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IAEA to Eyeball Ukraine Nuke

A view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Aug. 22, 2022.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday he was en route to inspect Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which has been targeted by fresh shelling over the past day, according to its operator.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has for months been asking to visit the site, warning of "the very real risk of a nuclear disaster".

On Monday Grossi said "the day has come" and that an IAEA support and assistance mission is "now on its way".

On Twitter the IAEA director general said the team from the UN nuclear watchdog would arrive at the power plant "later this week".

The United Nations has called for an end to all military activity in the area surrounding the complex.

Ukraine initially feared an IAEA visit would legitimize the Russian occupation of the site before finally supporting the idea of a mission.

The G7 industrial powers on Monday demanded access "without impediment" for the IAEA team.

They must be allowed to "engage directly, and without interference, with the Ukrainian personnel responsible for operating these facilities", the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group said in a statement.

But Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said in Stockholm: "This mission will be the hardest in the history of the IAEA, given the active combat activities undertaken by the Russian federation on the ground and also the very blatant way that Russia is trying to legitimize its presence".

Last week the advisor to the Ukrainian energy minister said she was skeptical the team would even reach the plant.

Advisor Lana Zerkal told Ukraine's Radio NV that Russia was "artificially creating all the conditions so that the mission will not reach the site", despite formally agreeing to the inspection.

Ukraine was the site of the world's worst nuclear catastrophe in 1986, when a reactor at the northern Chernobyl plant exploded and spewed radiation into the atmosphere.

Experts say any leak at Zaporizhzhia would more likely be on the scale of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Energoatom warned on Monday that any leak would scatter radiation over swathes of southern Ukraine and south-western regions of Russia.

Kyiv suspects Moscow intends to divert power from the Zaporizhzhia plant to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

But Russia insists Ukraine is responsible for shelling around the complex.

Russia's defense ministry said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had "shelled the territory of the station three times" from the town of Marganets across the Dnipro River.

The ministry accused Kyiv of "nuclear terrorism" and said shells had landed near areas storing fresh nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

Radiation levels at the plant "remain normal", it said.

But residents in the Ukraine-held areas around the plant are being equipped with iodine pills to reduce the medical risk of radiation in the event of a disaster.

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Africa Air Controllers Pause Strike

FILE: Representative illustration of an airliner taking off from an airport, with radar in the foreground. Taken 7.3.2002.

A 48-hour strike by air traffic controllers in West and Central Africa has been suspended, their union said on Saturday.

The Union of Air Traffic Controllers' Unions (USYCAA), which called the wildcat strike, said in a statement it decided suspend its strike notice for 10 days immediately so as to allow for negotiations.

The strike, which started on Friday, has disrupted flights across the region and left hundreds of passengers stranded at airports on Saturday.

"Air traffic services will be provided in all air spaces and airports managed by ASECNA from today Saturday, September 24, 2022 at 1200 GMT," the statement said.

The controllers work under the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA).

Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of the Senegalese air traffic controllers told Reuters that ASECNA staff demand better working and pay conditions. He said the Dakar airport air traffic controllers are short-staffed with only 60 people working when, he asserts, 80 are really needed.

Air Controller Strike Threatens Africa Travel

FILE: A picture taken on October 17, 2017 shows a general view of the Blaise Diagne International Airport in Diass, some 50 kms from Dakar. Taken 1.7.2017

A 48-hour strike planned by some staff of French-speaking West Africa and Madagascar aviation safety agency ASECNA starting on Friday, could impact some flight operations in the region, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.

ASECNA said two of its six flight information regions could be affected by the strike despite court decisions and government bans on the strike in Togo, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo and Senegal.

"ASECNA is under the threat of a strike decided by the Union of Trade Unions of Air Controllers, a clandestine organization which is not recognised by any of the member states of the agency," it said in the statement.

The 18-member states organisation manages air traffic control in an area covering 16.1 million square kilometres of airspace.

"The Niamey flight information region is expected to be impacted," ASECNA said, urging passengers to check updated flight information and so-called Notice-to-Airmen (NOTAM) it will publish on its website. It added that a Niger court decision on the legality of the strike was expected.

It added that there were also risks with the airspace controlled by the Brazzaville, Congo flight information region due to the planned strike. It gave no further details on the risks, but added that a Congo government decision was also expected.

On Thursday, a court in Senegal suspended the call to strike by air traffic controllers in Senegal and Ivory Coast, the agency said.

But Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of the striking Senegalese air traffic controllers told Reuters that they are maintaining their decision to go on strike from 0800 GMT on Friday.

Gomis said ASECNA staff are demanding better working and pay conditions. He said the Dakar airport Air traffic controllers are short-staffed with only 60 people working where 80 are really needed.

Dakar airport authorities could not be reached for comments.

South Africa Joins Rate Hike Round

FILE: South African 50 Rand currency note. Taken 4.5.2012

South Africa's central bank on Thursday raised its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to 6.25 percent in a bid to fight inflation. The move follows interest rate hikes by a number of other nations in recent days.

The rate hike follows a similar 0.75 percent boost in July -- the highest in a decade.

That, as inflation soared to 7.8 percent in July, near a 13-year record high.

The South African Reserve Bank, in announcing the hike, voiced concerns over high inflation and weak economic growth.

"The Monetary Policy Committee decided to increase the repurchase rate by 75 basis points to 6.25 percent per year," bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said.

"The level of the repurchase rate is now closer to the level prevailing before the start of the pandemic," he said.

The move is the fifth rate hike in a row.

Nigeria's Public Debt Grows

FILE: Nigeria's Central Bank headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. Taken 11.22.2020

Nigeria's total public debt rose 3% to $103.3 billion in the second quarter of this year, largely driven by local borrowing to finance the budget deficit, the Debt Management Office (DMO) said.

The DMO said in its latest data, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, that public debt increased from $100.07 billion as of March this year to $103.3 billion by the end of June.

Although the debt constitutes 23% of the country's gross domestic product - within the government's self-imposed limit of 40% - Nigeria's debt repayment costs are rising while revenues are shrinking.

Between January and April, Nigeria spent more money to service its debt than it raised as revenue.

Nigeria's deficit has grown this year due to the high cost of a fuel subsidy at a time when oil revenue has fallen due to crude theft and vandalism of pipelines.

Petro Nicking "Treason" - Nigerian Lawmaker

FILE: People gather at the site of an explosion at an illegal oil bunkering site in the Egbema local government area, Imo state, in southeastern Nigeria, 4.24.2022

Crude oil theft in Nigeria, which is blamed for throttling output and exports, is tantamount to treason that should be punished by the stiffest possible penalty, the Speaker of the House of Representatives said on Tuesday.

Femi Gbajabiamila said Nigeria's crude exports were at their lowest in two decades, blaming it on crude theft that he described as "treason against our country".

Oil production fell below 1 million barrels per day in August, figures from the regulator show.

"Those who seek to impoverish our country in this manner have declared war against the Nigerian people," he told legislators when reconvening the House of Representatives after a two-month break.

"The government's response must be sufficient to convince them of the error of their ways and deter others who might be tempted to join in their treason."

President Muhammadu Buhari last month expressed concern over large-scale theft of crude oil, saying it was affecting the country's revenue "enormously."

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