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U.S. Projections Show Obama Reelected

Supporters of President Barack Obama cheer during the Obama Election Night watch party at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.
Supporters of President Barack Obama cheer during the Obama Election Night watch party at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.
U.S. broadcast networks project that President Barack Obama has won reelection for a second four-year term, defeating Republican Party rival Mitt Romney.

With votes still being counted, Obama was thought to have scored key victories in several closely competitive “swing states” that could help tip the balance in America’s presidential election.

Citing partial official results and exit polls, U.S. broadcast networks project Obama so far winning at least 275 electoral votes -- more than the 270 vote Electoral College majority to secure the presidency.

Obama’s projected wins have come from "swing" states like Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. He also has projected wins in the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as his boyhood home state of Hawaii.

The projections so far show Romney winning 203 electoral votes, including the swing state of North Carolina, as well as from Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, and Georgia.


LIVE ELECTION MAP: Projected Election Results
The Electoral College, not the nationwide popular vote, decides the presidency. Each state has a share of electoral votes, based on its population.
The vote count so far is extremely close in the key battleground state of Florida, with Obama holding a slight lead.
Swing states are those that are considered key to tipping the balance in favor of one candidate or the other in the Electoral College.

Long Lines

In other developments, complaints about voting procedures have surfaced in states including Pennsylvania and Florida. Reports said voters were forced to wait in long lines to cast their ballots in some states.
Nationwide polls just ahead of Election Day showed Obama and Romney virtually tied.
Romney spoke to reporters on November 6 aboard his campaign plane and said he is confident of victory.

"We fought to the very end and I think that's why we'll be successful. I just finished writing a victory speech. It's about 1,118 words," Romney said. "And I'm sure it'll change before I'm finished because I haven't passed it around to my family, and friends, and advisers to get their reaction. But I've only written one speech at this point."
Obama and Romney have set out different approaches for reviving the U.S. economy, which most voters have said it the most important issue facing the country.
The candidates have also presented different views on U.S. social issues, and the appropriate way for America to conduct its foreign policy.
Romney voted on election day in the state of Massachusetts, where he once served as governor.
President Obama cast an early ballot last week in his hometown of Chicago.
Obama and Romney are estimated to have raised a combined than $2.5 billion to fund their campaigns.

With additional reporting by Reuters and AP

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Belarusian Opposition Politician Kazlou Released After 30 Months In Prison

Mikalay Kazlou in the city of Mahilyou in February 2021
Mikalay Kazlou in the city of Mahilyou in February 2021

The former leader of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), Mikalay Kazlou, was released from prison on July 22 after serving 30 months on a charge of disrupting civil order. The charge stemmed from Kazlou's participation in a rally on August 23, 2020, that was attended by at least 100,000 people challenging the results of a presidential election and a brutal police crackdown that started shortly after authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was declared the winner. Belarusian authorities later shut down the AHP -- one of the oldest opposition political parties in Belarus, established in 1995. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Explosion Destroys Shopping Center In Southwestern Russia

Emergency personnel work at the scene of the shopping center in Apsheronsk on July 22.
Emergency personnel work at the scene of the shopping center in Apsheronsk on July 22.

Emergency officials in Russia's southwestern Krasnodar region said on July 22 that an explosion completely leveled a shopping center in the city of Apsheronsk. The regional prosecutor's office said the building was destroyed by a gas explosion. Rescue workers managed to rescue one person from under the debris and are looking for more. At least 15 people who were standing at a bus stop nearby were also injured, of whom three were hospitalized. Russia's southern regions suffered a mass drone attack overnight. At the moment there is no information that the explosion was linked to that attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Head Of Stalin Bust Knocked Off In Town Near Moscow

A bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin being cleaned in Moscow. (file photo)
A bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin being cleaned in Moscow. (file photo)

An unidentified man has used a sledgehammer to knock off the head of a bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the town of Zvenigorod in the Moscow region, videos posted by Telegram channels Beware, News and Zvenigorod appeared to show. A nearby bust of Vladimir Lenin was also damaged in the attack. A criminal investigation into vandalism has been opened, Moscow region police announced, adding that a 43-year-old suspect had been detained and released on bail. He faces up to three months in jail if found guilty. The bust was erected last year without permission from the authorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Tajik, Uzbek Teenagers Charged With Attempted Murder After Brawl With Russian Lawmaker

Police check the documents of migrants in Samara. (file photo)
Police check the documents of migrants in Samara. (file photo)

A Russian court on July 22 sent three teenagers -- two of whom were from Central Asia -- to pretrial detention until September 18 on an attempted-murder charge after a brawl last week with Mikhail Matveyev -- a member of the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma. Matveyev says he was hit in the head with a glass bottle after he tried to stop a brawl in the city of Samara. Tajik-Russian citizen Nekruz Bakhirov and Uzbek citizen Murod Musurov, both 19, as well as a 16-year-old Russian national identified as Artur B., were initially charged with hooliganism. The charge was later changed to attempted murder. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukrainian FM Kuleba To Visit China

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will visit China on July 23-25 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, the Foreign Ministries of both countries said on their official websites on July 22. "During the meetings and negotiations, the parties will exchange views on the current state and prospects for the development of bilateral relations. The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia's aggression [against Ukraine] and China's possible role in achieving a stable and just peace, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Iran Hangs 8 In 2 Days Amid Concerns Over Rise In Executions After Election

Iran executed at least 853 people last year, according to rights groups, most of whom were convicted of narcotics-related crimes.
Iran executed at least 853 people last year, according to rights groups, most of whom were convicted of narcotics-related crimes.

Rights groups say Iranian authorities executed eight people over the weekend, bolstering concerns that the regime may accelerate the carrying out of death sentences after a lull ahead a snap presidential election held earlier this month.

The human rights-focused news agency HRANA reported that four people, including an Afghan national, were hanged on July 21 in Qezel Hesar prison in Karaj. The news agency said they were convicted of drug-related charges.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of Afghans executed in Iran, with activists saying they do not get fair trials.

Separately, the Oslo-based organization Iran Human Rights said four people, including a woman, were hanged on July 20 in a prison in Shiraz. Three of them were convicted of murder and one was found guilty of rape.

Earlier this month, Iran Human Rights said executions had dropped by 30 percent in the first six months of 2024 but warned that it could pick up following the snap presidential election.

Reformist lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian beat ultraconservative rival Saeed Jalili in a runoff vote on July 5.

Human Rights Watch on July 15 urged Pezeshkian to fight the rising number of executions in Iran.

As of July 22, at least 268 people have been executed in Iranian prisons this year, more than half of whom were convicted on drug-related charges, according to Iran Human Rights.

Amnesty International says Iran carried out 853 executions in 2023, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions.

Because the Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, international and Iranian rights groups document cases using open-source data such as state media and human rights organizations.

Warrants Issued For Russian Anti-War Activists In Exile

Lev Gyammer (file photo)
Lev Gyammer (file photo)

A Moscow court on July 22 issued arrest warrants for two members of the Vesna youth movement on charges of organizing an extremist group, distributing false data about Russia's military, calls for anti-government activities, and disrespecting past military glory. Lev Gyammer and Gleb Kondratyev have both fled Russia. Gyammer used to lead late opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's team in the southwestern city of Krasnodar. Vesna was declared extremist and banned in Russia in December 2022 after it organized rallies against mobilization for the Kremlin's war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Jailed Former Daghestani Minister Reportedly Hospitalized After Suicide Attempt

Magomed Magomedov appears in court in Moscow in October 2023
Magomed Magomedov appears in court in Moscow in October 2023

The former sports minister of the Russian North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Magomed Magomedov, was hospitalized over the weekend with what local media reports said were self-inflicted cuts after he attempted suicide in a Moscow detention center. The 67-year-old Magomedov was arrested in October 2023 on embezzlement charges. Magomedov served as Daghestan's sports minister from 2012 to 2021. Before that, he was mayor of the town of Kizilyurt near the regional capital, Makhachkala, and a Daghestani lawmaker. In 2005 and 2011, Magomedov survived two assassination attempts. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Kremlin-Friendly Reporter Expelled From German Investigative Journalism Association

Hubert Seipel (right) interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.
Hubert Seipel (right) interviews Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

Germany's investigative journalism association, the Netzwerk Recherche (NR), has expelled influential broadcaster and author Hubert Seipel after it became known that he received money from Moscow for writing laudative books about Russian President Vladimir Putin. A joint investigation led by German broadcaster ZDF revealed in November 2023 that Seipel, who interviewed Putin and wrote two books about him, received 600,000 euros ($646,000) from Kremlin-linked oligarch Aleksei Mordashov. "Seipel has violated the basic rules of independent journalism with his behavior and has caused enormous damage to the reputation of our profession," NR Chairman Daniel Drepper told ZDF. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Zelenskiy Thanks Biden, Says Ukraine Respects 'Difficult But Strong Decision'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a bilateral meeting during the NATO summit in Washington in July.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a bilateral meeting during the NATO summit in Washington in July.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that Ukraine respects U.S. President Joe Biden's "difficult but strong decision" to withdraw his candidacy for reelection.

Biden, who is 81, on July 21 dropped his bid for reelection in November and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's nominee amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

"Ukraine is grateful to President Biden for his unwavering support for Ukraine's fight for freedom, which, along with strong bipartisan support in the United States, has been and continues to be critical," Zelenskiy wrote on X on July 22.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Under Biden's leadership, the United States has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia's unprovoked invasion and its main provider of military and financial aid.

In what is likely to be one of his enduring legacies as president, Biden was able to quickly unite allies to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military and financial support after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

"Many strong decisions have been made in recent years and they will be remembered as bold steps taken by President Biden in response to challenging times. And we respect today's tough but strong decision," Zelenskiy wrote.

"We will always be thankful for President Biden's leadership. He supported our country during the most dramatic moment in history, assisted us in preventing Putin from occupying our country, and has continued to support us throughout this terrible war."

Former President Donald Trump, who is vying for reelection as the Republican Party's candidate, has repeatedly said that if he was elected president again, he would end the war Russia launched against Ukraine.

Trump repeated the pledge on July 19 in a phone call with Zelenskiy that both men described as good.

Harris has strengthened her international profile during her three years in office and represented the United States at Ukraine's peace summit in Switzerland last month.

In his statement, Zelenskiy voiced hope that Washington would remain at the helm of the Western allies' support for Ukraine's response to Russia's aggression and would not abandon Ukraine.

"The current situation in Ukraine and all of Europe is no less challenging, and we sincerely hope that America's continued strong leadership will prevent Russian evil from succeeding or making its aggression pay off," Zelenskiy said.

Updated

Rosneft Refinery Damaged In Drone Attack, Local Russian Officials Say

Rosneft Tuapse oil refinery in the Krasnodar region reportedly caught fire from drone debris. (file photo)
Rosneft Tuapse oil refinery in the Krasnodar region reportedly caught fire from drone debris. (file photo)

A large Russian oil refinery in southern Russia sustained damage after it was set on fire early on July 22, regional officials said, as the Defense Ministry in Moscow said that it repelled a large Ukrainian drone attack targeting several regions.

Sergei Boyko, the governor of Russia's southern Krasnodar region, said on Telegram that debris from a drone that had been shot down sparked a fire at the oil refinery in Tuapse, Russia's only oil-processing installation on the shore of the Black Sea, which belongs to the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Boyko said the fire was eventually contained and that there were no casualties. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

Ukraine, whose energy infrastructure has been decimated by relentless Russian missile and drone strikes, has increasingly targeted in recent months oil facilities inside Russia that work for the military.

Tuapse, one of Russia's oldest refineries, has been targeted by Ukrainian drones in the past, the most recent attack reportedly occurring in May.

The refinery has a daily processing capacity of 240,000 barrels and produces naphtha, fuel oil, vacuum gasoil, and high-sulphur diesel. It exports a large part of its production to countries such as Turkey and China.

Ukraine has not officially commented on the strike, but a source in the Ukrainian defense sector told AFP that drones linked to the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) were behind the refinery attack.

Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's southern Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said a tractor driver was killed and his wife was wounded in a Ukrainian drone attack.

The claim could not be independently verified immediately.

Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier that its air defenses on July 22 shot down 47 Ukrainian drones over five regions and off the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts.

The ministry said most of the drones were downed over the Rostov, Belgorod, Voronezh, Smolensk, and Krasnodar regions, while 17 were destroyed over the sea.

Separately, Ukraine's air force said its air defenses shot down 16 Russian drones in the south and east of the country.

Regional officials also reported that 10 people were wounded by Russian shelling in Ukraine's southern region of Kherson and two women sustained injuries as a result of Russian bombardment in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

Updated

Biden Shakes Up 2024 U.S. Presidential Election Race By Stepping Down, Endorsing Harris

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (right) and President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February 2023.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (right) and President Joe Biden hold hands at the Democratic National Committee 2023 Winter meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February 2023.

WASHINGTON -- With just over 100 days left before U.S. voters cast their ballots in a presidential election, U.S. President Joe Biden dropped his bid for reelection and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's nominee amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

Biden had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with his rival, Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The 81-year-old appeared frail and confused at times during the June 27 debate, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

The president did not give a reason for withdrawing his candidacy, but he immediately endorsed Harris, to be the party’s candidate, which she vowed to "earn and win" as the August 19-21 Democratic National Convention approaches.

"I have decided not to accept the nomination and to focus all my energies on my duties as president for the remainder of my term," Biden, who is recovering at home in Delaware from COVID-19, said, adding he was acting in the "best interest of my party and the country."

Many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, immediately backed Harris to become the Democratic Party's candidate, though it remained unclear whether she would face a challenge to top the election ticket.

The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, said the party would comment soon on the path forward for the nomination process after Biden became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades.

"The bottom line is that it's going to be very hard to dislodge her [Harris] from the top spot for all kinds of reasons," Matthew Dallek, historian and political science professor at George Washington University, told RFE/RL.

"She got Biden's endorsement. She can have access to the campaign infrastructure and the campaign dollars. She's been vice president for four years. There's not a whole lot of time. It would be very hard for the Democratic Party, I think, to replace the first African American woman vice president at the top of the ticket with a white man."

Biden Bows Out Of Election: A Look Back At His Challenging Presidency
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Adding to the situation's urgency, Democrats say too much is at stake -- including democracy itself -- to lose the election.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

During his term in office from 2017-2021, Trump undermined NATO unity, tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, and sought to overturn the 2020 election results.

Biden beat Trump in 2020, narrowly edging him out in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

However, polls showed Trump, 78, expanding his lead over Biden, including in some of those key states, especially after the Republican nominee survived an assassination attempt during a campaign rally on July 13 in Pennsylvania.

Chicago Voters Back Biden Decision To Step Down
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"Biden was really fighting two wars at the same time, one against Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and then one against his own party, the Democrats. I think that that was just too much to keep an election campaign going heading into a general election," Thomas Gift, associate professor of political science at University College London, told RFE/RL.

Republican leaders immediately attacked Harris over the Biden administration's policies, with some saying that if Biden was not fit enough to run for president, he should step down from the position, a move analysts said was unlikely to happen.

"There's been a lot of evidence, I think, that Biden is really diminished as a campaigner. But in terms of his ability to govern and to make decisions, and to make informed decisions, I don't think we've seen that," Dallek said.

If chosen as the Democratic candidate, Harris, a 59-year-old former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history.

Biden Endorses Kamala Harris To Replace Him In 2024 Presidential Race
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Harris oversaw several key issues in the administration, including immigration, voting rights, and reproductive rights. She also strengthened her international profile during her three years in office, making more than a dozen trips abroad and meeting about 150 leaders.

Harris also represented the United States at Ukraine's peace summit in Switzerland last month.

Other names commonly floated as potential contenders for the Democratic nomination have included governors Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Harris shares a similar disapproval rating as Biden. However, experts say she is still not well-known to many Americans and can improve her image as she campaigns around the country.

Biden's backing of Harris gives her a clear path to the nomination, likely avoiding an intraparty brawl, Gift says.

Biden’s Decision To Bow Out Upends U.S. Election As Focus Now Turns To Harris
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"These last few weeks have been bad enough for Democrats. The last thing they needed was a really bruising convention. So I think that it made sense for Biden to go ahead and endorse Harris," he said.

Democrats also risk alienating black voters, a key part of their base, if they pass up on Harris, analysts say.

"He has done one of the most difficult things for any political leader, and has done so in the national interest," presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in a post on X.

Biden's announcement means his political career of more than half a century will finally come to an end in January 2025 when his successor is inaugurated.

In 1972, at the age of 29, Biden won the Delaware Senate race. He held that seat for the next 36 years, serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He ran for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, losing both times.

Obama, considered a novice in foreign affairs, tapped Biden to be his running mate in 2008. Biden served as vice president for the next eight years, overseeing White House policy on Ukraine and making several trips to Kyiv.

Like most vice presidents, Biden wanted to run for the nation's top office in 2016 but was encouraged to make way for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, something he is reportedly still bitter about. She was beaten by Trump in one of the biggest upsets in presidential history.

In his third bid for the presidency in 2020, Biden beat incumbent Trump in a close race, becoming the oldest person to hold the top office. He immediately sought to rebuild relations with European allies damaged under his predecessor.

With Biden bowing out before officially becoming his party's nominee, Trump, 78, is now officially the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history.

In what is likely to be one of his enduring legacies as president, he was able to quickly unite those allies to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military and financial aid when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Russians, Belarusians Among Those Denied Visas To Attend Olympics Amid Spy Fears

France has denied visas to about 100 journalists, therapists, and technical workers seeking to attend the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris amid concerns over espionage, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Le Journal du Dimanche. Those denied visas on those grounds include Russian and Belarusian citizens, he said. The games, which attract hundreds of thousands of foreigners, will be held from July 26 to August 11. Darmanin said France is also concerned about cyberattacks during the games. Russian and Belarusian teams have been banned from participating in the Summer Olympics as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus has supported.

Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan Following Complaints

Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.
Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.

Pakistan on July 21 reopened a key border crossing point with Afghanistan after a nine-month closure following complaints by residents. Pakistan in October closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border that runs through Pashtun communities, ending the century-old Easement Rights, which had allowed certain communities along the 19th-century Durand Line border to cross freely. Pakistan began requiring people show valid documents like passports and visas to cross into Spin Boldak, a district in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, sparking anger. Pashtun communities on both sides of the border argued that it harmed their livelihoods and caused significant financial losses.

Zelenskiy Faces Tough Choices As U.S. Election Looms, Kyiv Mayor Says

Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April
Viltali Klitschko addressing Ukrainian troops in April

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy faces a politically fraught time as the November presidential election in the United States looms, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera. “Should we continue the war with new deaths and destruction, or should we consider a territorial compromise with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?” Klitschko asked. “No matter what step he takes, our president risks ending his life by political suicide.” Klitschko added that Zelenskiy would likely “have to resort to a referendum” to resolve the dilemma, adding it is not possible to make such a decision “without popular legitimacy.” To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Scrambles Fighter Jets To Meet U.S. Arctic Patrol

NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January
NATO aircraft, including a B-52 bomber, during an exercise over Sweden in January

Russia said on July 21 that it scrambled fighter jets to prevent two U.S. strategic bombers from crossing its border over the Barents Sea in the Arctic. The U.S. military routinely carries out flights over international waters, operations that it says are conducted in neutral airspace and in accordance with international law. But Moscow has responded more aggressively to the exercises in recent months, warning in June that U.S. drone flights over the Black Sea risked leading to a "direct" military clash. "As the Russian fighters approached, the American strategic bombers corrected their flight course, moving away, and then turning away from Russia's state border," Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Ukrainian Official Criticizes Red Cross Over Prisoner-Visitation Claims

Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)
Ukraine's parliamentary human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets (file photo)

Ukraine’s parliamentary human rights commissioner said the “vast majority” of Ukrainian prisoners who have been returned to the country in exchanges with Russia said they had no communication with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) while they were being held.

“I want to emphasize that, while talking to our defenders who were returned from enemy captivity, I learned that the vast majority of them had not seen or communicated with representatives of the ICRC for the entire time of their detention,” Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on July 20.

Lubinets was responding to recent comments by ICRC Russian delegation head Boris Michel, who told Russian media that ICRC staff had visited “3,100 prisoners in Russia and Ukraine.”

Michel did not specify how many visits were conducted in each country, Lubinets added.

“The reason for this is that almost all the visits in this number were to Russian prisoners of war held by Ukraine, because our country steadfastly abides by the requirements of the Geneva Conventions,” he said.

Lubinets criticized the ICRC for calling on “both sides” to provide access to prisoners without acknowledging Russia’s “practice of not allowing ICRC workers access to the places where Ukrainian defenders are held.”

He urged the ICRC to “operate with true numbers” in order not to mislead the public or the relatives of Ukrainian prisoners.

In comments quoted by Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Michel said he was engaged in “productive dialogue” with Russian officials regarding visits to prisoners.

On July 17, some 95 Ukrainian prisoners were released in the latest exchange with Russia. It was the 54th such exchange since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, resulting in the release of 3,405 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Ukrainian prosecutors have opened more than 450 criminal cases on suspicion of the mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners by Russia.

Romanians Appear To Be Involved In Mass Riot In Leeds

Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.
Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.

An overnight mass riot in the British city of Leeds has been quelled, police said early on July 19, after a police car was overturned and a bus was set on fire by angry residents, most of whom spoke Romanian in videos posted on social media. Police said a “serious disorder incident” began in the late afternoon on July 18 in the northern city’s Harehills area after crowds gathered following a family disturbance that police had been called to. Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said she was “appalled at the shocking scenes” in Leeds

Slovakia's Prime Minister Blasts Ukraine's Decision To Put LUKoil On Sanctions List

Slovakia will not be a "hostage" to Ukraine-Russia relations, Prime Minister Robert Fico told his Ukrainian counterpart in a call on July 20 after Kyiv placed Russia’s LUKoil on a sanctions list. Slovakia and Hungary said this week they had stopped receiving oil from LUKoil after Ukraine imposed a ban last month on the transit of LUKoil resources via its territory. For Slovakia, that meant a loss in some supplies for its Slovnaft refinery, which is owned by Hungarian oil and gas group MOL. Slovakia's government office said that Fico spoke by telephone with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and told him Slovakia did not intend "to be a hostage of Ukrainian-Russian relations."

Belarus In Talks With Berlin Over German Man Sentenced To Death

German citizen Rico Krieger, who has been sentenced to death in Belarus for "mercenary activity," according to the Vyasna human rights group.
German citizen Rico Krieger, who has been sentenced to death in Belarus for "mercenary activity," according to the Vyasna human rights group.

Belarus and Germany are holding "consultations" over the fate of a German man reportedly sentenced to death by a court in Minsk last month, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said on July 20.

"There were, of course, contacts with the German side on this topic. This criminal is a German citizen, and we understand the German side's concern for him,” said Anatoly Glaz, spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

The Belarusian side has proposed “concrete solutions on the available options,” Glaz said, adding that consultations were being conducted by the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Belarus has provided consular access to the individual “in full compliance with international norms and bilateral agreements,” the spokesman said.

The German Foreign Ministry confirmed on July 19 that a German national has been sentenced to death in Belarus and said Berlin was in intensive contact with authorities in Minsk over his fate.

The German ministry did not identify the man, but earlier on July 19 the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights group said the man sentenced to death was Rico Krieger. Vyasna said Krieger, 30, was taken into custody in November 2023, went on trial on June 6, and was sentenced on June 24 by the Minsk regional court.

The human rights group said it was the first trial in Belarus for "mercenary activity."

It said Krieger had been charged additionally with terrorism, creating an extremist group, intentionally damaging a vehicle, and illegal operations with firearms and explosives.

Vyasna said the charges were connected to the Kalinouski Regiment, a group of anti-government Belarusian exiles fighting for Ukraine. The Kalinouski Regiment denies any connection to the case.

The German Foreign Ministry said on July 19 that it and the German Embassy in Minsk were giving "the person in question consular support and...working intensively with Belarusian authorities on his behalf.

Human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka told RFE/RL that he believed the death penalty sentence was not accidental and that Belarusian authorities are counting on using the case to bargain with Germany, noting the lack of a death penalty there.

The German Foreign Ministry statement said Berlin considered the death penalty "a cruel and inhuman form of punishment" and that Germany rejected it in all circumstances.

Belarus is the only European country that continues to use the death penalty.

With reporting by Reuters

Rare Public Protest Held In Krasnodar Over Electricity Blackouts

Cooling towers of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant (file photo)
Cooling towers of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant (file photo)

Residents of the Russian city of Krasnodar on July 20 staged a rare public protest to vent their anger over recent power cuts affecting southern Russia.

An estimated 200 to 300 people turned out for the protest to demand that the authorities resume the supply of electricity and water. They blocked a street in the north of the city as they voiced complaints about the cuts to services, which they said are becoming more frequent, Russian online media reported.

The protesters said that this summer their lights initially were turned off once a week, then three times a week, and now there is no electricity for 12-15 hours a day, the Baza Telegram channel reported.

People demand that they be given electricity for at least three hours, the online publication 93.RU reported.

Public protests are rare in Russia given the risk of arrest and detention and in light of a clampdown on dissent since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The protest in Krasnodar appeared to have been peaceful, though there were reports of two arrests.

Krasnodar Mayor Yevgeny Naumov, police officers, and members of the National Guard were at the scene, according to Russian media reports. The authorities promised to ensure the supply of water.

Authorities in the Krasnodar region earlier this week said the electricity blackouts were necessary due to restrictions on the supply of electricity from other regions and a heat wave in southern Russia.

Extreme temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and a decrease in the flow of power to the region have meant “the equipment of the unified power system is under significant loads, especially in the daytime,” Krasnodar’s Ministry for Energy and Public Utilities said in a statement quoted by Interfax on July 17.

"There has been abnormal heat in the Krasnodar region for a week now. The load on the energy system is colossal. I know and understand all the indignation of residents due to power outages," regional Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on Telegram.

The system operator said on July 16 that the energy system of the south of Russia set a power consumption record.

The following day, Russia's nuclear energy operator, Rosenergoatom, said a unit of the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant was switched off. The shutdown left some 1 million people in southern Russia and parts of occupied Crimea without electricity.

Rosenergoatom later said the shutdown was due to a "false alarm” but did not elaborate on the cause. The unit has been put back into operation.

The Rostov Nuclear Power Plant, also known as the Volgodonsk Nuclear Power Plant, has four units with a total capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts. The plant is located on the left bank of the Don River near the city of Volgodonsk, some 1,100 kilometers south of Moscow.

In recent months, Ukraine, whose energy infrastructure has been relentlessly pummeled by Russian strikes since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion, has in turn resorted to targeting Russian energy facilities, mainly oil refineries and those that work for the Russian military.

With reporting by Reuters and Interfax

Spain Detains 3 Over Cyberattacks On Pro-Ukrainian Nations

 A woman looks at screens during a NATO cyberdefense exercise in Estonia in 2019.
A woman looks at screens during a NATO cyberdefense exercise in Estonia in 2019.

Spanish police said on July 20 that they had arrested three people accused of taking part in cyberattacks by a pro-Russian group targeting public institutions and strategic sectors in Spain and other NATO countries. The attacks targeted countries that have supported Ukraine in its struggle against the Russian invasion. The three were arrested for "computer-related offenses with terrorist intent" over a string of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which make websites or network resources unavailable by flooding them with malicious traffic. The attacks were "organized by the Russian-linked hacker group called NoName057(16)," it said, without giving further details.

Thousands Stage Sit-In Protest In NW Pakistan After Military Allegedly Fires On 'Peace March'

Organizers of the sit-in protest in the Bannu district of Pakistan's restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province say they will remain until the government provides assurances it will improve security.
Organizers of the sit-in protest in the Bannu district of Pakistan's restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province say they will remain until the government provides assurances it will improve security.

Thousands of demonstrators in northwest Pakistan are participating in a sit-in protest after authorities fired on participants of a “peace march” in the Bannu district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province on July 19.

Leaders of the rally told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that the Pakistani military fired on participants of the peace march, held as the region has experienced a spike in militant attacks.

Doctors at the Bannu district hospital said that they had received one dead body and 27 injured people following the march.

The military has so far not commented on allegations that it was responsible for the violence.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, which has shut down mobile and Internet services in the Bannu district amid the unrest, on July 20 announced the formation of an investigative commission to look into the incident.

Nasir Bangash, a leader of the sit-in protest, told RFE/RL that the sit-in will continue until the government provides assurances that peace in the restive province can be restored.

Amnesty International sharply criticized the authorities’ use of violence to break up the march, saying that the “use of lethal force at a peaceful rally advocating for peace is unlawful” and calling for a prompt investigation to “hold to account officials responsible for the attack.”

The rights watchdog further said that restrictions on mobile and Internet services in Bannu “curtail the people’s ability to mobilize” and also “increase the spread of misinformation during emergencies and create panic.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also urged the government to “hold to account those responsible for protesters' deaths and injuries.”

“This seemingly state-sanctioned violation of citizens' right to life and right to freedom of peaceful assembly is reprehensible and reflects a dangerous contempt for citizen-led calls for peace,” HRCP said in a statement on X on July 19.

The provincial assembly of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa denounced the violence against “peaceful protesters” in a session held late on July 19, as demonstrations spread to other cities in the province, including the regional capital, Peshawar.

Leaders of Pashtun nationalist political parties have also condemned the violence used against protesters in the Bannu district.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has seen an increase in deadly attacks in the past two years, mostly blamed on Islamist extremist groups, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and affiliates of the extremist group Islamic State.

A number of deadly incidents have taken place in recent months, leading to reports that the military is considering an operation to turn the tide of rising terrorism.

While residents of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province have complained that Islamabad is not doing enough to provide security, they have also expressed fears of a large-scale operation.

Pakistani security forces have recently said they have conducted targeted operations against militants in several parts of the province.

On July 15, eight Pakistani soldiers were killed when a militant rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the outer wall of a garrison in Bannu.

Iran Says It Has Salvaged Capsized Warship

The Iranian destroyer Sahand is seen capsized in the port of Bandar Abbas.
The Iranian destroyer Sahand is seen capsized in the port of Bandar Abbas.

An Iranian warship that keeled over while under repair almost two weeks ago has been salvaged, according to the Fars news agency. Experts from the Iranian Navy managed to lift the vessel, the agency reported. Despite the damage sustained, naval experts were confident that the ship, the Sahand, could be repaired. The warship capsized in early July during repairs in the port of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, injuring many workers. Equipped with modern radar and missile systems, the destroyer was one of the country's most important warships and the pride of the Iranian Navy.

Updated

2 Dead After Ukrainian Energy Facilities Hit By Russian Drones, Missiles

A body is covered in the courtyard of an apartment building in Mykolayiv on July 19 after a deadly Russian missile attack.
A body is covered in the courtyard of an apartment building in Mykolayiv on July 19 after a deadly Russian missile attack.

Russia has continued its assault on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, with drones and missiles targeting facilities throughout the country early on July 20.

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Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synyehubov said Iskander missiles killed two people and injured three in the eastern region.

Ukraine’s Air Force said that its air defenses shot down 13 of 17 Russian drones across five regions.

But officials in the Sumy and Chernihiv regions reported that Shahed suicide drones struck and damaged energy facilities in the northern territories.

The national grid operator Ukrenerho said an energy facility in the central Poltava region was also reportedly struck.

Thousands of people have been left without power or running water in the Poltava region, according to Governor Filip Pronin.

In recent months, Russia has increasingly targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leading to blackouts across the country and considerably reducing Ukraine’s capacity to produce electricity.

Following recent discussions with Ukrainian officials, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the German news agency dpa on July 20 that the UN has seen an increase in the number of Ukrainian refugees over the past few months.

"They are worried to have to face winter -- or even this very hot season -- without power," Grandi said.

On July 20, Ukrainian officials also announced a higher death toll resulting from a Russian missile strike that hit a children’s playground in the southern city of Mykolayiv.

The number of people killed in the attack has risen to four, including one child, according to Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, commenting on the attack in a Telegram post on July 19, called on the world to take action to help Ukraine defeat the all-out Russian invasion launched in February 2022.

“This destruction of life must be stopped,” Zelenskiy wrote. “We need new solutions to support our defenses. Russia must feel the power of the world.”

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