Russian Israeli journalist barred from entering Serbia

washington — A Russian Israeli freelance journalist who has been labeled a “foreign agent” by Moscow said Wednesday that he was banned from entering Serbia because of alleged security risks.

In a Zoom interview with VOA, Roman Perl said he landed at the airport in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, for a personal visit Saturday. He was kept waiting for about eight hours before being handed an order blocking his entry.

“They gave me a paper stating that there are security risks if I were to be on Serbian soil,” Perl said.

The Russian government designated Perl a “foreign agent” in 2021, a legal term the Kremlin has used since 2012 to enforce its harsh crackdown on news outlets and civil society groups. The law prompted Perl to depart Russia for Israel.

Press freedom experts expressed concern about the incident.

“It’s very worrying because it may confirm that the Serbian authorities are working with the Russian ones,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, told VOA from Paris. “To go to Serbia could be a great danger for journalists.”

Perl, who has previously produced documentaries for Current Time TV, said he was traveling to Belgrade to visit a friend.

Perl said it was “possible that Russian authorities can, in certain cases, persuade the Serbs to do something the Russian side deems necessary.” But, he added, Serbia may have blocked him over his brief detention in Belgrade in 2023.

While filming a documentary about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at that time, one of his interviewees unfurled the Ukrainian flag near the Russian Embassy, he said.

“Then the members of the gendarmerie approached us and told us that the embassy had called them to remove us from the area,” he said.

Perl was then held in police custody for a few hours before being released without charge.

Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Information and Telecommunications and Border Police did not reply to emails from VOA’s Serbian Service requesting comment. Serbia’s Washington embassy also did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Although Serbia has a vibrant media landscape, reporters often face political pressure, and impunity for crimes against journalists tends to be the norm, according to press freedom groups.

The threat of impunity in Serbia was highlighted earlier this year. In February, four people who were previously charged with the 1999 murder of prominent Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija were acquitted in an appeals trial.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Serbia 98th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

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Georgia’s NGOs refuse to comply with ‘Russian’ foreign agent law

Opponents of the so-called “foreign agent” law that came into effect in Georgia this month say they will not comply with the law’s requirements. The opponents say the measure – which requires organizations that get 20% or more of their funding from abroad to register as foreign agents – reflects similar laws in Russia and is aimed at silencing critics ahead of elections later this year. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Tbilisi, organizations that refuse to comply could face heavy financial penalties.

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NATO Secretary-General: Ukraine has the right to strike military targets in Russia 

Brussels — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine should be able to hit military targets inside Russia to defend against attacks.

“Ukraine has the right to strike military targets on Russian territory [as] part of the right for self-defense, and we have the right to support them in defending themselves,” Stoltenberg said Thursday, in response to a question from VOA at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where allies and partners were holding the 23rd meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG). The U.S.-led group brings together about 50 nations to coordinate military support for Kyiv in its fight against Russia’s illegal invasion.

 

Stoltenberg welcomed the decision by various allies and partners to loosen restrictions on the use of weapons against “legitimate military targets” inside Russia, which started the war by illegally invading Ukraine.

“If they [Ukrainians] were not able to do so, then we would actually ask them to try to defend themselves, uphold the right of self-defense, with one hand tied on their back,” he said. “Self-defense is not escalation.”

Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s right to cross-border strikes has become more obvious since Russia opened a new front to the north in Kharkiv and began attacking the area directly from Russian territory.

“The border and the frontline is more or less the same, and of course, if the Russian forces, the artillery, the missile batteries, were safe as soon as they were on the Russian side of the border, it would become extremely difficult for Ukrainians to defend themselves,” he said.

The U.S. recently gave Ukraine permission to strike ground targets inside Russia, specifically to defend against cross-border attacks on the Kharkiv region. Last week, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said the United States has “never” put restrictions on Ukrainians shooting down hostile aircraft, “even if those aircraft are not necessarily in Ukrainian airspace.”

Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, the former head of U.S. Central Command, told VOA this week that Ukrainians should be able to fire on any military targets inside Russia that’s attacking Ukraine, “but with certain limits” on areas such as Russian nuclear capable sites.

“You can’t give them a sanctuary there,” he said. “I think that has significantly hurt the Ukrainian ability to respond this latest offensive.”

Reconsidering restrictions

For more than a year, the United States would not provide long-range tactical ballistic missiles known as ATACMS to Kyiv due to administration concerns that Russia would view their use for attacks inside Russian territory as an escalation of the war.

ATACMS have a range of up to 300km and nearly double the striking distance of Ukraine’s missile arsenal.

In late April, the U.S. first acknowledged that it had provided Ukraine with the long-awaited missiles in mid-March.

Since then, the United States has announced four presidential drawdown authority packages (PDAs) for Ukrainian security assistance, totaling $1.9 billion, which pull from U.S. military stockpiles to provide Ukraine’s military with immediate needs.

Asked by VOA whether the United States had provided Ukraine with more ATACMS since mid-March, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown said, “We’re working through the ATACMS piece, and we continue to provide that capability through our PDAs.”

Brown was speaking to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft enroute to Brussels for the UDCG.

The Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies reported Wednesday that Ukraine used at least 10 ATACMS in a strike against military targets deep inside Crimea this week, with Russia “failing to intercept any of them.” Russia also confirmed the use of ATACMS on targets inside Crimea, but claimed nine of the ATACMS were shot down, according to the Russian state media outlet TASS.

Ukraine’s military said Wednesday it had hit three Russian surface-to-air missile systems in Russian-occupied Crimea overnight.

“One S-300 division near Belbek, as well as two S-400 divisions near Belbek and Sevastopol were attacked. Two radars of the S-300 and S-400 systems were destroyed. Regarding the third radar, information is being clarified,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on X.

Brown said the focus of Thursday’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group’s meeting would prioritize Ukrainian air defense, along with sustainment and the ability to train and equip Kyiv’s new forces.

“Air defense is one of those things that, as we engage with the Ukrainians, that is the top of their list,” Brown said.

Germany has announced it is providing Ukraine with another Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system, and Italy has announced it will deliver a SAMP-T air defense system to Ukraine. The New York Times and the Associated Press report that the United States is also providing another Patriot system, citing defense officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the move.

The UDCG has also worked to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jet capability sometime during “this summer,” according to Brown. A number of Ukrainian pilots recently graduated from F-16 training in the U.S. state of Arizona, with more pilots and jet maintainers expected to complete training at various locations in the coming weeks.

“It gives them some options in order to be able to extend the range of some of the munitions that they already have,” Brown said of the F-16s.

McKenzie told VOA the Western fighter jets “can make a significant difference” for Ukraine, “especially if you allow shots into Russia.”

“It will probably allow you to go after some of the standoff Russian airborne platforms that are dropping glide bombs and other weapons that are going deep into Ukraine,” he added.

Speaking at the opening of Thursday’s meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the group has committed more than $98 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded 840 days ago. He also welcomed Argentina as the newest member of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

Ostap Yarysh in Washington contributed to this report.

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Biden, G7 leaders focus on Ukraine, Gaza, global infrastructure, Africa

BORGO EGNAZIA, ITALY — U.S. President Joe Biden is in Apuglia, Italy, meeting with leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies Thursday, aiming to address global economic security amid wars in Europe and the Middle East and U.S. rivalry with China.

The G7 leaders arrived at the luxury resort of Borgo Egnazia, the summit venue, welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Meloni’s hard-right party took nearly 29% of the vote in last weekend’s European Parliament election, making her the only leader of a major Western European country to emerge from the ballots stronger.

Meanwhile Biden is dealing with a contentious reelection campaign against Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, and a personal ordeal. On Tuesday, a day before departing for the summit, his son, Hunter, was found guilty on federal charges for possessing a gun while being addicted to drugs.

Still, Biden came to the summit hoping to convince the group to provide a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using interest from Russian frozen assets, and deal with Chinese overcapacity in strategic green technologies, including electric vehicles. 

The European Union signaled their support by announcing duties on Chinese EVs a day ahead of the summit, a move that echoed the Biden administration’s steep tariff hike on Chinese EVs and other key sectors in May.

Biden is also lending his support to key themes in Meloni’s presidency – investing in Africa, international development, and climate change. Those topics were covered in the opening session of the G7 on Thursday, followed by discussions on the Gaza and Ukraine wars. 

Gaza cease-fire

With cease-fire negotiations at a critical juncture, Biden could face tough questions from leaders on whether he is doing enough to pressure Israel to pause its military campaign, reduce civilian casualties and provide more aid for Palestinians.

Leaders are “focused on one thing overall; getting a cease-fire in place and getting the hostages home as part of that,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA as he spoke to reporters on board Air Force One en route to Italy. Biden has “their full backing,” Sullivan added.

Leaders will also discuss increasing tension along the Israeli border with Lebanon, Sullivan told reporters Thursday morning. 

“They’ll compare notes on the continuing threat posed by Iran both with respect to its support for proxy forces and with respect to the Iranian nuclear program,” he added.

While the group has thrown its weight behind the cease-fire, G7 members are split on other Gaza-related issues, including the International Criminal Court’s decision last month to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The United States denounced the court’s decision, and Britain called it “unhelpful.” France said it supports the court’s “fight against impunity,” while Berlin said it would arrest Netanyahu on German soil should a warrant is released.

Sullivan dismissed a United Nations inquiry result released Wednesday that alleges both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and grave violations of international law.

“We’ve made our position clear,” he told VOA, referring to a review published in April by the State Department concluding that Israel’s campaign did not violate international humanitarian law.

Russian assets

Biden is pushing G7 leaders to provide Kyiv with a loan of up to $50 billion that will be paid back to Western allies using interest income from the $280 billion Russian assets frozen in Western financial institutions, estimated at $3 billion a year, for 10 years or more.

The goal is a leaders declaration at the end of the summit, a “framework that is not generic, that is quite specific in terms of what it would entail,” Sullivan told VOA Wednesday. Core operational details would still need to be worked out, he added. 

In April, Biden signed legislation to seize the roughly $5 billion in Russian assets that had been immobilized in U.S. financial institutions. The bulk of the money, though, $190 billion, is in Belgium, and much of the rest is in France and Germany.

“There’s a tension here between a Biden administration ambition on an issue in which they do not have the final say, hitting against very staunch European fiscal conservatism and simply the mechanics of, how do you get something done in Europe in the week of European [parliamentary] elections,” Kristine Berzina, managing director of Geostrategy North at the German Marshall Fund think tank, told VOA.

Attending the summit for the second consecutive year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is advocating for the deal to pass. He and Biden will sign a separate bilateral security agreement outlining U.S. support for Ukraine and speak in a joint press conference Thursday evening.

From Italy, Zelenskyy heads to Switzerland for a Ukraine peace conference over the weekend.

Africa, climate change and development

Meloni, a far-right politician who once called for a naval blockade to prevent African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, now wants to achieve the goal by bolstering international investments to the continent.

Most of the nearly 261,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea from northern Africa in 2023 entered Europe through Italy, according to the United Nations.

She has aligned her G7 presidency with this agenda, and the group is set to release a statement on providing debt relief for low- and middle-income countries, dealing with irregular migration and calling for more investments in Africa.

The G7 statement will reflect the Nairobi/Washington vision that Biden signed with Kenyan President William Ruto, Sullivan said.

Meloni invited several African leaders as observers to the G7 meeting, including Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Tunisia’s Kais Saied, Kenyan President William Ruto and Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, the president of Mauritania. The invitation follows the first Italy-Africa summit in Rome in January, where Meloni launched her investment initiative called the Mattei Plan for Africa.

The Mattei Plan has been integrated into the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which aims to mobilize $600 billion private infrastructure funding by 2027 as an alternative to Chin’s Belt and Road initiative.

On climate change, the G7 has an uphill climb. None of the group’s members are on track to meet their existing emission reduction targets for 2030 to align with the Paris Agreement goal, according to data compiled by Climate Analytics.

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Biden arrives at G7 in Italy with sanctions for Russia, support for Ukraine, but no deal on Gaza

Brindisi, Italy — U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Brindisi, Italy, late Wednesday ahead of his meeting with leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies.

He came armed with fresh sanctions for Russia, a new bilateral security agreement for Ukraine, but no breakthrough on Gaza cease-fire negotiations that now sit at a critical juncture.

The United States is working with mediators Egypt and Qatar after reviewing Hamas’ response to the proposal, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Italy early Wednesday.

“Many of the proposed changes are minor and not unanticipated,” he said. “Others differ quite substantively from what was outlined in the U.N. Security Council resolution.”

As Biden was in flight to Italy, the U.S. Treasury Department announced fresh sanctions that target foreign individuals and companies aiding Moscow’s military industrial base. They include companies based in China, that are selling semiconductors to Russia.

It includes an expansion of secondary sanctions that allow the United States to blacklist any bank around the world that does business with Russian financial institutions already facing sanctions. The goal is to prevent smaller banks in China and other countries from funding the Russian war effort.

The sanctions also target networks Russia uses to obtain critical materials for building aerial drones, anti-drone equipment, industrial machinery and for the country’s chemical and biological weapons program, the Treasury Department said.

“We are increasing the risk for financial institutions dealing with Russia’s war economy and eliminating paths for evasion, and diminishing Russia’s ability to benefit from access to foreign technology, equipment, software, and IT services,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The Moscow Exchange, Russia’s top financial marketplace, announced it was halting trading of dollars and euros after being listed in the new sanctions.

Biden is also set to sign on Thursday a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine during his meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The agreement is intended to show U.S. resolve to strengthen Ukraine’s defense and deterrence capabilities without committing American troops on the Ukrainian battlefield. The agreement would include Ukrainian commitment to reform and on end-use monitoring of U.S.-provided weapons.

It will be Biden’s second meeting with Zelenskyy in the span of days; the two met in Paris on the sidelines of the 80-year commemoration of D-Day last week.

Russian frozen assets

Zelenskyy will be urging G7 leaders to get behind Biden’s plan to provide Kyiv with a loan of up to $50 billion for Ukraine’s war efforts against Russia, amid Moscow’s strategic advances in the battlefield. The U.S. proposal would pay back Western allies using interest income from the $280 billion in Russian assets frozen in Western financial institutions, estimated at $3 billion a year, for 10 years or more.

The goal is a Leaders’ Declaration at the end of the summit, a “framework that is not generic, that is quite specific in terms of what it would entail,” Sullivan told VOA as he spoke to reporters in flight. However, “core operational details” would still need to be worked out. It’s unclear whether the loan will be provided by the G7 or only some of its members.

In April, Biden signed legislation to seize the roughly $5 billion in Russian assets that had been immobilized in U.S. financial institutions. But the bulk of the money, $190 billion, is in Belgium and much of the rest, is in France and Germany.

A big source of concern for Europeans is who will be responsible to cover losses should interest rates fall below expectations or if the sanctions that immobilize the funds are not renewed. Russia considers the immobilizing of its assets following its invasion on Ukraine as theft and has threatened retaliation.

Although Ukraine is not a G7 member, this is the second consecutive year Zelenskyy is attending the summit. From Italy, he heads to Switzerland for a Ukraine peace conference over the weekend.

EU puts tariffs on Chinese EVs

Biden imposed a drastic tariff hike in May to confront what he calls Chinese overcapacity in strategic green technologies and has been urging the G7 to do the same.

On Wednesday, the European Union responded to the call by announcing it would slap Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) with higher tariffs, up to 38.1%, saying the imports benefit “heavily from unfair subsidies” and pose a “threat of economic injury” to producers in Europe.

U.S. tariffs on Chinese EVs were quadrupled to a 100% rate, while solar cell and semiconductor import tariffs were doubled to 50%. The rates on certain steel and aluminum imports were tripled to 25%. The additional duties covered $18 billion in Chinese products.

Europe is taking action to address Chinese overcapacity just as the United States has done, Sullivan said. A “common framework” on how to deal with various economic security issues posed by China will likely be included in the G7 final communique, he added.

The punitive moves could prompt retaliation from Beijing, which accuses the West of hyping overcapacity claims to blunt China’s competitive edge.

Biden arrived on the global forum after a family drama. On Tuesday, a day before departing for the summit, his son Hunter Biden was found guilty on federal charges of possessing of a gun while being addicted to drugs.

Biden has said he would not use presidential powers to pardon his son. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to respond to further questions, including the possibility of commuting Hunter Biden’s sentence when it is given by the judge.

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Iran releases French citizen, says France’s Macron

BARI, Italy — French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday the release of Louis Arnaud, a French citizen who had been held in Iran since 2022 and who had been sentenced to five years in prison in November.

“Louis Arnaud is free. He will be in France tomorrow after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron said on X, thanking Oman in particular for its role in obtaining his release. 

The release is rare positive news about France and Iran. 

Bilateral relations have deteriorated in recent months, with Tehran holding four French citizens — including Arnaud — in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests equivalent to state hostage taking. 

France is also increasingly concerned by Iran’s regional activities and the advance of its nuclear program. 

Arnaud, who had been held since September 2022 after traveling in the country, was sentenced to five years in prison in November on security charges. He was held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. 

“This evening, I also think of Cecile, Jacques and Olivier,” the remaining French citizens held in Iran,” said Macron. “I am calling on Iran to liberate them without delay.” 

In recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on charges related to espionage and security. 

Rights groups have accused Iran of trying to extract concessions from other countries through such arrests. Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage. 

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Southern African nations wary as UK’s Labor Party commits to hunting trophy ban

Gaborone, Botswana — Some Southern African countries pushing against the United Kingdom’s anti-hunting efforts suffered a blow when the Labor Party, expected to form the next government, committed last week to support a ban on hunting trophy imports.

Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe said in a joint statement that they are disappointed Britain’s Labor Party will attempt to ban hunting trophies.

The countries said, however, that unlike the Conservative government, the Labor Party has “at least pledged a full consultation on a policy with significant ramifications for conservation programs in our countries.”

Botswana, with the largest elephant herd in the world at more than 130,000, has been at the forefront of a campaign against efforts by the U.K. and other European nations to ban hunting trophies from Africa.

Adam Hart, a U.K.-based ecologist and conservation scientist specializing in southern Africa, told VOA he is disappointed with the Labor Party’s move.

“It shows that perhaps they have not listened to the sides that have gone in front of the Conservative Party, and they have not listened to the voices of the affected nations,” he said.

In its manifesto, the Labor Party says it will put forward a comprehensive plan to end animal cruelty that includes a ban on the import of hunting trophies from abroad.

“I think politicians see this as an easy win,” said Hart, who is a professor at the University of Gloucestershire. “It’s only when they start getting involved more with the issues that they realize that it is nowhere near as straightforward as they thought.”

He said the Labor Party must be honest in its consultation with the affected southern African countries.

“We have to give [the Labor Party] the benefit of the doubt and suggest that perhaps the consultation will be genuine,” he said. “Many people when they go into this debate think that they have the answers. They think that it’s a very … simple issue, that banning hunting trophies will save endangered species.

“Of course, once you start digging into the issue, you realize it’s much more complicated than that and that, in fact, it can have the opposite effect.”

Countries such as Botswana and Zimbabwe are pursuing alternative markets.

Botswana’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Boatametse Modukanele, said, “We are looking at the Middle East. We are also looking at the United Arab Emirates, as an example. We are looking at those countries because they also have a hunting culture, and they do not have the many restrictions that we have currently.”

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Georgia’s protesters vow to stay on streets until government falls

Tbilisi, Georgia — Protesters in Georgia have vowed to continue anti-government demonstrations driven largely by the so-called “foreign agent” law that took effect last week.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in the past two months to protest the law, which critics have compared to similar measures in Russia. Many of the demonstrators carry European Union and Georgian flags, while others wave the Ukrainian colors in solidarity with Kyiv following its 2022 invasion by Moscow.

Protesters beaten

Among the most well-known figures at the demonstrations is David Katsarava, a prominent activist who monitors Russian activities in parts of Georgia occupied by Moscow’s forces since its 2008 invasion of the country.

On May 14, Katsarava was detained by Georgian special forces outside parliament. He says he was severely beaten at least five times in detention, suffering extensive injuries including a broken jaw and eye socket. He was released without charge the following day. The government says it is investigating his treatment.

At his home in the suburbs of Tbilisi, Katsarava told VOA that the protests must go on – and he will rejoin them in the coming days.

“We have now the changed reality and we must continue fighting. Georgia has changed and changed its direction to Russia. We must fight until to the end because otherwise if we stop, if we will be scared and we will stay at home, so that will be a finish for free Georgia. And Georgia then becomes Belarus or some branch of Russia or something like this,” he said.

Foreign agent

The new law requires any organization receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from overseas to register as a “foreign agent.” Critics have compared it to Russian legislation and say it is aimed at stifling scrutiny and criticism of the government by media and non-governmental organizations ahead of elections scheduled in October.

The law’s supporters say it is aimed at ensuring transparency.

“It doesn’t make sense why the state budget should be transparent — but any funding from foreign sources should not be transparent in the same way,” said Fridon Injia, an member of parliament with the European Socialists party, which is closely aligned to the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The European Union has warned that the foreign agent law is incompatible with Georgia’s EU membership aspirations. Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on several Georgian lawmakers who supported the legislation.

October elections

The demonstrators insist they will continue their action until the October elections — with the aim of toppling the government, which is led by the Georgian Dream political party and widely seen as increasingly pro-Russian.

Giga Bokeria, chairman of the “European Georgia” party and a member of the government from 2010 until 2013, compared the coming months to the fall of the Soviet Union, when Georgia regained its independence.

“We have elections in October. These protests will continue until then. And our goal will be just like 30 years ago — to achieve a fundamental change. And this fundamental change is to remove the government, which is a proxy of the enemy of our sovereignty [Russia] and enemy of our liberty inside the country.”

EU support

Polls conducted before the foreign agent law took effect suggest around 80 percent of Georgians support EU membership.

At a recent protest outside parliament, many demonstrators vowed to stay on the streets until the election.

“No matter that the law is already in place, we keep on protesting. Because we want that Europe sees our approach and they support us,” said student Elene Ramishvili.

“There’s a big chance that [the government] will try to fake the results of the elections and we’ll have to be ready for the action, in case this happens,” fellow protester Giorgi Japiashvili told VOA.

Katsarava called on Europe and the U.S. to do more. “I would like to appeal to our Western partners and our friends to please support us,” he said. “We need quick support. And without you, we all will lose Georgia as a free country.”

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Georgia’s protestors vow to stay on streets until government falls

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in recent weeks to protest a new ‘foreign agent’ law, which critics have compared to similar legislation in Russia. The law is now in force – but its opponents have vowed to continue their demonstrations until crucial elections scheduled for later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports from Tbilisi.

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Verdict due in Dutch crime reporter’s killing

The Hague — A Dutch court will on Wednesday hand down a long-awaited verdict over the 2021 assassination of high-profile crime journalist Peter R. de Vries, a killing that shocked the country.

De Vries was gunned down in broad daylight on a busy Amsterdam street in July 2021, sparking an outpouring of grief and spotlighting the country’s drug gang underworld.

Authorities believe gunmen targeted De Vries, 64, due to his role as advisor to a key witness in the case of drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi. 

Police arrested two suspects, identified only as Dutchman Delano G. and Kamil E. from Poland, shortly after the shooting. Prosecutors have called for a life sentence.

Prosecutors believe Delano G. pulled the trigger and Kamil E. drove the getaway car and carried out surveillance prior to the shooting.

Seven men suspected of organizing and facilitating the killing have been added to the trial.

All nine suspects either denied the charges or invoked their right to silence. Hearings have taken place in an extra high security “bunker” at the court in Amsterdam.

A video showing De Vries seriously injured circulated after the attack. Partly because of this, prosecutors charged the suspects with “murder with terrorist intent.”

Thousands of mourners filed past his coffin in Amsterdam following his death, paying respect to a journalist described as a “national hero.” 

‘Narco-state’

De Vries first shot to prominence as an intrepid crime reporter for the daily newspaper De Telegraaf — writing a best-selling book about the 1980s kidnapping of beer millionaire Freddy Heineken.

The book was later turned into a 2015 movie “Kidnapping Freddy Heineken”, starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role.

The celebrity journalist then moved into television, where he ran his own crime program called “Peter R. de Vries, Crime Reporter.”

De Vries won international renown in 2008 after winning an Emmy Award for his coverage of the disappearance of US citizen Natalee Holloway on the Caribbean island of Aruba.

From 2020, he was an advisor and confidant of Nabil B., the main prosecution witness in the case against Taghi, described as the country’s most wanted criminal.

De Vries revealed in 2019 that authorities had informed him he was on a hit-list drawn up by Taghi, who in February received a life sentence over a series of murders committed by his gang.

Nabil B.’s brother Reduan was killed in 2018, and his lawyer Derk Wiersum was shot dead in 2019.

Together with the assassination of De Vries, the three killings together sparked warnings that the country was becoming a “narco-state.”

The threat touched the top levels of Dutch society.

Crown Princess Amalia, the daughter of King Willem-Alexander, was forced to move to Spain for her studies due to fears of an attack from an organized crime group.

Both the royal and Prime Minister Mark Rutte were mentioned in messages by organized crime groups, raising fears of plans to kidnap or attack them.

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Man jailed in Belgium for 25 years over Rwandan genocide      

Brussels — A court in Brussels on Monday sentenced a 65-year-old Belgian-Rwandan man to 25 years in prison for murder and rape committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  

Emmanuel Nkunduwimye was found guilty of war crimes and genocide for a series of murders as well as the rape of a Tutsi woman. 

Nkunduwimye, who was first arrested in Belgium in 2011, owned a garage in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, in April 1994 when the genocide began. The garage was part of a complex of buildings that was the scene of massacres perpetrated by Interahamwe militiamen.  

Nkunduwimye was close to several militia leaders – including Georges Rutaganda, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and died in 2010. 

The jury at the trial in Brussels found the accused assisted the militia “with full knowledge of the facts.”  

“He could not have been unaware of the abuses committed there,” the sentencing said, according to Belga news agency.  

During the trial, Nkunduwimye was formally identified by the woman he raped, who came to testify in private at the hearing. 

Nkunduwimye denied the accusations and his defense called for his acquittal, arguing in particular that the prosecution’s evidence was unreliable. 

Prosecutors at the trial, which began in April, had requested a sentence of 30 years in jail.  

The genocide in Rwanda, which took place between April and July 1994, claimed at least 800,000 lives, according to the U.N. The victims were mainly members of the Tutsi minority, but also included moderate Hutus.  

The trial of Nkunduwimye was the seventh such trial to be held in Belgium since 2001 involving alleged crimes committed during the genocide. 

Belgium – which controlled Rwanda during the colonial period – can prosecute alleged genocidaires because its court recognizes universal jurisdiction for crimes under international humanitarian law committed outside the country. 

In the most recent trial, Seraphin Twahirwa was sentenced in December 2023 to life imprisonment for dozens of murders and rapes perpetrated by himself or the Interahamwe militiamen under his authority in Kigali between April and July 1994.

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