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Ian’s Catastrophic Impact and Trail of Destruction in Southwest Florida

As Florida reels from the effects of Hurricane Ian, the staggering damage and death toll from the powerful storm reveal the level of devastation. Residents of hard-hit Lee County recount the horrors of the hurricane. VOA Turkish’s Begum Donmez Ersoz has this report. Camera: Tezcan Taskiran

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Archives: Records from Trump White House Staffers Remain Missing

The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over.

The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite an ongoing effort by staff, electronic communications between certain unidentified White House officials were still not in their custody.

“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” Debra Steidel Wall, the acting U.S. archivist, wrote in a letter to Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

The letter went on to specify that the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about how to move forward and recover “the records unlawfully removed.”

It has been widely reported that officials in President Donald Trump’s White House used non-official electronic messaging accounts throughout his four years in office. The Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved, requires staff to copy or forward those messages into their official electronic messaging accounts.

The agency says that while it has been able to obtain these records from some former officials, a number remain outstanding. The Justice Department has already pursued records from one former Trump official, Peter Navarro, who prosecutors accused of using at least one “non-official” email account — a ProtonMail account — to send and receive emails while he worked as the president’s trade adviser.

The legal action in August came just weeks after Navarro was indicted on criminal charges after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a monthslong back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump’s handling of records.

The letter on Friday also comes nearly two months after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Lawyers for Trump had provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.

Maloney and other Democratic lawmakers on the panel have been seeking a briefing from the National Archives but haven’t received one due to the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.

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US Supreme Court Set to Start Potentially Tumultuous Term

Fresh off an unusually rocky term in which it ended the constitutional right to abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court is embarking on another potentially tumultuous calendar of consequential cases.

The new term opens Monday, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joining her eight colleagues as the first Black woman to sit on the bench.

But the period will likely be remembered for more than Jackson’s historic debut. Tackling issues such as voting rights and affirmative action, the new term features some high-profile cases that will likely be decided along ideological lines.

“On things that matter most, get ready for a lot of 6-3s,” Irving Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute and a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said at a recent press event.

The high court’s decision to overturn its 1973 abortion ruling known as Roe v. Wade followed an unprecedented leak of the draft majority opinion that sparked weeks of protests.

Last term featured several other 6-3 rulings, including one that held that Americans have a right to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense.

But not every case will likely result in a conservative-majority opinion this term, Gornstein said.

He noted that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberals last term to produce at least five 5-4 cases.

Kavanaugh, one of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court, has developed a penchant for writing concurring opinions that “declare the limits of right-side majority decisions,” Gornstein said.

“This is Justice Kavanaugh’s court,” Gornstein said.

The Supreme Court hears 60-70 cases a year out of the more than 7,000 petitions it receives. To date, it has agreed to review 27 cases during the upcoming term.

Here is a look at five major cases.

Two voting rights cases

The two voting rights cases, Merrill v. Milligan and Moore v. Harper, involve controversial plans by state legislatures to redraw their congressional maps and may have wide-reaching implications for how elections are conducted.

Merrill v. Milligan

Merrill v. Milligan is about the Southern state of Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan created after the 2020 census.

For decades, Alabama’s seven-member congressional delegation has included only one African American. But with the state’s growing Black population, civil rights advocates say Alabama should have at least two.

Arguing that the redistricting map packs Alabama’s Black residents largely into a single congressional district, a group of voters and rights advocates challenged the plan in federal court.

A three-judge panel agreed that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race or color.

The judicial panel ordered a new map. But the U.S. Supreme Court overrode the ruling, agreeing to review the case during its 2022-23 term while keeping the contested congressional map in place.

Alabama says it seeks a race-neutral redistricting process. But voting rights advocates say that keeping the state’s redistricting plan in place will undermine minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.

Moore v. Harper

The second case, Moore v. Harper, involves North Carolina’s new congressional map and carries potentially even greater consequences for how federal elections are run.

It centers on a controversial legal doctrine known as the “independent state legislature theory,” which holds that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near total authority to regulate federal elections.

Enter the North Carolina Legislature.

After the state gained an extra congressional seat because of the 2020 census, the GOP-controlled Legislature drew a map that would give Republican candidates a 10-4 advantage, even though the state’s voters are evenly split between Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Voting rights advocates, suspecting illegal partisan gerrymandering, went to state court.

The state Supreme Court, with four Democrats and three Republicans, voted along party lines to declare the map in violation of the state constitution and ordered a new draft.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state Legislature’s motion to stay the state court ruling but agreed to hear the case. As a result, the court-drawn map will remain in effect during the midterm elections.

The case will be among the most closely watched of the upcoming term, and not only because of its long-term implications.

Voting rights advocates say a broad ruling in the case would give state legislatures near total authority to enact voter suppression laws and otherwise affect the outcome of elections.

Hashim Mooppan, a former counselor to the solicitor general during the Trump administration, said the fear that the case could spell “the end of democracy” is overblown.

Both sides in the case have presented the Supreme Court with “a menu of options,” and it’s far from clear whether the justices will adopt the most extreme version, Mooppan said at the Georgetown court preview.

But even if the justices adopt the “broadest possible theory,” state legislatures would not be able to “override the result of the election after they happen,” he said.

Legal challenges to affirmative action

Two cases — Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, and Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina — present legal challenges to affirmative action.

A ruling against Harvard and UNC, some legal experts warn, could spell the end of affirmative action, a policy that American colleges and universities have followed for more than half a century to boost admissions of minority students.

Americans are divided over affirmative action. Proponents say the policy has promoted campus diversity by providing opportunities for disadvantaged students. Opponents say it gives preferential treatment to Black, Hispanic and other minorities at the expense of white and Asian applicants, undermining the goal of a “color blind” society.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, a group headed by conservative legal activist and affirmative action opponent Edward Jay Blum, sued Harvard and UNC, accusing the former of discriminating against Asian applicants and the latter of disfavoring white students.

In their defense, Harvard and UNC said race is one of many factors they consider in student admissions, citing previous Supreme Court decisions over the past two decades reaffirming the practice.

Lower courts sided with the two universities. But Students for Fair Admissions appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a 2003 ruling that upheld the use of race in college admissions for the benefit of diversity.

The court could choose to uphold or restrict affirmative action rather than outlaw it. But with a conservative supermajority of six justices in control, the judicial tides appear to have turned against the policy, experts say.

“If you were just trying to count noses, I think you would think that there are more votes to be skeptical of these programs now than ever before,” said Roman Martinez, a Supreme Court litigator at Latham & Watkins said at Georgetown.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the American Constitution Society earlier this month, Deborah Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, and that ending affirming action would make “the system less equitable.”

Right to refuse service

The question of whether a business owner can refuse service to a customer based on the vendor’s religious beliefs returns to the high court with a new case out of Colorado.

In 2018, the court considered the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Siding with the baker, the court found that the so-called public accommodations law itself violated his right to freedom of religion, but it shied away from ruling on the larger question of whether forcing the baker to design a cake would violate his free speech rights.

With the new case, the justices will weigh in on that issue.

The case was brought by Lorie Smith, the owner of a Colorado graphic design company called 303 Creative LLC, who says she wants to build wedding websites for couples of the opposite sex but not for same-sex couples because she’s opposed to gay marriage for religious reasons.

She wants to post a message on her website explaining her opposition to designing wedding sites for same-sex couples. But because of Colorado law, she has been unable to do so.

Smith sought an exemption from the law in federal court on the grounds that it would force her to “speak messages” that violated her deeply held beliefs.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case during the new term but limited the review to her free-speech claim.

Colorado says the case is not about free speech but rather about whether a business can refuse service based on a customer’s race or other protected characteristics.

But with the conservative Supreme Court increasingly siding with religious groups in recent years, the state is unlikely to encounter a sympathetic court, experts say.

“The court is expanding both its understanding of what speech is and its protection of it,” Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor, said during the American Constitution Society event.

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Latvia Prime Minister Wins Election

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins won Saturday’s election, according to provisional results, with its 19% of the vote putting him in a position to head another coalition government.

The results — with 91% of districts counted — mean Latvia should remain a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

Karins’ party was again the party with the most support following the election. Members of the current coalition were on track to receive 42 seats in the 100-seat parliament, so Karins needs to draft additional allies to stay as a prime minister.

As many as nine parties won sufficient votes to gain seats in parliament.

After a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Karins told Reuters he will be working to craft a coalition of like-minded parties.

“I am convinced that we will be able find such a solution,” he said early Sunday.

“First and foremost on everyone’s minds is how we all get through the winter, not only in Latvia but throughout the EU, and that we all remain united behind Ukraine, and do not waiver in the face of difficulties for us,” said Karins.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine — this is not a view of a small group of politicians, this is the view of our society,” said Karins.

But his victory could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

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Bosnia Heads to Polls as Ethnic Tensions Dominate Vote

Bosnians headed to the polls Sunday to vote in general elections following a campaign season marked by threats of secession, political infighting, and fears of future turmoil as ethnic tensions in the country grow.

Voters are casting ballots in a dizzying number of contests, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a string of local races.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (5:00 GMT).

Nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan country, Bosnia continues to be burdened by its ethnic divisions.

The Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created by the 1995 Dayton Agreement that succeeded in ending the conflict in the 1990s, but largely failed in providing a framework for the country’s political development.

Bosnia remains partitioned between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation connected by a weak central government.

In the war’s wake, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s divisions in a bid to maintain power.

“I hope for nothing. I vote because that is the only thing I can do as an individual,” said Amra Besic, a 57-year-old economist, as she cast her ballot in Sarajevo.

Coalition clash

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the country has been torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy and electoral reforms.

The country’s Muslim Bosniaks will also face a choice of voting for a disparate, 11-party coalition that is trying to unseat the rule of the mainstream SDA.

The SDA is led by Bakir Izetbegovic — the son of the first president of independent Bosnia — and has largely dominated the political scene in the country for decades.

Many voters say that the lack of young candidates offering fresh ideas has left them largely uninspired on the eve of the elections.

“Most of the candidates that are running are the ones we have been watching for the last twenty years,” said Sara Djogic, a 21-year-old philosophy student in the capital, Sarajevo.

“There are not many who offer something new,” she added.

With little to no polling data available, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties that have dominated the post-war political scene are likely to win many of the races.

The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Milorad Dodik, is seeking his third term as the president of the RS, after completing a stint in the tripartite presidency.

For the past year, Dodik has been stoking tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions, earning him fresh sanctions from the U.S. in January.

Dodik’s primary challenger Jelena Trivic has vowed to crack down on corruption in the RS if elected.

“Our revenge will be the law,” Trivic said ahead of the polls.

Fears of turmoil

For the country’s Catholic Croats, political turmoil has also been brewing.

Ahead of the election, many Croats have been demanding electoral reforms with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest.

Their grievances are steeped in the vast numerical advantage held by Bosniaks in the Muslim-Croat federation, which has allowed Muslim voters to hold de-facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for the creation of a new mechanism to allow the community to choose their own representatives to the presidency and upper house.

The move, however, has been fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

With threats of fresh boycotts, fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties that view him as a Bosniak proxy — is reelected.

The ever-present threats and vitriol have led some to skip the polling booth Sunday.

“I do not expect anything new after these elections. Everything will be the same,” said Mira Sladojevic, a pensioner in her 70s in Sarajevo.

“I haven’t voted for a long time,” she added.

The first wave of preliminary results is expected several hours after the polls close at 7 p.m. (19:00 GMT).

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Hurricane Ian Death Toll Tops 40

The death toll from Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, soared above 40 Saturday, as President Joe Biden heads to Florida later in the week to survey the devastation.

Shocked Florida communities were only just beginning to face the full scale of the destruction, with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods and along the state’s southwest coast.

Homes, restaurants and businesses were ripped apart when Ian roared ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday.

The confirmed number of storm-related deaths rose to 44 statewide, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission said late Saturday, but reports of additional fatalities were still emerging county by county — pointing to a far higher final toll.

Hard-hit Lee County alone recorded 35 deaths, according to its sheriff, while U.S. media including NBC and CBS tallied more than 70 deaths either directly or indirectly related to the storm.

In the coastal state of North Carolina, the governor’s office confirmed four deaths related to Ian there.

Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit Florida on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted, but the couple will first head to Puerto Rico on Monday to survey the destruction from a different storm, Hurricane Fiona, which struck the U.S. territory last month.

In Florida’s Lee County on Saturday, rescuers and ordinary citizens in boats were still saving the last trapped inhabitants of the small island of Matlacha. Debris, abandoned vehicles and downed trees littered the pummeled hamlet’s main street and surroundings that are dotted by colorful wooden houses with corrugated roofs.

The community, home to about 800 people, was cut off from the mainland following damage to two bridges, and those who fled early were only just beginning to return home to survey the destruction.

Sitting in the shadow of a deserted Matlacha house, Chip Farrar told AFP that “nobody’s telling us what to do, nobody’s telling us where to go.”

“The evacuation orders came in very late,” the 43-year-old said. “But most people that are still here wouldn’t have left anyway. It’s a very blue-collar place. And most people don’t have anywhere to go, which is the biggest issue.”

Sixteen migrants were missing from a boat that sank during the hurricane, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two people were found dead, and nine others rescued, including four Cubans who swam to shore in the Florida Keys.

More than 900,000 customers remained without power in Florida on Saturday night, hampering efforts by those who evacuated to return to their homes to take stock of what they lost.

In Fort Myers Beach, a town on the Gulf of Mexico coast which took the brunt of the storm, Pete Belinda said his home was “just flipped upside down, soaking wet, full of mud.”

Ian barreled over Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean before making U.S. landfall again, this time on the South Carolina coast Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.

It was later downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, and it was dissipating over Virginia late Saturday.

More than 45,000 people remained without power across North Carolina and Virginia, tracking website poweroutage.us said Saturday.

CoreLogic, a firm that specializes in property analysis, said wind-related losses for residential and commercial properties in Florida could cost insurers up to $32 billion, while flooding losses could reach $15 billion.

“This is the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992,” CoreLogic’s Tom Larsen said.

Rescues continue

As of Saturday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said more than 1,100 rescues had been made across Florida.

DeSantis reported that hundreds of rescue personnel were going door-to-door “up and down the coastline.”

Many Floridians evacuated ahead of the storm, but thousands chose to shelter in place and ride it out.

Two hard-hit barrier islands near Fort Myers — Pine Island and Sanibel Island — were cut off after the storm damaged causeways to the mainland.

Aerial photos and video show breathtaking destruction in Sanibel and elsewhere.

A handful of restaurants and bars reopened in Fort Myers, giving an illusion of normalcy amid downed trees and shattered storefronts.

Before pummeling Florida, Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness after downing the island’s power network.

Electricity was gradually returning, mainly in Havana, but many homes remain without power.

A new storm in the Pacific, Hurricane Orlene, intensified to Category 2 strength off the Mexican coast, where it was forecast to make landfall in the coming days.

Human-induced climate change is resulting in more severe weather events across the globe, scientists say.

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EU Leaders to Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents on Russian Pipelines

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet Saturday after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Friday.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels “to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

“NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on Thursday said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

On Saturday, a Nord Stream 2 pipeline spokesperson told Agence France-Presse the pipeline is no longer leaking under the Baltic Sea because an equilibrium has been reached between the gas and water pressure. Information on the status of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline leak, which was significantly larger, was not immediately available, AFP reported.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Some material for this article came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and dpa. 

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Iran Allows US Citizen Out of Prison Temporarily

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week furlough, officials said Saturday.

Separately, his father and former United Nations official Baquer Namazi, who was also convicted on charges of “collaboration with a hostile government,” has been allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Dujarric said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is grateful that, following his appeals to the President of the Islamic Republic or Iran . . . Baquer Namaze has been permitted to leave.”

It was unclear if the moves might be a step toward Siamak’s full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other U.S. citizens detained in Iran.

Soon after news of Siamak’s furlough broke, Iran’s Nournews said an unnamed regional nation had mediated between Tehran and Washington for the “simultaneous release of prisoners.”

The semi-official news agency also reported that “billions of dollars of Iran’s frozen assets because of the U.S. sanctions will be released soon.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We were deeply gratified to learn from the U.N. Secretary-General today that Iran has lifted the travel ban imposed on Baquer Namazi.”

The department was grateful that Siamak Namazi, “has been granted a humanitarian furlough in order to be with his father,” Price said in a release.

It was unclear what motivated Tehran’s decisions on both men. Neither the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran nor the Iranian mission to the U.N. immediately responded to requests for comment.

Iran is grappling with the biggest show of opposition to its clerical authorities since 2019 with dozens of people killed in unrest across the country ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iranian Kurdistan, in police custody.

Baquer Namazi, 85, was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.

His son Siamak, 51, has been held in Evin prison since 2015 and was convicted of the same charge as his father in 2016. The U.S. government has described the charges against both as baseless.

“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” lawyer Jared Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment and was on a one-week renewable furlough.

“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.

Iranian Americans, whose U.S. citizenship is not recognized by Tehran, are often pawns between the two nations, now at odds over whether to revive a fraying 2015 pact under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

In addition to the Namazis, other U.S. citizens detained in Iran include environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British nationality, and businessman Emad Shargi, 58. A separate State Department spokesperson said the United States is working to bring those two home as well as Siamak Namazi.

Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, said the Namazis should never have been imprisoned.

“The Islamic Republic deserves no credit for temporarily releasing hostages that never deserved to spend a single day in prison,” Sadjadpour said.

Price thanked U.S. allies and partners who worked to help the Namazis, including the U.N. Secretary-General, Switzerland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the United Kingdom.

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Danes: Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Seems to Have Stopped Leaking

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.

“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation Friday of parts of Ukraine.

“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday.

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security. Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.

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Venezuela Releases 7 Jailed Americans; US Frees 2 Prisoners

In a rare softening of hostile relations, the White House said Saturday that Venezuela freed seven Americans imprisoned in the South American country and the United States released two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on drug smuggling convictions. 

The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration. 

“These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home” the seven men, whom the president cited by name. “We celebrate that seven families will be whole once more.” 

The White House said Biden had spoken with the families and that the men were in stable health and have been offered a range of support services, including medical care. 

Maduro’s government said in a statement that it was releasing the American citizens as a humanitarian gesture. It praised the diplomacy that resulted in the freeing of the two “unjustly imprisoned” Venezuelans imprisoned in the United States and said it “hopes for the preservation of peace and harmony with all the nations of our region and the world.” 

The exchange amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices. 

The transfer took place in a country between the U.S. and Venezuela after the men in the deal arrived in separate planes, the Biden administration said. 

Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Vadell’s daughter, Cristina, when contacted in Houston by The Associated Press. Holding back tears of joy on her 31st birthday, she said: “This is the best birthday present ever. I’m just so happy.” 

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges, and Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January. 

The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo — nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and immediately taken to New York to face trial. They were convicted the following year in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration. 

Both men were granted clemency by Biden before the release. 

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to bring home the roughly 60 Americans it believes are held hostage abroad or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus is on Russia, where the U.S. has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela has been holding the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips. 

At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia. 

“To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained — know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” Biden said in his statement. 

His administration did not release another prisoner long sought by Maduro: Alex Saab, an insider businessman who Venezuela considers a diplomat and U.S. prosecutors a corrupt regime enabler. Saab fought extradition from Cape Verde, where he was arrested last year during a stopover en route to Iran and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning off millions in state contracts. 

The oil executives were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason,” and Venezuela’s supreme court upheld their long sentences earlier this year. The men have all pleaded not guilty and the State Department has regarded them — and the two other Americans freed Saturday — as wrongfully detained. 

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Bosnia Goes to the Polls as Ethnic Divisions Grow

With ethnic divisions growing deeper, Bosnia will hold general elections Sunday amid secession threats and fears of fresh political turmoil nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan nation. 

The country is torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy, while Muslim Bosniaks calling for a more egalitarian state appear to be chasing little more than a pipedream.  

For more than two decades, the impoverished Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system born out of the 1995 Dayton Agreement.

And while the accords may have succeeded in ending the war in the 1990s, the country has withered amid political paralysis ever since.

Analysts have warned that Bosnia is sinking ever deeper into troubled waters with divisions along ethnic lines appearing to grow even further on the eve of elections. 

“Bosnia-Herzegovina is experiencing the most serious political crisis since the signing of the peace agreement,” Ranko Mavrak, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told AFP. 

“The ethnic divisions are so deep that they are now a real danger to Bosnia’s survival and its integrity,” he added.

Bosnia is divided between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation linked by a weak central government.

With Bosnia’s three main groups rarely mixing in the wake of the war, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s fault lines in a bid to maintain power, driving hundreds of thousands abroad in search of better opportunities. 

“It’s a beautiful, rich country and we could move forward with even a minimum of understanding,” said Salko Hasanefendic, 70, a business owner from Sarajevo. 

“If we raise our children today in such a nationalist context, we can only expect to have new nationalists in 40 years,” he told AFP.

Amid the gloom, voters will cast ballots in a dizzying array of contests Sunday, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a raft of local races in the two separate entities. 

With little to no polling data to rely on, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties are likely to dominate many of the contests, including longtime Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the presidency of the RS.

For months, Dodik has been stoking tensions amid frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions.  

“This situation is like two brothers who don’t like each other,” Rajko, a retiree and Dodik supporter who did disclose his surname, told AFP before a recent campaign rally.

“It is better that they do not live together,” he added, echoing a common refrain said by Dodik.

Amid the calls for secession, there are many who appear happy to see their Serb countrymen leave.

“Dodik and those like him can go to another country that they find more beautiful,” said Bosnia’s former co-president Bakir Izetbegovic during a recent rally.

Izetbegovic— the son of the first president of independent Bosnia—is running for a third term as the country’s Bosniak president but is facing stiff competition from 46-year-old history professor Denis Becirovic.  

Backed by 11 opposition parties, Becirovic is vowing to fight for a “pro-European and united” Bosnia.

To add to the growing divide, many of the country’s Catholic Croats have been pleading for greater autonomy or electoral reforms during the run-up to the polls, with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest for months.

Thanks to their vast numerical advantage in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosniaks hold de facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for a mechanism to allow the community to appoint their own representatives to the presidency and upper house — a move fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

Fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties — is reelected following repeated threats by nationalists, who say they are prepared to widen boycotts at government institutions.

“At the moment, there is no sign the situation will stabilize in Bosnia,” said Mavrak, the analyst. “There is no indication at the moment that it is possible to reach a compromise.” 

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Latvian PM’s New Unity Party Ahead in Vote, Exit Poll Shows

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins was set to win Saturday’s national election, an exit poll showed, after a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If confirmed, the result should mean Latvia remains a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

But it could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“We have known Russia’s politics for years, we had been trying to warn our neighbors for years before the war started,” Karins told reporters after exit polls were published.

“We will continue to invest in our own defense … to ensure that Latvia and the Baltic region remains as secure in the future as it is today.” 

A LETA/LSM exit poll showed New Unity at 22.5%, twice the number of votes as its nearest competitor, the United List of smaller parties. 

The Greens and Farmers Union, a coalition of conservative groups closely knit around Aivars Lembergs, the long-term mayor of Ventspils who was put on a U.S. sanctions list for alleged corruption in 2019, was in third place with 10.9%. 

Exit polls showed falling support for parties popular with Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, which makes up about a quarter of the country’s population of 1.9 million. 

The left-leaning Harmony party saw its support decline to single digits, with observers saying this was driven in part by ethnic Latvian voters turning away. Some Russian speakers were also disappointed by the party leadership criticizing the Kremlin over Ukraine.  

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Turkish Minister Says Deadly Gun Attack Was ‘America-Based

Turkey’s interior minister Saturday described a gun attack that killed a police officer in the country’s south as an “America-based” operation.

Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian.

The female attackers, who Turkish authorities said were affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs.

“This action is an America-based action,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told ruling party officials in the Black Sea province of Giresun, according to the private Demiroren news agency and other outlets.

Soylu also said U.S. authorities had requested the serial numbers of the firearms used in the attack from the Turkish police, without specifying which U.S. agency made the request.

Turkish government officials have previously accused Washington of supporting the PKK by arming and training the group’s Syrian branch, known as the YPG.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 38-year on-off conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The U.S. does not recognize the YPG, which helped combat the Islamic State group in Syria, as a terrorist entity.

Soylu last year alleged American involvement in a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 that killed more than 250 people. In 2018, he was placed on a sanctions list by Washington over the arrest and detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.

The minister said Monday’s attackers, who targeted accommodations for security personnel in Mersin’s Mezitli district, had arrived in Turkey from the YPG-controlled Syrian city of Manbij by motorized parachute.

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How Displaced Ukrainians in Poland Find Work While Benefiting Its Economy

Poland, far from being overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge from Russia’s invasion of their country, is seeing its economy grow, according to economists.

The latest available figures from early August show about half of the working-age people who fled Ukraine for Poland are now employed.

In an interview with VOA, World Bank economist Reena Badiani-Magnusson, who specializes in the region, called the employment statistics for the temporarily displaced people, or TDPs, released by the Polish government “impressive.”

Badiani-Magnusson quotes a National Bank of Poland study that found between 2013 and 2018, during the first wave of Ukrainian migration, the presence of Ukrainian migrants in the country had a .5% positive impact on growth.

“On top of that, we’ve done some analysis of the current crisis, and we find that should 500,000 Ukrainian displaced people be integrated into the labor market successfully, we anticipate a medium-term impact on the growth of 1.5%,” she said.

Experts interviewed by VOA said there are three main reasons why the “refugee crisis” quickly filled the Polish market with needed labor. First, Ukrainians who arrived in Poland, including many mothers with children, had high professional qualifications and wanted to work. Second, Polish authorities quickly removed most barriers to Ukrainian TDP employment. And third, the sizeable Ukrainian diaspora facilitated the adjustment and labor engagement of the newly arrived compatriots fleeing the war.

Ukrainians working below their qualifications

For many newly arrived Ukrainian women, says Ludmila Dymitrow, a coordinator at the Information Center for Foreigners in Krakow, low-skilled work is only the first step.

“We explain that even if you had a good job and a high status in your homeland, you could find it here, too, but start with something simpler. A good start can begin in different ways, even from the checkout in a store. Learn the language, and life will give you other opportunities.”

One of many Ukrainian TDPs in Krakow, Olena Kurta, a mother of two, cleans hotel rooms. She used to teach law in the city of Horlivka, in the Russia-supported so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014, and later opened and ran a daycare in Kryvyi Rih.

“I want to learn the language and find another job. I haven’t decided what I want to do. I have to start everything from the beginning,” said Kurta.

Tatyana Potapova, another Ukrainian woman, came to Krakow from the village of Lyptsi near Kharkiv, captured by Russians in the early days of the invasion. In her 60s and a chemist by education and employment, she enrolled in Polish-language classes as soon as she arrived.

“I imagine that I can work as a concierge in some institution. It is my dream. I am willing even to work in a store, but preferably not in a grocery store,” said Potapova in an interview with VOA.

Polish authorities provide immediate job assistance

On March 12, 2022, the Polish parliament passed a law on assistance to Ukrainian citizens, which gave the TDPs from Ukraine the right to stay legally in Poland for 18 months and access its health care system, education, social services and labor market.

The government and local authorities assist Ukrainian TDPs in finding employment. For example, the provincial Employment Administration helps connect job seekers with employers. It also began some programs, available only to Polish citizens and Ukrainian TDPs, that included financing 85% of the cost of job training, said its director. 

The administration sent their representative to the Center for Foreigners, located in the Krakow shopping mall, to help job seekers find opportunities and apply for vacancies.

Badiani-Magnusson points to a comprehensive approach to facilitating access of Ukrainian women to the labor market.

“The Polish government and society need to be recognized and commended for their generous and open-armed support to the populations arriving, the speed and rapidity at which populations that wanted to work were able to have registered temporary protection” that provided services that allowed to integrate them into the labor market, said the economist.

Ukrainian diaspora helps new arrivals find jobs

Maciej Bukowski, president of the Warsaw-based research institute Wise-Europa, draws attention to another aspect – before the arrival of a new wave of TDPs after February 24, Ukrainians were already in Poland, arriving especially after 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and instigated and supported aggression in Donbas.

The presence of Ukrainians helped absorb the sudden and significant wave of new refugees from Ukraine.

Barriers for Ukrainians in the Polish labor market

Still, obstacles to the employment of the Ukrainian TDPs remain. The language barrier is one of them. Even though Ukrainian and Polish are linguistically close, it still takes time and effort to be able to speak Polish fluently.

The Zustricz Foundation, an organization of Ukrainians in Krakow, offers classes for Polish-language learners, one of the popular ways to assist Ukrainian TDPs.

A second barrier is the need to care for children. Almost half of those who arrived from Ukraine after February 24 and remained in Poland (600,000) are children.

Badiani-Magnusson of the World Bank points to the need to find employment that matches the qualifications of the Ukrainian job seekers. Zustricz Foundation founder Aleksandra Zapolska agrees – there is still a need to connect employers and job seekers, especially among the most qualified.

“In the medical field, there is a great need for nurses and doctors; for example, there is a shortage of psychiatrists. On the other hand, doctors do not fully know where to turn because not every hospital is interested at that moment; there is no such path for them to meet,” she explained.

The World Bank also says that Ukrainian entrepreneurs need help with adaptation to Polish legislation and access to finance. “You can imagine that you can have a very successful business in Ukraine, and you’d like to be able to bring those same skills into the Polish labor market,” says Badiani-Magnusson.

An uncertain outcome

Zapolska points to another problem – uncertainty about the future.

Will these people return to Ukraine? Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainians will return with the liberation of Ukrainian territories; the critical moment here will be the liberation of Kherson. That is why, he said, it is essential to end the war in such a way that Russia cannot continue posing a threat to Ukrainian territories.

“Many Ukrainians do not know whether they will return, and their decision often changes,” said Zapolska.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 7 million Ukrainian TDPs remain in European countries – 1.3 million in Poland. Since the start of the full-scale offensive, more than 6 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine to Poland.

VOA’s Georgian Service contributed to this report.

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Latvia’s General Election Tests Loyalties of Ethnic-Russian Voters

Neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped shape the general election held Saturday in Latvia, where divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority are likely to influence the makeup of parliament and war-induced energy concerns will preoccupy the next government.

Several polls showed the center-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the top vote-getter, with up to 20% support.

Karins, who became head of Latvia’s government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that along with New Unity includes the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, and the Conservatives.

A total of 19 parties have over 1,800 candidates running in the election, but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-U.S. citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up over 25% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them – for various reasons – since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians. In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert it. Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

A recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM showed Harmony trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support.

“I think the Russophonic part of the population is very fragmented,” Pauls Raudseps, a columnist at Latvian news magazine IR, told The Associated Press. “You can’t say it’s unified on anything. Some part is pro-Putin. But what we’ve seen is that the war in general has changed attitudes. And it has happened fairly rapidly.”

Long lines were reported outside polling stations in several places in the country Saturday, including the capital, Riga. Many said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine affected voter attitudes.

“I think that people are getting more active, and as you see, there is a queue already. So, hopefully some of the pro-Russians have switched to the more European parties now … We can’t really say war is a positive thing,” IT engineer Ratios Shovels, 38, said at a Riga district polling place.

Elena Dadukina, a 43-year-old lawyer said, said she wasn’t sure if the healthy turnout was “due to the war or whether people want greater responsibility in choosing their candidates because of how they will influence our domestic politics.”

Since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February, Latvian officials have banned Russians from entering the country with tourist visas and dismantled a prominent Soviet monument in Riga.

This week, the government announced a state of emergency at certain Latvian border areas as a precaution following Russia’s partial military mobilization. Like Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is refusing to grant political asylum to Russian military reservists escaping conscription.

Latvia, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, also plans to reintroduce military conscription next year after a hiatus of over 15 years.

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Latvia’s General Election Tests Loyalties of Ethnic-Russian Voters

Neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped shape the general election held Saturday in Latvia, where divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority are likely to influence the makeup of parliament and war-induced energy concerns will preoccupy the next government.

Several polls showed the center-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the top vote-getter, with up to 20% support.

Karins, who became head of Latvia’s government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that along with New Unity includes the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, and the Conservatives.

A total of 19 parties have over 1,800 candidates running in the election, but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-U.S. citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up over 25% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them – for various reasons – since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians. In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert it. Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

A recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM showed Harmony trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support.

“I think the Russophonic part of the population is very fragmented,” Pauls Raudseps, a columnist at Latvian news magazine IR, told The Associated Press. “You can’t say it’s unified on anything. Some part is pro-Putin. But what we’ve seen is that the war in general has changed attitudes. And it has happened fairly rapidly.”

Long lines were reported outside polling stations in several places in the country Saturday, including the capital, Riga. Many said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine affected voter attitudes.

“I think that people are getting more active, and as you see, there is a queue already. So, hopefully some of the pro-Russians have switched to the more European parties now … We can’t really say war is a positive thing,” IT engineer Ratios Shovels, 38, said at a Riga district polling place.

Elena Dadukina, a 43-year-old lawyer said, said she wasn’t sure if the healthy turnout was “due to the war or whether people want greater responsibility in choosing their candidates because of how they will influence our domestic politics.”

Since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February, Latvian officials have banned Russians from entering the country with tourist visas and dismantled a prominent Soviet monument in Riga.

This week, the government announced a state of emergency at certain Latvian border areas as a precaution following Russia’s partial military mobilization. Like Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is refusing to grant political asylum to Russian military reservists escaping conscription.

Latvia, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, also plans to reintroduce military conscription next year after a hiatus of over 15 years.

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