Mutinous Russian mercenary fighters barrelled towards Moscow on Saturday after seizing a southern city overnight, with Russia’s military firing on them from the air but seemingly incapable of slowing their lightning advance.
Facing the first serious challenge to his grip on power of his 23-year rule, President Vladimir Putin vowed to crush an armed mutiny he compared to Russia’s Civil War a century ago.
The fighters of the Wagner private army run by former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin were already most of the way to the capital, having captured the city of Rostov and set off on an 1,100 km (680 mile) race to Moscow.
Reuters saw troop carriers and a flatbed truck carrying a tank careening past the city of Voronezh more than half way to Moscow, where a helicopter fired on them. But there were no reports of the rebels meeting any substantial resistance on the highway.
Russian media showed pictures of small groups of police manning machine gun positions on Moscow’s southern outskirts Authorities in the Lipetsk region south of the capital told residents to stay home.
More than 100 firefighters were in action at a fuel depot ablaze in Voronezh. Video footage obtained by Reuters showed it blowing up in a fireball shortly after a helicopter flew by. Prigozhin accused Russia’s military of hitting civilian targets from the air as it tried to slow the column’s advance.
Prigozhin says his men are on a “march for justice” to remove corrupt and incompetent commanders he blames for botching the war in Ukraine.
In a televised address from the Kremlin, Putin said Russia’s very existence was under threat.
“We are fighting for the lives and security of our people, for our sovereignty and independence, for the right to remain Russia, a state with a thousand-year history,” he said.
“All those who deliberately stepped on the path of betrayal, who prepared an armed insurrection, who took the path of blackmail and terrorist methods, will suffer inevitable punishment, will answer both to the law and to our people.”
A defiant Prigozhin swiftly replied that he and his men had no intention of turning themselves in.
“The president makes a deep mistake when he talks about treason. We are patriots of our motherland, we fought and are fighting for it,” Prigozhin said in an audio message. “We don’t want the country to continue to live in corruption, deceit and bureaucracy.”
Prigozhin, whose private army fought the bloodiest battles in Ukraine even as he feuded for months with the top brass, said he had captured the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in Rostov without firing a shot.
In Rostov, which serves as the main rear logistical hub for Russia’s entire invasion force, residents milled about calmly, filming on mobile phones as Wagner fighters in armoured vehicles and battle tanks took up positions.
One tank was wedged between stucco buildings with posters advertising the circus. Another had “Siberia” daubed in red paint across the front, a clear statement of intent to sweep across the breadth of Russia.
In Moscow, there was an increased security presence on the streets. Red Square was blocked off by metal barriers.
In a series of hectic messages overnight, Prigozhin demanded thata Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov should come to see him in Rostov.
Western capitals said they were closely following the situation in nuclear-armed Russia. The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed.
“This represents the most significant challenge to the Russian state in recent times,” Britain’s defence ministry said.
“Over the coming hours, the loyalty of Russia’s security forces, and especially the Russian National Guard, will be key to how this crisis plays out.”
Putin’s grip on power may depend on whether he can muster enough loyal troops to combat the mercenaries at a time when most of Russia’s military is deployed at the front in southern and eastern Ukraine.
The insurrection also risks leaving Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine in disarray, just as Kyiv is launching its strongest counteroffensive since the war began in February last year.
“Russia’s weakness is obvious. Full-scale weakness,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote in a social media message. “And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries on our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have for itself later.”
Prigozhin, a former convict and long-time ally of Putin, leads a private army that includes thousands of former prisoners recruited from Russian jails.
His men took on the fiercest fighting of the 16-month Ukraine war, including the protracted battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut.
He railed for months against the regular army’s top brass, accusing generals of incompetence and of withholding ammunition from his fighters. This month, he defied orders to sign a contract placing his troops under Defence Ministry command.
He launched the apparent mutiny on Friday after alleging that the military had killed many of his fighters in an air strike. The Defence Ministry denied it.
“There are 25,000 of us and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country,” he said, promising to destroy any checkpoints or air forces that got in Wagner’s way. He later said his men had been involved in clashes with regular soldiers and had shot down a helicopter.
Army Lieutenant-General Vladimir Alekseyev issued a video appeal asking Prigozhin to reconsider.
“Only the president has the right to appoint the top leadership of the armed forces, and you are trying to encroach on his authority,” he said.
G-20 Grants African Union Equal Membership Status to EU
The Group of 20 nations has reached a consensus to confer permanent membership status upon the African Union.
This significant move is aimed at empowering the African continent with a stronger voice in addressing pressing global issues, including climate change and emerging-market debt.
The announcement was made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who served as the host of the G-20 summit held in New Delhi over a two-day period.
During this historic event, President Azali Assoumani of Comoros, who currently holds the presidency of the African Union, was warmly embraced by Prime Minister Modi and offered a seat at the summit table.
This strategic decision, which has been previously reported by Bloomberg News, grants the 55-member African Union the same prestigious status enjoyed by the European Union within the Group of 20.
European Council President Charles Michel expressed his delight regarding this development in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He expressed eagerness for close cooperation between the African Union and the European Union within the framework of the G-20, solidifying the commitment to address global challenges collectively.
Devastating Earthquake Strikes Morocco, Leaving Over 800 Dead and Widespread Destruction
In a tragic turn of events, a rare and powerful earthquake rattled Morocco late Friday night, resulting in a devastating loss of life and extensive damage to buildings spanning from remote villages in the Atlas Mountains to the historically rich city of Marrakech.
The death toll, initially reported at over 800, is expected to rise as rescue teams grapple with the challenge of reaching the most severely affected, remote areas.
As the quake jolted people from their slumber, fear and disbelief gripped the streets, prompting individuals to flee their homes and take refuge in the open. State television broadcasts depicted the streets of Marrakech teeming with people late into the night, as they hesitated to return to buildings that may still pose a threat of instability.
Witnesses recounted harrowing experiences of the earthquake’s impact. One man, visiting a nearby apartment, described how dishes and wall hangings rained down, while people were thrown off balance and chairs were overturned. A woman shared her story of fleeing her house amid the intense vibrations, while a man cradling a child revealed he had been abruptly awakened in bed by the violent shaking.
Rescue workers, distinguishable by their reflective yellow vests, tirelessly searched through the rubble of damaged buildings, illuminated only by the darkness of the night. Heart-wrenching images captured the extent of devastation, with homes bearing gaping holes and cars nearly buried beneath the remnants of collapsed structures, as reported by local media.
Among the casualties, Marrakech’s iconic Koutoubia Mosque, dating back to the 12th century, suffered damage, though the full extent remains uncertain. Its 69-meter (226-foot) minaret, known as the “roof of Marrakech,” is a symbol of the city.
Videos shared by Moroccans also documented harm to sections of the famous red walls encircling the ancient city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Interior Ministry of Morocco reported at least 820 fatalities, with the majority occurring in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicenter. Also, 672 individuals sustained injuries, with 205 of them categorized as seriously hurt.
Abderrahim Ait Daoud, the head of a town near the epicenter, conveyed the devastating impact on nearby communities, with several homes either partially or completely collapsed. Access to electricity and roads was severely disrupted in some areas.
Given the vast distances between mountain villages in Al Haouz Province, the full extent of the damage is anticipated to be revealed only over time.
Al Haouz, renowned for its picturesque villages nestled in the High Atlas Mountains and Amazigh villages integrated into the mountainsides, was hit hard by the earthquake.
The Moroccan military and emergency services swiftly mobilized aid efforts in the affected areas. However, rescue operations were impeded by congested roads leading to the mountainous region around the epicenter, obstructed by rocks and debris from landslides.
Trucks laden with essential supplies, including blankets, camp cots, and lighting equipment, struggled to access the hardest-hit areas, as reported by the official news agency MAP.
On the treacherous journey from Marrakech to Al Haouz, ambulances with sirens wailing and vehicles of concerned citizens navigated around piles of red rocks that had tumbled from the mountainside, obstructing the road. Red Cross personnel worked diligently to remove a massive boulder blocking the two-lane highway.
As the day broke over Marrakech, ambulances and motorcycles resumed their urgent missions along the edges of the old city, where life slowly returned to normal. Tourists and passersby cautiously navigated roadblocks while capturing photographs of the cracked sections of the clay ochre wall, spilling fragments and dust onto the sidewalk and street.
In a show of solidarity, world leaders extended offers of assistance and condolences, with support pouring in from countries across Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Turkey’s president, who had experienced a massive earthquake in his own country earlier in the year, was among those offering aid. France and Germany, both home to significant Moroccan-origin populations, also pledged their support. Leaders from Ukraine and Russia expressed their solidarity with the people of Morocco.
However, as of now, the Moroccan government has not formally requested international assistance, a necessary step for external rescue teams to be deployed.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake initially registered a magnitude of 6.8 at 11:11 p.m. (2211 GMT), with tremors lasting several seconds. The agency reported a magnitude-4.9 aftershock approximately 19 minutes later.
The epicenter of the earthquake was located near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, approximately 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Marrakech. The USGS reported a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles) below the Earth’s surface, while Morocco’s seismic agency measured it at 11 kilometers (7 miles) deep. Shallow earthquakes like this tend to be more destructive.
Initial reports indicate that the Marrakech-Safi region, home to over 4.5 million people according to state figures, suffered severe damages and significant loss of life.
Earthquakes are relatively rare occurrences in North Africa, and Lahcen Mhanni, Head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, noted that this earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the mountainous region.
Morocco has experienced past seismic events, such as the 1960 earthquake near Agadir, which measured 5.8 in magnitude and resulted in a devastating loss of life. This catastrophe prompted revisions to construction regulations in Morocco, although many buildings, particularly rural residences, may still not be adequately earthquake-resistant.
In 2004, another significant earthquake measuring 6.4 in magnitude struck near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima, claiming over 600 lives.
The impact of Friday’s earthquake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria, according to reports from the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere and Algeria’s Civil Defense agency, responsible for emergency response.
The hearts of people around the world go out to the victims of this tragic earthquake, and the global community stands ready to assist Morocco in its time of need.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu Secures Victory at Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu emerged victorious on Wednesday as the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) dismissed all challenges raised by Peter Obi and the Labour Party against the outcome of the February 25th presidential election.
Led by Justice Simon Tsammani, the tribunal upheld the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate.
The central contention put forth by the Election Petition Labour was the assertion that INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) must electronically transfer presidential election results.
However, the tribunal ruled that the petitioners, Peter Obi and the Labour Party, failed to substantiate their claim.
According to the tribunal, when contesting that the winner of an election did not secure the majority of lawful votes cast, petitioners are required to provide evidence of two sets of results: the alleged lawful results and the ones they are challenging.
Furthermore, the tribunal dismissed the fraud case brought against President Tinubu by the Labour Party, asserting that it could not be proven. It was also noted that President Tinubu had been cleared of drug-related crimes in the United States.
In a significant clarification, the tribunal emphasized that Abuja is not granted special status, and securing 25% of votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is not a prerequisite to becoming President.
Also, the tribunal highlighted that the Independent National Electoral Commission retains the autonomy to select its method of transmitting election results.
The tribunal’s decision rested on its evaluation of the evidence tendered by Peter Obi, which failed to establish his claim that glitches recorded by INEC, leading to the inability to upload presidential results, were deliberately manipulated to influence the outcome.
It was concluded that INEC substantially adhered to the provisions of the Electoral Act of 2022 in conducting the 2023 presidential election.
President Tinubu’s victory at the PEPT marks a significant milestone in the post-election legal process, providing clarity and validation to his presidential mandate.
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