Heavily armed Russian mercenaries withdrew from the southern Russian city of Rostov overnight under a deal that defused an unprecedented challenge to the authority of President Vladimir Putin and halted their rapid advance on Moscow.
Fighters of the Wagner group returned to their bases in return for guarantees for their safety and the leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, will move to Belarus, according to the agreement mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
However, the aborted mutiny raises big questions about Putin’s grip on a country he has ruled with an iron hand for more than two decades. Italy’s foreign minister said it had shattered the “myth” of Russian unity.
Putin has not made public comments since the deal was struck to de-escalate the crisis.
State television released excerpts on Sunday of an interview in which Putin said he was giving top priority to the conflict in Ukraine and was in constant contact with the defence ministry. However the interview appeared to have been recorded before the mutiny and he made no reference to Saturday’s events.
State television also said Putin would attend a meeting of Russia’s Security Council this coming week, without elaborating.
Prigozhin, 62, was seen leaving the district military headquarters in Rostov – hundreds of miles south of Moscow – late on Saturday in a sport utility vehicle. His whereabouts on Sunday were not immediately clear.
Western leaders had expressed concern over the turmoil in Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. On Sunday, the foreign ministry in Moscow said China – a key Putin ally – had expressed support for the Russian leadership.
China has not publicly commented on the mutiny. A senior Russian diplomat was in Beijing on Sunday for high level talks.
‘TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES’
Prigozhin, a former Putin ally and former convict whose forces have fought the bloodiest battles of the 16-month war in Ukraine, said his decision to advance on Moscow was intended to remove corrupt and incompetent Russian commanders he blames for botching the war.
After capturing Rostov – the main rear logistical hub for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the mercenaries had raced hundreds of miles north in what Prigozhin called a “march for justice”, transporting tanks and armoured trucks and smashing through barricades set up to stop them, before the deal to withdraw was reached.
Videos shared on social media from Rostov overnight purportedly showed the mercenaries withdrawing in a convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks and coaches to the sound of cheers, chants of “Wagner” and celebratory gunfire from residents.
Reuters was able to verify the location of the video but not the date that it was filmed.
“Take care of yourselves,” shouted one woman.
The show of support for Wagner’s short-lived insurrection will alarm authorities in a country that is increasingly intolerant of public criticism of Putin and his rule.
Moscow was calm on Sunday, with the Red Square closed but otherwise little evidence of increased security. Monday has been declared a non-working day to allow time for things to settle.
The capital had told residents to stay indoors and deployed soldiers in preparation for the arrival of the mercenaries, who appeared to meet little pushback from the regular armed forces.
Chechen special forces who deployed to the Rostov region to resist the mercenaries’ advance were also withdrawing back to where they had been fighting in Ukraine, commander Apty Alaudinov said in a video published on Telegram.
Under the deal, brokered late on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a criminal case opened against Prigozhin for armed mutiny would be dropped, Prigozhin would move to Belarus, and Wagner fighters who rallied to his cause would face no action, in recognition of their previous service to Russia.
Peskov said Lukashenko had offered to mediate, with Putin’s approval, because he had known Prigozhin personally for around 20 years.
In a televised address during Saturday’s drama, Putin said the rebellion put Russia’s very existence under threat, vowing to punish those behind the revolt and drawing parallels with the chaos of 1917 that had led to the Bolshevik revolution.
Peskov declined to say whether concessions were made to Prigozhin, other than guarantees of safety for him – something he said Putin gave his word to vouch for – and for Prigozhin’s men, to persuade him to withdraw all his forces.
Prigozhin has for months accused Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, of incompetence and of withholding ammunition from his fighters as they battled to take Bakhmut in Ukraine.
Wagner, whose men in Ukraine include thousands of ex-prisoners recruited from Russian jails, has grown into a sprawling international business with mining interests and fighters in Africa and the Middle East.
This month, Prigozhin defied orders to sign a contract placing his troops under Defence Ministry command. He launched the rebellion on Friday after alleging that the military had killed some of his men in an air strike. The Defence Ministry denied this.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Messaggero published on Sunday that Putin created the conditions for Saturday’s insurrection by allowing Prigozhin to build up such a formidable private army.
“The myth of the unity of Putin’s Russia is over. This internal escalation divides the Russian military deployment. It’s the inevitable outcome when you support and finance a legion of mercenaries,” Tajani said.
“One thing is certain: the Russian front is weaker than yesterday. I hope that peace will now be closer”.
The revolt came just weeks into the start of Ukraine’s strongest counteroffensive drive since Moscow’s invasion in February last year.
Russian forces shelled the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, killing one civilian man, the local governor said on Sunday.
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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