Ukraine to 'Significantly Reduce' Iran Diplomatic Presence

A general view shows Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Reuters file photo
A general view shows Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Reuters file photo
TT

Ukraine to 'Significantly Reduce' Iran Diplomatic Presence

A general view shows Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Reuters file photo
A general view shows Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Reuters file photo

Kyiv said on Friday it has decided to reduce Iran's diplomatic presence in Ukraine over sending weapons to its foe Russia.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said "the temporary charge d'affaires of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ukraine was summoned" over the issue.

A ministry statement said the envoy was told the supply of Iranian weapons to Russia "directly contradicts the position of neutrality, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" and was "an unfriendly act that deals a serious blow to Ukraine-Iran relations".

"In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv", the ministry said.

Earlier on Friday Kyiv said one civilian was killed during a Russian attack with drones on the southern port city of Odessa and one Iranian-designed unmanned vehicle was shot down by Ukrainian forces.

According to AFP, President Volodymyr Zelensky's spokesman said "the use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state."

Later on Friday Ukraine's armed forces said four Iranian-made drones had been shot down in the south of the country during the day.



Navalny's Mother Brings Flowers to his Grave Day After Moscow Funeral

People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
TT

Navalny's Mother Brings Flowers to his Grave Day After Moscow Funeral

People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

The mother and mother-in-law of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were among mourners who brought flowers to his grave in Moscow on Saturday, a day after thousands attended his funeral.
Police kept a heavy presence at the cemetery but the situation was calm, Russian independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) reported.
“The police let those wishing to bid farewell to the politician pass through and do not rush anyone,” the outlet wrote on the Telegram messaging app, quoting one of its readers on the scene.
Dozhd also reported that “spontaneous memorials” to Navalny had been destroyed in several Russian cities. Flowers were removed in cities including St. Petersburg and Voronezh, it said.
Under a heavy police watch, thousands bid farewell Friday to Navalny after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony. The crowds who thronged to honor Navalny outside a church and cemetery in a snowy southeastern suburb of the capital chanted slogans for him and against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Police did not act against them, but at least 106 people were detained at events across Russia in Navalny’s memory, said OVD-Info, a rights group that tracks political arrests. It said most were stopped while trying to lay flowers at monuments dedicated to victims of Soviet repression.
Navalny was buried after a short Russian Orthodox ceremony, with vast crowds waiting outside the church and then streaming to the fresh grave with flowers.
Navalny’s widow, Yulia, was not seen at the funeral. She has vowed to continue his work, lovingly thanked him for “26 years of absolute happiness.”


Improvised Explosive Device Found Attached to Bottom of Car Entering Crimea From North

Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
TT

Improvised Explosive Device Found Attached to Bottom of Car Entering Crimea From North

Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)

An improvised explosive device made of foreign-made components has been found attached to the bottom of a car at the entrance to Crimea at the Dzhankoi checkpoint, a spokesperson for regional law enforcement agencies have told Sputnik, adding that the device has been defused.

The Dzhankoi checkpoint is located in the north of Crimea and borders the Kherson Region.

"At the Dzhankoi checkpoint, in the course of inspection measures on a car traveling to the territory of the Republic of Crimea, employees of the Federal Security Service of Russia have found an object similar to an explosive device attached to the bottom of a car under the driver's seat driven by a law enforcement officer of the Kherson region," the spokesperson said.

The car was immediately moved to a safe distance, where specialists who arrived at the scene neutralized the explosive device.


2 Killed, 8 Wounded by Russian Drone Attack on Ukraine's Odesa

Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
TT

2 Killed, 8 Wounded by Russian Drone Attack on Ukraine's Odesa

Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

Two people were killed, eight wounded and six still missing after a Russian drone crashed into an apartment block in Ukraine's southern port city of Odesa on Saturday, authorities said.
"Russia continues to fight civilians... One of the enemy drones hit a residential building in Odessa. 18 apartments were destroyed," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Telegram post, according to Reuters.
A video posted by Zelenskiy showed an apartment building with a chunk several stories tall ripped out of it, and dozens of rescuers scrambling to cut through a sea of rubble on the ground.
According to Zelenskiy, the drone was a Shahed, a large, winged kamikaze drone supplied by Iran. Russia has launched several thousand of these throughout the war at targets deep inside Ukraine.
Odesa's regional governor, Oleh Kiper, said at 8:30 AM local time (0630 GMT) that work was ongoing to clear the rubble and that a man had been pulled out alive, having likely been in the basement at the time of the strike.


Iranians Vote for ‘Inconsequential’ Parliament

Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
TT

Iranians Vote for ‘Inconsequential’ Parliament

Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)

Iranians headed to polls on Friday to choose a new parliament, but the outcome isn’t expected to change foreign policy or ease tensions with the West over the nation’s nuclear program.

These elections are seen as a test of the religious establishment’s popularity in Iran, following protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody a year and a half ago.

According to the semi-official news agency in Iran associated with the Revolutionary Guard, polling stations opened Friday morning for the twelfth parliamentary elections, alongside the selection of the Assembly of Experts, which oversees Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, calling voting a “religious duty,” was among the first to cast their ballot. Government officials echoed his message, urging Iranians to vote.

“Vote as soon as possible... Make our friends happy and disappoint our enemies,” said Khamenei.

On his part, Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i remarked: “Voting brings joy to people and sadness to the enemy.”

Meanwhile, Mohammad Reza Aref, a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, thanked God for making enemies “foolish.”

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi voted at the Interior Ministry’s polling station, calling the elections a “national celebration” symbolizing “unity and solidarity.”

“In our elections, both candidates and voters act out of duty,” said Raisi.

Esmail Qaani, who commands the Revolutionary Guard’s foreign arm, affirmed that enthusiastic participation ensures security, likening it to “fighting a battle against enemies trying to weaken morale.”

Turnout in the 2022 parliamentary elections dropped to 42.5%, a significant decline from around 62% in 2016.

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for the 290 parliamentary seats, with the term set to begin in April for four years.

It goes without saying that it is difficult to confirm the actual voter turnout without independent monitoring. Media relies on official Iranian sources for information.

Polling stations were supposed to close at 6 p.m. local time on Friday (15:00 GMT), but authorities extended the voting time, which could suggest lower turnout.


Impunity Endemic In S. Sudan Ahead of Planned Elections: UN Body

FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
TT

Impunity Endemic In S. Sudan Ahead of Planned Elections: UN Body

FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Armed conflict, violence and entrenched impunity persist in South Sudan as it prepares to hold its first elections, the UN commission investigating human rights in the country said Friday.

The world's newest nation has struggled to find its footing since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, battling violence, endemic poverty and natural disasters.

"As South Sudan prepares to end its fragile political transition and to hold its first elections in December 2024, armed conflict and gross human rights violations persist," the commission said in its annual report to the UN Human Rights Council.

"Millions of people have been displaced, deprived, traumatised, and continue to live in fear," said the report covering events in 2023, AFP reported.

As South Sudan's transition neared completion, the risk of further mass violence and accompanying gross human rights violations remained ever-present.

"Patterns of violence, violations and entrenched impunity continue to blight the lives of an extremely vulnerable population. The already-dire humanitarian situation will deteriorate further," the report concluded.

The commission, established by the Rights Council in 2016, is charged with gathering evidence on alleged gross rights violations and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity.

One of the poorest countries on the planet despite large oil reserves, South Sudan has spent almost half of its life as a nation at war, and has also endured persistent natural disasters, hunger, economic meltdown and communal conflict.

The commission saw a risk of further gross violations if the factors behind the conflict were not addressed.

Unchecked mass violence and ongoing repression threaten the prospects of durable peace, and must be urgently addressed, the report said.

"Our investigations again found an absolutely unacceptable situation in South Sudan, whereby families and communities are devastated by human rights violations and abuses by armed forces, militias and state institutions acting with impunity," said commission chair Yasmin Sooka.

"South Sudan's immediate and long-term future hinges on political leaders finally making good on their commitments to bring peace, and reverse cyclical human rights violations."

The report said the country's first elections face severe political and logistical challenges.

It warned that while the vote could be moment of great opportunity, it could also bring danger, as electoral grievances may trigger new violence, or compound existing conflicts.

South Sudan's Justice Minister Ruben Madol Arol told the council the report was "deplorable".

It contains "unverified and unrealistic alleged human rights violations which include discrimination against women, inequality, sexual slavery and displacement of millions", he said.

"This description of events does not match the current improvement of the security situation in the country."


Nicaragua Files Case at World Court Against Germany for Aiding Israel

A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
TT

Nicaragua Files Case at World Court Against Germany for Aiding Israel

A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Nicaragua has filed a case at the International Court of Justice against Germany for giving financial and military aid to Israel and for defunding the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), the UN's top court said on Friday.
Nicaragua asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to issue emergency measures requiring Berlin to stop its military aid to Israel and reverse its decision to stop funding UNRWA.
The German Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The court usually sets a date for a hearing on any requested emergency measures within weeks of a case being filed.
According to Nicaragua's claim, Germany is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"By sending military equipment and now defunding UNRWA which provides essential support to the civilian population, Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide," Nicaragua said in its legal filings.
Major donors to UNRWA, including the United States and Germany, suspended funding after allegations that around 12 of its tens of thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.
Nicaragua's filing adds that emergency measures were needed because of Berlin's "participation in the ongoing plausible genocide and serious breaches of international humanitarian law" in the Gaza Strip.
This claim builds on the case South Africa brought against Israel for allegedly committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
Last month the ICJ said South Africa's claims that Israel violated the genocide convention were not implausible and ordered emergency measures, including a call for Israel to halt any potential acts of genocide in Gaza.


Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
TT

Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a security deal with Ukraine in the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Friday and said the Netherlands would help fund the supply of 800,000 artillery shells to hold back Russian forces.

Rutte met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a surprise visit to Kharkiv, just 40 km (26 miles) from the Russian border, and became the seventh Western leader to sign a 10-year security agreement with Ukraine in the last two months.

"The Netherlands will contribute to the Czech Republic's initiative to purchase 800,000 artillery shells, he told a news conference, saying they would arrive within weeks.

Ukraine is critically short of artillery rounds as its troops try to hold back Russian forces who are again on the offensive in the east, two years after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion.

The Czech Republic said last month it had sourced 500,000 rounds of 155 mm shells and 300,000 122 mm rounds from third countries, which could be delivered to Ukraine in weeks if funding was secured.

The shells would plug a big hole in Ukraine's stockpiles with a vital package of US military assistance stuck in Congress facing months of Republican opposition.

Rutte said the Netherlands would donate 150 million euros ($162 million) to the Czech initiative, taking the total raised so far to 250 million euros.

The security agreement he signed with Ukraine included 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in military aid from the Netherlands this year, as well as other defense assistance over the next 10 years, Zelenskiy said.

The visit to Kharkiv was a rare one by a senior Western politician as the city is regularly attacked by Russian air strikes and is much closer to the Russian border than Kyiv.

The two leaders visited an underground classroom established to allow schoolchildren to attend classes in person, safe from missile strikes.

Rutte praised the courage and determination of the children and teachers as "a true beacon of hope that inspires Ukrainians to keep fighting and allies to keep supporting Ukraine".

"The task facing Ukrainian allies is clear – do whatever you can to provide what is needed, as long as it takes," he said.

Zelenskiy described Rutte's visit as "symbolic" in a "city that has survived a lot".

"Here in Kharkiv, it's 100% obvious that Russia is waging a criminal war, its objective is only destruction."

In a statement on Telegram, Zelenskiy said that more than 20,000 buildings - schools, universities, churches, kindergartens and residential houses - had been destroyed in Kharkiv in the last two years.

Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark and Britain have all signed bilateral security deals over the past two months that are meant to tide Ukraine over until it can reach its aim of joining the Western military alliance, NATO.

Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskiy's office, said agreements were also being discussed with other countries.


Grammy-Winning Iranian Singer, Awarded over Mahsa Amini Protest Anthem, Sentenced to Prison

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
TT

Grammy-Winning Iranian Singer, Awarded over Mahsa Amini Protest Anthem, Sentenced to Prison

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)

An Iranian singer who won a Grammy presented by US first lady Jill Biden has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem supporting the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Shervin Hajipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him.

It said Hajipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of "for the propaganda against the system" and "encouraging people to protest." The court issued its sentence in part because it found he hadn't properly expressed regret over publishing the song.

It also imposed a two-year travel ban and ordered him to create a song about "US crimes," as well as make posts about those crimes online.

Hajipour thanked his lawyers and his agent for their support.

"I will not mention the name of the judge and the prosecutor so that they don’t get insulted and threatened, because insults and threats are not in the religion of humanity," he wrote. "Finally, one day we will understand each other. Until then."

Hajipour already had served some prison time, but was out on bail pending the court's decision. It was unclear if he had already reported to serve his sentence.

Iranian state-run media, focused on the election Friday, didn't note Hajipour's sentence. Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hajipour’s song "Baraye," or "For" in English, begins with: "For dancing in the streets,for the fear we feel when we kiss." The lyrics list reasons that young Iranians posted online for why they had protested against Iran’s ruling theocracy after Amini's death in September 2022, allegedly for not wearing her mandated headscarf to the liking of security forces.

The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed more than 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Jill Biden awarded Hajipour the Grammy's new song for social change special merit award during the ceremony last year.

"This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights," Biden said at the ceremony. "Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom."

Hajipour's sentencing comes as other activists, journalists and artists have faced arrest, imprisonment and harassment since the demonstrations. Among those imprisoned is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran condemned Hajipour's sentencing Friday, and demanded Iran immediately release him from the sentence.

"This blatant violation of Shervin’s rights to free speech and expression is a grave injustice and a clear affront to human rights principles," the center said. "His imprisonment serves as a chilling reminder of the ongoing repression faced by artists, activists and dissenting voices in Iran."


Only Grain Ships from Black Sea and for Iran Still Crossing Red Sea, Analysts Say

Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
TT

Only Grain Ships from Black Sea and for Iran Still Crossing Red Sea, Analysts Say

Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)

Grain ships originating from the Black Sea or bound for Iran are about the only ones still sailing through the Red Sea as Houthi militants continue to attack vessels in the area, analysts said on Friday.

The attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthis have disrupted global shipping since November and forced firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

"Just about all (dry bulk grain) vessels going from the Americas and western Europe are avoiding the Red Sea, the only exception is vessels going to Iran, they're still taking the Red Sea route when shorter," said Ishan Bhanu, lead agricultural commodities analyst at data provider and analysts Kpler.

"All vessels we are tracking going from the Black Sea to Asia are going through the Red Sea, almost without exception," he added.

Grain transit through the Suez Canal hit a low of 2.6 million metric tons in February, down from 5.3 million tons in February 2023, Bhanu estimated.

The United States and other countries have sent naval vessels to protect civilian ships while the US and UK have launched air strikes against Houthi forces, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel's military actions in Gaza.

"The Red Sea naval operation and air strikes have been going on for weeks now and it is pretty obvious that the Houthi attacks cannot be stopped easily by military means or that commercial ships can be given blanket protection," said one grain trader booking vessels to export cargoes from Europe.

"Many ship owners are still willing to accept the danger to their ships and vessels still can be booked for Red Sea sailings. Chinese purchases of Ukrainian corn recently are expected to transit the Red Sea."


Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
TT

Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of people gathered to bid farewell to Alexei Navalny at a funeral Friday in Moscow under a heavy police presence, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.
His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia, The Associated Press said.
The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which was encircled by crowd-control barriers, did not mention the service on its social media page. Hours before the funeral was set to start, hundreds waited to enter the church under the watch of police who deployed in big numbers. Western diplomats were spotted in the long line.
After the hearse arrived at the church, the coffin could be seen on live streamed footage being taken out of the vehicle, as the crowd applauded and chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged those gathering in Moscow and other places not to break the law, saying any “unauthorized (mass) gatherings" are violations.
A burial was to follow at the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also showed up in force.
Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was being held delayed its release, according to Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny's close ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Authorities originally said they couldn't turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya, 69, made a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin to release it so she could bury her son with dignity.
Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media. They also struggled to find a hearse.
“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.
Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.
It was not immediately clear who among Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in 2021.
The funeral is streamed live on Navalny’s YouTube channel.
His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.
“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In a speech to European lawmakers on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would "arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband.”
Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, according to politician Yekaterina Duntsova. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.
Yarmysh also urged Navalny's supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honor Friday.
“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when things were scary and difficult.”
Zhdanov, the Navalny ally, said that the funeral had initially been planned for Thursday — the day of Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address — but no venue agreed to hold it then.
In an interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza, Zhdanov said authorities had pressured Navalny’s relatives to “have a quiet family funeral.”