Erdogan Positioned to Extend Rule in Turkey Runoff Election

Turks vote Sunday in a presidential runoff that could see Tayyip Erdogan extend his rule into a third decade and intensify Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian path, muscular foreign policy and unorthodox economic governance. Erdogan, 69, defied opinion polls and came out comfortably ahead with an almost five-point lead over his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round May 14. But he fell just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, in a race with profound consequences for Turkey itself and global geopolitics. His unexpectedly strong showing amid a deep cost-of-living crisis, and a win in parliamentary elections for a coalition of his conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP), the nationalist MHP and others, buoyed the veteran campaigner who says a vote for him is a vote for stability. Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance — and leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP) created by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. His camp has struggled to regain momentum after the shock of trailing Erdogan in the first round. The election will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed after its currency plunged to one tenth of its value against the dollar in a decade, and the shape of its foreign policy, which has seen Turkey irk the West by cultivating ties with Russia and Gulf states. The initial election showed larger-than-expected support for nationalism — a powerful force in Turkish politics which has been hardened by years of hostilities with Kurdish militants, an attempted coup in 2016 and the influx of millions of refugees from Syria since war began there in 2011. Turkey is the world’s largest host of refugees, with some 5 million migrants, of whom 3.3 million are Syrians, according to Interior Ministry data. Third-place presidential candidate and hardline nationalist Sinan Ogan said he endorsed Erdogan based on a principle of “nonstop struggle (against) terrorism,” referring to pro-Kurdish groups. He achieved 5.17% of the vote. Another nationalist, Umit Ozdag, leader of the anti-immigrant Victory Party (ZP), announced a deal declaring ZP’s support for Kilicdaroglu, after he said he would repatriate immigrants. The ZP won 2.2% of votes in this month’s parliamentary election. A closely watched survey by pollster Konda for the runoff put support for Erdogan at 52.7% and Kilicdaroglu at 47.3% after distributing undecided voters. The survey was carried … Continue reading “Erdogan Positioned to Extend Rule in Turkey Runoff Election”

Putin Orders Stronger Russian Border Security

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered stronger border security to ensure fast Russian military and civilian movement into Ukrainian regions now under Moscow control. Speaking in a congratulatory message to the border service, a branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service, on their Border Guard Day holiday, Putin said their task was to “reliably cover” the lines in the vicinity of the combat zone. Attacks inside Russia have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, chiefly with drone strikes on regions along the border but increasingly also deep into the country, including on an oil pipeline northwest of Moscow on Saturday.   “It is necessary to ensure the fast movement of both military and civilian vehicles and cargo, including food, humanitarian aid, building materials sent to the new subjects of the (Russian) Federation,” Putin said in a message posted on the Kremlin’s Telegram messaging channel.   Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk are the four regions in Ukraine that Putin proclaimed annexed last September following what Kyiv said were sham referendums. Russian forces only partly control the four regions. On Saturday, officials said three people were injured in Ukrainian shelling in Belgorod, a region that was the target of pro-Ukrainian fighters this week that sparked doubts about Russia’s defense and military capabilities. The Kursk and Belgorod Russian regions bordering Ukraine have been the most frequent target of attacks that have damaged power, rail and military infrastructure, with local officials blaming Ukraine.   Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia and on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine but said that destroying infrastructure is preparation for its planned ground assault. Ukraine indicated on Saturday that it was ready to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to recapture territory taken by Russia in the 15-month war, a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands and turned Ukrainian cities into rubble. …

Tehran: Zelenskyy Using Iran to Gain West’s Support

Iran struck back at Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, saying his accusation the Islamic republic is arming Russia was an attempt to gain the West’s military and financial support. The United States and the European Union have sanctioned Iran over its drone program, alleging it had supplied Moscow with unmanned aerial vehicles during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — a charge Tehran denies. On Wednesday, during his daily speech, Zelenskyy said Tehran’s “support for evil cannot be denied” and appealed directly to Iranians, asking: “Why do you want to be accomplices in Russian terror?” In response, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Zelenskyy’s “repetition of false claims” against the Islamic republic was “in harmony with the propaganda and media war of the anti-Iranian axis.” “It is done with the aim of attracting as much military and financial aid from Western countries as possible,” Kanani said. Ukraine, he added, had “specific political goals and motives behind such accusations” and was “avoiding expert negotiations with the Iranian side to investigate the claims.” Russia has reportedly used 1,160 Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones in attacks against Ukraine. “Even though we have learnt to shoot down most of your kamikaze drones… there are still hits,” Zelenskyy said Wednesday. “When an Iranian drone kills a pregnant Ukrainian girl and her husband in their home, why do you, mothers and fathers in Iran, need this?” he added. “When your Shahed hits a dormitory with our students, people die, a fire starts, rescuers arrive, and in a few minutes a second Shahed hits.” Russia invaded its neighbor in February 2022, sparking the biggest conflict on European soil since World War II. …

Waters Rejects Berlin Incitement Accusations over Concert Outfit

Police in Berlin said Friday that they have opened an investigation of Roger Waters on suspicion of incitement over a costume the Pink Floyd co-founder wore when he performed in the German capital last week. Images on social media showed Waters firing an imitation machine gun while dressed in a long black coat with a red armband. Police confirmed that an investigation was opened over suspicions that the context of the costume could constitute a glorification, justification or approval of Nazi rule and therefore a disturbance of the public peace. Once the police investigation is concluded, the case will be handed to Berlin prosecutors, who would decide whether to pursue any charges. Waters rejected the accusations in a statement early Saturday on Facebook and Instagram, saying that “the elements of my performance that have been questioned are quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice, and bigotry in all its forms.” He claimed that “attempts to portray those elements as something else are disingenuous and politically motivated.” Waters has drawn ire for his support of the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. He has rejected accusations of antisemitism. Authorities in Frankfurt tried to prevent a concert there scheduled for Sunday, but Waters challenged that move successfully in a local court. In Munich, the city council said it had explored possibilities of banning a concert but concluded that it wasn’t legally possible to cancel a contract with the organizer. His appearance there last Sunday was accompanied by a protest attended by the local Jewish community’s leader. Last year, the Polish city of Krakow canceled gigs by Waters because of his sympathetic stance toward Russia in its war against Ukraine. …

Ukraine Readies for Counteroffensive, Says Kyiv Official

Drone attacks targeted oil pipeline installations inside Russia Saturday, including a station serving the vast Druzhba oil pipeline that sends Western Siberian crude to Europe, according to Russian media. Kyiv has not commented on the attacks and Reuters could not verify the reports. Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are “regrouping to another three locations” after partially withdrawing from Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov in an interview released Saturday. Ukraine is prepared to launch its long-expected counteroffensive against Russian forces, according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy  Danilov.  In an interview with the BBC Saturday, Danilov said the counteroffensive is coming very soon, though he refused to give a date for the beginning of the launch. “It would be weird if I were to name dates of the start of that,” he said. “… We have a very responsible task before our country.” Danilov confirmed in the interview that the Wagner Group is withdrawing its forces from the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Bakhmut but he acknowledged that Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are “regrouping to another three locations” after what he called their partial withdrawal from Bakhmut.   Danilov acknowledged that Ukrainian forces control only a “small part of the city” but underscored that “Bakhmut has played a big role in this war,” despite the heavy toll on Ukrainian defenders. The British Defense Ministry also confirmed in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine posted on Twitter that “Wagner Group forces have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions around the Donetsk city of Bakhmut.” Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry claimed victory over Bakhmut on May 20, about 10 months after the heavy battle for the city started. US senator talks F-16s U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham expressed confidence that the Ukrainian counteroffensive coming in the next days or weeks will wield results during a press conference Friday in Kyiv. “I’m here to tell you that the last chapter of the battle of Bakhmut is yet to be written. I’m here to tell you that the Russian military is about to have holy hell unleashed upon them,” he said. Graham also stated that Republicans and Democrats are united in their goal to help Ukraine, and he noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin must not be allowed to win. “History tells us aggression unchecked leads to more aggression.” The senator also hailed the Ukrainian people … Continue reading “Ukraine Readies for Counteroffensive, Says Kyiv Official”

France Confirms Bird Flu Vaccination After Favorable Tests

France confirmed its aim to launch a vaccination program against bird flu in the autumn after results from a series of tests on the vaccination of ducks showed “satisfactory effectiveness,” the farm ministry said.  A severe strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, has ravaged poultry production around the world, leading to the culling of over 200 million birds in the past 18 months.  France has been the worst hit country in the European Union and is facing a strong resurgence of outbreaks since early this month in the southwestern part of the country, mainly among ducks.  It had already launched a pre-order of 80 million vaccines last month, which needed to be confirmed based on final tests carried out by French health safety agency ANSES.  “These favorable results provided sufficient guarantees to launch a vaccination campaign as early as autumn 2023,” the farm ministry wrote on its website.  Governments, often shy to use vaccination due to the trade restrictions it can entail, have increasingly considered adopting them to stem the spread of the virus and avoid interhuman transmission.  The results of the tests demonstrated a good control of virus transmission in vaccinated mule ducks, a differentiation between infected and vaccinated animals, known as the DIVA principle, and a reduction in virus excretion by vaccinated birds, the test conclusions said.  France has mandated two companies, France’s Ceva Animal Health and Germany’s Boehringher Ingelheim, to develop bird flu vaccines for ducks.  Several other EU countries have been carrying out tests, including the Netherlands on laying hens and Italy on turkeys.  First results in the Netherlands showed the vaccines tested were efficient.  …

Czech Leaders See Democratic Solidarity as Way Forward

Values-based diplomacy lies at the heart of the Czech Republic’s support for Ukraine and Taiwan alike, the country’s Chamber of Deputies president emphasized this week during a visit to Washington. Newly elected Czech President Petr Pavel sounded a similar note at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit earlier this month as he laid out how Prague views the threat posed by Moscow and Beijing. Marketa Pekarova Adamova was 5 years old when the Velvet Revolution swept the communists out of power in winter 1989. Stories of how people suffered under communism shaped her worldview, she told VOA during her visit to Washington as leader of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, which is comparable to the U.S. House of Representatives. “For example, my mother couldn’t study what she wished to study,” due to the government’s severe control of everyday life, she recalled. “This is why we know, even in my generation, what communism is about.” The fact that dissidents such as Vaclav Havel were forced to spend years in prison also “had a huge impact on me,” she added. The 38-year-old led a parliamentary delegation to engage with U.S. officials in Washington and the states of Maryland and Georgia this week to bolster bilateral ties and common approaches to global issues including Ukraine and Taiwan. While in Washington, Adamova told a news briefing that undergirding her country’s strong support for Ukraine and Taiwan is the value her government and people attach to democracy, freedom and human rights. “Our current government’s diplomacy is focused on these values” personified by Havel, the dissident playwright who became the first elected president of her country, she said. Adamova said her trip to Taiwan earlier this year was guided by this spirit. While they dealt with cyberattacks “on our mobile phones and other equipment,” she said they faced much less pressure than did Czech Senate Leader Milos Vystrcil and the delegation he led to visit Taiwan in 2020. Back then, she explained, her Senate colleague had to endure pressure from Beijing and from critics within the Czech government, most notably then-President Milos Zeman, who cultivated economic and political ties with both Beijing and Moscow. Vystrcil was “very brave and a great example to follow,” she said. Unlike his experience, she and her delegation had the full support of the Czech government that came to power following the October 2021 election. Speaking at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit held May … Continue reading “Czech Leaders See Democratic Solidarity as Way Forward”

Police and Serbs Clash in Kosovo

Serbian troops near Kosovo’s border were placed on high alert Friday, after clashes between police and Kosovo’s Serbian population injured at least 10 people. Serbs in Kosovo had taken to the streets to prevent newly-elected Albanian mayors from entering their offices. Clashes erupted when Kosovan police attempted to move the protesters to allow the politicians to enter their offices. Authorities say at least five police were injured in the skirmishes Friday and several cars were set on fire. Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the United States have issued a joint statement urging Kosovo “to de-escalate.” The Western powers said they are “concerned by Serbia’s decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday, “We will preserve peace — but I am telling you that Serbia won’t sit idle the moment Serbs in northern Kosovo are attacked.” Last month’s municipal elections were generally ignored by Kosovo’s Serbs. That move allowed Albanians to win offices. Serbian politicians in several Serbian-majority municipalities left their offices last year after Kosovan officials prevented them from establishing an organization to coordinate their approaches to social and economic concerns. …

Turkey’s Presidential Candidates Eye Nationalist Support to Win

Ahead of Turkey’s presidential runoff election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main contender Kemal Kilicdaroglu are both eyeing voters who back the country’s various nationalist parties. Nationalist parties like Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Good Party (IYIP), Victory Party (ZP) and Great Unity Party (BBP) received more than 23% of the votes in the parliamentary election on May 14, which made Turkish nationalists “the winner of the election,” according to some experts. “Political parties and candidates that define themselves [as] nationalist achieved an outstanding number of votes that no one could foresee,” Ismet Akca, a political scientist formerly with Istanbul’s Yildiz Technical University, told VOA. Kemal Can, a veteran journalist and commentator at digital media outlet Medyascope, does not find the increase in the nationalist votes significant, but thinks that the nationalist parties gained bargaining power. “As a result of these elections, we can say that both the visibility and bargaining ability of nationalism increased rather than the numerical increase,” Can told VOA. Endorsements On Monday, the nationalist ATA alliance’s presidential candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in the first round of the presidential election May 14, announced his endorsement of Erdogan, who got 49.52% of the votes in the first round. Ogan also highlighted that his candidacy made Turkish nationalists the key players in the election and explained why he is backing Erdogan as his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the People’s Alliance hold the majority in the parliament. Even though Ogan received 5.2% of the votes in the first round, Kemal Can thinks that Ogan will not be able to carry his support in its entirety to Erdogan. “Ogan was presented as a candidate in front of a group of voters and [received] a reaction,” Can told VOA. “He did not collect these votes; they are not his own votes. They are the votes of an alliance and reactionary votes,” Can added. On Wednesday, Umit Ozdag, the head of the far-right Victory Party, the leading party in the ATA alliance, endorsed Erdogan’s rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who received 44.88% of votes in the first round. Kilicdaroglu has toughened his tone before the second round of the election as he pledged to send Syrian refugees back and to end terrorism in his campaign posters. At the same time, Erdogan has repeatedly suggested links between him and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Kilicdaroglu has denied this … Continue reading “Turkey’s Presidential Candidates Eye Nationalist Support to Win”

Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia

Somali diplomats said Friday that Russia had offered to help support Somalia’s armed forces in their battle against the al-Shabab terrorist group. The diplomats, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had made the offer during talks with his Somali counterpart, Abshir Omar Jama, in Moscow. One diplomat said, “Russia was ready to provide Somalia’s army with military supplies, to strengthen the government fight against al-Shabab.” The diplomats did not specify the kinds of materiel Russia was offering to Somalia, which is under a long-standing U.N. arms embargo. The U.N. Security Council imposed the embargo in 1992 after the outbreak of civil war and factional violence. The embargo was partially lifted in 2013 to help Somalia’s security forces fight the Islamist militants. Russia’s offer came hours after al-Shabab militants stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in the Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu. Earlier, at the opening of the talks between the two foreign ministers, Lavrov emphasized the long relationship between the two countries, which goes back to quick Soviet recognition of Somalia after it gained independence in 1960. He also said he and Jama would discuss preparations for the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late July in St. Petersburg. Diplomatic relations In modern times, Russia and Somalia have had fairly routine diplomatic relations, with Russia sending humanitarian aid to Somalia several times. In May 2010, Somalia reacted angrily to the way Russian marines handled their rescue of a tanker, the MV Moscow University, that had been hijacked 560 kilometers off the coast of Yemen. Russian media reported at the time that 10 Somali pirates, who had taken the tanker and its crew hostage, were released on the open sea because there were no grounds to prosecute them in Russia. Somali authorities said the pirates never made it ashore and likely died at sea. Somalia’s Foreign Ministry statement at the time warned that relations with Russia might be harmed over the incident and demanded an apology from the Russian government. Since then, two Somali prime ministers, Omar Sharmarke and Hassan Ali Khaire, have met with top Russian officials requesting assistance to strengthen the Somali National Army. In recent years, Somali diplomats, who asked for anonymity, told VOA Somali that the Russian military has been eyeing … Continue reading “Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia”

UK Man Gets Life Sentence for Joining IS in Syria 

A London court jailed a British man for life on Friday for traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State group nearly a decade ago.  Judge Mark Lucraft handed Shabazz Suleman, from High Wycombe northwest of London, the prison term for making his way to Syria to enlist in the terror group, which is barred by English law.  “You went to Syria in order to join IS. You understood IS was a proscribed organization in English law,” the judge said as he passed sentence at London’s Old Bailey criminal court.   “Your ambition was to become a sniper,” he noted.  Suleman, 27, pleaded guilty last month of preparing acts of terrorism by traveling from the U.K. to Turkey in August 2014, when he was 18, to join IS in Syria.   He disappeared while on a family holiday to Turkey, which borders Syria and has long been a gateway to the war-ravaged country for Western would-be jihadists.  Suleman was arrested at Heathrow Airport in September 2021 and charged with various terror offenses, including receiving training in the use of firearms as well as belonging to a proscribed organization.  Suleman will serve a minimum term of nine years and six months under the life sentence.  Tried to desert IS Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson told the court that while attempting to travel to Syria, Suleman was held by Turkish forces before opting to be part of a prisoner swap with IS.  Once inside Syria, he posted on social media about his experiences in IS territory and later gave incriminating interviews to Britain’s Sky News.  Later he became disenchanted with jihadism and tried to desert the terrorist group, the court was told.  Following the collapse of IS, he was taken captive by a faction of the Free Syrian Army in 2017, before being transferred to Turkey and then Pakistan.  His lawyer, Abdul Iqbal, said Suleman had been an “immature and idealistic” young man who wanted to help people “in distress” and who participated in “non-combat duties” with IS.  He added that his client had decided within five months of joining the terrorist organization that he wished to flee.  …

Pro-Government Rally Planned in Serbia Amid Growing Discontent After Mass Shootings

Tens of thousands of people converged on the Serbian capital on Friday for a major rally in support of President Aleksandar Vucic, who is facing an unprecedented revolt against his autocratic rule amid the crisis triggered by two mass shootings that stunned the nation.  The event was somewhat overshadowed by a new crisis in Serbia’s former province of Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs clashed with Kosovo police on Friday and Vucic ordered Serbian troops to be put on a “higher state of alert.” Vucic also said he ordered an “urgent” movement of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.  Answering Vucic’s call for what he called “the largest rally in the history of Serbia,” his supporters, many wearing identical T-shirts with his portrait, were bused to Belgrade from all over the Balkan country as well as neighboring Kosovo and Bosnia.  Those working in state firms and institutions were told to take a day off from work to attend the rally in front of the parliament building. Some said that they were warned that they could lose their jobs if they didn’t show up on the buses, which started arriving hours before the gathering was to start.  Serbian officials said the rally promotes “unity and hope” for Serbia.  At three large anti-government protests held earlier this month in the capital, demonstrators demanded Vucic’s ouster and the resignation of two senior security officials. They also demanded the withdrawal of broadcasting licenses for two pro-Vucic television stations that they say promote violence and often host convicted war criminals and other crime figures.  Opposition protesters blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the May 3 and May 4 mass shootings that left 18 people dead and 20 wounded, many of them schoolchildren who were gunned down by a 13-year-old schoolmate.  Vucic has vehemently denied any responsibility for the shootings, calling organizers of the opposition protests “vultures” and “hyenas” who want to use the tragedies to try to come to power by force and without an election.  “They are not against violence, they want my head,” he said.  Analysts believe that by staging the mass rally, Vucic, who has ruled the country for more than a decade with a firm grip on power, is trying to overshadow the opposition protests with the sheer number of participants.  “For the first … Continue reading “Pro-Government Rally Planned in Serbia Amid Growing Discontent After Mass Shootings”

Pope Runs Fever, Skips Meetings, Vatican Says

Pope Francis skipped meetings Friday because he was running a fever, the Vatican said. There were no details about how sick Francis was. The last time he spiked a serious fever, in March, the 86-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. He received intravenous antibiotics and was released three days later. A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the pope’s health, said Francis didn’t receive anyone in audience Friday “because of a feverish state.” There were no formal audiences scheduled Friday, but Francis keeps a separate, private and unofficial agenda of meetings with people he receives at his residence. Francis has had a busy week, presiding over a meeting of the Italian bishops conference, participating in an afternoon encounter Thursday with his school foundation Scholas Occurentes, as well as meeting with several other prelates and visiting dignitaries. He is due to preside over Pentecost Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, and in a sign that he was expected to recover quickly, the Vatican on Friday announced a new official audience with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, scheduled for Monday. …

Belgian Aid Worker, Iranian Diplomat Freed in Prisoner Swap

A Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran and an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium were freed on Friday in a swap agreement mediated by Oman, both sides said. Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele had been arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying. Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Belgian and Iranian authorities had rejected the charges against Vandecasteele and Assadi respectively as fabricated. “As I speak, Belgium’s Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium. If all goes to plan, he’ll be with us this evening. Free at last,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Friday. “Last night Olivier was flown to Oman where he was looked after by a team of Belgian soldiers and diplomats. This morning he underwent a number of medical examinations to assess his state of health and to enable him to return in the best possible conditions,” De Croo added. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described Assadi in a Twitter post as “our country’s innocent diplomat who was illegally arrested against international law,” and said he would return to Iran soon. Oman’s foreign ministry said earlier an agreement had been reached under which prisoners were released and transported from Brussels and Tehran to Muscat, the Omani capital, on Friday in preparation for their repatriation. The Gulf Arab country has good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has acted before as a mediator for the two estranged sides on matters such as prisoner swaps. Belgium’s justice minister said at the time of Vandecasteele’s conviction that it was based on fabricated evidence and amounted to retribution for the prison term given to Assadi. A treaty took force last month under which Belgian prisoners in Iran can serve their sentences at home and vice versa. …

Latest in Ukraine: Missile Strike on Ukraine Clinic Kills 1, Wounds 15

New developments: Russian returns 106 Ukranian prisoners of war Russian town of Graivoron under Ukrainian artillery fire for several hours Russia accuses Ukrainian militia of using U.S.-made armored vehicles in a cross-border incursion on Monday   U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized Thursday that U.S. is not at war with Russia   JCS Chief Mark Milley says Washington asked Kyiv not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia Officials in Ukraine say a missile strike Friday morning on a clinic in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro has killed one person and wounded at least 15 others, including two children. Local media posted video showing a blaze ripping through a two-story building in Dnipro. In a statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the “inhumans” who launched the attack must be defeated. In the southern Russian city of Krasnodar a blast that damaged a residential building was caused by two drones, the regional governor said Friday. “There is some damage to buildings, but critical infrastructure was not damaged. And most importantly, there were no casualties,” Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said in a statement on social media. Meanwhile, a town in a Russian region bordering Ukraine came under Ukrainian artillery fire Friday. Graivoron was under fire for several hours.  The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that for at least 20 years, Russia has experienced a “proliferation of paramilitary groups” from Russia’s military. The “paramilitarization” has increased dramatically, the ministry said, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially in the Crimean Peninsula, where many units have been given “some semi-official status as reserve units of the regular army.” Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of Russian-occupied Crimea, is described as having been “instrumental” in creating these paramilitary groups in the region. Now, however, Aksyonov is likely eager to distinguish himself by recruiting fighters, but the ministry said he is “likely concerned” about the military’s capacity to defend the peninsula. “The main element of the Russian garrison, 22nd Army Corps,” the ministry said, “is currently mostly deployed outside the peninsula and has taken heavy casualties.” ‘This is Ukraine’s fight’ On Thursday, U.S. defense leaders were careful to draw the distinction that despite Washington’s continued support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia, the United States itself is not at war with Russia. At a news conference following a virtual meeting of dozens of countries supporting Ukraine militarily, … Continue reading “Latest in Ukraine: Missile Strike on Ukraine Clinic Kills 1, Wounds 15”

Ukrainian Language More Popular Since War Started

More than 1 million people have started learning Ukrainian since February of last year, according to data from language learning app Duolingo. They say interest in Ukrainian remains high, and the top three countries with the most learners of the language are the United States, Britain and Poland. Correspondent Lesia Bakalets reports from Warsaw …

Humanitarian Group Blasts Greece Over Treatment of Asylum-Seekers on Island

A prominent humanitarian group on Thursday blasted Greece over its treatment of asylum-seekers on the island of Lesbos, repeating allegations of illegal deportations back to Turkey and claiming authorities are using hunger as a weapon against some migrants.  Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement that the situation for asylum-seekers on the eastern Aegean Sea island is “continuously deteriorating.”  “Many people there have been exposed to violence and have alleged abductions by unidentified masked people, pushbacks that forced them out of Greece, arbitrary detentions, and deprivation of food and shelter,” it said.  The Greek government has ordered an investigation into claims that a group of migrants was illegally deported from Lesbos back to Turkey. Last week, a New York Times report claimed that the migrants were taken onto a Greek coast guard boat that left them in a raft at sea to be picked up by the Turkish coast guard, which returned them to Turkey.  Athens has denied persistent allegations that it engages in such deportations, known as pushbacks. Lesbos is a major landing point for thousands of people seeking a better life in Europe, who cross illegally from Turkey in small boats provided by smuggling gangs.  MSF said Thursday that fear of pushbacks was preventing many newly arrived migrants from accessing its health services, while others who could not be found may have been secretly deported.  “When we are alerted of newly arrived people in urgent need of medical assistance, we spend hours — sometimes days — looking for them as they are often hiding in forests,” Nihal Osman, MSF’s Lesbos coordinator, said. Osman added that since June 2022, MSF had been unable to find 940 people at their reported locations.  The group also claimed that Greek authorities stopped giving food on May 17 to people who had completed the registration process in a Lesbos center for asylum-seekers to stay pending examination of their bids.  “The government is using food as leverage to force people to leave the facility,” Osman said. He also described as dire the conditions at another center where newly arrived asylum-seekers are sent for days, saying it’s overcrowded and too remotely located.  There was no immediate comment from the Greek government.  Nearly a million people reached Greece from Turkey in 2015, most landing on Lesbos. Numbers later dropped, and since 2019 Athens has stepped up patrols at sea to … Continue reading “Humanitarian Group Blasts Greece Over Treatment of Asylum-Seekers on Island”

Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Unprecedented Presidential Runoff

Turkish voters will cast ballots in the country’s presidential runoff election on May 28. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the front-runner after narrowly scoring an outright win in the first round and securing a majority in parliament. But analysts say challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu has an outside chance if he can galvanize his voting base. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul. …