Strikes

Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.
Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukraine's allies to provide additional support, adding that "every day of delay in the delivery of aid results in more destroyed homes and ruined lives," while his defense minister visited outmanned and outgunned troops on the "tense" front lines as conditions worsened near the embattled town of Chasiv Yar.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on April 14, Zelenskiy argued that "the world has everything necessary to stop any missiles, Shahed drones, or other forms of terror."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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"It only requires decisions that can restore true and lasting security," he added.

Visiting the front lines on April 14, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said that "the situation is tense," a day after Kyiv warned that the conditions on the eastern front had "deteriorated" to dangerous levels.

Ukrainian officials have over the past two days warned about the perilous situation near the strategic town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, amid a major Russian offensive.

If Russia takes the town -- which had a prewar population of about 13,000 – it would "create conditions for a deeper advance" toward Kramatorsk, a major rail and logistics hub for Ukrainian forces some 30 kilometers away, commander in chief Oleksandr Syrskiy said.

Syrskiy said Russia's top leadership had ordered the military to capture Chasiv Yar in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II.

According to Ukraine's military, Russia attacked Ukraine with 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight on April 13-14, all of them launched from Russia's western Kursk region.

"Defenders shot down all 10 drones over the Kharkiv region," air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said.

A civilian truck was struck by a Russian drone in the Sumy region, local prosecutors reported, killing the driver.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War wrote on April 13 that Russia was "taking advantage" of Ukraine's shortages of artillery shells and air-defense equipment by operating variously in three different areas with "alternating emphasis."

"Russian forces likely lack the ability to conduct more than one simultaneous, effective, large-scale operational effort as they have throughout the war," it wrote. "Russian forces are now able to use multiple alternating offensive efforts to stretch Ukrainian defensive capabilities amid Ukrainian artillery and air-defense shortages."

Responding to Iran's massive overnight drone and missile attack against Israel, Zelenskiy wrote on X on April 14 that Shahed drones were "an instrument of terror."

"We in Ukraine know very well the horror of similar attacks by Russia, which used the same Shahed drones and Russian missiles, the same tactics of mass air strikes," he wrote.

"The obvious collaboration between the two regimes in spreading terror must face a resolute and united response from the world."

Ukraine Commander Says Moscow Seeks Fall Of Chasiv Yar By May 9

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.

Russia's top leadership has ordered the military to capture the city of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II, Ukraine's top military commander said on April 14. "The realization of the Russians' plans is hindered by the heroic defense of our brigades, which literally 'bite into the ground' to hold back the enemy's daily attacks," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said. The fall of Chasiv Yar, which had a prewar population of about 13,000 and is just west of the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, would be a significant setback for Kyiv. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Officials Urge Evacuation Of Parts Of Kurgan Region Amid Flooding

The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.
The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.

Officials in Russia's Kurgan region in the southern Urals are urging residents of districts threatened by flooding to evacuate immediately. Kurgan region Governor Vadim Shumkov wrote on Telegram on April 14 that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing. He warned that electricity and natural-gas supplies could soon be cut off. The newspaper Kommersant wrote that 62 settlements with a population of about 19,000 people were in the endangered area. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Bulgaria's Georgieva Appointed To New Five-Year Term Atop IMF

 Kristalina Georgieva
Kristalina Georgieva

Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, will serve as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a second five-year term, the Washington-based fund said on April 13. Georgieva, 70, said in a statement that she was "truly honored to continue to lead the IMF as managing director." She added that “"a more challenging global context demands an even more effective IMF. I will continue to devote all my energy to serve our members." The IMF is traditionally led by a European, while the World Bank is led by an American. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.

Germany To Send Additional Patriot System To Ukraine As Scholz, Zelenskiy Talk

German Patriot system units are seen at the Vilnius airport ahead of a NATO summit in July 2023.
German Patriot system units are seen at the Vilnius airport ahead of a NATO summit in July 2023.

Germany will send an additional Patriot air-defense system to Ukraine to bolster its hard-pressed military and help it fend off increased Russian air strikes, Berlin said on April 13. "Due to the increase in Russian air strikes against Ukraine, the German government has decided to further strengthen Ukrainian air defense," a statement from the Defense Ministry said. Chancellor Olaf Scholz later reaffirmed Germany's solidarity with Ukraine in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Scholz discussed ways of further strengthening Ukraine's air defenses with Zelenskiy, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

Iranian Student Still Missing Days After Being Detained

Fahimeh Soltani
Fahimeh Soltani

A university law student who has been a supporter of Iran's Women, Life, Freedom movement is still missing several days after her arrest by security forces, the second time she has been detained since unrest broke out over the death of a young woman in custody for an alleged violation of the head-scarf law.

Fahimeh Soltani, who studies at the University of Isfahan, was taken into custody after a raid on her home on April 6 and has not been heard from since, her family reported.

Security personnel, posing as postal workers, seized Soltani's mobile phone and laptop during the arrest, the family said.

Soltani's detention coincides with her previous arrest in November 2022 during the Women, Life, Freedom protests following Mahsa Amini's death in police custody.

After being held in detention for three months, Soltani was released as part of a broader pardon issued by the Islamic republic's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soltani's university activities have led to her being barred from studying for two terms due to cases she says were fabricated by the university's security department. Despite appealing the disciplinary rulings against her, the school's Central Committee delayed a final decision on her case.

On April 2, Soltani received a late-night call regarding the appeal and was told she had received an additional two-term study ban.

Amid efforts to expel her, the university in Isfahan, a city of some 2 million people about 400 kilometers south of Tehran, sent a direct expulsion request to the Central Committee. Along with her current arrest, her family said it remains in the dark about the outcome of the expulsion request.

Separately, a review committee at Tehran University has confirmed the suspension of Zahra Jafari, a graduate student in social welfare planning and editor of the student magazine Zhina.

Jafari was barred from studying for two semesters on charges including insulting Islamic and national symbols and acts against the Islamic republic. Her sentence, affecting her final thesis defense, began at the start of this academic year and will continue through the end of the second semester.

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

Over the years, the authorities have sent student activists and leaders to prison and banned them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of the 22-year-old Amini.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment and flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Israel Vows Victory, Retaliation In 'Fashion And Timing' Of Its Choosing

Explosions, Sirens Over Jerusalem As Iran Attacks With Drones, Missiles
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory after a massive overnight air attack by Iran that marked a sharp escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, while an influential member of his war cabinet said the country will retaliate in the "fashion and time" of its choosing.

"We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win," Netanyahu wrote in an April 14 post on X, formerly Twitter.

Meanwhile, centrist politician and retired General Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet and former defense minister, said that "we will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us."

Israel and its allies intercepted the "vast majority" of hundreds of drones and missiles launched by Iran overnight.

Loud explosions and flashes of light could be seen in the sky above many parts of Israel in the early morning hours of April 14 as the country's air defenses tried to shoot down incoming drones and missiles that Iran launched just hours after it seized an Israeli-linked ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Israeli authorities reported only light damage to one Israeli military installation and said a 7-year-old girl was critically injured as more than 200 drones and missiles -- including more than 10 cruise missiles -- were intercepted before impact.

"The Iranian attack was foiled," Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said early on April 14, adding that "99 percent" of the attacking vehicles had been intercepted. Hagari said the result was "a very significant strategic success."

U.S., British, and French officials confirmed their armed forces took part in shooting down the incoming projectiles, intercepting some over the Iraq-Syria border area as they made their way toward Israel.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel against "reckless behavior" following the strike, saying Tehran's response to retaliation would be "decisive and much stronger."

Iran's military earlier said its strikes had "achieved all its objectives" and been "completed successfully."

Iranian armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri, speaking on state television, warned Israel not to retaliate, saying Tehran's "response will be much larger than tonight's military action." He also said U.S. assets would be targeted if Washington assisted Israeli in any retaliation.

"Our operations are over and we have no intention to continue them," Bagheri said.

The United States had contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries both before and after Tehran's mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a senior Biden administration official said on April 14.

The official declined to provide details on the contact, saying only that Washington and Iran had "a series of direct communications through the Swiss channel."

Asked about comments by Iran's foreign minister that Tehran had given regional countries 72 hours' notice of the attacks, the official said that was not true. "They did not give a notification," the official said.

Iran informed Turkey in advance of its planned operation against Israel, a Turkish diplomatic source told Reuters on April 14, adding that Washington conveyed to Iran via Ankara that its operation must be "within certain limits."

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran's regional allies were informed about its aerial attacks on Israel in advance.

"We naturally informed our friends in regional countries 72 hours before the operation that Iran's response in the form of a legitimate defense is definite and certain," he said without specifying which regional allies.

Israel called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency session in New York on April 14 to discuss the attack, which Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described in a post on X as "a serious threat to global peace and security."

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14 convened G7 allies to discuss the situation in the Middle East and coordinate a response, with the group reiterating support for Israel.

Biden also spoke by telephone with Netanyahu, after which he said he had reaffirmed "America's ironclad commitment" to Israeli security but said U.S. forces would not participate in any offensive actions by Tel Aviv.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC TV on April 14 that "We don't want to see this escalate.... We're not looking for a wider war with Iran."

Other Western countries also condemned the attack, with France warning that Iran "is risking a potential military escalation." Britain described the attack as "reckless," while Germany called on Iran to "stop it immediately."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X that the attack was "blatant and unjustifiable."

"I call on Iran and its proxies to immediately cease these attacks," she added. "All actors must now refrain from further escalation and work to restore stability in the region."

EU foreign ministers will meet on April 16 to discuss the escalation in tensions in the Middle East following the strike, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

"Following the Iranian attacks against Israel, I have called an extraordinary...meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers[on April 16]," Borrell wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "Our objective is to contribute to de-escalation and security of the region."

Iran's Foreign Ministry on April 14 meanwhile summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, and Germany to question what it referred to as their "irresponsible stance" regarding Tehran's strikes on Israel, the semiofficial Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

Tehran accused the three countries of "double standards" as they opposed earlier this month a Russian-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have condemned Israel's attack on Iran's embassy compound.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on all sides to show restraint. "We are counting on the regional states to solve existing problems with political and diplomatic means," it said.

Turkey does not want further escalation of tension in the region after Iran's drone and missile attack against Israel, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told his Iranian counterpart in a phone call on April 14.

Pope Francis, speaking to pilgrims on St. Peter's Square in Rome, made a "heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that could fuel a spiral of violence" that could lead to a wider conflict.

Israel said early on April 14 that it had reopened its airspace for commercial traffic and that airports had resumed operations.

The intelligence directorate of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on April 14 warned citizens against posting pro-Israeli sentiments on social media, Iranian state media reported.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets in third countries.

"So far, we've intercepted the vast majority of incoming missiles," Hagari said of the attack launched by the IRGC in what it said was retaliation for a deadly April 1 drone strike thought to be carried out by Israel on Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria.

The launch came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over the continuing war in the Gaza Strip and the strike in Syria.

Iran called the attack, which Tehran named operation "Honest Response," on Israel a "response to the Zionist regime's aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus."

However, Iran also appeared to be taking a cautious approach to keep the strikes from broadening conflict in the region, with its mission to the United Nations saying that "the matter can be deemed concluded."

The Iranian attack was immediately condemned by many governments around the world, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

"The Middle East is on the brink... Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate," Guterres told a Security Council meeting called on April 14.

Earlier on April 13, Iranian state media reported that IRGC forces seized a container ship near the Strait of Hormuz, claiming the vessel was "linked to Israel."

Following that event, Israel said it was putting its military on high alert and canceling school activities on concerns of a possible attack.

It accused Iran of piracy and said Tehran will "bear the consequences" of escalating tensions in the Middle East.

The MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged vessel that is reportedly operated by a shipping company partially owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was seized on April 13 and was being transferred to Iranian territorial waters, according to the IRNA state news agency.

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, said the ship had 25 crew members on board and that it was working closely with "the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and safe return of the vessel."

Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by a raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, on October 7. The raid left 1,200 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

The security firm Ambrey said late on April 13 that Yemen's Huthi rebels had also launched multiple drones at Israel in coordination with Iran.

In addition to strikes launched against Israel by Iranian proxy Lebanese Hizballah, the Iranian-backed Huthis have attacked Israeli territory as well as international and Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.

On April 14, Israeli forces hit a Hizballah site in Lebanon near the Syrian border, the Israeli military said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters

Last Reactor At Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Put Into Cold State

The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has been occupied since shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has been occupied since shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The last reactor at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine has been shut down as fighting continues in the area for the third year. This means that all of the plant's six reactor units are now in a cold shutdown state. No radioactivity escaped during the procedure, the facility's Russian management wrote on Telegram on April 13. The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, was occupied shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It has come under fire several times, including this month, stoking concerns about a potential nuclear accident.

Updated

Situation In East Has 'Deteriorated,' Ukrainian Commander Says, As Dry Conditions Aid Russia

In an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 4, a Russian tank fires in an undisclosed location in Ukraine.
In an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 4, a Russian tank fires in an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

KYIV -- Russian attacks have intensified in eastern Ukraine and conditions for Kyiv's forces have "deteriorated significantly" as dry, warmer weather is allowing the easier movement of Russian tanks and troops, according to Ukraine's top military commander.

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"The situation on the eastern front has deteriorated significantly in recent days," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said on Telegram on April 13.

“The enemy is actively attacking our positions in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions with assault groups supported by armored vehicles," he said. "In the Pokrovsk direction, they are trying to break through our defenses using dozens of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles."

Syrskiy said the "dry weather favors the use of armored vehicles at the front -- the weather has made most of the open areas tank-accessible."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who won a new term in a March election that critics say was held under conditions of "intense repression," has intensified attacks, especially targeting power plants and substations to cripple Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities have increasingly signaled alarm over dwindling supplies of artillery shells and air-defense missiles as a military aid package from the United States has been tied up in Congress, with a small number of Republicans stating that domestic matters should take priority over assistance to Kyiv proposed by Democratic President Joe Biden.

Christopher Cavoli, the top U.S. general in Europe, on April 11 warned that further assistance to Ukraine to repel Russian aggression is crucial and that Moscow poses a "chronic threat" to the world.

On April 13, Germany announced it would immediately send another Patriot air-defense system to bolster Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s latest onslaught.

German leader Olaf Scholz, in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reaffirmed Berlin's solidarity with Ukraine and discussed ways to further strengthen the embattled country's air defenses, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

Zelenskiy thanked Scholz for approving delivery of the additional Patriot missile system and for supplying further air-defense weaponry at this "critical time" for his country.

A week ago, Zelenskiy said the U.S.-made Patriot systems were desperately required to provide protection for the entire country.

In a Telegram post following his call with Scholz, Zelenskiy said the talks were "important" and "productive."

"I am grateful to the chancellor for the decision to supply another additional Patriot system to Ukraine and missiles to the existing air-defense systems," Zelenskiy wrote.

"I call on all other leaders of partner states to follow this example," Zelenskiy added.

Scholz later left Germany for a China on a three-day trip in which he is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping.

Beijing is the Kremlin's most crucial ally. It has remaining outwardly neutral but hasn't condemned Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

According to AP, a U.S. assessment has detected a large rise in sales by China to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology that is used by Moscow in the production of tanks, planes, and other weaponry for use against Ukraine.

The report cited two senior officials in the U.S. administration who discussed the findings on April 12 on the condition of anonymity.

On the battlefield, Yevgeny Balitsky, the Kremlin-installed head of the Zaporizhzhya region, said at least 10 people were killed when shelling hit an apartment building in the Russian-occupied town of Tokmak.

“Rescuers continue to search for and extract the bodies of the dead, dismantling the structures. Rescue units have been provided with everything necessary," he wrote on Telegram, adding that 18 people had been injured in the town of some 30,000 people.

Separately, Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces had captured the village of Pervomayske in Ukraine's Donetsk region, where Moscow has centered much of its attacks in recent months.

Ukraine did not immediately comment on the Russian reports, and battlefield claims on both sides cannot immediately be verified due to the intense fighting in the region.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

U.S., Britain Take Action Targeting Russian Aluminum, Copper, Nickel

Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel.
Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel.

Washington and London on April 12 prohibited metal-trading exchanges from accepting new aluminum, copper, and nickel produced by Russia and barred the import of the metals to the United States and Britain. The action, aimed at disrupting Russian export revenue from the metals, comes as Washington seeks to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel. The U.S. Treasury Department said action would prohibit the London Metal Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange from accepting new Russian production of aluminum, copper, and nickel.

Belarusian Rock Band Known For 2020 Protest Song Branded 'Extremists'

Nizkiz members Dzmitry Khalyaukin, Syarhey Kulsha, and Alyaksandar Ilyn
Nizkiz members Dzmitry Khalyaukin, Syarhey Kulsha, and Alyaksandar Ilyn

The Belarusian dissident rock band Nizkiz and its three members have been declared extremists and sentenced to 2 1/2 years of restrictions on their freedom of movement after being convicted on criminal charges of violating public order.

The decision to sentence the musicians to restricted freedom of movement, a type of house arrest, was announced on April 12 by a judge in Minsk who opted not to send the three musicians -- Syarhey Kulsha, Alyaksandr Ilyin, and Dzmitry Khalyaukin -- to prison, the news agency Pozirk reported, citing a post by Mayday Team human rights group on Telegram.

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The musicians were found guilty of organizing and preparing actions that "grossly violate public order" or actively participating in them, the right group said.

In addition to the sentence, the Interior Ministry labeled the musicians extremists, which effectively means a ban on Nizkiz songs and exposes Nizkiz's fans to prosecution.

The band's song Rule became an anthem of the 2020 protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claimed victory in the presidential election that year. After the election, Lukashenka's government unleashed a brutal crackdown against the opposition and protesters, many of whom were beaten and jailed.

Ilyin, Kulsha, and Khalyaukin were arrested on January 5 and initially faced lesser charges of distribution, production, storage, and transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activities. They were tried on January 8, but the outcome of that case is unknown.

The musicians were hit later with the public-order criminal charges and transferred to the Minsk pretrial detention center. They have been behind bars since then. In February, the Vyasna human rights center declared them political prisoners.

Nizkiz, founded in 2008 in the city of Mahilyou in the east of the country, has released five studio albums and won a number of musical awards. The fourth member of the band -- guitarist Leonid Nestyaruk -- lives in Warsaw.

While Lukashenka was declared the winner of the 2020 election, the Belarusian opposition and many Western governments and organizations said the poll was rigged and opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya actually won.

Tsikhanouskaya on April 12 urged musicians around the world "to express solidarity with their Belarusian colleagues, who were convicted over the songs of freedom."

In written comments sent to the Associated Press, she said Nizkiz's songs were played during the 2020 protests.

"That's why the members of this popular band were brutally detained in their apartments and then convicted. It is yet another shameful act of the regime's revenge," she said, according to the AP.

With reporting by AP

Bosnian Tycoon With Ties To Dodik Posthumously Removed From U.S. Sanctions List

Slobodan Stankovic died in February.
Slobodan Stankovic died in February.

The late Bosnian tycoon Slobodan Stankovic and his engineering company have been removed from the U.S. blacklist of sanctioned individuals.

Stankovic and his company, Integral Inzenjering A.D. Laktasi (Integral), had been designated for sanctions in October 2022 for materially aiding, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support to Milorad Dodik, the Russian-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on April 12 lifted the sanctions against Stankovic and his company without commenting.

Stankovic died in February at age 74 in Banja Luka.

The Treasury Department said when it imposed the sanctions that major construction projects were often handed to Stankovic's firm without fair and open competition and that the vast majority of Stankovic's wealth came from public money.

In addition to its offices in Banja Luka, Integral also has branches in Serbia and Croatia.

One of the last projects Stankovic was involved in as a contractor is the construction of a 20-kilometer-long section of the highway in northeastern Bosnia leading to the border with Serbia. The cost of the project is estimated at 154.4 million euros ($164 million).

Integral also carried out work on the construction of an interstate bridge between Croatia and Bosnia with two other companies.

In addition, his company was awarded a job worth about 35 million euros for the construction of a highway in Croatia that will connect a bridge on the Sava River with the Zagreb-Belgrade highway.

Stankovic is also the former owner of Alternative Television Banja Luka (ATV), a media company that was previously blacklisted by the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department said ATV showed a bias toward Dodik, and the purchase showed the reciprocal nature of Dodik's corrupt relations.

In January 2023, Dodik awarded Stankovic the Order of the Flag of the Republika Srpska on Republika Srpska Day, which has been declared unconstitutional by Bosnia's Constitutional Court.

With reporting by Sejla Ibrahimovic
Updated

Militants Block Highway In Southwest Pakistan, Kill 11

Police said they were searching for the perpetrators. (file photo)
Police said they were searching for the perpetrators. (file photo)

Unidentified gunmen have killed 11 people in separate incidents on the same highway in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province.

Noshki district police chief Ilahi Bakksh said that the nine victims in the second attack, in which laborers were abducted from a bus traveling from the provincial capital of Quetta to a town near Pakistan's border with Iran, appear to have been killed execution-style.

"Militants blocked the highway leading to Taftan, bordering Iran, at midnight on April 13 in the Sultan Charai area near Noshki city," Bakksh told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

"Their bodies were later found under a bridge 2 kilometers from the highway having been fired upon at point-blank range."

Earlier, the same gunmen opened fire on a vehicle that failed to stop for the blockade, killing two people and injuring five, Bakksh said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility or the attacks, and police said there was no ransom demand or known motive.

Police said they were searching for the perpetrators.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attacks and expressed his "deep sorrow and regret over this shocking incident."

Sharif offered his condolences to the families of the victims, according to a statement from his office, adding that "the perpetrators of this incident of terrorism and their facilitators will be punished."

Balochistan is a mineral-rich province that borders both Afghanistan and Iran and is regularly targeted by Islamist militants, sectarian groups, and Baluch separatists fighting for independence.

The Pakistani government has said it has quelled the insurgency in the province, but violence has persisted, often targeting police forces, the Pakistani military, or infrastructure.

Abductions are rare in the restive region.

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