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Russian Experts 'Analyzing' Shatto Autopsy

Max Shatto was born Maksim Kuzmin in Russia's Pskov Oblast.
WASHINGTON -- The Russian Embassy in Washington says experts in Moscow are "analyzing" the autopsy report for a Russian adoptee whose death early this year in Texas set off an international drama.

Yevgeniy Khorishko, an embassy spokesman, told RFE/RL that a copy of Max Shatto's autopsy report was "sent to Russia for the experts to analyze" after Russian officials received it last week.

Ashley Fourt, the assistant district attorney for civil cases in Texas's Tarrant County, where the autopsy was completed, confirmed that she released a copy of the report to Sergei Azizov, the vice consul at the Russian Consulate in Houston, on March 27.

The U.S. State Department said it has been "in contact with the Russian Embassy and local authorities regarding the report" as well.

The embassy's Khorishko declined to say whether Russian officials are preparing to formally challenge the conclusion that the child's death was "accidental."

International Drama

The death in January of 3-year-old Max Shatto, born Maksim Kuzmin, generated a furor in Russia, as officials accused the child's adoptive U.S. mother, Laura Shatto, of murder.

Russian officials cited the case as justification for Moscow's politically charged ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children, which went into effect at the start of the year.

Doctors who reviewed the boy's autopsy ruled on March 1 that his death was caused by the "accidental" laceration of an artery caused by blunt trauma to the abdomen. They determined that the injury fit into the boy's pattern of hurting himself, behavior brought on by psychological problems.

Authorities later said they would not file charges against the child's adoptive parents, a decision that was criticized by Russia's children's rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov.

Russia demanded access to the autopsy report and has called the U.S. investigation incomplete.

Autopsy Details

The "Odessa American," a local Texas newspaper, posted the report on its website last week.

The report identifies more than 30 bruises found on the body of Max Shatto, from his head to his genitals to his feet.

A summary of an interview conducted by medical investigators with the boy's adopted mother, Laura Shatto, is also included.

In the interview, she paints a graphic picture of a child with severe psychological disturbances. His behavior allegedly included banging his head on hard surfaces, clawing at himself, throwing himself to the ground, and holding his breath until he passed out.

The report also states that the child's pediatrician prescribed Risperidone, an antipsychotic drug, but that Laura Shatto stopped administering the medication over fear of its side effects.

It also recounts details of the day Max Shatto died, when Laura Shatto allegedly left the child unattended for several minutes in the backyard while she used the restroom. She said she then discovered Max unconscious near the slide and swings.

Astakhov, Russia's children's rights commissioner, described the report on Russian television last week as "biased and hasty."

He argued that the boy's adoptive parents should at least be prosecuted for negligence for leaving him unattended.

Bobby Bland, the district attorney for Texas's Ector County, where the Shattos live, told RFE/RL: "I've tried to cooperate in giving [the Russians] information and keeping them in the loop on things, but essentially, the deal is that I have to prosecute based on the facts, not on rhetoric."

In the interview with Laura Shatto summarized in the autopsy report, she also claims that she saw her adopted son being sexually abused by a woman who temporarily took care of the child in Russia before the adoption was complete.

Dmitry Shakhov, the child's rights commissioner for Russia's Pskov region, where Max Shatto was born, told journalists on March 29 that he did not know what interim caretaker Laura Shatto was referring to. He said the child's welfare was her responsibility.

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Tens Of Thousands Take To The Streets Of Belgrade To Protest Mass Shootings, Government Response

The demonstration on Belgrade on March 27 was the fourth such protest in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens took to the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 27 to protest against the government’s response to two mass shootings earlier in the month that killed 18. Protesters called on President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, and Aleksandar Vulin, the director of Serbia's security agency, to resign. Many opponents blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the mass shootings. The demonstration was the fourth such protest in recent weeks. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Ukraine Claims Russia Plotting 'Provocation' At Nuclear Plant, Offers No Evidence

Russian forces currently occupy the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, in southeast Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a "large-scale provocation" at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. A statement released on May 26 by the intelligence directorate of Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would strike the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give the Russian forces the respite they need to regroup ahead of the counteroffensive. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Russian Orthodox Church Fires Archpriest For 'Obstruction' Of Trinity Icon Transfer

Believers pray in front of Andrei Rublev's 15th-century Trinity icon.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on May 27 fired archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration for "obstructing" the transfer of the historic 15th-century Trinity icon to the church from a museum in Moscow. Kalinin was also banned from the priesthood, according to a statement published by the Russian Orthodox Church. "I apparently made a mistake," Kalinin was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency, adding that he accepted the decision "calmly." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Germany Says Russia Set To Expel German Diplomats, Teachers, Cultural Staff

The German Embassy in Moscow (file photo)

Russia will start expelling German diplomats, teachers and employees of German cultural institutions next month, the German Foreign Office said on May 27 -- a move that will further enhance tensions between the two countries that have already had very fraught ties since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year. The German Foreign Ministry sharply criticized Russia’s move, calling the upcoming expulsions a "unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision." To read the original story by AP, click here.

Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates

To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many drivers in Iran are covering their license plates.

Police in Tehran issued a stern warning to road users amid an increase in the number of people covering up the license plates of mopeds with face masks, plastic covers, and badges. It is a criminal offense to cover a registration that can carry a penalty of six months to a year in prison, according to a senior police officer in Tehran on May 27, state news agency IRNA reported. Locals in Tehran say people are covering up their license plates for several reasons. As ever, road users are keen to avoid fines for infractions. In addition, many women who ride small mopeds are no longer wearing head scarves, as in the past, in a continued protest at the requirement. To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many cover their license plates.

Updated

Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban

A general view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam, northeast of Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter were killed after the two sides exchange gunfire on the Islamic republic's border with Afghanistan.

The incident on May 27 came amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.

Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.

The official government news agency IRNA quoted Brigadier General Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of the national police as saying that a border outpost in southeastern Iran had come under "heavy attack" by the Taliban, prompting a "a decisive and courageous counteraction" from Iranian border guards.

"The Taliban forces initiated the assault in contravention of international law and principles of good neighborliness," Rezai said.

IRNA said that following the border skirmishes, Brigadier General Ahmadreza Radan, chief commander of the national police, issued a directive to the border guards, asking them to "defend the borders bravely and decisively and not allow any trespassing or encroachment."

A Taliban spokesman said two people were killed in the clashes while accusing Iranian forces of shooting first.

"Today, in Nimroz Province, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counter-reaction," a spokesman for the Taliban-run Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a statement. "During the battle, one person was killed on each side and many were injured."

"The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate does not want to fight with its neighbors," Takor added.

Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi confirmed the clashes in the Kang district of Nimroz Province while calling for "dialogue and negotiations."

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation to be a reasonable way for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.

Iranian news agencies confirmed the death of two Iranian border guards. IRNA said two civilians had been injured in the incident. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a main border crossing with Afghanistan had been closed following the exchange of fire.

Earlier, the hard-line Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said the clashes ended after "a short time." Fars said the two sides had convened a meeting to investigate the cause of "the tensions."

It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.

HalVash, a Baluch rights group, posted a video and photos that it said were from the area where Iranian forces and the Taliban engaged in "heavy" clashes and exchange of fire.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.

The clashes follow a warning by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi who on May 18 called the de facto Taliban regime in Afghanistan not to violate Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.

According to the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obligated to provide Iran with 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River. Iran has accused Afghanistan of not complying with the accord, an allegation that Kabul rejects. Disputes over the distribution of cross-border water supplies have plagued relations between the two neighbors for decades.

Taliban officials have repeatedly claimed that due to low water levels, even if they opened the Kajaki Dam, nothing would reach Iran.

Water from the 1,150-kilometer (690-mile) Helmand River, Afghanistan’s longest, feeds the Hamun Lake in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The region relies heavily on the lake, and officials say it has suffered major issues because of a persistent lack of water.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

At Least Nine People Killed In Avalanche In Northern Pakistan

At least nine people were killed in an avalanche that occurred in northern Pakistan close to the border with China, officials said on May 27. The avalanche occurred early in the morning in the Astore district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region and involved a family from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said. Khalid Khurshid, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan ordered a search-and-rescue mission to go to the scene as soon as possible despite the bad weather. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Ukraine Asks Germany To Provide Taurus Long-Range Missiles

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pose on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 20.

Ukraine has asked Germany to supply it with Taurus cruise missiles, an air-launched weapon with a range of some 500 kilometers, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on May 27. Germany received the request several days ago, the spokeswoman said, confirming a report by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She declined to provide further details or say how likely it was that Germany would supply the missiles to Ukraine. Britain earlier in May became the first country to publicly provide Kyiv with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Suicide Attack Wounds 23 Pakistani Troops In Tribal Area, Officials Say

A convoy of Pakistan security forces was hit by a suicide bomber in the South Waziristan tribal ditrict of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on May 27. 

A suicide attacker slammed his explosives-laden motorcycle into a convoy of military vehicles in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan on June 27, wounding 23 troops, security officials told Radio Mashaal on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. "The military convoy was traveling from Dera Ismail Khan to South Waziristan tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province," one security official said. The wounded have been shifted to the military hospital in Dera Ismail where two of them are in critical condition. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.



NATO Urges Kosovo To 'Immediately De-escalate' Tensions After Police Clash With Protesters In Serb-Majority North

Kosovar police officers guard the municipality of Zvecan on May 27.

NATO on May 27 called on Kosovar authorities to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in the Serb-majority northern towns after security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds in three towns and enter municipal buildings in support of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors.

The situation was calm on May 27, RFE/RL correspondents reported, a day after the unrest shook Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- similarly sized communities of 16,000 to 18,000 people where the ethnic Albanian mayors sought to enter municipal buildings and take office amid opposition from Serb-majority protesters. There was heavy police presence in the area, the correspondents reported.

"We urge the Institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately & call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu wrote on Twitter on May 27.

"NATO-[led] KFOR remains vigilant & will ensure a safe & secure environment," Lungescu added referring to the KFOR protection force that was deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after the NATO alliance's bombing forced the Serbian Army out of the territory. KFOR comprises nearly 3,800 soldiers.

Five police officers were injured in Zvecan, authorities said, adding that at least four vehicles had been damaged. There were no immediate reports of possible injuries among protesters who had gathered at the town's main municipal building.

In a move that threatened to further fan tensions, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on May 27 announced that his country's military remained on high alert after he had ordered troops to deploy closer to the border with Kosovo late on May 26.

The decision to keep troops on high alert was made at a meeting of Serbia's National Security Council in Belgrade on May 27, the Serbian presidency said, adding that the move was necessary after the "brutal use of force by [Kosovar Prime Minister] Albin Kurti against the Serbian people in Kosovo."

The unrest prompted the United States and other Western allies to take an unusually harsh line against Kosovar authorities for the aggressive police action after previously assailing the government's decision to hold elections on April 23 following a boycott announced by the main Serb party.

The so-called QUINT states -- United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Britain -- had previously expressed concerns about the situation in northern Kosovo, saying the April elections did not constitute a lasting political solution for the municipalities involved due to the boycott.

In a joint statement on May 26, the group condemned the Kosovar authorities’ use of force and also expressed concerns about "Serbia's decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo and call all parties for maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26 said Kosovo’s government took the action to force access to municipal buildings against U.S. advice.

“We strongly condemn the actions by the Government of Kosovo that are escalating tensions in the north and increasing instability. We call on Prime Minister [Albin Kurti] to immediately halt these violent measures and refocus on the EU-facilitated Dialogue,” he wrote on Twitter.

Blinken urged all sides in the dispute to "refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict."

The European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement that the “European Union condemns in the strongest terms the clashes between Kosovo police and protesters in northern Kosovo, initiated by the attempt of newly elected mayors to enter municipal buildings.

"Everyone must take steps to reduce the tense situation and immediately restore calm. The EU will not accept any further unilateral or provocative moves and peacekeeping and security on the ground should be a priority," the statement added.

The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on May 25 to lead majority Serb municipalities, replacing Serb mayors who had resigned last November to protest a cross-border dispute over vehicle registrations.

The subsequent election to replace the mayors was boycotted by the dominant ethnic Serb party, Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which enjoys the support of neighboring Serbia's government -- paving the way for ethnic Albanian candidates to win with tiny vote totals.

A fourth mayor was sworn in last week -- in North Mitrovica -- in a process that Vucic condemned as an "occupation" of areas of the former Serbian province. Vucic has vowed never to recognize Kosovar independence.

The Serb minority accounts for 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population, which is 90 percent Albanian. But they hold majorities in regions near the Serbian border.

With reporting by Reuters

Governor Says Oil Pipeline Building Damaged In Drone Attack In Russia's Pskov Region

At least one administrative building of an oil pipeline in Russia's Pskov region was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones were coming from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties. According to Baza telegram channel, two kamikaze drones attacked the Transneft oil pumping station. Baza also reported that drones attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine, adding that there were no casualties. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules

A group of female women students at Tehran University of Fine Arts faculty hold a protest on March 07.

Iranian students are coming under increased pressure and disciplinary measures as authorities try to stamp out dissent over the mandatory hijab law.

The Union Council of Iranian Students says students, who have been at the forefront of massive anti-government protests over the hijab law, are being threatened via text messages and through "motorcycle patrols for hijab warnings" to comply with the rule.

It pointed to the recent summoning of students at the University of Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, where they were repeatedly threatened with suspensions and academic bans by university officials, as an example of how authorities were trying to force the students to abandon their opposition to the hijab law.

The council added that university authorities have set up a motorcycle security patrol tasked with confronting students who don't comply with the compulsory hijab, while noting the security presence at the university has substantially increased and closed gates to control the flow of students on campus as they target students based on their clothing.

Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend classes. Protesting students have chanted "Woman, life, freedom!" and "Death to the dictator!" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.

At Noshirvani University in the northern Iranian city of Babol, officials have reportedly formed committees to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement.

The United Students channel uncovered the formation of the Guidance Committee at the university, saying its job is to confront students based on their attire. If students refuse to observe the compulsory hijab, this committee has the authority to refer them to the university's disciplinary committee.

Security forces at the school are allegedly bursting into classes while professors are teaching to issue hijab warnings.

Several other universities, including Al-Zahra University, Beheshti University, and Azad University have reported similar occurances.

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, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

According to the Committee for the Follow-Up of the Situation of Detainees, over 720 students from across 100 universities in the country have been arrested since the nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini during her arrest.

Many of these detained students have reportedly faced severe penalties, including imprisonment, suspension from education, exile, and monetary fines.

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

Serbia's President Vucic Steps Down As Head Of Ruling Party

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses his supporters during a rally in front of the parliament building in Belgrade on May 26.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stepped down as leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) at a party congress on May 27, saying a new approach was needed to unite the country, but said he would remain head of state. The move came a day after tens of thousands of people from across Serbia and from neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia rallied in the center of Belgrade in a show of support for Vucic following anti-government protests over two mass shootings that killed 18 people earlier this month. Another anti-government protest was scheduled for later on May 27. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Updated

Wagner Mercenaries Reportedly Start Withdrawal From Bakhmut As Russia Launches Fresh Attacks, Air Strikes

Wagner mercenaries wave flags of Russia and the Wagner Group atop a building in an unidentified location in this still image obtained from a video released on May 20.

Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner Group have reportedly begun relocating from some of their positions in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the war in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk, according to senior Ukrainian officials and British intelligence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the mercenary group that has spearheaded the attack on Bakhmut, on May 25 said his fighters were starting to leave the city and would be replaced by regular Russian troops.

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Prigozhin claimed his fighters had captured Bakhmut, an assertion rejected by Kyiv officials who said Ukrainian forces still control parts of the devastated city.

At the same time, the Ukrainian side confirmed "certain rotational movements" of Russian forces in Bakhmut.

"Indeed, they are replacing (forces), but how massively, how much he (Prigozhin) will really withdraw the units of this criminal group -- it will take a little time to verify," Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told state television on May 27.

Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement on Telegram that Russian forces were continuing to attack Bakhmut but that overall offensive activity had decreased.

"Yesterday and today there have not been any active battles -- neither in the city nor on the flanks," she said on May 27, adding that Moscow's troops were instead shelling the outskirts and approaches to Bakhmut.

"The decrease in the enemy's offensive activity is due to the fact that troops are being replaced and regrouped," Maliar said. "The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities."

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, also told the BBC in an interview published on May 27 that Wagner mercenaries were leaving Bakhmut, but cautioned that they were "regrouping to another three locations" and "it doesn't mean that they will stop fighting with us."

British military intelligence said in its daily report on May 27 that Wagner fighters "have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions" in and around Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on May 27 that fighting has continued in and around Bakhmut, as Russia pounded the devastated city and its surroundings with air strikes.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on May 27 that Russian forces have continued attacking but "overall offensive activity has decreased."

WATCH: Civilians caught near the front line in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region continue to be evacuated. Serhiy Siryak and his wife, Tamara, from the town of Stepnohirsk, finally decided to leave when their house was destroyed by Russian shelling.

'The Walls Collapsed': Elderly Couple Finally Evacuates From Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Region
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Malyar said Ukrainian troops "firmly hold" the heights north and south of Bakhmut.

Earlier, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report on May 27 that Ukrainian forces repelled 25 Russian assaults on their positions in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

Two people were killed and five others were wounded by Russian shelling in Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on May 27. One person was killed in Chasiv Yar district and one in Vasyukivka, Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.

Fighting has been under way also around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are attempting to consolidate their tactical position, the Ukrainian military said.

A missile strike also hit a village in the eastern Kharkiv region overnight, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said on May 27, adding that the missile caused some material damage but no victims.

Meanwhile, authorities in Russian-occupied Berdyansk, in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhya region, reported several explosions on the outskirts of the city that they blamed on Ukrainian drones. The information could not be independently verified.

Russian officials also reported drone attacks on oil installations in two regions.

In Pskov, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus, at least one administrative building of an oil pipeline was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones came from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

In the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, the local council reported that a drone attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline near Erokhino, some 500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Druzhba is one of the world's longest and densest networks of oil pipelines.

According to the Baza telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services, drones also attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine.

In the Kursk region, the local governor said shelling from Ukraine killed a construction worker near the Ukrainian border.

None of the reported attacks inside Russia could be independently verified.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Tens Of Thousands Gather For Pro-Government Rallies In Serbian Capital

Supporters of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic take part in a rally in support of his policies and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in Belgrade on May 26.

Tens of thousands of supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 26 in support of President Aleksandar Vucic. The president has faced increasing pressure from opponents angered by what they see as a lack of response to two mass shootings, including one at a school, earlier in the month. Vucic has vowed to step up school security and urged citizens to hand over their weapons to police. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Updated

Pakistan's Imran Khan Calls For Immediate Talks Amid Standoff With Military

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 26 appealed for immediate talks with state officials, as pressure increased on him amid a crackdown on his top aides and supporters that has seen thousands arrested, as well as many leaving his party.

han has been embroiled in a tussle with the military since he was removed from power last year in a parliamentary vote that he says was orchestrated by the country's top generals. The military denies this.

The standoff intensified when earlier this month Khan's supporters were involved in violent protests following his brief arrest on May 9.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s government on May 26 said 17 more Khan supporters would be tried in military courts over recent anti-government violence, bringing the overall number of followers of the former prime minister facing military tribunals so far to 33.

Polish Interior Minister Vows Sanctions on Belarus After Court Upholds Eight-Year Sentence On Journalist

Andrzej Poczobut in a Belarusian court earlier this year.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on May 26 said he will introduce new sanctions on representatives of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime after Belarus’s Supreme Court upheld an eight-year prison term handed to Andrzej Poczobut, a noted journalist and leader of the Polish-Belarusian community. Kaminski called the ruling against the 50-year-old Poczobut “draconian” and said the new sanctions will be announced on May 29. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here.


Russian Arms Maker Kalashnikov Boosts Output Of Kamikaze Drones

A Kalashnikov kamikaze Lancet drone. (file photo)

Russian arms producer Kalashnikov, maker of the world's most widely used assault rifle, said on May 26 it was launching a new division for the production of kamikaze drones -- one of the key weapons used in the Ukraine war. After Ukrainian forces used Western, Israeli, and Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with deadly efficiency in the opening months of the war, Russia began using Iranian-made Shahed drones, while seeking to boost its own production. "Kalashnikov is starting new production of UAVs," the Izhevsk-based Kalashnikov, Russia's biggest producer of automatic weapons and guided artillery, said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


German Chancellor Warns Putin Against Frozen Conflict In Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned President Vladimir Putin against creating a frozen conflict along the borders of the Ukrainian territories seized by Russia, in remarks published on May 26 in the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. "Russia has to understand that the aim cannot be to conclude a kind of cold peace, by turning the current frontier into a new 'border' between Russia and Ukraine," Scholz said. "That would merely legitimate Putin's raid. The aim rather is a fair peace, and a precondition for that is the withdrawal of Russian troops," Scholz said.

Kazakh Activist Sent To Pretrial Detention Instead Of Being Released After Serving Jail Term

Marat Zhylanbaev

The chairman of Kazakhstan’s unregistered Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, Marat Zhylanbaev, has been sent to pretrial detention for two months instead of being released after serving a 20-day jail term. He was jailed for holding a picket in March to demand the release of political prisoners and to ask Western nations to impose sanctions on top Kazakh officials for "helping" Russia evade sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. A court in Astana ruled on May 25 that Zhylanbaev must stay in custody until July 23 on charges of taking part in a banned group's activities and financing an extremist organization. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Kosovar Police Clash With Protesters In Serb-Majority Northern Towns, Drawing U.S., EU Rebukes

A damaged police car is seen following clashes between Kosovar police and ethnic Serb protesters in the town of Zvecan on May 26.

The United States and other Western allies accused Kosovo's government of escalating tensions after security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds in three Serb-majority towns and enter municipal buildings in support of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors.

Unrest on May 26 shook Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- similarly sized communities of 16,000 to 18,000 people where the ethnic Albanian mayors sought to enter municipal buildings and take office amid opposition from Serb-majority protesters.

Law-enforcement authorities in Zvecan said five police officers had been injured and that at least four vehicles had been damaged. There were no immediate reports of possible injuries among protesters who had gathered at town's main municipal building.

Tensions rose further in the evening after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed his country's military on high alert and ordered troops to deploy closer to the border with Kosovo.

Kosovo's Western backers -- although acknowledging that the municipalities are under Pristina’s control -- took an unusually harsh line against Kosovar authorities for the aggressive police action after previously assailing the government's decision to hold elections on April 23 after a boycott was announced by the main Serb party.

The so-called QUINT states -- United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Britain -- had previously expressed concerns about the situation in northern Kosovo, saying the April elections did not constitute a lasting political solution for the municipalities involved due to the boycott.

In a joint statement on May 26, the group condemned the Kosovar authorities’ use of force and also expressed concerns about “Serbia's decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo and call all parties for maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26 said Kosovo’s government took the action to force access to municipal buildings against U.S. advice.

“We strongly condemn the actions by the Government of Kosovo that are escalating tensions in the north and increasing instability. We call on Prime Minister [Albin Kurti] to immediately halt these violent measures and refocus on the EU-facilitated Dialogue,” he wrote on Twitter.

Blinken urged all sides in the dispute to "refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict."

In a tweet, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat who has been touring the region, called the police action "a provocation" and said it should end "immediately."

"Yes, these municipalities are part of Kosovo and under Pristina’s jurisdiction. These officials have the technical legal right to access these buildings. But at this exact moment, with the situation so tense in the north, it is an intentionally provocative and unnecessary step," the senator wrote.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement that the “European Union condemns in the strongest terms the clashes between Kosovo police and protesters in northern Kosovo, initiated by the attempt of newly elected mayors to enter municipal buildings.

"Everyone must take steps to reduce the tense situation and immediately restore calm. The EU will not accept any further unilateral or provocative moves and peacekeeping and security on the ground should be a priority," the statement added.

The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on May 25 to lead majority Serb municipalities, replacing Serb mayors who had resigned last November to protest a cross-border dispute over vehicle registrations.

The subsequent election to replace the mayors was boycotted by the dominant ethnic Serb party, Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which enjoys the support of neighboring Serbia's government -- paving the way for ethnic Albanian candidates to win with tiny vote totals.

A fourth mayor was sworn in last week -- in North Mitrovica -- in a process that Vucic condemned as an “occupation” of areas of the former Serbian province. Vucic has vowed never to recognize Kosovar independence.

Participation in the April elections was 3.47 percent of the total number of registered voters.

The Serb minority accounts for 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population, which is 90 percent Albanian. But they hold majorities in regions near the Serbian border.

A statement by Kosovo’s Interior Ministry defended the police action and said that all three mayors “have settled in their offices in the municipal facilities.”

"They will continue their mandate by being at the service of all citizens without distinction," it said.

Kosovar authorities on May 26 blamed Serbia's "criminal and illegal structures" for the unrest in the region.

"Violence will not prevail. Serbia bears full responsibility for the escalation," tweeted Blerim Vela, chief of staff to President Vjosa Osmani.

Vehicles and helicopters from the NATO-led KFOR mission for Kosovo were seen in Zvecan and Leposavic.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Blinken To Travel To Sweden, Norway, Finland, As Stockholm Reiterates NATO Aspirations

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit to Sweden, Norway, and Finland from May 29 to June 2 as Washington seeks to deepen transatlantic cooperation amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

On June 2, Blinken will give a speech in Helsinki to highlight “all the ways in which Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure, and our continued efforts to support Ukraine’s defense of its territory, sovereignty, and democracy in pursuit of a just and durable peace.”

Meanwhile, Sweden still hopes to be a member of NATO by the time of the alliance's summit in Vilnius in July, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on May 26.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine moved Sweden and Finland last year to ditch long-held policies of military nonalignment and seek NATO membership.

Finland joined NATO last month, but Sweden's membership has been held up by objections from Turkey and Hungary.

There's no "Plan B or anything like that. Plan B is Plan A -- that is full membership in NATO," he said.

Iranian Lawyers Say Courts Issuing Them Dozens Of Summonses With No Charges

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

A leading member of one of Iran's legal associations says more than 100 lawyers from across the country have been summoned to Tehran's security court, even though there is no mention of any charges against them.

Adel Moghaddas, a member of the board of directors of the Bushehr Bar Association, said on May 25 that the summons began arriving last month and they came "without mention of any charges," saying it appears the move is a pressure tactic to keep lawyers from supporting protests that have rocked the country for months.

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

Lawyers are being urged during the hearings to sign a prewritten "commitment letter" pledging adherence to the law as a condition for their release on bail, he said.

Nasrallah said the court confronted him with posts from his social media account, which he said in no way broke the law. He said that he was dedicated to his legal oath and therefore questioned why the court wanted a commitment, especially if no crime had been committed.

Nasrallah said the head of the security court issued him a warning “that while there was currently no intention to arrest lawyers, those who refused to sign the commitment may find their cases processed, and subsequent summons may follow."

The commitment letter contains an "expression of regret" for nationwide protests and a strategy to limit contact with "networks outside the country, anti-revolutionary elements," according to Mohammad Hadi Jaafarpour, a member of the Fars Lawyers Association and one of the lawyers who was summoned.

He stated that many lawyers refused to sign this part of the commitment but instead chose to acknowledge respect for the law and adherence to legal behavior.

The unprecedented summoning of lawyers has been attributed to Behrouz Hasani Etemad, a former lawyer now representing the prosecution in numerous protester cases.

His most notable case to date involved Mohsen Shakari, the first protester to be executed after Iran’s recent nationwide protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody last September.

Since Amini’s death, at least 129 lawyers have faced "judicial encounters," according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA). This includes both arrests and summonses for a variety of reasons, ranging from practicing their profession to expressing views on social media.

The HRA said that 55 lawyers have been arrested, 70 have been summoned, and numerous others have faced judicial and security confrontations since the protests began. However, the recent wave of summonings to sign a "commitment" and express regret for the protests suggests an escalation in the crackdown on the legal profession.

The Islamic republic's judiciary has been restricting access to protester cases, often only accepting representation from lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary. However, independent lawyers have sometimes managed to overturn heavy sentences, like execution, during the appeal stage.

The escalating number of lawyers being summoned to the Tehran Security Court has raised alarm bells, especially considering the increased risk of executing more protesters without access to independent and fair representation.

Officials have launched a brutal crackdown amid the wave of unrest sparked by Amini's death in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory hijab law.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others currently wait on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

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

Georgian President Criticizes Government In Independence Day Speech

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said the country's current external policies "estrange us from Europe," asking her audience, "Where did the slogan: 'Europe is our civilized choice' disappear?"

TBILISI -- Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has used a speech during the South Caucasus nation's Independence Day celebrations to criticize the government over fears it is backsliding on democratic reforms.

In her speech on May 26, Zurabishvili called on the Georgian government to "keep its word" and meet society's "will to strengthen the country's independence, establish democracy, and join the European family."

"Democracy's main rule is to implement what people elected you to do. Each government promises that to the people, and the current government also promised that to the people. Moreover, the promise strengthened the path to European integration by the constitution. Today, when the Georgian people demands its implementation, where is the government?" Zurabishvili asked.

In 2022, just days after Russia's full-scale invasion of fellow former Soviet satellite Ukraine, Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova. EU leaders in June granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but said Tbilisi must implement reforms first.

WATCH: Georgia marked the 105th anniversary of the declaration of the first independent democratic republic on May 26. A demonstration was also held to honor the day that saw both Georgian and European Union flags flying. It was held as an answer to the cabinet’s decision to only decorate the city with Georgian national flags, opting out of also displaying the EU flag.

Georgians March, Wave Pairs Of Flags For Independence Day
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Meanwhile, the Georgian government, led by the ruling Georgian Dream party, has faced numerous accusations of backsliding on democracy, including the jailing of opponents, the silencing of independent media, covert collaboration with the Kremlin, and leading the country away from its EU membership path.

Zurabishvili said the country's current external policies "estrange us from Europe," asking her audience, "Where did the slogan: 'Europe is our civilized choice' disappear?"

The president accused the government of selling the country out with its recent decision to allow the resumption of direct flights from Moscow to Tbilisi after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on air travel between the two countries, implemented four years ago after a wave of anti-Kremlin protests in the Caucasus nation.

"It is hard to understand and it is insulting when we calculate how many millions [of dollars] we get from the [flights.] Was our dignity sold for $200 or $300 million?" Zurabishvili asked the audience.

According to Zurabishvili, the Georgian government's "manipulation of the threat of a possible war [with Russia] and the scaring of its own society cannot be a formula for a successful leadership."

Zurabishvili also mentioned the issue of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Tbilisi lost control of following a short war with Russia in 2008.

"Those who think that Russia will return to us our territories in exchange of our concessions do not learn anything from our history," Zurabishvili stated.

Georgia's Act of Independence from Russia established the First Democratic Republic of Georgia on May 26, 1918. Just 2 1/2 years later, Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union and regained its independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

EU's Former Top Diplomat Concedes Ukraine Oversights, Saying 'Hindsight Is Always Difficult'

Former European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in 2013.

The European Union’s former high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, has defended the bloc’s initial response after Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, but acknowledged “we did not know then what we know now” and said subsequent policy did not sufficiently prioritize “what was happening in Ukraine.”

She also urged Balkan neighbors Serbia and Kosovo to “get round the table and find answers” to lingering differences preventing normalized relations between Belgrade and Pristina, a full decade after the so-called Brussels agreement that she helped forge.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, Ashton underscored the Western Balkan countries’ eventual suitability for EU membership and the added challenge of Russian engagement in the region.

“We were always aware of Russia’s influence and engagement in the Western Balkans,” she said. “The events in Ukraine have brought that more into view.”

Ashton was the EU’s first-ever high representative, serving as the bloc’s chief foreign and security policy coordinator and envoy from 2009-14.

Russia covertly occupied the Crimean Peninsula and annexed it in 2014 in a move overwhelmingly rejected by the United Nations, and a simmering conflict waged by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine escalated into a full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.

The European Union and the United States led a sanctions push particularly after the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 to punish Russia, the ruble, and perceived proxy fighters in Ukraine.

But critics have accused the West of underestimating the threat to international order and UN-recognized borders for years from Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly in what Moscow regards as its “near abroad.”

“We did react at the time, imposing sanctions on Russia and trying to get negotiations moving,” Ashton said. “Hindsight is always difficult. We did not know then what we know now; however, in the intervening years, what was happening in Ukraine was not as high on the agenda as it should have been, in my opinion.”

Ashton published her memoirs -- titled And Then What? Inside Stories Of 21st-Century Diplomacy -- in February.

Speaking to RFE/RL, she drew a sharp distinction between “the challenge of China,” which has grown considerably for European policymakers, and the situation with Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping asserted a “no-limits” partnership with Russia weeks before Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and Beijing has urged peace but declined to directly criticize Moscow publicly.

“I hope that we will see more effort put into developing a strategic approach to China that recognizes the connections and the concerns,” Ashton said. “I recall that China played a role with the rest of the P5+1 in the Iran [nuclear] negotiations, and my hope would be that China would seek to play a positive role in the multilateral system we need to take care of.”

In the former Yugoslavia, Ashton was essential to an apparent breakthrough in Brussels in 2013 that provided a road map toward normalized relations between Serbia and its majority ethnic Albanian former province, Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

A decade later, Belgrade still refuses to recognize Kosovar sovereignty while blocking its membership in international institutions.

Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic has leveraged regional might to pursue closer relations with Moscow and Beijing, and outsiders accuse him of increasingly authoritarian leadership that damages Serbians’ desire for EU membership.

Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, has toughened Pristina’s stance on a number of bilateral issues since taking over in 2020, pledging “reciprocity,” and is frequently critical of Western attempts at mediation.

Ashton played down a question about Washington and Brussels vying for influence in the Balkans, saying that “it’s not about who has more power, it’s about the power of working together.”

She conceded that “there is concern across the [Balkan] region that the EU is not as enthusiastic as it was once for enlargement. Yet there is no question that the countries of the Western Balkans belong inside the EU.”

“But there is a lot to be done by those countries who want to be part of the EU, and some of the lack of enthusiasm is because of the lack of progress being made by those who want to be members,” she said. “It is not an easy journey, but a journey well worth making.”

Ashton stressed democracy, human rights, and rule of law as central guiding principles and “part of the ongoing dialogue.”

Among the lessons of her diplomatic years, Ashton stressed to RFE/RL the need for compromise and good negotiators whose “drip, drip” efforts enable solutions.

“It is not just the role of the EU to push forward with the Western Balkans, it is also down to each country to determine that it will make the changes necessary to deal with all the issues that are necessary to become a member of the EU,” she said. “So I hope we will see more done by everyone to address these challenges.”

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