Mourners Hail Dead Russian Mercenary Prigozhin as Hero of the People

People visit a makeshift memorial for Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in central Moscow on October 1, 2023, to mark 40 days since his death as per Orthodox tradition. (AFP)
People visit a makeshift memorial for Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in central Moscow on October 1, 2023, to mark 40 days since his death as per Orthodox tradition. (AFP)
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Mourners Hail Dead Russian Mercenary Prigozhin as Hero of the People

People visit a makeshift memorial for Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in central Moscow on October 1, 2023, to mark 40 days since his death as per Orthodox tradition. (AFP)
People visit a makeshift memorial for Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in central Moscow on October 1, 2023, to mark 40 days since his death as per Orthodox tradition. (AFP)

At memorials to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in an unexplained plane crash exactly 40 days ago, dozens of mourners hailed the mutinous mercenary chief as a patriotic hero of Russia who had spoken truth to power.

The private Embraer jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St Petersburg crashed north of Moscow killing all 10 people on board on Aug. 23, including two other top Wagner figures, Prigozhin's four bodyguards and a crew of three.

It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash two months to the day since Prigozhin's failed mutiny. The Kremlin said on Aug. 30 that investigators were considering the possibility that the plane was downed on purpose.

At his grave in the former imperial capital of St Petersburg, his mother, Violetta, and his son, Pavel, laid flowers. Supporters waved the black flags of Wagner which sport a skull and the motto "Blood, Honor, Motherland, Courage".

In eastern Orthodoxy, it is believed that the soul makes its final journey to either heaven or hell on the 40th day after death.

At memorials in Moscow and other Russian cities dozens of Wagner fighters and ordinary Russians paid their respects, though there was no mass outpouring of grief. Russian state television was silent.

"He can be criticized for certain events, but he was a patriot who defended the motherland's interests on different continents," Wagner's recruitment arm said in a statement on Telegram.

"He was charismatic and importantly he was close to the fighters and to the people. And that's why he became popular both in Russia and abroad," it said.

Prigozhin's mutiny posed the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin's rule since the former KGB spy rose to power in 1999. Western diplomats say it exposed the strains on Russia of the war in Ukraine.

'Leader'

After months of insulting Putin's top brass with a variety of crude expletives and prison slang over their perceived failure to fight the Ukraine war properly, Prigozhin took control of the southern city of Rostov in late June.

His fighters shot down a number of Russian aircraft, killing their pilots, and advanced towards Moscow before turning back 200 km (125 miles) from the capital.

Putin initially cast Prigozhin as a traitor whose mutiny could have tipped Russia into civil war, though he later did a deal with him to defuse the crisis.

Mourners spoke of respect for Prigozhin.

"He was a real authority, a leader," Mikhail, a serviceman in Russia's armed forces who refused to give his second name, told Reuters.

Moscow resident Marta, who also refused to give her surname, said the people believed in Prigozhin but that Wagner had been "decapitated" by the deaths of him and co-founder Dmitry Utkin.

"Hope for justice died with him," she said. "People believed in him."

Pro-Wagner groups posted a video of Prigozhin flying to Mali where, after a thunderstorm, he met a senior commander known by his call sign "Lotus" - Anton Yelizarov - who is now reported to be leading the group.

Opponents such as the United States cast Wagner as a brutal crime group which plundered African states and meted out sledgehammer deaths to those who challenged it.

Putin was on Friday shown meeting one of the most senior former commanders of the Wagner mercenary group and discussing how best to use "volunteer units" in the Ukraine war.



Drive to End Global Hunger Has Stalled, United Nations Warns

A goal to eliminate global hunger by 2030 looks increasingly impossible to achieve today -(Reuters)
A goal to eliminate global hunger by 2030 looks increasingly impossible to achieve today -(Reuters)
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Drive to End Global Hunger Has Stalled, United Nations Warns

A goal to eliminate global hunger by 2030 looks increasingly impossible to achieve today -(Reuters)
A goal to eliminate global hunger by 2030 looks increasingly impossible to achieve today -(Reuters)

A goal to eliminate global hunger by 2030 looks increasingly impossible to achieve, with the number of people suffering chronic hunger barely changed over the past year, a UN report said on Wednesday.

The annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report said around 733 million people faced hunger in 2023 -- one in 11 people globally and one in five in Africa -- as conflict, climate change and economic crises take their toll.

David Laborde, director of the division within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which helps prepare the survey, said that although progress had been made in some regions, the situation had deteriorated at a global level.

"We are in a worse situation today than nine years ago when we launched this goal to eradicate hunger by 2030," he told Reuters, saying challenges such as climate change and regional wars had grown more severe than envisaged even a decade ago.

If current trends continue, about 582 million people will be chronically undernourished at the end of the decade, half of them in Africa, the report warned.

A broader objective to ensure regular access to adequate food has also stalled over the past three years, with 29% of the global population, or 2.33 billion people, experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity in 2023.

Underscoring stark inequalities, some 71.5% of people in low-income countries could not afford a healthy diet last year, against 6.3% in high-income countries.

While famines are easy to spot, poor nutrition is more insidious but can nonetheless scar people for life, stunting both the physical and mental development of babies and children, and leaving adults more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.

Laborde said international aid linked to food security and nutrition amounted to $76 billion a year, or 0.07% of the world's total annual economic output.

"I think we can do better to deliver this promise about living on a planet where no one is hungry," he said.

Regional trends varied significantly, with hunger continuing to rise in Africa, where growing populations, myriad wars and climate upheaval weighed heavily. By contrast, Asia has seen little change and Latin America has improved.

"South America has very developed social protection programs that allows them to target interventions so they can effectively move out of hunger in a very fast way," said FAO's chief economist Maximo Torero.

"In the case of Africa, we have not observed that."

The United Nations said the way the anti-hunger drive was financed had to change, with greater flexibility needed to ensure the countries most in need got help.

"We need to change how we do things to be better coordinated, to accept that not everyone should try to do everything but really be much more focused on what we are doing and where," said Laborde.

The report is compiled by the Rome-based FAO, the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development, its Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization and World Food Program.