Waters Rejects Berlin Incitement Accusations over Concert Outfit
Police in Berlin said Friday that they have opened an investigation of Roger Waters on suspicion of incitement over a costume the Pink Floyd co-founder wore when he performed in the German capital last week.
Images on social media showed Waters firing an imitation machine gun while dressed in a long black coat with a red armband. Police confirmed that an investigation was opened over suspicions that the context of the costume could constitute a glorification, justification or approval of Nazi rule and therefore a disturbance of the public peace.
Once the police investigation is concluded, the case will be handed to Berlin prosecutors, who would decide whether to pursue any charges.
Waters rejected the accusations in a statement early Saturday on Facebook and Instagram, saying that “the elements of my performance that have been questioned are quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice, and bigotry in all its forms.”
He claimed that “attempts to portray those elements as something else are disingenuous and politically motivated.”
Waters has drawn ire for his support of the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. He has rejected accusations of antisemitism.
Authorities in Frankfurt tried to prevent a concert there scheduled for Sunday, but Waters challenged that move successfully in a local court. In Munich, the city council said it had explored possibilities of banning a concert but concluded that it wasn’t legally possible to cancel a contract with the organizer. His appearance there last Sunday was accompanied by a protest attended by the local Jewish community’s leader.
Last year, the Polish city of Krakow canceled gigs by Waters because of his sympathetic stance toward Russia in its war against Ukraine.
Ukraine Readies for Counteroffensive, Says Kyiv Official
Drone attacks targeted oil pipeline installations inside Russia Saturday, including a station serving the vast Druzhba oil pipeline that sends Western Siberian crude to Europe, according to Russian media. Kyiv has not commented on the attacks and Reuters could not verify the reports.
Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are “regrouping to another three locations” after partially withdrawing from Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov in an interview released Saturday.
Ukraine is prepared to launch its long-expected counteroffensive against Russian forces, according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov.
In an interview with the BBC Saturday, Danilov said the counteroffensive is coming very soon, though he refused to give a date for the beginning of the launch. “It would be weird if I were to name dates of the start of that,” he said. “… We have a very responsible task before our country.”
Danilov confirmed in the interview that the Wagner Group is withdrawing its forces from the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Bakhmut but he acknowledged that Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are “regrouping to another three locations” after what he called their partial withdrawal from Bakhmut.
Danilov acknowledged that Ukrainian forces control only a “small part of the city” but underscored that “Bakhmut has played a big role in this war,” despite the heavy toll on Ukrainian defenders.
The British Defense Ministry also confirmed in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine posted on Twitter that “Wagner Group forces have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions around the Donetsk city of Bakhmut.”
Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry claimed victory over Bakhmut on May 20, about 10 months after the heavy battle for the city started.
US senator talks F-16s
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham expressed confidence that the Ukrainian counteroffensive coming in the next days or weeks will wield results during a press conference Friday in Kyiv. “I’m here to tell you that the last chapter of the battle of Bakhmut is yet to be written. I’m here to tell you that the Russian military is about to have holy hell unleashed upon them,” he said.
Graham also stated that Republicans and Democrats are united in their goal to help Ukraine, and he noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin must not be allowed to win. “History tells us aggression unchecked leads to more aggression.” The senator also hailed the Ukrainian people for their strength and courage. “I am in awe of you. I admire you. You represent the best in humanity. You will win,” he said.
Graham said there are no magic weapons to winning a war, but he acknowledged that “the F-16s will matter.” He called on the Biden administration “to do more” and expressed his conviction that “there will be bipartisan support to providing more weapons that can turn the tide of battle in the upcoming counteroffensive.”
Responding to VOA about whether the U.S. will support Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, Graham said that Ukraine will eventually become part of the alliance and a member of the EU but for now, the priority, he said, is for Ukraine to “evict the invader,” from Ukrainian territories. “I told President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy nobody is signed up for an invasion of Russia. The weapons we’re providing are to evict Russia from Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s drone attacks
Drone attacks struck oil pipeline installations deep inside Russia on Saturday, including a station serving the Druzhba pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines that sends Western Siberian crude to Europe. Russian media reported the attacks were launched by Ukraine and said that shelling from Ukraine killed at least two people and injured others.
Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, and The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence believes Ukraine was behind a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month.
Ukrainian officials have not publicly acknowledged launching attacks against targets inside Russia. The Ukrainian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
In Russia’s Tver region, which lies just northwest of Moscow, two drones attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines, the Russian Kommersant newspaper said.
The Tver local council said a drone had crashed near the village of Erokhino, about 500 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.
The messaging app Telegram channel Baza, which has sources among Russia’s security services, said the drones attacked a station serving the Druzhba pipeline.
In Russia’s Belgorod region, Ukrainian shelling killed at least one person and injured three, including a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the region said.
Ukrainian shelling killed a construction worker in Russia’s Kursk region near the border with Ukraine, the local governor said.
At its daily briefing about the Ukraine war, Russia’s defense ministry said it had destroyed 12 Ukrainian drones in the past 24 hours and intercepted two long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles that were supplied to Ukraine by Britain.
Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield accounts from either side.
VOAs Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report.
Some information for this story was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
Police and Serbs Clash in Kosovo
Serbian troops near Kosovo’s border were placed on high alert Friday, after clashes between police and Kosovo’s Serbian population injured at least 10 people.
Serbs in Kosovo had taken to the streets to prevent newly-elected Albanian mayors from entering their offices.
Clashes erupted when Kosovan police attempted to move the protesters to allow the politicians to enter their offices.
Authorities say at least five police were injured in the skirmishes Friday and several cars were set on fire.
Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the United States have issued a joint statement urging Kosovo “to de-escalate.”
The Western powers said they are “concerned by Serbia’s decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday, “We will preserve peace — but I am telling you that Serbia won’t sit idle the moment Serbs in northern Kosovo are attacked.”
Last month’s municipal elections were generally ignored by Kosovo’s Serbs. That move allowed Albanians to win offices.
Serbian politicians in several Serbian-majority municipalities left their offices last year after Kosovan officials prevented them from establishing an organization to coordinate their approaches to social and economic concerns.
Turkey’s Presidential Candidates Eye Nationalist Support to Win
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential runoff election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main contender Kemal Kilicdaroglu are both eyeing voters who back the country’s various nationalist parties.
Nationalist parties like Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Good Party (IYIP), Victory Party (ZP) and Great Unity Party (BBP) received more than 23% of the votes in the parliamentary election on May 14, which made Turkish nationalists “the winner of the election,” according to some experts.
“Political parties and candidates that define themselves [as] nationalist achieved an outstanding number of votes that no one could foresee,” Ismet Akca, a political scientist formerly with Istanbul’s Yildiz Technical University, told VOA.
Kemal Can, a veteran journalist and commentator at digital media outlet Medyascope, does not find the increase in the nationalist votes significant, but thinks that the nationalist parties gained bargaining power.
“As a result of these elections, we can say that both the visibility and bargaining ability of nationalism increased rather than the numerical increase,” Can told VOA.
On Monday, the nationalist ATA alliance’s presidential candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in the first round of the presidential election May 14, announced his endorsement of Erdogan, who got 49.52% of the votes in the first round.
Ogan also highlighted that his candidacy made Turkish nationalists the key players in the election and explained why he is backing Erdogan as his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the People’s Alliance hold the majority in the parliament.
Even though Ogan received 5.2% of the votes in the first round, Kemal Can thinks that Ogan will not be able to carry his support in its entirety to Erdogan.
“Ogan was presented as a candidate in front of a group of voters and [received] a reaction,” Can told VOA.
“He did not collect these votes; they are not his own votes. They are the votes of an alliance and reactionary votes,” Can added.
On Wednesday, Umit Ozdag, the head of the far-right Victory Party, the leading party in the ATA alliance, endorsed Erdogan’s rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who received 44.88% of votes in the first round.
Kilicdaroglu has toughened his tone before the second round of the election as he pledged to send Syrian refugees back and to end terrorism in his campaign posters. At the same time, Erdogan has repeatedly suggested links between him and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Kilicdaroglu has denied this allegation.
Ozdag and Kilicdaroglu also signed a seven-point protocol Wednesday on the principles of their cooperation. The protocol promises to deport all the refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, within a year and to replace elected mayors with state-appointed trustees with court rulings in case of legal proof that shows their links with terrorism.
Akca thinks the protocol is a success for Ozdag, but it puts Kilicdaroglu at risk of not receiving the Kurdish votes as he got in the first round because of the trustees.
Since the 2019 local elections, at least 48 out of 65 municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party have been run by government-appointed trustees over terrorism allegations.
Following Ogan and Ozdag’s endorsements, the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) on Thursday reiterated its support for opposition against Erdogan in the runoff without naming Kilicdaroglu. YSP endorsed Kilicdaroglu by name in the first round.
“Even though the party has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu, it remains a question how far it can mobilize its voters to go to the ballot box amid this radical nationalist frenzy,” Akca told VOA.
Kemal Can said that during this year’s campaign, the opposition asked the public if they wanted to see a change from the country’s current direction. The government instead framed the question as who should decide if there will be change: the Kurds or the nationalists?
“We see that nationalists entered into a power play demanding the decision-making power in a reactionary way,” Can said.
According to political scientist Akca, nationalists in Turkey see refugees and the Kurds as their main problems.
“Existing nationalism [in Turkey] has two main problems, and one is refugees because the nationalist movement has caught a streak over the refugee problem among the public. We see a nationalism based on xenophobia,” Akca told VOA.
“The second is the Kurds. ‘Let’s not allow the Kurds and the political movement representing them to become the key party.’ Sinan Ogan and the Victory Party voiced this as they were saying, ‘Everyone will see who the key is,’” Akca added.
Akca views the two different endorsements by Ogan and Ozdag, the two main actors of the nationalist ATA alliance, as “a gamble on their political futures.”
“Here, I find Umit Ozdağ, who has an organization like the Victory Party behind him, more advantageous than lone-wolf Sinan Ogan,” Akca said.
Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia
Somali diplomats said Friday that Russia had offered to help support Somalia’s armed forces in their battle against the al-Shabab terrorist group.
The diplomats, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had made the offer during talks with his Somali counterpart, Abshir Omar Jama, in Moscow.
One diplomat said, “Russia was ready to provide Somalia’s army with military supplies, to strengthen the government fight against al-Shabab.”
The diplomats did not specify the kinds of materiel Russia was offering to Somalia, which is under a long-standing U.N. arms embargo.
The U.N. Security Council imposed the embargo in 1992 after the outbreak of civil war and factional violence. The embargo was partially lifted in 2013 to help Somalia’s security forces fight the Islamist militants.
Russia’s offer came hours after al-Shabab militants stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in the Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu.
Earlier, at the opening of the talks between the two foreign ministers, Lavrov emphasized the long relationship between the two countries, which goes back to quick Soviet recognition of Somalia after it gained independence in 1960.
He also said he and Jama would discuss preparations for the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late July in St. Petersburg.
In modern times, Russia and Somalia have had fairly routine diplomatic relations, with Russia sending humanitarian aid to Somalia several times.
In May 2010, Somalia reacted angrily to the way Russian marines handled their rescue of a tanker, the MV Moscow University, that had been hijacked 560 kilometers off the coast of Yemen.
Russian media reported at the time that 10 Somali pirates, who had taken the tanker and its crew hostage, were released on the open sea because there were no grounds to prosecute them in Russia.
Somali authorities said the pirates never made it ashore and likely died at sea.
Somalia’s Foreign Ministry statement at the time warned that relations with Russia might be harmed over the incident and demanded an apology from the Russian government.
Since then, two Somali prime ministers, Omar Sharmarke and Hassan Ali Khaire, have met with top Russian officials requesting assistance to strengthen the Somali National Army.
In recent years, Somali diplomats, who asked for anonymity, told VOA Somali that the Russian military has been eyeing Berbera port, located in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, as a potential base on the Red Sea.
Last November, Russia, China, Gabon and Ghana abstained from a Security Council vote to maintain an arms embargo on Somalia, in support of Mogadishu’s strong objections. The United States and Britain supported maintaining the ban, although the measure did loosen restrictions on some weapons like portable surface-to-air missiles in recognition of the government’s improved oversight of weapons and munitions.
UK Man Gets Life Sentence for Joining IS in Syria
A London court jailed a British man for life on Friday for traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State group nearly a decade ago.
Judge Mark Lucraft handed Shabazz Suleman, from High Wycombe northwest of London, the prison term for making his way to Syria to enlist in the terror group, which is barred by English law.
“You went to Syria in order to join IS. You understood IS was a proscribed organization in English law,” the judge said as he passed sentence at London’s Old Bailey criminal court.
“Your ambition was to become a sniper,” he noted.
Suleman, 27, pleaded guilty last month of preparing acts of terrorism by traveling from the U.K. to Turkey in August 2014, when he was 18, to join IS in Syria.
He disappeared while on a family holiday to Turkey, which borders Syria and has long been a gateway to the war-ravaged country for Western would-be jihadists.
Suleman was arrested at Heathrow Airport in September 2021 and charged with various terror offenses, including receiving training in the use of firearms as well as belonging to a proscribed organization.
Suleman will serve a minimum term of nine years and six months under the life sentence.
Tried to desert IS
Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson told the court that while attempting to travel to Syria, Suleman was held by Turkish forces before opting to be part of a prisoner swap with IS.
Once inside Syria, he posted on social media about his experiences in IS territory and later gave incriminating interviews to Britain’s Sky News.
Later he became disenchanted with jihadism and tried to desert the terrorist group, the court was told.
Following the collapse of IS, he was taken captive by a faction of the Free Syrian Army in 2017, before being transferred to Turkey and then Pakistan.
His lawyer, Abdul Iqbal, said Suleman had been an “immature and idealistic” young man who wanted to help people “in distress” and who participated in “non-combat duties” with IS.
He added that his client had decided within five months of joining the terrorist organization that he wished to flee.
Pope Runs Fever, Skips Meetings, Vatican Says
Pope Francis skipped meetings Friday because he was running a fever, the Vatican said.
There were no details about how sick Francis was. The last time he spiked a serious fever, in March, the 86-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. He received intravenous antibiotics and was released three days later.
A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the pope’s health, said Francis didn’t receive anyone in audience Friday “because of a feverish state.”
There were no formal audiences scheduled Friday, but Francis keeps a separate, private and unofficial agenda of meetings with people he receives at his residence.
Francis has had a busy week, presiding over a meeting of the Italian bishops conference, participating in an afternoon encounter Thursday with his school foundation Scholas Occurentes, as well as meeting with several other prelates and visiting dignitaries.
He is due to preside over Pentecost Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, and in a sign that he was expected to recover quickly, the Vatican on Friday announced a new official audience with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, scheduled for Monday.
Belgian Aid Worker, Iranian Diplomat Freed in Prisoner Swap
A Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran and an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium were freed on Friday in a swap agreement mediated by Oman, both sides said.
Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele had been arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying.
Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Belgian and Iranian authorities had rejected the charges against Vandecasteele and Assadi respectively as fabricated.
“As I speak, Belgium’s Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium. If all goes to plan, he’ll be with us this evening. Free at last,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Friday.
“Last night Olivier was flown to Oman where he was looked after by a team of Belgian soldiers and diplomats. This morning he underwent a number of medical examinations to assess his state of health and to enable him to return in the best possible conditions,” De Croo added.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described Assadi in a Twitter post as “our country’s innocent diplomat who was illegally arrested against international law,” and said he would return to Iran soon.
Oman’s foreign ministry said earlier an agreement had been reached under which prisoners were released and transported from Brussels and Tehran to Muscat, the Omani capital, on Friday in preparation for their repatriation.
The Gulf Arab country has good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has acted before as a mediator for the two estranged sides on matters such as prisoner swaps.
Belgium’s justice minister said at the time of Vandecasteele’s conviction that it was based on fabricated evidence and amounted to retribution for the prison term given to Assadi.
A treaty took force last month under which Belgian prisoners in Iran can serve their sentences at home and vice versa.