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Burkina Faso's junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore attends the first ordinary summit of heads of state and governments of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in Niamey, Niger July 6, 2024.

REUTERS/ Mahamadou Hamidou

Hard Numbers: Coup bloc, Gaza school bombed, Ukraine in the dark, Tesla in China, Six days in Greece

3: Junta leaders from Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso announced Saturday they would form their own international bloc and “irrevocably” turn away from ECOWAS, just ahead of the latter’s summit on Sunday. Burkina Faso’s President Ibrahim Traoré claimed the new alliance would stand up to Western influence in Africa, saying “These imperialists have only one cliché in mind: ‘Africa is the empire of slaves’.”

16: An Israeli attack on a UNRWA school in Gaza killed at least 16 people and wounded 50 on Saturday, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. UNRWA officials said at least 500 people have now been killed while sheltering in its facilities in Gaza, but Israel claims Hamas often uses the facilities as operating bases, essentially positioning civilians as human shields.

100,000: Russian airstrikes on power infrastructure in northern Ukraine left over 100,000 households in the dark on Saturday night. Targeting energy plants and transmission equipment has become a key strategy for Russia in its attempts to damage civilian morale in Ukraine, and the country’s energy utility says it has lost nine gigawatts of power capacity over the last three months — enough to power the entire Netherlands.

947,000: Tesla has officially been added to a list of approved government vehicle purchases in the Chinese province of Jiangsu, the only foreign-owned EV manufacturer on the list. However, the company manufactured over 947,000 cars at its Shanghai factory last year, most of which were sold in China.

6: Greece is experimenting with a six-day workweek, which allows firms that operate 24 hours a day to schedule employees to work up to eight hours at 40% overtime on the sixth day after a regular 40-hour workweek. They also have the option to spread 40 hours across six 6.5-hour work days. Workers are critical of the new rules, which seem to run against positive experiences some countries have had with four-day workweeks.

60-year-old Alejandra Rodriguez represented the Argentinian province of Buenos Aires in the Miss Argentina 2024 beauty pageant.

DPA via Reuters

Hard Numbers: Argentina’s best face, Deadly US storms, Terror in Nigeria, Monarchy defamation in Thailand, Social media scrub in China

60: Age before beauty? Not anymore – now the two go hand in hand. Alejandra Rodriguez, a 60-year-old Argentine beauty queen, became the first sexagenarian to win the title of Miss Buenos Aires. Although she didn’t snag the crown of Miss Argentina – that went to Magalí Benejam – Rodriguez won the “best face” category. “This is the first step of a change that is coming,” she declared, celebrating the Miss Universe rule change that allowed women of any age to compete.

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Members of civilian joint task force patrol in Maiduguri May 22, 2014. Civilian joint task force are government-sponsored civilian self-defence and community-policing groups within Borno state that some locals said have brought security to Maiduguri, according to local government officials.

REUTERS/Joe Penney

Hard Numbers: Nigerian troops killed by gangs, Americans set to leave Niger and Chad, Russia arrests journalists, Zelensky appeals for aid

23: At least 23 members of Nigeria's civilian joint task force were killed Saturday in attacks by militants and an armed kidnapping gang in the northern part of the country. Suspected Islamic State West Africa Province fighters targeted a vehicle with an improvised explosive device in Borno state, killing nine, and another 14 members were ambushed and killed in Sokoto state by gunmen.

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Nigeriens gather in a street to protest against the U.S. military presence, in Niamey, Niger April 13, 2024.

REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou

Niger Pivots from the Eagle to the Bear

Hundreds demonstrated in Niger's capital, Niamey, on Saturday to demand the removal of US troops, much as they called for the exit of French forces last year. Niger’s military coup in July 2023 has brought changes to the central African nation, including a shift in military alliances. The nation is deepening its relationship with Moscow, as evidenced bythe arrival last week of Russian military trainers tasked with bolstering Niger’s air defenses.

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File Photo: Nigerien troops, May 23, 2022.

Michael Kappeler/dpa via Reuters

Niger wants US troops out

Niger’s military junta announced Saturday that it would end the agreement that allows US troops to operate in the country. Niamey said the pact was “profoundly unfair,” and cited a “condescending attitude” and alleged violations of diplomatic protocol during a high-level visit last week.

Washington has been trying to find ways to work with the military governments that have seized power in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali to combat extremist militants in the region. But at the same time, the Biden administration has pressured Niamey to set a timeline to restore democratic control and reportedly raised alarm at a possible deal to sell uranium to Iran, which seems to have led to the rupture.

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An Afghan security force personnel keeps watch near his check post in Parun, capital of Nuristan province, Afghanistan November 20, 2016.

REUTERS/Hamid Shalizi

Hard Numbers: Landslide tragedy in Afghanistan, Credit card mega deal, Debt default in Niger, Gun violence in New Guinea, EU takes on TikTok, Chinese New Year blowout, Japan crazy for food carts

25: Twenty-five people have died and twenty homes were destroyed in a landslide triggered by heavy rain and snow in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan province. Harsh winter weather, difficult terrain, and a lack of resources are hampering rescue efforts for those still trapped.

35,300,000,000: Capital One will merge with credit card network Discover in an all-stock deal valued at $35.3 billion dollars, expected to close in late 2024 or early 2025. The merger would render the combined firm the largest US credit card company by loan volume, but consumer advocates say the deal raises antitrust concerns.

519,000,000: The West African nation of Niger has defaulted on another debt payment, bringing its total debt default to $519 million since a military coup last July, according to the West African monetary union debt management agency UMOA Titres. Niger’s recent missed payment of $22 million is but the latest challenge faced by the Sahel nation, including suspended international aid, closed borders, and a possible currency change.

26: Twenty-six people were killed in a tribal ambush in a community dispute in Papua New Guinea's Highlands region. The area has traditionally struggled with violence, but a recent influx of illegal firearms have made clashes more deadly.

6: The EU could take a big bite out of ByteDance, parent company of social media giant TikTok. The company could be subject to a fine of 6% of its global turnover if found to have violated EU online content rules, particularly regarding the protection of minors and advertising transparency.

474,000,000: Now that’s a holiday! During China’s eight-day Lunar New Year celebrations, Chinese travelers were on the move, taking 474 million domestic trips, up 19% from 2019, and splashing out spending of 632.7 billion yuan (US$87.9 billion), up 7.7% from pre-pandemic levels.

100,000: Japan's latest craze? Snagging a bullet train food cart for your kitchen or canteen. After Central Japan Railway decided to discontinue the use of its 50 iconic snack-mobiles, it was swamped with nearly 2,000 bids at $100,000 yen (US$666) a pop, proving that the race for train memorabilia is just as fast-paced as the shinkansen line itself.

FILE PHOTO: Russian officers from the Wagner Group are seen around Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera, as they are part of the presidential security system during the referendum campaign to change the constitution and remove term limits, in Bangui, Central African Republic July 16, 2023.

REUTERS/Leger Kokpakpa

Have gun, will travel? Russia wants you in Africa

Moscow has reportedly begun recruiting 20,000 soldiers to be deployed to at least five Russia-aligned African countries to replace Wagner Group mercenaries previously stationed there as Russia deepens its influence on the continent.

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Supporters of Burkina Faso's junta attend a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the coup that brought Captain Ibrahim Traore to power in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Sept. 29, 2023.

REUTERS/ Yempabou Ouoba

ECOWAS “officially” loses three junta-run states

Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger say they have withdrawn from West Africa’s largest political bloc – but the Economic Community of West African States says it hasn’t received the paperwork. It won’t matter much in the short term because all three were already suspended by ECOWAS following military coups in their countries. Big picture? The move underlines an emerging cleavage in international alignment between the Sahel, trending toward Russia, and the coastal states with stronger ties to the US and Western Europe.
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