Business and Technology
Russia Pulling Out of ISS
Moscow said on Tuesday it was leaving the International Space Station "after 2024", amid tensions with the West, in a move analysts warned could lead to a halt to Russian manned flights.
The official confirmation of Moscow's move to end participation in the ISS after 2024 comes amid friction between the Kremlin and the West over Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine and several rounds of devastating sanctions against Russia, including its space sector.
"Of course, we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made," Yury Borisov, the new head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, told President Vladimir Putin, according to a Kremlin account of their meeting.
"I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station," Borisov added, calling it the domestic space program's main "priority."
"Good," Putin replied.
Space experts said Russia's departure from the International Space Station would seriously affect the country's space sector and deal a major blow to its program of manned flights, a major source of Russian pride.
The ISS is due to be retired after 2024, although US space agency NASA says it can remain operational until 2030.
Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS for NASA, when asked whether she wanted the US-Russia space relationship to end, she replied: "No, absolutely not."
Until now, space exploration has been one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.
Space expert Vadim Lukashevich said space science cannot flourish in a heavily sanctioned country.
"If the ISS ceases to exist in 2024, we will have nowhere to fly," Lukashevich told AFP. "At stake is the very preservation of manned flights in Russia, the birthplace of cosmonautics."
Pointing to Russia's growing scientific and technological isolation, Lukashevich said the authorities could not plan more than several months in advance and added that even if Russia builds an orbiting station, it would be a throwback to the 1980s.
"It will be archaic, like an old woman's flat, with a push-button telephone and a record-player," he said.
Space analyst Vitaly Yegorov struck a similar note, saying it was next to impossible to build a new orbiting station from scratch in a few years.
"Neither in 2024, nor in 2025, nor in 2026 will there be a Russian orbital station," Yegorov told AFP.
He added that creating a fully-fledged space station would take at least a decade of "the most generous funding".
Yegorov said Russia's departure from the ISS meant Moscow might have to put on ice its program of manned flights "for several years" or even "indefinitely".
The move could also see Russia abandon its chief spaceport, Baikonur, which it is renting from Kazakhstan, Yegorov said.
Experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Borisov, appointed in mid-July, replaced Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand politician known for his bombastic statements.
Rogozin had previously warned that without cooperation from Moscow, the ISS could de-orbit and fall on US or European territory.
In a possible sign of disagreement with Borisov, Vladimir Solovyov, chief designer at spacecraft manufacturer Energia, said Russia should not rush to quit the ISS.
"If we halt manned flights for several years, then it will be very difficult to restore what has been achieved," he was quoted as telling the Russky Cosmos magazine.
"We haven't received any official word from the partner (Russia) as to the news today," director of the ISS for NASA, Robyn Gatens, said during a conference on the outpost.
Gatens was responding to an announcement by newly appointed Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov.
"Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made," Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station," Borisov added, calling it the space program's main "priority."
"Good," Putin replied in comments released by the Kremlin.
NASA itself plans to retire the ISS -- a symbol of post Cold War unity -- after 2030 as it transitions to working with commercial space stations, and Gatens suggested Russia might be thinking about its own transition.
Asked whether she wanted the US-Russia space relationship to end, she replied: "No, absolutely not."
"They have been good partners, as all of our partners are, and we want to continue together as the partnership to continue operating space station through the decade."
Until now, space exploration was one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.
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Africa Air Controllers Pause Strike
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
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
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
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
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."