Ukraine Hits Russian-held City Deep Behind Front as Talk of Counteroffensive Grows

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
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Ukraine Hits Russian-held City Deep Behind Front as Talk of Counteroffensive Grows

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP)

Ukraine struck a railway depot and knocked out power in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, deep behind the front line, on Wednesday amid growing talk from Kyiv of a counterassault against Russian forces worn out by a failed winter offensive.

Unverified images on the internet showed explosions lighting up the night sky with streaks of contrails in Melitopol, base of the occupation administration in Zaporizhzhia, one of five Ukrainian provinces Russia claims to have annexed.

Ukraine's exiled mayor of the city confirmed that there were explosions there. Russia's state TASS news agency, citing Moscow-installed officials, said a railway depot was destroyed and power knocked out to the city and nearby villages.

Melitopol, with a pre-war population of around 150,000, is a railway logistics hub for Russian forces in southern Ukraine and part of the land bridge linking Russia to the occupied Crimea peninsula.

There was no public information about the weapons Ukraine could have used for the strike. The city is at the far edge of the range of Ukraine's HIMARS rockets but well within the range of newer weapons it is said to be deploying, including air-launched JDAM bombs and ground-launched GLSDB munitions promised by the United States. Russia said it shot down a GLSDB on Tuesday, the first time it has reported doing so.

The strikes come as Kyiv has suggested it could soon mount a counterattack against Russian forces who have failed to secure any big victories in a months-long offensive that saw the bloodiest fighting of the war.

Melitopol is south of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located on the Russian-controlled south bank of a huge reservoir that serves as the front line. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, who has called for a safe zone around the plant, was due to reach it on Wednesday after having met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the Ukrainian-held bank.

Russian assault fails to make gains

Ukrainian forces have stuck mainly to the defensive since their last big advance nearly five months ago. In that time, Moscow has launched a huge winter assault using hundreds of thousands of reservists and tens of thousands of mercenaries recruited mainly as convicts from prison.

But as the winter turns to spring, the question is how much longer the Russians can sustain their offensive and when will the Ukrainians strike back.

There are clear signs the Russian offensive is flagging. The average number of daily Russian attacks on the front line reported by Ukraine's general staff has declined for four straight weeks since the start of March, to 69 in the past seven days from 124 in the week of March 1-7.

Reuters journalists near the front lines west of Bakhmut and further north also reported a notable decline in intensity of Russian attacks last week.

The Russians have made no significant gains despite huge casualties on both sides, and Ukrainian and Western officials say they suspect the Russian attacking force will soon be spent.

Russian officials say their forces are still capturing ground in street-by-street fighting inside Bakhmut, the small eastern city that has been their main target for months. But they have failed so far to encircle it and force the Ukrainians to withdraw, as had seemed likely weeks ago.

British military intelligence said on Wednesday the Ukrainians had successfully pushed the Russians back from the main supply route.

This past week Moscow unleashed a new attack on Avdiivka, a smaller city further south, but Britain said that also had failed to make gains, while leading to huge losses in Russian armor including one tank regiment that had lost many of its tanks.

The past week has seen the arrival of the first full units of Western main battle tanks, promised with fanfare two months ago to serve as the spearhead of Ukraine's big counteroffensive when the warm weather dries its notorious sucking black mud.

In an apparent response to the arrival of Western tanks, Russia's RIA news agency reported that Moscow had sent its troops hundreds of new and refurbished tanks of its own.

Zelenskiy has visited front line provinces across the country in the past week. He toured formerly Russian-occupied territory and trenches near the Russian border on Tuesday in northern Ukraine.

Russian missile exercise

Away from the battlefield, Russian ally Belarus said it had decided to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons as a response to Western sanctions and what it said was a military build-up by NATO member states near its borders.

Moscow has repeatedly pointed to the threat that the war could turn nuclear. Western government largely dismiss that as an attempt to intimidate them into rolling back military aid for Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden called the prospect that Russia would place nuclear weapons in Belarus "worrisome" but the United States has said it has not seen any indications that Russia was closer to using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

In Moscow's latest brandishment of its nuclear strike capability, Russia's defense ministry said on Wednesday it had begun exercises with its Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system involving several thousand troops.

The missiles are designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads and can reach the United States.



Uganda Confirms Casualties among Country's Soldiers in Somali Attack

(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
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Uganda Confirms Casualties among Country's Soldiers in Somali Attack

(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni said late on Sunday there had been casualties during an attack by Somalia's Islamist group al Shabaab on a military base manned by Ugandan peacekeepers in the Horn of African country on Friday.

Museveni did not say how many soldiers were killed or wounded but it was the first official admission of losses in the attack among the Ugandan troops who are serving in the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).

"Condolences to the country and the families of those who died," Museveni said in a statement, adding the country's military had set up a panel to investigate what happened.

Al Shabaab has since 2006 has been fighting to topple Somalia's Western-backed government and establish its own rule based on its own strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Museveni said during the attack "some of the soldiers there did not perform as expected and panicked, which disorganized them and the al Shabaab took advantage of that to overrun the base and destroy some of the equipment."

The assailants numbered about 800 and during the attack the Ugandan troops were forced to withdraw to a nearby base, about nine kilometers away, he said.

Al Shabaab fighters targeted the base early on Friday in Bulamarer, 130 km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab said in a statement at the time that it had carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers at the base.

There was no immediate official confirmation of the casualties. Al Shabaab tends to give casualty figures in attacks that differ from those issued by the authorities.

ATMIS has so far not said how many troops were killed or wounded in the attack.

The peacekeeping mission has been in Somalia since 2007 and helps to defend Somalia's central government.


Putin Orders Stronger Russian Border Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
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Putin Orders Stronger Russian Border Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

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 (FSB), 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 long war, a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands and turned Ukrainian cities into rubble.


Biden, McCarthy Reach Tentative US Debt Ceiling Deal

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
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Biden, McCarthy Reach Tentative US Debt Ceiling Deal

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

US President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy reached a tentative deal to suspend the federal government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling on Saturday evening, ending a months-long stalemate.

However, the deal was announced without any celebration, in terms that reflected the bitter tenor of the negotiations and the difficult path it has to pass through Congress before the United States runs out of money to pay its debts in early June.

"I just got off the phone with the president a bit ago. After he wasted time and refused to negotiate for months, we've come to an agreement in principle that is worthy of the American people," McCarthy tweeted.

Biden called the deal "an important step forward" in a statement, saying: "The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing."

The deal would suspend the debt limit through January of 2025, while capping spending in the 2024 and 2025 budgets, claw back unused COVID funds, speed up the permitting process for some energy projects and includes some extra work requirements for food aid programs for poor Americans.

After months of back-and-forth, the tentative agreement came together in a flurry of calls. Biden and McCarthy held a 90-minute phone call earlier on Saturday evening to discuss the deal, McCarthy briefed his members later in the evening, and the White House and the House leader spoke afterward.

"We still have more work to do tonight to finish the writing of it," McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill. McCarthy said he expects to finish writing the bill on Sunday, then speak to Biden and have a vote on the deal on Wednesday.

Biden and McCarthy have to carefully thread the needle in finding a compromise that can clear the House, with a 222-213 Republican majority, and Senate, with a 51-49 Democratic majority -- meaning it will need bipartisan support before the president can sign it.

Negotiators have agreed to cap non-defense discretionary spending at 2023 levels for one year and increase it by 1% in 2025, a source familiar with the deal said.

"It has historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce, rein in government overreach - there are no new taxes, no new government programs," McCarthy said.

The deal will avert an economically destabilizing default, so long as it succeeds in passing it through the narrowly divided Congress before the Treasury Department runs short of money to cover all its obligations, which it warned on Friday will occur if the debt ceiling issue was not resolved by June 5.

Republicans who control the House of Representatives have pushed for steep cuts to spending and other conditions, and were sharply critical of the deal as early details were reported.

Republican Representative Bob Good, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted that he was hearing the deal would raise the debt by $4 trillion, and added "IF that is true, I don’t need to hear anything else. No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote."

North Carolina's Dan Bishop described the deal earlier Saturday as "utter capitulation in progress. By the side holding the cards."

One high-ranking member of the House Freedom Caucus said they were in the process of gauging member sentiment, and unsure what the vote numbers might be.

Taxes vs. spending cuts

Republicans say they want to cut spending to slow the growth of the US debt, which is now roughly equal to the annual output of the country's economy. Biden and Democrats have pushed to increase taxes on the wealthy and companies to shrink the debt while increasing spending on programs like free community college.

The long standoff on raising the debt ceiling spooked financial markets, weighing on stocks and forcing the United States to pay record-high interest rates in some bond sales. A default would take a far heavier toll, economists say, likely pushing the nation into recession, shaking the world economy and leading to a spike in unemployment.

Biden for months refused to negotiate with McCarthy over future spending cuts, demanding that lawmakers first pass a "clean" debt-ceiling increase free of other conditions, and present a 2024 budget proposal to counter his budget issued in March.

Two-way negotiations between Biden and McCarthy began in earnest on May 16.

The work to raise the debt ceiling is far from done. McCarthy has vowed to give House members 72 hours to read the legislation before bringing it to the floor for a vote.

That will test whether enough moderate members support the compromises in the bill to overcome opposition from both hard-right Republicans and progressive Democrats to reach a simple majority vote.

Then it will need to pass the Senate, where it will need at least nine Republican votes to succeed. There are numerous opportunities in each chamber along the way to slow down the process.


Zelensky Thanks Air Defense after Largest Drone Attack on Kyiv in the Invasion

A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
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Zelensky Thanks Air Defense after Largest Drone Attack on Kyiv in the Invasion

A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday praised his country's air defense forces, after the capital Kyiv saw the largest drone attack since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The overnight attack killed two people and wounded three others.  

The latest drone attack came as Russia has intensified aerial strikes on the capital this month, and warned the West against escalating the conflict after the United States agreed to greenlight F-16 deliveries.

Ukraine said the latest attack in Kyiv was "the most important" of the invasion, with more than forty out of 54 drones targeting the capital.

"Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved... you are heroes!" Zelensky told his air defense forces on Sunday morning, also thanking rescuers.

This was the 14th drone attack on the Ukrainian capital by Russia this month.

"People are in shock. There's a lot of damage, the windows were broken, the roof was damaged," said Sergei Movchan, a 50-year-old resident whose house was damaged by debris.  

Kyiv had been relatively spared since the beginning of the year, but in May its residents have had to live with almost nightly air raid sirens and thundering explosions.  

"Russians are intimidating us. But I think it's the agony of their regime," Movchan said.  

Kyiv a 'symbol'

In Kyiv the air raid alert lasted more than five hours as the attack was carried out in several waves.

Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko described the assault as "massive" with drones "arriving from several directions at once".

The Kyiv military administration said that "more than 40 Russian drones were destroyed by air defense" systems in the "most important drone attack against the capital since the start of the invasion" in February 2022.  

Authorities reported that two killed and three others wounded as debris of the downed drones fell in several districts.  

Sunday was to be celebrated as Kyiv's city day, usually marked by street concerts and celebrations.  

"Today the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the population on Kyiv Day with the help of their killer drones," the authorities said.  

Congratulating residents on Kyiv Day, presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said the capital had "stood up" to Russia.

"Kyiv, a city of free and brave people, has become a symbol of Ukraine´s unbreakable spirit and the Kremlin´s failed imperial ambitions," Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.  

Ukraine's air force said that "a record" of 54 drones were launched from the regions of Briansk and Krasnodar in Russia, adding that 52 were destroyed.  

It said Russia used Shahed drones from Iran, and presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak to vow new sanctions against Iran.  

'Key ally'  

"Tehran has become a key ally of Moscow in this war, deliberately supplying it with weapons for attacks on civilian cities," Podolyak said.  

This week Zelensky had blasted Tehran's "support for evil" and appealed to the Iranian people.  

Iran had answered by saying Zelensky's accusation was an attempt to gain the West's military and financial support.

After Kyiv long asked for advanced warplanes, the United States on Friday said it would allow Kyiv to acquire F-16 fighter jets, the most sophisticated material yet supplied by the West.  

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said Western nations were "playing with fire" by agreeing to supply Ukraine with F-16.  

Lavrov called the move an "an unacceptable escalation" of the conflict, in a TV interview posted on social media.  

As the drone war rages, Russia has blamed Ukraine -- and its Western backers -- for increasing artillery and drone attacks on its territory, accusations Kyiv has mostly denied.  

Most drones target Russian regions bordering Ukraine but they have sometimes reached hundreds of kilometers inside Russia, including a thwarted attack on the Kremlin itself.  

The past week also saw an unprecedented two-day incursion from Ukraine claimed by two anti-Kremlin groups, with Russia using its air force and artillery to push back the fighters.  

The reports of attacks come at a time when Kyiv says it is finalizing plans for a counter-offensive to recover lost territory, including the Crimea peninsula which was annexed in 2014.


Russia Thwarts Drone Attack on Krasnodar Oil Refinery

 An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
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Russia Thwarts Drone Attack on Krasnodar Oil Refinery

 An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Russia's air defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said on Sunday.

"Several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) tried to approach the territory of the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar Krai," the region's emergency officials said on the Telegram messaging channel.

"All of them were neutralized, the infrastructure of the plant was not damaged."

The officials did not say who launched the attack. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.

On Saturday, Moscow said that Ukraine had struck oil pipeline installations deep inside Russia. Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia and on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

The Ilsky refinery, near the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, has a processing capacity of around 6.6 million tons per year. It has been attacked several times this month.


Türkiye’s Erdogan Wins 5th Term as President, Extending Rule into 3rd Decade

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold a flag of his portrait outside the AK Party headquarters after polls closed in Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Ankara, Türkiye May 15, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold a flag of his portrait outside the AK Party headquarters after polls closed in Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Ankara, Türkiye May 15, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)
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Türkiye’s Erdogan Wins 5th Term as President, Extending Rule into 3rd Decade

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold a flag of his portrait outside the AK Party headquarters after polls closed in Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Ankara, Türkiye May 15, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold a flag of his portrait outside the AK Party headquarters after polls closed in Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Ankara, Türkiye May 15, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won reelection Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade in a country reeling from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake that leveled entire cities.

With nearly 99% of ballot boxes opened, unofficial results from competing news agencies showed Erdogan with 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

In his first comments since the polls closed, Erdogan spoke to supporters on a campaign bus outside his home in Istanbul.

"I thank each member of our nation for entrusting me with the responsibility to govern this country once again for the upcoming five years," he said.

He ridiculed his challenger for his loss, saying "bye bye bye, Kemal," as supporters booed.

"The only winner today is Türkiye," Erdogan said. He promised to work hard for Türkiye’s second century. The country marks its centennial this year.

"No one can look down on our nation," he said.

Supporters of the divisive populist were celebrating even before the final results arrived, waving Turkish or ruling party flags, and honking car horns, chanting his name and "in the name of God, God is great."

With a third term, Erdogan will have an even stronger hand domestically and internationally, and the election results will have implications far beyond Ankara. Türkiye stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.

Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s bid to join NATO and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Türkiye from a US-led fighter-jet project. But it also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.

Erdogan, who has been at Türkiye’s helm for 20 years, came just short of victory in the first round of elections on May 14. It was the first time he failed to win an election outright, but he made up for it Sunday.

His performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban congratulated Erdogan via Twitter for an "unquestionable election victory," and Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani wished the Turkish president success in a tweet. Other congratulations poured in from Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Libya, Algeria, Serbia and Uzbekistan.

The two candidates offered sharply different visions of the country's future, and its recent past.

Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also faulted his government for a slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Türkiye.

In the mainly Kurdish-populated province of Diyarbakir — one of 11 regions that was hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake — 60-year-old retiree Mustafa Yesil said he voted for "change."

"I'm not happy at all with the way this country is going. Let me be clear, if this current administration continues, I don’t see good things for the future," he said. "I see that it will end badly — this administration has to change."

Mehmet Yurttas, an Erdogan supporter, disagreed.

"I believe that our homeland is at the peak, in a very good condition," the 57-year-old shop owner said. "Our country’s trajectory is very good and it will continue being good."

Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in Türkiye, which was founded on secular principles, and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.

Erdogan, 69, could remain in power until 2028. A devout Muslim, he heads the conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Türkiye’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014, and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.

The first half of Erdogan’s tenure included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union, and economic growth that lifted many out of poverty. But he later moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his own hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Türkiye says was orchestrated by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.

Erdogan's rival is a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, to restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies, and to improve ties with the West.

In a frantic effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu vowed to send back refugees and ruled out peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected.

The defeat for Kilicdaroglu adds to a long list of electoral losses to Erdogan, and puts pressure on him to step down as party chairman.

Erdogan’s AKP party and its allies retained a majority of seats in parliament following a legislative election that was also held on May 14.

Sunday also marked the 10th anniversary of the start of mass anti-government protests that broke out over plans to uproot trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and became one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan’s government.

Erdogan’s response to the protests, in which eight people were convicted for alleged involvement, was a harbinger of a crackdown on civil society and freedom of expression.

Following the May 14 vote, international observers pointed to the criminalization of dissemination of false information and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan had an "unjustified advantage." They also said that strong turnout showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.

Erdogan and pro-government media portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with "terrorists" and of supporting what they described as "deviant" rights.


Iran Exchanges Heavy Gunfire with Taliban on Afghan Border, Escalating Tensions over Water Rights

The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday on the Iranian border with Afghanistan, killing and wounding troops while sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights. (Reuters)
The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday on the Iranian border with Afghanistan, killing and wounding troops while sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights. (Reuters)
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Iran Exchanges Heavy Gunfire with Taliban on Afghan Border, Escalating Tensions over Water Rights

The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday on the Iranian border with Afghanistan, killing and wounding troops while sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights. (Reuters)
The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday on the Iranian border with Afghanistan, killing and wounding troops while sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights. (Reuters)

The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday on the Iranian border with Afghanistan, killing and wounding troops while sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted the country's deputy police chief, Gen. Qassem Rezaei, accusing the Taliban of opening fire first Saturday morning on the border of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province and the Afghan province of Nimroz. IRNA said Iran inflicted “heavy casualties and serious damage."

From the Taliban's view, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor accused Iran of shooting first. Takor said the firefight killed two people, one from each country, and wounded others. He described the situation as now being under control.

IRNA, quoting Iranian police, said two border guards had been killed. However, that number may be higher. The semiofficial, English-language newspaper Tehran Times said the fighting killed three Iranian border guards. IRNA said the Milak border crossing with Afghanistan, a major trade route, was closed until further notice over the gunfight.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue to be a reasonable way for any problem,” Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khawarazmi said in a statement. “Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties.”

The advocacy group HalVash, which reports on issues affecting the Baluch people in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, quoted residents in the area saying the fighting took place near the Kang district of Nimroz. It said some people in the area had fled the violence.

Videos posted online, purportedly from the area, included the crackle of machine gun fire in the distance. HalVash later posted an image of what appeared to be the remains of a mortar round, saying that “heavy weapons and mortars are being used.”

Later videos from HalVash purported to show Iranian forces firing a mortar, as well as Taliban troops firing American-made machine guns at an Iranian border post. Other Taliban fighters drove armored vehicles likely left behind by NATO forces.

Iran vowed not let the Taliban attack stand.

“The border forces of Iran will decisively respond to any border trespassing and aggression, and the current authorities of Afghanistan must be held accountable for their unmeasured and contrary actions to international principles," IRNA quoted Iran's police chief, Gen. Ahmadreza Radan, as saying.

The clash comes as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi earlier this month warned the Taliban not to violate Iran's water rights to the Helmand River. Raisi's remarks represented some of the strongest yet over the long-running concerns about water in Iran.

Drought has been a problem in Iran for some 30 years, but has worsened over the past decade, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The Iran Meteorological Organization says that an estimated 97% of the country now faces some level of drought.

The Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war. In the time since, Afghanistan has become the most repressive in the world for women and girls, depriving them of virtually all their basic rights, according to the UN Hunger remains endemic.

While not directly accepting the Taliban government, Iran has maintained relations with Afghanistan's new rulers. Tehran also has called on the Taliban to allow women and girls to go to school.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taliban's Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met with an Iranian envoy to Afghanistan to discuss the Helmand River water rights, according to tweets from Afghan Foreign Ministry official Zia Ahmad. IRNA acknowledged the meeting, saying “that issues between the two countries will be better resolved through dialogue.”

But tensions have otherwise been rising. Another video posted online in recent days purportedly showed a standoff with Iranian forces and the Taliban as Iranian construction workers tried to reinforce the border between the two countries.

In recent days, pro-Taliban accounts online also have been sharing a video with a song calling on the acting defense minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, to stand up to Iran. Mullah Yaqoob is the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s late founder and first supreme leader.

“We are a government, we have power,” the song goes. “Our leader Mullah Yaqoob will stand against Iran or we are not the republic’s government. We are not slaves, our leader Mullah Yaqoob will stand against Iran.”


Russia Tells US: Don't Lecture Moscow on Nuclear Deployments

Russia Tells US: Don't Lecture Moscow on Nuclear Deployments
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Russia Tells US: Don't Lecture Moscow on Nuclear Deployments

Russia Tells US: Don't Lecture Moscow on Nuclear Deployments

Russia on Saturday dismissed criticism from US President Joe Biden over Moscow's plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying Washington had for decades deployed just such nuclear weapons in Europe.

Russia said on Thursday it was pushing ahead with the first deployment of such weapons outside its borders since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the weapons were already on the move.

Biden said on Friday he had an "extremely negative" reaction to reports that Russia has moved ahead with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The US State Department denounced the Russian nuclear deployment plan.

"It is the sovereign right of Russia and Belarus to ensure their security by means we deem necessary amidst of a large-scale hybrid war unleashed by Washington against us," Russia's embassy in the United States said in a statement.

"The measures we undertake are fully consistent with our international legal obligations."

The United States has said the world faces the gravest nuclear danger since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis because of remarks by President Vladimir Putin during the Ukraine conflict, but Moscow says its position has been misinterpreted.

Putin, who has cast the Ukraine war as a battle for the survival of Russia against an aggressive West, has repeatedly warned that Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than any other country, will use all means to defend itself.

Tactical nuclear weapons are used for tactical gains on the battlefield, and are usually smaller in yield than the strategic nuclear weapons designed to destroy US, European or Russian cities.

According to Reuters, the Russian Embassy called the US criticism of Moscow's planned deployment hypocritical, saying that "before blaming others, Washington could use some introspection".

"The United States has been for decades maintaining a large arsenal of its nuclear weapons in Europe. Together with its NATO allies it participates in nuclear sharing arrangements and trains for scenarios of nuclear weapons use against our country."


French Court Hands Jail Terms for Syria-linked ISIS Terrorist, Wife

A drawing showing Kevin Guiavarch (right) inside a courtroom in Paris (AFP)
A drawing showing Kevin Guiavarch (right) inside a courtroom in Paris (AFP)
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French Court Hands Jail Terms for Syria-linked ISIS Terrorist, Wife

A drawing showing Kevin Guiavarch (right) inside a courtroom in Paris (AFP)
A drawing showing Kevin Guiavarch (right) inside a courtroom in Paris (AFP)

A Paris appeals court on Friday handed a 14-year jail term to a high-profile French terrorist convicted of terrorist offenses linked to Syria.

The court upheld the sentence against Kevin Guiavarch handed down by a lower court but was more lenient in ruling that most of the term will not be served behind bars.

His wife Salma O. was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, which she will be able to serve at home wearing an electronic bracelet because of her “rehabilitation efforts.”

“Give me back the chance you gave me by allowing me to return to work and my job as a mother,” Salma 0. asked the court before it retired to deliberate.

The sentences handed down were deemed insufficient by the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT), which brought the appeal.

But the prosecutor general acknowledged that Guiavarch was “neither a fanatic nor a lunatic.”

Guiavarch, a 30-year-old convert to Islam, was one of the UN’s most wanted terrorists and had been placed on a blacklist in 2014.

Suspected as being one of the major ISIS group recruiters attracting young French people to join the terrorist cause in Syria and Iraq, Guiavarch rubbed shoulders with some of the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks while living in Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital.

The former church choirboy, who was raised by a single mother in Brittany, claimed to be “reformed.”

He spent four years in Syria among terrorists, first with former Al-Qaeda affiliate the Fateh Al-Sham Front, and then ISIS.
He quit Syria in June 2016 and went to Türkiye where he and his extended polygamous family were all arrested.
He was transferred to France the following year.


Taiwan Reports Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sailed Through Strait

FILE PHOTO: People throng a street in Tamsui district of New Taipei City, Taiwan August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Jameson Wu/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: People throng a street in Tamsui district of New Taipei City, Taiwan August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Jameson Wu/File Photo
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Taiwan Reports Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sailed Through Strait

FILE PHOTO: People throng a street in Tamsui district of New Taipei City, Taiwan August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Jameson Wu/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: People throng a street in Tamsui district of New Taipei City, Taiwan August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Jameson Wu/File Photo

The Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday accompanied by two other ships, Taiwan's defense ministry said, in the latest uptick in military tensions over the island Beijing claims as its own territory.
The ministry said the Shandong, commissioned in 2019, had sailed in a northerly direction around midday through the strait sticking to its median line, which serves as an unofficial barrier between the two sides.
Taiwan's military closely monitored the group using its own ships and aircraft and "responded appropriately", the ministry said in a short statement.
China's defense ministry did not answer calls seeking comment and the country's armed forces made no mention of the sailing on their official social media channels, Reuters reported.
The Shandong participated in Chinese military drills around Taiwan last month, operating in the western Pacific.
In March of last year, the Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait, just hours before the Chinese and US presidents were due to talk.
China has continued military activities on a smaller scale around Taiwan after formally ending its war games last month.
On Saturday, Taiwan's defense ministry also said over the previous 24 hours that eight Chinese fighter jets had crossed the strait's median line, something Chinese war planes have been doing on a regular basis since earlier war games last August.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.