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Russia’s Soccer Victory Sparks Street Celebrations

Russian Fans Celebrate Victory Over Spain
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Russian soccer fans celebrated late into the night after the host team of the World Cup again exceeded expectations and defeated Spain, ranked No. 10 in the world by FIFA.

"It's incredible!" yelled a fan after the 70th-ranked Russia squad scored the 4-3 victory in a penalty shoot-out after finishing regulation time and two extra periods in a 1-1 draw before 78,011 fans at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

Street parties broke out almost immediately in central Moscow, with a band playing the Russian national anthem and passing cars honking their horns and dancing fans waving the flag to celebrate the team’s unexpected success.

Fans climbed up lampposts to cheer and some wore false mustaches in imitation of coach Stanislav Cherchesov.

"This is a great victory for us, for the whole country, the soul of the country," said Muscovite Mikhail Sitner, 34.

"Spain is a really strong team. It's really surprising how Russia has played," Yulia, a 29-year-old teacher, said after watching the match on a large-screen TV at the FIFA Fan Fest site at Moscow State University.

"It's better at the stadium, of course. But for those who don't have that opportunity, come to the Fan Fest!" she added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin did not attend the game but had watched it remotely and called Cherchesov to congratulate him.

Russia was represented at the match by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, while King Felipe VI of Spain was at Luzhniki Stadium to support his country’s team.

Russia will next meet Croatia on July 7 in Sochi. Croatia also won on penalty kicks, 3-2, over Denmark after also ending in a 1-1 draw.

The team’s success has been a political boon to Putin at a time when economic issues have caused strains with some of the population.

As soccer fans were celebrating the victory, thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest against the government's plan to raise the retirement age.

Some protesters chanted slogans against Putin and called on the president and the government to resign.

Labor unions, political parties, and opposition politician Aleksei Navalny had called on Russians to demonstrate on July 1 against a bill to raise the pension age from 60 to 65 by 2028 for men and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, dpa, AP, and Reuters

Bolton: U.S., Russia 'Have To Agree To Disagree On Ukraine'

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 27.

White House national security adviser John Bolton says that he has discussed Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bolton, who met with Putin in Moscow on June 27, told CBS's Face The Nation that "President Putin was pretty clear with me about it and my response was we're going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine.”

Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are scheduled to hold their first one-on-one summit in Helsinki on July 16.

On June 29, Trump declined to rule out recognizing Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Asked by reporters on Air Force One whether reports about him dropping Washington's longstanding opposition to the annexation were true, Trump said, "We're going to have to see."

Bolton Dismisses 'Criticism' Of Planned Trump-Putin Meeting
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Trump gave a similar answer when asked whether he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia that were imposed over the annexation.

He has said the goal of his upcoming summit is to improve Washington-Moscow relations, which are at a post-Cold War low.

"We'll see what Russia does," Trump said.

Bolton ruled out the possibility of abandoning Washington’s opposition to the annexation. “That’s not the position of the United States,” he told CBS on July 1.

"I think the president often says 'we'll see' to show that he's willing to talk to foreign leaders about a range of issues and hear their perspective,” Bolton said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on June 29 that Putin will not raise the issue of sanctions in his meeting with Trump, although he added that Russia "would not mind" if Trump chose to lift them.

The European Union and United States originally imposed the sanctions to penalize Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting against the Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions have been in place since that time. On June 29, EU leaders extended their sanctions against Russia's banking and energy sector for another six months until the end of January.

Based on reporting by Reuters and The Washington Post

Suicide Attacker Targets Hindus, Sikhs In Eastern Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meets people during a visit on July 1 to the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Afghan officials say at least 19 people were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a group of Hindus and Sikhs on their way to meet the country’s president in the eastern province on Nangarhar.

Nangarhar health officials said that 17 out of 19 dead in the July 1 attack are from the minority Hindu and Sikh community.

Inamullah Miakhail, spokesman for the provincial hospital in Nangarhar, said that at least 10 of the 20 wounded were also from the same minority community.

They are receiving medical treatment in at a hospital in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, he added. Officials say some of the wounded are in critical condition.

Miakhail confirmed that Awtar Singh Khalsa, a longtime leader of the Sikh community who had planned to run in the parliamentary elections set for October, was killed in the attack.

The group was invited to meet with President Ashraf Ghani, who was visiting Jalalabad on July 1, said Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor.

Nangarhar police chief Ghulam Sanayee Stanekzai said that the attacker targeted the group’s convoy on its way to the governor's compound at around 4 p.m. local time.

Ghani's spokesman said the president was still in Nangarhar but was "away from danger." Ghani arrived in Nangarhar earlier on a two-day visit to the province.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State extremist group, which is active in the area.

RFE/RL correspondents in Jalalabad say police cordoned off the city center after the deadly attack.

Afghanistan's tiny Hindu and Sikh minority has endured decades of discrimination in the war-torn country. They have been targeted by Islamic extremists in the past.

The community numbered more than 80,000 in the 1970s, but today only around 1,000 remain in the predominantly Muslim nation.

WATCH: Afghan Sikh Seeks A Seat In Parliament

Afghan Sikh Seeks A Seat In Parliament
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In a separate incident in Afghanistan, at least 110 people have been hospitalized after drinking water from a river in the northern province of Parwan.

Abdul Khalil Farhangi, the head of the main hospital in Charakar, the provincial capital, said the symptoms included vomiting and headache. He said it was not yet clear what caused them to become ill.

Many people in rural Afghanistan don't have access to clean, running water.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Chisinau Demonstrators Protest Decision To Void Mayoral Election

Thousands Of Moldovans Decry Mayoral Vote Annulment
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Tens of thousands of people have gathered in the center of Moldova's capital for another protest rally against the invalidation of last month's mayoral election.

The July 1 demonstration at Chisinau's Grand National Assembly Square was organized by opposition, pro-Western party leaders and figures of the civil society.

They called for the election victory of Andrei Nastase, leader of the Dignity and Truth Platform, to be recognized and for the opening of criminal cases against the seven Supreme Court judges who invalidated the results.

The protesters chanted slogans such as "Down with the mafia," and held posters showing pictures of the judges under the words "List of shame."

Nastase took 52.5 percent of the vote in the June 3 runoff, defeating Socialist Party candidate Ion Ceban, who favors closer relations with Russia.

But a court on June 19 voided the results, saying that both candidates had used social media to call on voters to turn out on election day, which it ruled was illegal campaigning.

Thousands of Moldovans protested against the ruling for days, but an appeals court upheld the court decision on June 21.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal on June 25, ruling that social-media communications with voters illegally affected the outcome of the race.

And the Central Election Commission on June 29 confirmed that court's decision and ruled that the election will not be repeated.

The protesters chanted slogans such as "Down with the mafia," and held posters showing pictures of the judges under the words "List of shame."
The protesters chanted slogans such as "Down with the mafia," and held posters showing pictures of the judges under the words "List of shame."

The decision to annul the local election was harshly criticized by both the European Union and the United States.

Under Moldovan law, the mayoral post is to be filled by an acting mayor until the next election in 2019.

The participants in the July 1 demonstration in Chisinau also spoke against a controversial new electoral law introducing a mixed electoral system.

The bill was approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Russia-friendly President Igor Dodon a year ago despite mass protests in Chisinau and criticism from the EU and the United States.

The new legislation provides for half of the lawmakers to be elected on party lists and another half in individual constituencies.

Critics say the reform favors the country's two largest political parties -- the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party and the opposition Socialists. They say the Democratic Party initiated the changes in an effort to do better in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this autumn.

Russia Says Shot Down Drones Near Syria Air Base

A Russian Su-24 bomber passes by a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Hmeimim military base.

The Russian military says it has downed unidentified drones near its Hmeimim airbase in western Syria.

Russian news agencies quoted an air base spokesman as saying on July 1 that all the drones involved were destroyed by antiaircraft weapons.

The base was not damaged and no staff were injured during the incident, which occurred after dark on June 30, the spokesman said.

It apparently was the latest reported attack by drones on the base that serves as the main hub for Russian operations in Syria.

On May 22, the Russian military said it downed an unidentified drone approaching its Hmeimim air base.

In another attack on the base in January, the Russian military said it shot down seven of 13 drones involved and forced the others to land.

Russia has conducted a bombing campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping reverse the course of the country's seven-year civil war in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's favor.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax

Suicide Bombing Strikes Ballot Warehouse In Iraq

An Iraqi security member casts his vote at a polling station two days before polls open to the public in parliamentary elections in Baghdad on May 10.

A suicide bomber has targeted a storage site in northern Iraq containing ballot boxes from the May parliamentary elections, wounding at least 19 people, officials say.

Security officers said a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber exploded at the main gate of the warehouse in the city of Kirkuk on July 1, days before a vote recount.

The building was damaged by the blast but the ballot boxes were unaffected, Kirkuk Governor Rakan al-Juburi said.

Police officers, members of a counterterrorist unit, and civilians were said to be among those wounded.

Some reports said one person was also killed.

Initial results from the May 12 elections gave an alliance led by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the largest share of the vote, but the voting was overshadowed by accusations of fraud.

A manual recount of the country's disputed parliamentary elections is due to begin on July 3 in several provinces, including Kirkuk.

In early June, a storage site containing ballots from Baghdad's Al-Rusafa district went up in flames in an incident Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi described as a "plot" aimed at undermining Iraq's democracy.

Based on reporting by dpa, AFP, and Reuters

Russians Rally Against 'Cannibalistic' Pension Reform

Russians Protest Retirement-Age Hike
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Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Russia to protest against the government's plan to raise the retirement age.

Labor unions, political parties, and opposition politician Aleksei Navalny had called on Russians to demonstrate on July 1 against a bill to raise the pension age from 60 to 65 by 2028 for men and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034.

Navalny published photos on his website of some of the protests, showing people carrying signs with slogans including "Raise the pension, not the pension age!" and "Hands off our pensions!"

Several hundred people gathered in the southwestern city of Saratov, with some of the protesters chanting "Putin thief," "Putin, resign," and "Arrest Putin."

Police detained several people and checked their documents but released most of them shortly afterward.

Protest rallies were also reported in the Far Eastern cities of Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and Birobidzhan, as well as the Siberian city of Omsk and Orenburg in the Urals.

More protests were expected in western Russia later in the day.

More than 500 people gathered on July 1 in Birobidzhan, the capital of Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region, carrying posters with slogans such as "The hungry pensioner is the shame of the state," "Die before retirement," and "No to [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev's cannibalistic pension reform!"

In Omsk, 4,500 people took part in a rally at the Blinov sports and concert complex, with some speakers calling for the resignation of Medvedev’s government.

During the rally on Birobidzhan's Lenin Square, the participants urged the authorities to scrap the bill on the pension reform, to stop the rise in gasoline prices, and not to increase the value-added tax.

Under legislation submitted by the Russian government on June 16, the retirement-age increases would be gradual and begin in 2019.

The first increases since the Soviet era would shorten the retirement period for many people in Russia, where life expectancy is relatively low and the pension age is lower than in any other developed country.

The proposal to raise the retirement age has angered many Russians who would see their retirement recede into the future under the reform.

Nearly 2.6 million people had signed a petition against the reform on by July 1.

Navalny on June 19 urged Russians to protest on July 1 against the plan, calling it "robbery" and a crime against the citizenry.

The anticorruption crusader and vocal Kremlin foe said supporters had filed requests for permission for public gatherings with the authorities in 20 cities.

But applications have not been filed in any of the 11 cities that are hosting matches in the June 14-July 15 soccer World Cup, he said.

Most demonstrations are prohibited during the tournament in those cities, which include Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Navalny said his network had organized protests in 39 cities, but he said he had not scheduled any in the World Cup cities, saying the dispute over pensions is a domestic issue.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Protest Over Water Scarcity Turns Violent In Southwestern Iran

Police gather late on June 30 in the city of Khorramshahr.

Hundreds of demonstrators protesting against shortages of drinking water in southwestern Iran have clashed with police, local media report.

The state-run IRNA news agency said the protesters gathered on June 30 in the city of Khorramshahr, some 650 kilometers from Tehran, chanting slogans against the Iranian authorities.

It said police fired tear gas late in the day as protesters threw rocks and garbage at officers.

Some unrest continued into the night, the agency reported.

Shots could be heard on videos circulated on social media from the protests in the port city that has been the scene of recent demonstrations, along with the nearby city of Abadan.

The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed.

State television reported on July 1 that "peace had returned" to Khorramshahr and an unspecified number of protesters had been arrested. It also said that some demonstrators carried firearms.

Officials were quoted as saying that one civilian and several police officers were injured in the violence.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over the lack of drinkable water.

On June 20 and 23, hundreds of residents of Abadan held rallies in front of the governor's office and outside the offices of the city's water and sewage system.

Officials in Khuzestan Province have promised to end the water shortage in Abadan and Khorramshahr in a few weeks, after a new water transmission pipeline becomes fully operational.

Critics say mismanagement by the authorities, combined with years of drought, has led to a drop in rivers' water levels and the groundwater levels in the oil-rich province.

The protests in Khorramshahr also came after three days of demonstrations in Tehran starting from June 24 over the country's troubled economy.

The rallies included protesters confronting police outside parliament and officers firing tear gas at the demonstrators.

They also led to the temporary closure of the city's Grand Bazaar, where shopkeepers denounced a sharp fall in the value of the national currency, the rial.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

UNESCO Adds Pre-Islamic Iranian Sites To World Heritage List

A photo made available by UNESCO shows Sarvestan in the Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars region, Iran.

UNESCO has added eight pre-Islamic Iranian archeological sites to its World Heritage List, raising the number of Iran cultural places on the UN agency's list to 24.

The UN agency added the sites, listed as "Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars region (Islamic Republic of Iran)," along with several other locations around the world during its meeting in Bahrain on June 30.

Fars was the cradle of the Sassanid dynasty beginning in the early third century.

The Sassanids ruled land that at its peak covered areas to the west of Afghanistan to Egypt. The dynasty eventually fell to the Arab conquest under the Umayyad caliphate in the middle of the seventh century.

"These fortified structures, palaces, and city plans date back to the earliest and latest times of the Sassanian Empire," UNESCO said.

Other sites added on June 30 included the Aasivissuit-Nipisat area, Inuit hunting grounds in the Arctic circle in the largest ice-free area in Greenland.

Other sites in India, Japan, South Korea, and Germany were added.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Pakistan Grants New Extension Before Forced Return Of Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugee girls leave school at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Islamabad earlier this year.

The Pakistani government says it has granted another extension to a deadline for the forced repatriation of some 2 million Afghan refugees.

The prime minister's office on June 30 said the federal cabinet decided "to grant an interim extension of three months to the registered refugees present in the country."

It added that the issue would be next dealt with by the incoming government following elections scheduled for July 25.

The government in Islamabad last year declared that all Afghan refugees must return to their home country, but there have been at least three extensions of the deadline, which was again due to expire on June 30.

For many members of Afghan refugee families, Pakistan has been their only home.

Afghans began seeking asylum in Pakistan during the Soviet Union’s 1979-89 war in Afghanistan. They remained in the country as the Taliban took over Afghanistan and following the extremists' ouster by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

Conditions remain unstable in many parts of the country as the government in Kabul continues to struggle against the resurgent Taliban's efforts to regain power.

Earlier on June 30, Afghan forces were ordered to resume operations against Taliban fighters after President Ashraf Ghani announced an official end to the government's unilateral 18-day cease-fire.

While declaring an end to the truce, the president also called on the Taliban to resume peace negotiations.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the past has expressed concerns about the compulsory repatriation of Afghan refugees, as has the Kabul government, which has said it is not prepared to care for the large numbers of people.

The UNHCR has overseen a voluntary-repatriation program of some 1.4 million Afghans.

With reporting by dpa, Al-Jazeera, and Business Standard

Trump Allies Tell Paris Rally 'End Of Regime' Near In Iran

Rudy Giuliani, a legal adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, tells a rally in Paris that the end of the Iranian government is near.

Close allies of U.S. President Donald Trump have told a "Free Iran" rally in Paris that the end of the Iranian regime is near and that sanctions against the country will be "greater, greater, and greater."

"We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran," legal adviser Rudy Giuliani said on June 30 at the rally, organized by exiled opponents including the former rebel People's Mujahedin, which is banned in Iran.

Giuliani pointed to recent protests that have erupted in Iran amid continued financial hardships following Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

"When the greatest economic power stops doing business with you, then you collapse...and the sanctions will become greater, greater and greater," Giuliani said.

Giuliani said he did not support arming the Iranian opposition, saying that Trump should instead slap more sanctions on Tehran to suffocate Iran's "dictatorial ayatollahs."

"Anybody who thinks the ayatollahs are honest people is a fool. They are crooks...," he said, taking aim at U.S. allies that continue to work with Iran, saying they should be "ashamed."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican and strong Trump backer, told the same rally that "the only way to safety in the region is to replace the dictatorship with a democracy and that has to be our goal."

While saying he did not speak for the U.S. administration, he added, "It seems to me there would be a rather happy celebration should regime change occur."

Gingrich, Giuliani, and other hard-line U.S. politicians have in recent years been paid to speak at the annual rally, which was officially sponsored by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of groups of exiled Iranians opposed to the government in Tehran.

Maryam Rajavi, leader of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (aka Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, MKO), told reporters, "Regime change in Iran is within reach as never before, a bright future without execution, torture, discrimination, and suppression.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement saying that Trump would fail to turn the Iranian people against the government.

"They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system...but six U.S. presidents before him tried this and had to give up," he said.

Protests have surfaced in Iran as economic difficulties mount in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the subsequent pullout of companies worried of facing U.S. sanctions.

Trump had long opposed the landmark nuclear team that was signed by six world powers and Iran during the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The deal provided Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. But Trump claimed the terms did not sufficiently deter Tehran from continued testing of ballistic missiles and supporting extremists in the region.

Iran denied the allegations and has consistently said its nuclear program was for civilian purposes.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Al-Arabiya

FIFA Fines Russian, Serbian Soccer Federations After Fans Display Racist Banners

FIFA say it has punished the Russian FA after fans of their country's team displayed a neo-Nazi banner during their group match with Uruguay. (illustrative photo)

World soccer's governing body has fined the Russian and Serbian federations after racist banners were displayed by fans during recent World Cup matches.

FIFA said on June 30 that a neo-Nazi banner was shown during the Russian squad's 3-0 loss to Uruguay earlier this week in Samara.

The Russian federation was ordered to pay around $10,000.

FIFA said the banner included the number 88, a code used by neo-Nazis for "Heil Hitler."

Serbia, meanwhile, was ordered to pay about $20,000 after fans displayed a banner celebrating a World War II nationalist group during a 2-0 loss to Brazil in Moscow.

Thousands Protest Across U.S. Against Trump Immigration Policy

Demonstrators protest the Trump administration's immigration policies at a rally in Houston, Texas, on June 30.

WASHINGTON -- Thousands of people have rallied in the U.S. capital and in cities across the United States, protesting President Donald Trump's immigration policies, including one that separates immigrant families.

Hundreds of demonstrations were scheduled across the country, amid mounting anger about the policy which has resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents.

In a square opposite the White House, protesters chanted "Shame! Shame!" Some carried signs saying "Where are the children?" and "Stop cruelty" And "We are America."

Trump's administration has pushed a "zero-tolerance" policy that called for detained migrants who enter the United States illegally.

But that had resulted in parents being separated from their children, and images of children living in chain-link cages sparked widespread outrage. Trump later moved to reverse the separation policy, as Congress sought to pass more sweeping immigration reform.

Cracking down on illegal immigration was a central theme of Trump's 2016 election campaign, targeting, in particular, immigrants from Latin America.

Trump has defended the policies, saying he is trying to enforce U.S. law and also asserting a link between violent crime and migration.

With reporting by AP

Iraqi Officials Say Election Recount To Start July 3

Iraq's parliamentary elections were were the first to be held since Baghdad declared victory over Islamic State militants in December.

Iraqi election monitors say a manual recount of the country's disputed parliamentary vote will begin on July 3.

Initial results from the May elections gave the bloc of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the largest share of votes.

However, the voting was overshadowed by accusations of fraud after election officials used electronic machines to count the votes.

Leith Hamza, spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission, said on June 30 that the recount would be monitored by the United Nations, local party officials, and diplomats.

The May vote was the country's first since Baghdad declared victory over Islamic State militants in December.

Based on reporting by AP, DPA

Trump Says Saudi King Agrees To Boost Oil Production

U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman (file photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump says Saudi Arabia's King Salman has told him Riyadh will ramp up oil production in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela.

The Saudi government confirmed the two leaders had spoken about global oil markets, but made no mention of any agreement for Riyadh to increase production.

The June 30 conversation comes as oil prices have ticked upward following Trump administration pressure on allies to stop buying oil from Iran.

In a post to Twitter, Trump said Salman had agreed to an increase, but did not indicate a time frame for the possible 2 million barrels.

"Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil and disfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference," Trump said in a June 30 tweet.

Trump added: "Prices to high! He has agreed!"

A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency said: "During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy."

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) earlier this month agreed with Russia, Kazakhstan, and other oil-producing nations to boost production by 1 million barrels a day beginning in July.

The vague OPEC statement came amid deep disagreements between OPEC archrivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is opposed to increasing global oil production.

Washington and Beijing have urged oil-producing countries to release more supply to head off an oil deficit that could hamper economic growth worldwide.

But countries like Iran, Iraq, and Venezuela said they were unable to raise output soon and their share would be unfairly reallocated to other producers.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and Bloomberg

Reports: Merkel Secures Agreement From 14 EU States On Returning Asylum Seekers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

News reports say German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gained support from 14 fellow European Union members for a new agreement on migrants seeking asylum in the EU.

The agreement aims to have countries take back asylum seekers who had previously registered elsewhere in the 28-member bloc.

The agreements were revealed in a letter sent by Merkel to leaders of her two coalition partners, news agencies that saw the document reported on June 30.

But leaders of three of the countries named -- Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland -- all vehemently denied any such agreement.

"Germany did not approach us and, in this moment, I would not ratify such an agreement.... We are not planning negotiations. There is no reason to negotiate. We decisively reject this," Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was quoted as saying.

Merkel wrote in the document that asylum seekers who arrive in Germany after first registering in other EU member states should be placed in special centers inside the EU to process asylum requests.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the leader of Bavaria's Christian Social Union, has given Merkel a July deadline to halt the flow of migrants into the country or be confronted with the possible collapse of her coalition government, and the leadership was reportedly meeting late on June 30 to decide its response.

The other countries included on the list are Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

U.S. Ambassador To Estonia Announces Exit With Criticism Of Trump's EU Comments

James Melville has been the U.S. ambassador to Estonia since 2015. (file photo)

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia has announced his retirement with a sharp critique of President Donald Trump's comments about the European Union and NATO.

Ambassador James Melville, who has served as the U.S. envoy in Tallinn since 2015, made the announcement in a private Facebook post that was first reported on June 29 by Foreign Policy, which said it had seen the message.

The Estonian news outlet Eesti Ekspress on June 30 published a screenshot of the Facebook post.

Melville wrote that he had already been planning to retire but that his decision to depart Estonia on July 29 after three decades in the Foreign Service was driven in part by Trump's recent public comments about the EU and reported criticism of NATO.

"For the president to say the EU was 'set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,' or that 'NATO is as bad as NAFTA' is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it's time to go," Melville wrote.

He added that he had served out a full term in Tallinn and "intended to retire upon the confirmation of a successor."

"Since there's no longer anyone in sight for that role, I suppose I could have stayed on for many more months.... But on balance, I'm glad not to be staying, for all the reasons I've just explained," he added.

European Concerns

Melville's criticism comes amid concerns by European allies about Trump's approach to both the EU and NATO, central pillars of the Western security and economic architecture after World War II.

Trump has criticized what he calls unfair trade practices by the EU, and earlier this month slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum from the 28-nation bloc.

Melville's Facebook post came days after Trump told a rally in North Dakota: "We love the countries of the European Union. But the European Union, of course, was set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank."

Trump has also repeatedly criticized what he calls insufficient military spending by fellow members of NATO. At a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries in Quebec this month, he reportedly told fellow leaders that "NATO is as bad as NAFTA," a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement that he has denounced as unfair.

The comparison was first reported by Axios, which cited an unidentified official reading the quote from notes taken during Trump's private meeting with fellow G7 leaders. The Guardian later cited two unidentified European officials as confirming the quote.

Trump is set to attend a July 11 meeting of NATO leader in Brussels, after which he is scheduled to hold his first one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Melville did not respond to a request for comment sent by RFE/RL on June 30.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn said in a statement to RFE/RL: "Ambassador Melville's assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia is coming to an end in late July at the conclusion of his three-year tour."

"Following the completion of his assignment in late July, Ambassador Melville will retire from the Department of State after nearly 33 years as a diplomat and public servant," the embassy added.

Asked to comment on Melville's Facebook post, the embassy said, "There will be no other comments or statements."

A State Department spokesperson said in a similarly worded statement to CNN and Politico that Melville had "announced his intent to retire" on June 29.

Meanwhile, the State Department said on June 30 that Susan Thornton, the senior U.S. diplomat for Asia, will retire at the end of July.

Her departure will come at a critical time for the United States, which is involved in negotiation with North Korea over its nuclear program and with China over trade issues.

Thornton was picked for the post by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and her appointment reportedly had been opposed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

No reason was given for Thornton’s departure, and the 54-year-old diplomat could not immediately be reached for comment. No replacement was named.

With reporting by Foreign Policy, Eesti Ekspress, Politico, CNN, Axios, Reuters, and The Guardian

Russian Rights Activist Says Authorities Search His Home In Ingushetia

Ingush human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov (file photo)

A rights activist in Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia says investigators accompanied by masked officers searched his home on June 30.

More than 20 law enforcement agents were involved in the early-morning search at the home of Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the Mashr (Peace) human rights organization, the group said on its website.

The organization did not indicate the reason for the search, and investigators did not immediately release details.

The Russian-language news portal Caucasus Knot (Kavkazsky Uzel), which publishes critical coverage of authorities in the region, cited an unidentified source as saying Mutsolgov had been contacted by prosecutors in Ingushetia days earlier over the blog he writes for the website.

Caucasus Knot was established by the rights group Memorial in 2001 and mainly covers Russia's North Caucasus, nearby regions in southern Russia, and the South Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

Mutsolgov wrote in a blog post for the site later on June 30 that the law enforcement officers conducted themselves "appropriately" during the search and did not "plant" any evidence.

Mashr, established in April 2005 by the relatives of kidnapped or missing residents of Ingushetia, is one of the few nongovernmental organizations in Russia's North Caucasus that monitors human rights abuses in the volatile region.

Russia's Justice Ministry in 2015 placed the group on its official register of organizations "operating as foreign agents."

A Russian law adopted in 2012 requires any nongovernmental organization that receives funding from abroad and engages in political activity to formally register as a "foreign agent."

Serbian Soccer Director Bunjevcevic Dead At 45

Goran Bunjevcevic (left) in action for Tottenham Hotspur against Fulham's Collins John in 2004.

Serbian soccer official Goran Bunjevcevic, a former Red Star Belgrade captain and Tottenham defender, has died. He was 45.

The Football Association of Serbia said Bunjevcevic, the sports director for the national team since 2016, died on June 28 in Belgrade. He had a brain hemorrhage on May 20.

Bunjevcevic started his playing career in the former Yugoslavia and joined Red Star Belgrade in the late 1990s, winning two league titles and two cups. He was at Tottenham from 2001 to 2006.

Benjevcevic represented the former Yugoslavia 16 times until 2003.

The Serbian association said it "mourns one of the best sports workers, a great man and professional."

Tottenham wrote on Twitter: "We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our former player Goran Bunjevcevic. The thoughts of everyone at the Club are with his friends and family at this extremely difficult time."

Serbia left back Aleksandar Kolarov had dedicated the 1-0 win in their World Cup opener against Costa Rica on June 17 to Bunjevcevic.

"We dedicate this win to our director, and we want him to know that we are all supporting him," the former Manchester City defender had said.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters


Afghan President Announces End Of Cease-Fire With Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (file photo)

Afghan forces were ordered to resume operations against Taliban fighters after President Ashraf Ghani announced an official end to the government's unilateral cease-fire.

At a June 30 news conference in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani declared an end to the truce, but also called on the Taliban to resume peace negotiations.

"The cease-fire is over. The Afghan security and defense forces are allowed to restart their military operations," Ghani told reporters.

"It is now the Taliban's decision, whether they want to keep killing or join the peace process," he added.

The cease-fire lasted 18 days in all, after it was extended once and coincided with a three-day Taliban truce.

Between June 15 and 17, videos and photos posted on news sites and social media showed soldiers and Taliban greeting and hugging each other and taking selfies in several provinces.

An Afghan Taiban militant poses for a picture with an army soldier during the brief cessation of hostilities earlier this month.
An Afghan Taiban militant poses for a picture with an army soldier during the brief cessation of hostilities earlier this month.

The three days of no fighting were unprecedented in the nearly 17-year conflict.

Ghani told the news conference that the cease-fire had demonstrated that most Taliban members sought peace. He said that it was now up to the other side to "give a positive response."

"I am ready to extend the cease-fire anytime when the Taliban are ready," Ghani said.

Taliban fighters resumed fighting several days ago, launching attacks across the country that have seen scores killed or injured.

The renewed violence has dashed hopes that the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks. The Taliban has refused calls to lay down their arms until foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Islamic State militants, who have a small presence in Afghanistan, were not included in the cease-fire and they launched two deadly attacks on civilians during the Eid holiday that ended the holy month of Ramadan.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Russia Becoming More Self-Reliant Because Of Western Sanctions: Lavrov

Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

Russia is learning to be more independent and self-reliant as a result of Western sanctions, though it still has extensive trade ties with Western Europe, Russia's foreign minister has said.

In an interview on June 29 with Britain's Channel 4 News, Sergei Lavrov said that Russia during the years since sanctions were imposed in 2014 has been increasing its economic and military capacities to fend for itself, especially in areas which are necessary for a state and its population to survive.

"In recent years, we learned a lot, including the fact that on these issues you cannot rely on the West" because of the sanctions, Lavrov said.

"You cannot rely on Western technologies, because they can be abruptly stopped any moment. You cannot rely on the items which are essential for day-to-day living of the population coming from the West, because this could also be stopped," he said.

Russia has been using the period of sanctions to strengthen its own industries in essential areas, and it would be content to continue doing that for as long as the sanctions are prolonged, he said.

Altogether, the Western sanctions, along with countermeasures that Russia has imposed on the West in response to the sanctions, have caused a drop of more than 50 percent in trade between Russia and Western Europe, Lavrov said in the interview.

But even with that drop, he said Western Europe remains Russia's biggest trading partner, with more than $250 billion in goods and services exchanging hands between the two each year.

The European Union and United States originally imposed the sanctions to penalize Russia for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and its backing of a separatist war against government forces in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions have been in place since that time. Leaders of the EU early on June 29 extended their sanctions against Russia's banking and energy sector for another six months until the end of January.

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking ahead of his planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16, appeared open to considering the possibility of lifting the sanctions and even recognizing Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in negotiations with Moscow at the summit.

"We're going to have to see," Trump said when asked about the matters by reporters on Air Force One on June 29. "We'll see what Russia does," Trump said.

Lavrov said Putin will not raise the issue of sanctions in his meeting with Trump, although he added that Russia "would not mind" if Trump chose to lift them.

"We are not raising sanctions, pleading to remove them. It's not our business. It's for those who introduce sanctions to decide whether they want to continue or whether common sense would prevail," he said.

With reporting by Channel 4 News

Russia Bars Mexican Fans From Staging Parade Of 'Dead' On Red Square

A Mexico soccer fan walks on Red Square in Moscow on June 21.

Objections from a Russian communist party have forced Mexico's soccer fans to call off plans to celebrate their team's advance in the World Cup tournament with a parade in Moscow's Red Square.

The Mexican fans had planned to stage a Day of the Dead-themed parade on June 29 -- with fans parading in the famed square in skeleton make-up and costumes -- similar to the celebrations Mexicans engage in every year at home to honor their dead loved ones.

The plan was made as the streets of Moscow and other cities in normally straight-laced Russia have taken on a carnival atmosphere as the World Cup tournament enters its second week, with thousands of fans -- including many Russians -- gathering to watch games in outdoor fan zones and celebrate wildly afterwards when their team wins.

But members of the Communists of Russia party objected to the Mexicans performing what they saw as such as macabre ritual so close to where the body of communist revolutionary and Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and other Russian heroes are entombed in marble.

Party spokesman Sergei Malinkovich said his party, which is separate from the much larger Communist Party, considers the square to be "hallowed" ground and many ordinary Russians would also have been offended.

"Crowds of Mexican louts would have passed by the necropolis of the country's best people wearing costumes of smiling skeletons, jumping, dancing, tooting horns, ringing bells, flirting, and playing love games," Malinkovich told AFP.

He said the party appealed to the Russian Interior Ministry to stop fans from holding the parade, arguing it could provoke violent clashes with Russian patriots.

"Russian people on the square would almost certainly have tried to stop them. There would have been conflicts to say the least, and perhaps clashes," he told Reuters.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church also voiced displeasure with the Mexican plan.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill's spokesman, Aleksandr Volkov, speaking on the radio, said that holding the parade on the country's main square would be "rather strange."

The square is usually used as the venue for grand and somber parades and addresses, including the display of the latest Russian military hardware in a May Day parade each year.

Presented with these objections, Mexican fans instead held their celebrations indoors in a designated area. The event was attended by several hundred revelers.

Mexico's team is one of the 16 to make it through to the knock-out stages of the tournament.

Mexican fans said they were disappointed, but they apparently weren't the only ones. The parade plans had created a buzz of anticipation on social media, and the ban produced a lively reaction online as well, including from some disappointed and amused Russians.

Many social media posts poked fun at the authorities for banning the spectacle.

"The dead banned the dead," quipped Aleksei Krzyziewsky in one posting cited by AFP.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

France Warns RT Over Claims In Broadcast On Syrian Chemical Attack

French President Emmanuel Macron

France's media regulator has issued a warning to RT France, the French outlet of Russia's state-run broadcaster, for allegedly misrepresenting facts in a program about a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

The Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA) said in a statement late on June 28 that an April 13 RT program about an alleged attack in the Syrian region of eastern Ghouta, among other things, dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said.

France's warning highlights the dilemma facing Western governments in dealing with Russian state-run media which often trumpet a Kremlin view of world events that directly contradicts the view of Western world leaders.

Right after the April 7 attack in the Syrian town of Douma, medics and rescuers said 40 people had died from exposure to chlorine and sarin gas, and Western powers blamed the incident on Syrian forces.

The attack provoked global outrage and within days triggered retaliatory missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons sites in Syria by the United States, Britain, and France.

But in a news feature headlined "Simulated Attacks," the French regulator said RT correspondents, like the Russian and Syrian governments, questioned whether the attack actually occurred and accused a local rebel group of staging a fake attack on the population.

Russia and Syria right after the attack accused rebels and the White Helmets rescue group, which they claim sympathizes with Syria's opposition, of simulating the attack.

More recently, Moscow has suggested that rebels launched a real chemical attack in Douma, claiming that Russian and Syrian troops since taking control over Douma have found a rebel "chemical laboratory" with equipment manufactured in "Western Europe."

The world's chemical weapons watchdog group, the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, currently is investigating the Douma incident and is expected to report its findings soon.

The French regulator said RT's program on the controversial and sensitive topic of chemical weapons use in Syria, which has divided Russia and the West for years, displayed "failures of honesty, rigor of information, and diversity of points of view."

"There was a marked imbalance in the analysis, which, on a topic as sensitive as this, did not lay out the different points of view," the regulator said.

The regulator did not impose sanctions on RT, but it has the authority to fine a broadcaster or suspend its license.

RT France in a statement acknowledged a mistake in the French translation of comments from a Syrian witness, but said this was a purely technical error which had been corrected.

"RT France covers all subjects, including the Syrian conflict, in a totally balanced manner, by giving all sides a chance to comment," said RT France president Xenia Fedorova.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been aggressive in seeking to curb alleged Russian media disinformation.

The United States, by contrast, has required RT to register as a "foreign agent" with the U.S. government but -- reflecting the strong protections for press freedom in the U.S. Constitution -- has not sought to regulate aspects of its broadcasts.

Macron has described RT, formerly called Russia Today, as a tool for "influence-peddling." He accused the broadcaster of spreading "propaganda" during his 2017 presidential campaign and banned it from his campaign headquarters.

During a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles last year, Macron said the broadcaster and Russian press agency Sputnik had on several occasions spread fake news and deceitful propaganda.

Before the launch of RT France late last year, CSA chief Olivier Schrameck said that the agency would be watching the channel constantly and would respond promptly to what he called "anomalies."

RT has also faced multiple warnings from Britain's media regulator Ofcom over its reports on Syria as well as on the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Draft French legislation might go even further to combat what the government considers "fake news," including giving the state new powers to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they attempt to "destabilize" the country.

The measure has been viewed as aimed at RT in particular.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Trump Doesn't Rule Out Recognizing Russia's Annexation Of Crimea

U.S. President Donald Trump (file photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking two weeks before a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has declined to rule out recognizing Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Asked by reporters on Air Force One late on June 29 whether reports about him dropping Washington's longstanding opposition to the annexation were true, Trump said: "We're going to have to see."

Trump gave a similar answer when asked whether he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia which were imposed over the annexation. He has said the goal of his upcoming summit is to improve Washington-Moscow relations, which are at a post-Cold War low.

"We'll see what Russia does," Trump said.

Trump's apparent willingness to consider lifting penalties that were imposed on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea comes amid news reports which have cited European leaders as saying that Trump argued privately at a recent Group of Seven summit that Crimea should be part of Russia because most of the people are Russian-speaking.

Trump while campaigning for the presidency in 2016 also refused to rule out recognizing Russia's land grab in Ukraine as he vowed repeatedly to improve U.S. ties with Moscow.

But since becoming president, Trump has adhered to the stance taken by the United States under his predecessor Barack Obama, who said Russia's annexation of Crimea violated international law. Besides the tough penalties that Washington has imposed on Russia over the move, the European European has also hit Moscow with parallel sanctions.

Trump's refusal to reaffirm U.S. opposition to the Russian intervention in Ukraine likely will dismay European allies ahead of next month's NATO summit.

After the July 11 NATO meeting, Trump plans to fly to Helsinki for his first one-on-one summit with Putin on July 16.

Trump scheduled the Putin summit this week in what he said was an effort to reverse a year of souring relations over matters from Moscow's backing of Syria's alleged chemical weapons attacks to its own alleged use of a chemical weapon against a former Russian spy in England.

While speaking to reporters on Air Force On en route to New Jersey, Trump also said he would raise the issue of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during his meeting with Putin.

"I'll talk to him about everything," Trump said.

"We're going to talk about Ukraine, we're going to be talking about Syria. We'll be talking about elections... We don't want anybody tampering with elections."

The Kremlin's spokesman said on June 29 that Putin is prepared to tell Trump, as he has in previous brief encounters, that Moscow did not attempt to influence the election.

"If [the matter of election interference] is be raised by the U.S. president, then the Russian president will repeat that Russia could not and did not have anything to do with this situation, around which such insinuations have been spawned," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

While the meddling allegations have been repeatedly dismissed by both Putin and Trump, they have sparked a special counsel investigation in Washington and multiple congressional investigations which have come to different conclusions.

The special counsel, U.S. intelligence agencies, and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee all have concluded that Russia did try to influence the election through a social media campaign and other efforts.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Controversial World Chess Federation Chief Won't Seek Another Term

World Chess Federation President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (file photo)

Russian news reports say that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, whose 23 years as president of the world governing body for chess has been shadowed by controversy, will not seek another term in office.

The Interfax and RBK news agencies quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying he would support the candidacy of former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich for the post at the World Chess Federation, which is known by its French initials FIDE.

"I have made the decision not to put forward my candidacy for the presidency at FIDE's annual congress in October of this year," Ilyumzhinov was quoted as saying. "I support Arkady Dvorkovich for the position of FIDE president."

A former governor of Russia's southern region of Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov has long been a controversial figure.

Since he first took the post as FIDE's president in 1995, he has suggested the game was invented by aliens and that he himself was abducted by aliens.

He also built a grandiose complex, known as Chess City, that is devoted to the game to the east of Kalmykia's capital Elista.

In 2015, the United States imposed financial and travel sanctions against Ilyumzhinov, accusing him of funding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Since then, he has openly battled other top executives at FIDE who have sought to push him out of the organization.

Based on reporting by Interfax and RBK

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