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"Doomsday Clock" Advances Again

FILE - The Doomsday Clock, seen at the National Press Club in Washington, Jan. 23, 2020, reads 100 seconds to midnight. It remains unchanged for 2022, but in January 2023 the hands went to 90 seconds to Midnight to reflect increasing dangers of weapons of mass destruction.. .

Top scientists and security experts moved the "Doomsday Clock" forward on Tuesday to just 90 seconds to midnight -- signaling an increased risk to humanity's survival from the nuclear shadow over the Ukraine conflict and the growing climate crisis.

The new timing of the clock set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight than ever before.

The hands of the clock, which the Bulletin describes as a "metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation," had been at 100 seconds to midnight since January 2020 - the closest to midnight it had been in its history.

A decision to reset the hands of the symbolic timepiece is taken each year by the Bulletin's science and security board and its board of sponsors, which includes 10 Nobel laureates.

In a statement, the Bulletin said it was advancing the hands of the clock by 10 seconds this year "due largely but not exclusively to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation."

"Russia's thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict - by accident, intention, or miscalculation - is a terrible risk," it said. "The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone's control remains high."

The Bulletin said the new clock time "was also influenced by continuing threats posed by the climate crisis and the breakdown of global norms and institutions needed to mitigate risks associated with advancing technologies and biological threats such as Covid-19."

"We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality," said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

"90 seconds to midnight is the closest the clock has ever been set to midnight, and it's a decision our experts do not take lightly," Bronson said.

"The US government, its NATO allies and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue," she said. "We urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability to turn back the clock."

- Calls for action -

Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also called for world leaders to take action in a world that has become more dangerous because of Covid-19, extreme weather events and "Russia's outrageous war on Ukraine."

"Leaders did not heed the Doomsday Clock's warnings in 2020," Ban said. "We all continue to pay the price. In 2023 it is vital for all our sakes that they act."

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons also noted the shift in the clock's hands.

"We have had enough of the Doomsday Clock warnings being followed by inaction," ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn said in a statement.

"The leaders of the nuclear armed states must urgently negotiate nuclear disarmament, and the G7 meeting in Hiroshima in May 2023 is the perfect place to outline such plan," Fihn said.

The clock was originally set at seven minutes to midnight.

The furthest from midnight it has ever been is 17 minutes, following the end of the Cold War in 1991.

The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project which produced the first nuclear weapons.

The idea of the clock symbolizing global vulnerability to catastrophe followed in 1947.

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Russians in CAR "Only 'Instructors'" - Moscow

FILE - A truck of the Russian private military group Wagner is seen Feb. 3, 2021, in the looted Central African Army base of Bangassou, attacked by rebels Jan. 3, 2021. Russian military contractors have been accused of human rights abuses in CAR.

The Russian ambassador to the Central African Republic said in an interview published on Friday that 1,890 "Russian instructors" were present in the country, a focus of operations for the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group mercenary outfit.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA quoted ambassador Alexander Bikantov as saying: "Today, there are 1,890 Russian instructors in the C.A.R..

The mercenary Wagner Group, founded by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, has become a major player in the Central African Republic, largely displacing former colonial power France.

The government in Bangui is interested in increasing their number, and says it has has sent the relevant application to the UN Security Council.

Wagner initially intervened on the side of the government to quell a civil war which has raged since 2012.

Wagner has previously deployed to Syria, Libya and Mali, among other countries.

Russia also has Wagner fighters in Ukraine, often in front-line positions to serve, according to some observers, as "cannon fodder" to take Kyiv's bullets instead of regular Russian forces.

The mercenary group has been accused in multiple countries of egregious human rights violations.

More Western Missiles for Ukraine

FILE: U.S. military "Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb" (GLSDB). Taken Jan. 31, 2023

Three Western nations - the United States, France, and Italy, are sending additional missile systems to Ukraine as Kyiv girds for an expected Russian spring offensive.,

A new $2.2 billion US arms package for Ukraine includes a new rocket-propelled precision bomb that could nearly double Kyiv's strike range against the Russians, the Pentagon said Friday.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the new package includes the ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), a munition that can fly up to 150 kilometers, threatening Russian positions and depots far behind the front lines.

"This gives them a longer range capability ... that will enable them to conduct operations in defense of their country and to take back their sovereign territory," Ryder said.

Ukraine had been asking the Untied States for munitions that can fly farther than the HIMARS rockets with an 80 kilometer (50 mile) range.

The GLSDB potentially gives Ukraine forces an ability to strike anywhere in the Russian-occupied Donbas, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, and the northern part of occupied Crimea.

That could threaten key Russian supply lines, arms depots and air bases.

Ryder said he did not know how Ukraine planned to use the munition.

The GLSDB, made by Boeing and Saab, is a gliding rocket with a small bomb attached.

Saab says it can hit a target from any angle within one meter.

"The precision of GLSDB is so high it can hit within the radius of a car tire," Saab said on its website.

Additionally, France and Italy have agreed to deliver mobile surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine, the French defense ministry said Friday.

The systems, called MAMBA or SAMP, contain a vehicle-mounted, medium-range battery of missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats such as missiles and aircraft.

Kyiv has pressed allies for additional and longer-range missiles, anticipating a new Russian offensive once Spring begins.

Sankara Grave at Murder Spot

FILE: Supporters of former President Thomas Sankara are seen in front of a portrait of the late president as they gather at his memorial site, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Taken April 6, 2022

The body of Burkina Faso's revered revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara is to be buried alongside 12 comrades at the spot where in 1987 they were assassinated, the country's ruling junta said on Friday.

The ceremony will take place "in February" at the site of a memorial that already marks the location, the government's spokesman, Communications Minister Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo, said in a statement, without giving a date.

Sankara came to power in August 1983 as an army captain aged just 33.

Nicknamed Africa's Che Guevara, he was a fiery Marxist-Leninist who blasted the West for neo-colonialism and hypocrisy.

He changed the country's name from the colonial-era Upper Volta to Burkina Faso -- "the land of honest men" -- and pushed through a range of reforms, including promoting vaccination and banning female genital mutilation.

Sankara was idolized by supporters of Pan-Africanism and egalitarianism, but his tenure was short-lived.

He and a dozen other leaders were gunned down by a hit squad at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council in the capital Ouagadougou on October 15, 1987.

The killings took place on the same day that Sankara's comrade-in-arms, Blaise Compaore, seized power.

He went on to rule for 27 years, during which Sankara's death was a strict taboo. He was ousted by public protests and fled to Ivory Coast.

After Compaore's downfall, the 13 bodies were exhumed from a cemetery on the outskirts of the city for an investigation.

It led to a lengthy trial that culminated in April 2022 in life terms in absentia for Compaore and the suspected hit squad leader, and a similar term for a detained general who had been army commander at the time.

In the light of this trial, the 13 should be buried "honorably," Friday's statement said.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked state in the heart of West Africa's Sahel, is battling a seven-year-old jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven more than two million people from their homes.

Anger within the military at failures to stem the bloodshed helped spark two coups last year.

Abiy Holds First Tigray Meeting

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, left, addresses the parliament in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Nov. 15, 2022.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other government officials on Friday held their first meeting with Tigrayan leaders since a November peace deal, officials and state media said.

The meeting, which took place at a resort in southern Ethiopia, is where the two sides evaluated "actions carried out on the implementation of the Pretoria and Nairobi peace agreements so far" and discussed issues that "need further attention," according to the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

Abiy's national security adviser, Redwan Hussein, said on Twitter that Abiy and other government officials "met today and held discussion with TPLF delegation regarding the progress of the peace process."

"As a result, PM Abiy passed decisions about increasing Flights, Banking & other issues that would boost trust & ease lives of civilians," he tweeted.

A peace deal between Abiy's government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) signed in South Africa's capital Pretoria in November last year silenced the guns in northern Ethiopia.

Under the terms of the agreement, the TPLF agreed to disarm and re-establish the authority of the federal government in return for the restoration of access to Tigray, which was largely cut off from the outside world during the two-year war.

Since the deal was signed, there has been a limited resumption of aid deliveries to Tigray, which has long faced dire shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines.

Basic services such as communications, banking and electricity are slowly being restored to the stricken region of six million people, with the national carrier Ethiopian Airlines resuming commercial flights between Addis Ababa and Tigray's capital Mekele last month.

While the TPLF announced it has begun disarming, local residents and aid workers say the Eritrean army and forces from the neighboring region of Amhara remain in parts of Tigray and accuse them of murder, rape and looting.

Access to Tigray is restricted, and it is impossible to independently verify the situation on the ground.

Saturday Summit on DRC Violence

FILE: East African leaders are expected to travel to Burundi on Saturday for a summit on the conflict in eastern DR Congo, officials said on Friday, February 3, 2023.

East African leaders are expected to travel to Burundi on Saturday for a summit on the conflict in eastern DRC, officials said on Friday.

A diplomat in the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed a meeting was due to take place.

No official announcement has yet been made, but a presidency official said that President Felix Tshisekedi would attend talks in Burundi hosted by the East African Community (EAC).

It is not yet clear which other EAC leaders will attend the summit in Burundi's capital Bujumbura.

Militias have plagued eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for decades, many of which are a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Since November 2021, M23 rebels have also seized swathes of territory in the turbulent region and come within miles (kilometres) of its main commercial hub Goma.

The DRC accuses its smaller central African nation Rwanda of backing the M23, something United Nations experts, the United States and other western countries agree with.

Rwanda denies the charge.

The EAC decided to create a military force to pacify eastern Congo last year, with the first troops arriving in Goma in November.

The force is permitted to use force to dislodge M23 fighters but it has not yet done so.

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