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‘Exiled’ Russian mercenary boss Prigozhin hails Niger coup, touts services

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‘Exiled’ Russian mercenary boss Prigozhin hails Niger coup, touts services

Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who remains active even after leading a failed mutiny against the Russian army’s top brass last month, has hailed Niger’s military coup as good news and offered his fighters’ services to bring order.

A voice message on Telegram app channels associated with Wagner which they said was Prigozhin did not claim involvement in the coup, but described it as a moment of long overdue liberation from Western colonisers and made what looked like a pitch for his fighters to help keep order.

“What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger with their colonisers.

“With colonisers who are trying to foist their rules of life on them and their conditions and keep them in the state that Africa was in hundreds of years ago,” said the message, posted on Thursday evening.

The speaker had the same distinctive intonation and turn of phrase in Russian as the Wagner boss although Reuters was not able to confirm with certainty that it was him.

“Today this is effectively gaining their independence.

“The rest will without doubt depend on the citizens of Niger and how effective governance will be, but the main thing is this: they have got rid of the colonisers,” the message said.

It was unclear who was in charge of Niger after soldiers on Wednesday evening declared a military coup and held President Mohamed Bazoum in the presidential palace.

The country, one of the poorest in the world but which also holds some of its biggest uranium deposits, declared full independence from former colonial ruler France in 1960.

The voice message was the latest sign that Prigozhin and his men remain active in Africa, where they still have security contracts in some countries like Central African Republic (CAR), and are keen to expand.

Prigozhin, 62, appears to continue to enjoy freedom of movement in spite of what the Kremlin said last month was a post-mutiny deal that would see him relocate to neighbouring Belarus where some of his men have already started training the army.

He was heard in a video released earlier this month telling his men in Belarus that they should gather their strength for a “new journey to Africa.”

There have been various sightings of Prigozhin in Russia since the post-mutiny deal was clinched and the Kremlin said he had even attended a meeting with Putin, who had earlier called the abortive mutiny “a stab in the back”.

The voice message’s release coincided with the publication on Telegram of at least two photographs purporting to show Prigozhin meeting African attendees of a showcase two-day Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg which concludes on Friday.

Reuters verified the location shown in one of the photographs as the Trezzini Palace hotel in St Petersburg, Prigozhin’s home town.

The lanyard worn by the official from Central African Republic (CAR) he is shown meeting in the same photograph matches those given to the summit’s delegates.

Smiling and wearing blue jeans and a white polo shirt, Prigozhin looks relaxed in the photos as he poses to shake the hands of the delegates.

Prigozhin, in his voice message, boasted of Wagner’s alleged efficiency in helping African nations stabilise and develop in what sounded like a sales pitch.

“…Thousands of Wagner fighters are capable of bringing order and of destroying terrorists and of not allowing them to harm the local populations of these states,” he said.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Thursday that constitutional order in Niger should be restored.

Analysts said the Prigozhin appearances indicated that his private military company (PMC) would continue to play a role in furthering the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda in Africa.

Yes, it’s wild that Prigozhin is back in Russia, and apparently has been several times.

But it’s also in line with both Wagner’s and Russia’s goals to project normalcy and business as usual,” Catrina Doxsee, an expert at the U.S. CSIS think tank, said on messaging platform X.

“Moscow will likely use the Summit to reassure African partners of their commitment and continuity of PMC services in the wake of the uncertainty from the past month,” she said.

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Putin Registers As Candidate For Russia’s Next Presidential Election

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Russia on Monday officially recognised Vladimir Putin as a candidate for the presidential elections in March, a vote that he is all but certain to win.

The 71-year-old has led Russia since the turn of the century, winning four presidential ballots and briefly serving as prime minister in a system where opposition has become virtually non-existent.

The Central Election Commission said it had registered Putin, who nominated himself, as well as right-wing firebrand and Putin-loyalist Leonid Slutsky as candidates for the vote.

The election will be held over a three-day period from March 15 to 17, a move that Kremlin critics have argued makes guaranteeing transparency more difficult.

Following a controversial constitutional reform in 2020, Putin could stay in power until at least 2036.

Rights groups say that previous elections have been marred by irregularities and that independent observers are likely to be barred from monitoring the vote.

While Putin is not expected to face any real competition, liberal challenger Boris Nadezhdin has passed the threshold of signatures to be registered as a candidate.

However, it is still unclear if he will be allowed to run, and the Kremlin has said it does not consider him to be a serious rival.

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Hong Kong court grants Chinese real estate giant reorganisation postponement

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Hong Kong’s Supreme Court has once again granted the highly indebted Chinese real estate giant Evergrande a postponement for its reorganisation plan.

Judge Linda Chan surprisingly postponed the decision until Jan. 29, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

The property developer, which has liabilities estimated at more than 300 billion dollars, is threatened with liquidation.

However, creditors from abroad had taken the company to court because of its missing several payments.

Chan had already said at the previous hearing that this would be the last postponement and that she would very likely agree to liquidation if China Evergrande did not find a plan for restructuring with its creditors.

According to reports, however, the lawyers of the Hong Kong-listed group had now held out the prospect of being able to reach an agreement with the lenders in the coming weeks.

In the case of liquidation, an insolvency administrator would monetise the company and pay out the creditors.

Meanwhile, some experts were of the opinion that liquidation would return less money to creditors than a reorganisation, China Evergrande argued the same in court, according to reports.

The group had been trying to submit a restructuring plan since 2022, without success. Its founder and once China’s richest man, Hui Ka Yan, is being investigated by the Chinese authorities.

Like many other property groups, the company had been in a serious crisis for some time because it is earning significantly less on the slumping property market.

The company is finding it more difficult to obtain state support and is no longer able to service its loans.

“The Evergrande case also shows that the era of large private property developers in China is coming to an end,’’ says Max Zenglein from the Merics China Institute in Berlin.

If Chan decides to wind up China Evergrande, this could also have an impact on other companies.

“One challenge for the government will be to prevent domino effects in the economy caused by major bankruptcies,’’ says Zenglein.

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