SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland Islands Becomes UK’s First Vertical Rocket Launch Site

The SaxaVord Spaceport, located on the small island of Unst in the Shetland Islands, has received approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to become the UK’s first spaceport for vertical rocket launches. The site is set to begin launches in 2024 and will be the first fully-licensed spaceport in Western Europe capable of launching rockets vertically into orbit.

The SaxaVord Spaceport has been granted permission to conduct up to 30 launches per year, with the primary purpose of deploying satellites and other payloads into space. The spaceport, which is the first of its kind in Scotland, has attracted several launch operators from around the world who are currently developing rockets.

German rocket firm HyImpulse is expected to attempt sub-orbital launches from SaxaVord starting in August. Subsequently, full orbital launches are planned to commence in 2025. Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), another German company, also has plans for orbital launches from the spaceport. Additionally, Lockheed Martin/ABL Space Systems is preparing for the official UK Government Pathfinder launch from SaxaVord.

Skyrora, an Edinburgh-based company, aims to be the first UK firm to conduct launches from British soil in the near future. The SaxaVord Spaceport, originally a former RAF radar station, is co-owned by Frank and Debbie Strang. The couple purchased the site 15 years ago with initial plans to develop it into an eco-tourism attraction.

Mr. Strang expressed his excitement about the awarding of the license, describing it as a “historic” moment. He emphasized the team’s pride in being entrusted with the operation of a complex and multi-launch spaceport. The space industry in the UK is estimated to be worth £17.5 billion and supports tens of thousands of jobs across thousands of firms.

The CAA’s decision to grant SaxaVord its license is seen as a significant milestone for the UK space sector. Tim Johnson, the director of space regulation at the CAA, stated that this marks a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon be launching satellites into orbit from Scotland. The UK Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, believes that this announcement will boost the economy of Shetland and position the United Kingdom as a leader in spaceflight innovation.

Last week, the UK Space Agency also announced funding of over £6.7 million to further support Scotland’s spaceport ambitions. With five proposed spaceports under development in Scotland, including the Sutherland Spaceport and plans for additional spaceports in North Uist, Glasgow Prestwick, and Spaceport Machrihanish, the country is positioning itself to play a significant role in the burgeoning space industry.

The granting of the license to SaxaVord Spaceport represents a significant step forward for the UK’s space capabilities. As preparations continue and the spaceport begins operations in 2024, the UK is poised to enter a new era of space exploration and satellite deployment, further solidifying its position as a key player in the global space race.


Source: BBC

African Union Transition Mission Resumes Handover of Security Responsibilities to Somali Government Forces

African Union Transition Mission Resumes Handover Of Security Responsibilities To Somali Government Forces

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has resumed the process of handing over security responsibilities to Somali government forces after a three-month pause, according to officials. The handover includes control of the State House, also known as Villa Somalia, where Somali President Mohammed Hassan Sheikh Mohamud resides and works, as well as the parliament building.

Since 2007, AU forces have been working alongside Somali forces to secure strategic sites in the capital, Mogadishu, including the presidential palace, parliament building, airport, and seaport. However, Somali forces now assume sole responsibility for these key seats of the executive and legislative branches of government.

In an interview with VOA Somali, Mohamed El-Amine Souef, the AU envoy to Somalia and the head of ATMIS, confirmed the resumption of the drawdown. He expressed that the handover of the State House and the parliament marks a significant achievement and a positive signal to international partners that the Federal Government of Somalia is ready to take on its responsibilities.

As part of the drawdown, the mission plans to withdraw 3,000 soldiers by December 31st, and the responsibility for ten bases will be handed over in this phase. The first phase of the AU drawdown was completed in June when 2,000 troops left Somalia. However, in September, the Somali government requested a 90-day pause due to military setbacks in the fight against al-Shabab militants.

Hussein Sheikh-Ali, the national security adviser to the president of Somalia, confirmed the transfer of the presidential palace to the Somali army and police and expressed gratitude to the Ugandan forces who protected it for the past 16 years.

The recent lifting of an arms embargo has provided a boost to the Somali government’s efforts. Souef stated that the Somali authorities now have the capability to acquire the necessary arms, equipment, and ammunition to effectively combat the enemy.

Looking ahead, plans are in motion for a new mission to support Somalia’s national army beyond the ATMIS handover. Souef explained that the African Union is required to establish a new mission with a new mandate by January 1, 2025. This mission, which will have a combination of troops and civilians, will focus on capacity building, protection of populated areas and strategic infrastructure in Mogadishu and other capitals of federal member states.

While the specifics of the new mission are still being negotiated, Hussein Sheikh-Ali revealed that the Somali government is discussing the establishment of a multilateral protection force that will work closely with the Somali Security Forces to safeguard critical infrastructures in major cities where international agencies and embassies operate. The possibility of the new mission falling under the AU umbrella has not been ruled out.

As the ATMIS drawdown continues and plans for the future mission progress, the African Union’s commitment to supporting Somalia remains steadfast. The transition may mark a new chapter in Somalia’s security landscape, but it does not signify the end of AU engagement in the country.


Source: VOA

ECOWAS Court Orders Immediate Release and Reinstatement of Niger’s Deposed President

Ecowas Court Orders Immediate Release And Reinstatement Of Niger's Deposed President

In a significant ruling, the ECOWAS Court of Justice has called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Mohamed Bazoum, the deposed President of Niger, and ordered his reinstatement. The court’s judgment, delivered in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, declared that Bazoum represented the state of Niger and remained the President of the republic.

Following a military coup that overthrew Bazoum, Niger was suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Bazoum and his family were detained, with the former President being held in his presidential residence. The court ruling highlighted the violation of constitutional rights and emphasized the need for Bazoum’s release.

Niger’s military rulers have yet to respond to the court’s decision. It is worth noting that some member states have previously disregarded rulings from the ECOWAS court. In mid-September, Bazoum appealed to the court to secure his release and the restoration of constitutional order in the country. The ruling from the ECOWAS Court of Justice is considered final and not subject to appeal.

Bazoum’s collective of lawyers welcomed the court’s decision, emphasizing that it was the first time military authorities involved in a coup d’état were convicted for violating ECOWAS constitutional principles. The lawyers stressed that ECOWAS and its member states had a responsibility to ensure the effective implementation of the court’s ruling.

ECOWAS has already suspended Niger from all decision-making bodies until constitutional order is restored. The regional organization had imposed economic and financial sanctions against Niger following the coup but has since resumed dialogue with the military regime. Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey, who mediated discussions in Niamey, announced that an agreement on the transition back to civilian rule had been reached with Niger’s Prime Minister, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine.

Details of the transition, including its duration and specific steps, have yet to be disclosed. Dussey stated that the agreed-upon content and timing of the transition would be presented to the mediating heads of state and the ECOWAS Commission. The diplomatic efforts are aimed at facilitating a short transition period leading to the return of civilian rule in Niger.

An ECOWAS summit held in Abuja earlier this year paved the way for potential relaxation of sanctions against Niger, conditional on a swift transition back to civilian governance. A heads-of-state committee comprising representatives from Benin, Togo, and Sierra Leone will engage in negotiations with the Nigerien military regime to determine the necessary steps for the potential easing of sanctions.

General Abdourahamane Tiani, the head of the military regime, previously stated that the transition would not exceed three years and would be determined through an inclusive national dialogue. The outcome of ongoing negotiations and the subsequent transition will shape the future trajectory of Niger’s political landscape.


Source: France24

Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Residents to Enjoy Free Weekend Bus Travel in January

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In a move aimed at boosting city centre footfall and providing relief during a typically tight financial period, First Bus and Stagecoach have announced that all residents of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will be offered free weekend bus travel throughout the month of January. The bus companies attribute this initiative to the positive impact of the controversial city bus gates, which have generated savings for the firms.

Earlier this year, the introduction of bus gates on Bridge Street, Guild Street, and Market Street sparked outrage and a petition signed by thousands of individuals. Critics argued that the bus gates hindered drivers’ access to the struggling city centre, limiting support for local businesses by cutting off various driving routes. However, First Bus and Stagecoach have asserted that these measures have already accelerated journey times for over 600,000 people each month in the city centre.

In a joint statement, the bus companies expressed their commitment to reinvesting the savings derived from the bus priority measures into customer benefits. They also emphasized the goal of encouraging more people to utilize buses, particularly in January when financial constraints are commonly felt. The offer of free travel in Aberdeen throughout the month is intended to alleviate some of these pressures.

Graeme Macfarlan, commercial director for First Bus Scotland, expressed delight at providing free travel and highlighted the positive implications for individuals navigating the city. Macfarlan emphasized the importance of sustainable, reliable, and affordable transport in ensuring the success of any city centre. He also mentioned the companies’ efforts toward zero-emission transportation, with nearly 50 such vehicles currently operating in the city on a daily basis.

David Beaton, managing director for Stagecoach North Scotland, emphasized the collaborative approach between local public transport providers to secure a prosperous future for Aberdeen. Beaton stated that the initiative aimed to provide a boost to the city centre during a challenging time of the year for both customers and local businesses. Moreover, the promotion seeks to encourage a shift toward more sustainable forms of transportation.

Residents will be able to enjoy free bus travel on the specified dates in January, which include the 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 20th, 21st, 27th, and 28th. Concession card holders will still be required to scan their cards during the promotional period. This initiative represents a joint effort by First Bus and Stagecoach to support the community, promote sustainable transport, and stimulate the local economy during the winter season.


Source: Aberdeen Live

Venezuela and Guyana Agree to Peaceful Resolution in Long-standing Border Dispute

Venezuela And Guyana Agree To Peaceful Resolution In Long Standing Border Dispute

In a significant development aimed at deescalating tensions, Venezuela and Guyana have reached an agreement to avoid the use of force and threats in their ongoing dispute over the resource-rich territory of Essequibo. The region, known for its enormous oil reserves, has been at the centre of contention since Venezuela revived its claim to the land following the discovery of oil off its coast in 2015.

The Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, and his Guyanese counterpart, Mohamed Irfaan Ali, reaffirmed their commitment to “good neighbourliness” and “peaceful coexistence” during a tense meeting held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday. They jointly declared that neither country would resort to force or threats against each other, even in relation to existing controversies between them.

To address matters concerning Essequibo, both leaders agreed to establish a joint commission comprising foreign ministers and officials from both countries. This commission will serve as a platform for dialogue and negotiation in resolving the long-standing dispute. Furthermore, Maduro and Ali announced their intention to meet again in Brazil within the next three months to continue discussions and seek comprehensive solutions.

Expressing his satisfaction with the meeting, President Maduro thanked President Ali for his candidness and willingness to engage in broad dialogue. Through Bolivarian Peace Diplomacy, Maduro emphasized the importance of raising historical reasons, seeking understanding, and finding a peaceful resolution to the controversy over Essequibo.

The dispute over Essequibo dates back over a century, but tensions have escalated recently, particularly after Venezuela claimed sovereignty over the region following a disputed referendum. On December 4, Venezuelan voters approved the referendum, leading to outcry in Guyana. The territory of Essequibo was awarded to Britain in 1899 by an international arbitral tribunal when Guyana was still under colonial rule. However, Venezuela has persistently disputed this decision, with President Maduro accusing Guyana, the United States, and oil firms of engaging in “legal colonialism” and robbing Venezuela of its rightful territory.

Guyana, on the other hand, maintains that the arbitral award is legally binding and sought the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018 to settle the matter definitively. Just recently, on December 1, the ICJ ordered Venezuela to refrain from taking any actions that would alter Guyana’s control over Essequibo.

With this recent agreement and commitment to peaceful dialogue, Venezuela and Guyana have taken a significant step towards resolving their long-standing border dispute. The establishment of a joint commission and the planned future meetings demonstrate a willingness to find a mutually acceptable solution and promote regional stability in South America.


Source: CNBC

Kuwait and Seychelles Discuss Visa Waiver Agreement and Air Link to Boost Travel

Kuwait And Seychelles Discuss Visa Waiver Agreement And Air Link To Boost Travel

In a meeting held at State House on Thursday, Mubarak Mohammad Alsehaijan, the Ambassador of Kuwait to Seychelles, paid a courtesy call on President Wavel Ramkalawan to discuss various areas of cooperation between the two countries. One of the key topics on the agenda was the possibility of implementing a visa waiver agreement and establishing an air link to facilitate increased travel between Kuwait and Seychelles.

The proposed visa waiver agreement aims to allow visa-free travel for citizens of both countries, promoting easier and more seamless movement between the two nations. Ambassador Alsehaijan expressed optimism that this agreement could be realized within the next two years, which would significantly enhance travel and tourism opportunities.

During the meeting, both sides acknowledged the importance of fostering stronger ties between Kuwait and Seychelles. The establishment of an air link was seen as a crucial step in realizing this goal, as it would facilitate the movement of travellers and promote economic growth in sectors such as trade and tourism.

Seychelles, an archipelago located in the western Indian Ocean, established diplomatic relations with Kuwait on July 11, 1988. Over the years, the cooperation between the two countries has primarily cantered around the Kuwait Fund, which has provided financial assistance to support Seychelles’ development projects. Projects related to fisheries, sewage, and infrastructure have received funding totalling $12 million, with an additional $1.5 million in grants.

In a separate meeting earlier this week, Ambassador Alsehaijan met with Seychelles’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sylvestre Radegonde. Discussions focused on the potential signing of a general cooperation agreement, which would establish a framework for collaboration in various mutually beneficial areas. The ambassador highlighted the potential for Kuwaiti investors to contribute to Seychelles’ trade and tourism sectors, suggesting the organization of a visit by representatives from the private sector in both countries, facilitated by the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce.

The field of tourism, a key contributor to the Seychelles economy, was also a topic of discussion during the meetings. Both sides recognized the importance of strengthening cooperation in this sector to further enhance the tourism offerings and attract visitors from Kuwait to Seychelles and vice versa.

As the discussions progress, the governments of Kuwait and Seychelles are hopeful that the proposed visa waiver agreement and air link will pave the way for increased bilateral cooperation and foster closer ties between the two nations.


Source: Seychelles News Agency

United States Ready to Resume Cooperation with Niger on the Condition of Swift Transition from Military Regime

U.s Secretary Of State Antony Blinken At The Diori Hamani International Airport In Niamey

In a statement made on Wednesday in Niamey, the United States expressed its willingness to renew cooperation with Niger, contingent upon the military regime that seized power in a coup at the end of July committing to a notably brief transition period.

Following the July 26 coup that ousted elected President Mohamed Bazoum, Washington suspended its cooperation with Niger. However, during her visit to Niamey, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs held discussions with several Nigerien officials, including Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, who was appointed by the military.

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State emphasised the necessity for the Nigerien military to announce “a deadline for a rapid and credible transition” leading to the establishment of a democratically elected government. She stated to the press on Wednesday, “We have confirmed that we are ready to resume our cooperation if the CNSP (military regime) takes the steps I have outlined.”

The military regime has proposed a maximum three-year transition period before transferring power back to civilians, with the duration to be determined through a national dialogue that will be convened imminently.

Regarding the fate of former President Mohamed Bazoum, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Ms. Phee, indicated that they have “agreed to reach a satisfactory solution” for him, his family, and members of his government. Since the coup, Bazoum has been confined to his residence along with his wife and son, while several former dignitaries have either been arrested or fled the country.

On Sunday, Ms. Phee participated in a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) presidents in Abuja, where the organization maintained strict economic and financial sanctions imposed on Niger following the coup. The easing of these sanctions is conditioned upon a notably “short transition.”

“I encourage the CNSP (military regime) to respond positively to the ECOWAS offer for negotiation; the United States supports the resolutions of the regional organisation,” clarified the U.S. diplomat.

Additionally, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, is expected to present her credentials to the authorities soon, as confirmed by Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakary Yaou Sangaré in early December. The arrival of the ambassador further signals the United States’ commitment to engaging with Niger and fostering diplomatic relations.


Source: Africa News

Israeli Leaders Defiant, Vow to Continue Gaza Strip War Despite Mounting International Pressure

Israeli Leaders Defiant, Vow To Continue Gaza Strip War Despite Mounting International Pressure

In the face of increasing international pressure, including from key ally the United States, Israeli leaders affirmed on Wednesday their determination to press ahead with the ongoing Gaza Strip war, now in its third month. The conflict was sparked by the unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas, which Israeli officials claim resulted in the deaths of 1,200 individuals, predominantly civilians.

The war has inflicted severe devastation upon Gaza, leaving more than 18,600 people dead, with women and children constituting the majority of the casualties, according to the health ministry. Infrastructure, including roads, schools, and hospitals, has been decimated, and the scale of destruction has been described as “unparalleled.”

Despite the UN General Assembly’s recent overwhelming endorsement of a non-binding resolution calling for a ceasefire, Gaza has continued to witness fresh strikes and intense battles. Reportedly, the heaviest fighting has been concentrated in Gaza City, the largest urban center, as well as in Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south, according to correspondents from AFP.

The already dire situation has been compounded by wintery rains that have battered the territory. The UN estimates that out of Gaza’s 2.4 million population, 1.9 million people have been displaced, forced to live in makeshift tents as essential supplies such as food, drinking water, medicines, and fuel dwindle. Concerns about the spread of diseases, including meningitis, jaundice, and respiratory tract infections, have also intensified, as per the warning issued by the UN.

Ameen Edwan, a resident of Gaza, shared the harsh realities faced by the displaced population, recounting how rainwater seeped into their makeshift shelter at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital. With a shortage of nylon covers, they resorted to using stones and sand to keep the water out, highlighting the desperate conditions faced by those affected.

The World Health Organization reported that only 107 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza from Egypt, a significant drop from the daily average of 500 before the events of October 7. This limited flow of aid exacerbates the challenges faced by the beleaguered population, further straining their access to essential resources.

As the conflict persists, the international community grapples with finding a resolution to the longstanding crisis. The determination of Israeli leaders to continue with the war in the face of mounting international pressure further underscores the complexity and gravity of the situation, leaving the people of Gaza in a state of uncertainty and anguish.


Source: The New Arab

Kenyan Government Implements Measures to Boost Diaspora Investment and Employment Opportunities

Kenyan Government Implements Measures To Boost Diaspora Investment And Employment Opportunities

President William Ruto has announced the implementation of robust measures aimed at promoting local investment by the Kenyan Diaspora. Recognising the significant role that Kenyans living abroad play in the country’s development, President Ruto highlighted their contributions, particularly through remittances, which have surpassed the performance of major exports.

During the Diaspora Investment Conference held in Nairobi on Wednesday, President Ruto expressed the government’s commitment to creating a seamless network that facilitates, promotes, and supports Diaspora investment in Kenya. Emphasising the importance of harnessing the potential of Kenyans abroad, he outlined plans to leverage their knowledge, skills, and technology transfer for the benefit of the nation.

The government is implementing the Global Labour Market Strategy, aiming to facilitate employment opportunities for Kenyan youth abroad. This strategy seeks to connect skilled Kenyan workers with international job markets, enabling them to contribute to the economy while gaining valuable experience. President Ruto highlighted that this initiative would not only benefit individuals but also promote the transfer of knowledge and technology upon their return to Kenya.

In addition to fostering employment opportunities, President Ruto announced the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to attract foreign direct investments and expand job prospects within the country. The government has allocated funds for infrastructure development in six SEZs, aiming to create an environment that offers incentives to investors while enhancing Kenya’s manufacturing and export capacities.

“Our goal is to expand job opportunities both locally and abroad for our youth,” President Ruto affirmed. By promoting Diaspora investment and establishing SEZs, the government aims to stimulate economic growth, create employment opportunities, and strengthen Kenya’s position as a favourable investment destination.

The measures announced by President Ruto underscore the government’s commitment to leveraging the potential of the Kenyan Diaspora for the country’s development. By fostering collaboration and creating supportive frameworks, the government aims to harness the skills, knowledge, and financial resources of Kenyans abroad to drive economic progress and empower the nation’s youth.


Source: Kenya Presidency

Rwandans to Cast Votes in July 2024 Elections, as President Kagame Seeks Fourth Term

Rwandans To Cast Votes In July 2024 Elections, As President Kagame Seeks Fourth Term

The National Electoral Commission of Rwanda has announced that the country’s citizens will head to the polls on July 15, 2024, to elect their next deputies and president. The upcoming elections will see the current head of state, Paul Kagame, vying for a fourth term as president. Kagame, who has been the de facto leader of Rwanda since the end of the 1994 genocide, secured over 90% of the vote in the previous elections held in 2003, 2010, and 2017.

The Electoral Commission revealed that the election will encompass the selection of the President of the Republic and 53 deputies from a list proposed by political organisations or independent candidates. Campaigning for the candidates will be permitted from June 22 to July 12, allowing them to present their visions and engage with the electorate.

In addition to the presidential and deputy elections, electoral colleges and committees will also choose twenty-four women parliamentarians, two youth representatives, and one representative for Rwandans with disabilities on July 16, according to the Electoral Commission.

President Kagame, in September, announced his candidacy for a fourth term, expressing gratitude for the confidence Rwandans have shown in him. He stated, “I am happy with the confidence Rwandans have shown in me. I will always serve them, as long as I can.” Controversial constitutional amendments made in the past enabled Kagame to win a third term and could potentially allow him to govern until 2034. He was re-elected as the head of his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), at its national congress in April.

While the government touts Rwanda as one of the most stable countries in Africa, some human rights groups accuse President Kagame of governing in an environment of fear that stifles dissent and freedom of expression. The country’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2023 World Press Freedom Index stands at 131st out of 180 countries.

The opposition Green Party’s leader, Frank Habineza, is currently the only other candidate to have announced his candidacy for the 2024 elections.

Rwanda’s political landscape remains significant in the context of the country’s history, with the genocide that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in 1994. President Kagame, who was instrumental in ending the genocide, has faced criticism for alleged human rights abuses and the stifling of political opposition during his tenure.

As the election date approaches, Rwandans will have the opportunity to make their voices heard and shape the future direction of their country through the democratic process.


Source: Africa News