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Akshay Kumar to do a horror-comedy movie after 12 years

Monitoring Desk

MUMBAI: Akshay Kumar’s 2007 release Bhool Bhulaiyaa was loved by the audience. It managed to make the audience laugh as much as it spooked them out.

If we talk about the horror-comedy genre in recent times, Stree starring Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor is one film that gained a lot of appreciation last year. It is evident that the audience does love this genre if the film is made with the correct elements in place. And this year along with several big projects going on floors, Akshay’s next which is a horror-comedy will also go on floors this summer.

The film will be directed by Raghava Lawrence and is said to be inspired from two Tamil films Muni and Kanchana. The writers of the film are making sure that they create a double impact by mixing the stories of both the films and are also adding several new angles to the original film. A source close to the film informed a leading daily that Akshay’s character will be scared of ghosts in the film and thus his character will be shown never leaving his house after dark.  His character will, however, encounter a transgender ghost and that’s when the story will take a sharp turn.  The shooting of the film is expected to begin in April-end and will go on till mid of July. And the makers are looking for an early 2020 release for this horror-comedy.

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Uri continues to rule the box-office

Monitoring Desk

MUMBAI: Uri: The Surgical Strike hit the theatres on January 11 and since then the film has pumped up a lot of Josh in the audience. Vicky Kaushal’s power-packed performance in the film has been appreciated by the audience as well as the critics and not just him Yami Gautam and Mohit Raina’s acts in the film have also been loved by many. Uri has become the first film of 2019 to enter the prestigious Rs 100 crore club.

Directed by Aditya Dhar, the film earned Rs 8.20 crore on its opening day, followed by Rs 12.43 crore on Saturday, Rs 15.10 crore on Sunday, Rs 10.51 crore on Monday, Rs 9.57 crore on Tuesday, Rs 7.73 crore on Wednesday, Rs 7.40 crore on Thursday and Rs 7.60 on the second Friday making the week one collections of the film Rs 78.54 crores. The film peaked again during its second weekend at the box-office as it entered the 100 crore club by raking in Rs 13.35 crore during the second Saturday, Rs 17.08 crore on Sunday and further added Rs 6.80 crore yesterday making the grand total Rs 115.87 crore till now. The film is on its way to cross the 150 crore mark and has already been declared a blockbuster.

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Finance minister to present mini budget today

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Federal Finance Minister Asad Umar will present mini budget in national assembly today (Wednesday).

According to reports, the PTI led government is expected to impose federal excise duty on mobile phone cards. Under the mini budget, income tax rate is expected to be increased on daily wage class of the country.

However, the government is expected to decrease tax on imported raw materials in the trade sector and an increase in the price of imported vehicles is expected. The minister is also expected to suggest reforms to increase exports of the country.

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Corruption cases: LHC approves Shehbaz Sharif’s bail appeal for hearing

F.P. Report

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has approved the Shehbaz Sharif’s bail plea in Ashiana Housing scandal and Ramzan Sugar Mills case, for hearing on Wednesday.

According to local news channel report, a two-member bench of the LHC has accorded an approval to fix the hearing of a bail request of the detained opposition leader in the national assembly.

The court further directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to present all records, pertaining to either case, in the court on January 29.

The PML-N leader filed the plea through his counsels Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervez a day earlier.

Shehbaz Sharif said the NAB had made the case against him on political grounds and in violation of the law.

The petition has made the federal government and the NAB a party in the case.

The NAB had arrested Shehbaz Sharif on October 5 last year under corruption charges in Ashiana Iqbal scandal.

Sharif has also to face pending inquiries about Ramzan Sugar Mills and the assets beyond his means of income.

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Federal cabinet to approve mini-budget today

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has summoned a special session of the federal cabinet to approve the mini-budget and export promotion package today (Wednesday).

According to report, Finance Minister Asad Umar will brief the cabinet members on the mini-budget and export promotion package.

After the cabinet meeting, the prime minister has also summoned a parliamentary party meeting of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The mini budget and export promotion package will be presented before the National Assembly after the meetings.

The government was set to present the mini-budget on January 21, however, it was delayed till today as PM Imran was on a two-day tour to Qatar.

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Mine blast kills security personnel in Mohmand

F.P. Report

GHALABAI: A security personnel was martyred and another injured in a mine blast in Mohmand district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Wednesday.

According to state radio report, the incident occurred when security forces were clearing mines in the area and suddenly a mine blasted in which one personnel was martyred and another was injured in the unfortunate incident.

A search operation was launched in the area.

Earlier this week, on Jan 21, three miners were killed in a coal mine blast in Balochistan. Rescue workers were able to retrieve their bodies. They were identified as Muhammad Omar, Abdul Manan and Abdul Ghani.

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Pilot martyred as jet crashes in Mastung

F.P. Report

MASTUNG: A Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilot was martyred after his aircraft crashed in Mastung district of Balochistan during a routine training mission, on Wednesday.

According to PAF statement, the F-7 PG aircraft, while on a routine operational training mission, crashed near Mastung. The pilot of the aircraft embraced martyrdom in this tragic accident.

Statement added that a board of inquiry has been ordered by Air Headquarters to determine the cause of the accident.

Deputy Commissioner Mastung Mumtaz Khetran said a parachute was found on the site of the crash.

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US aid cuts hit Palestinians, further dimming hope for peace

JERUSALEM (AP): Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from America, U.S.-funded infrastructure projects have been halted, and an innovative peace-building program in Jerusalem is scaling back its activities.

The Trump administration’s decision last year to cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians is forcing NGOs to slash programs and lay off staff as the effects ripple through a community that has spent more than two decades promoting peace in the Middle East.

The U.S. government’s development agency, USAID, has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state.

Much of that aid is channeled through international NGOs, which were abruptly informed of the cuts last summer and have been scrambling to keep their programs alive.

President Donald Trump says the USAID cuts are aimed at pressuring the Palestinians to return to peace talks, but Palestinian officials say the move has further poisoned relations after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year. The aid groups, many of which have little or no connection to the Palestinian Authority, say the cuts hurt the most vulnerable Palestinians and those most committed to peace with Israel.

“If you want to maintain the idea of the peace process, you have to maintain the people who would be part of the peace process,” said Lana Abu Hijleh, the local director for Global Communities, an international NGO active in the Palestinian territories since 1995.

Before the aid cuts were announced, it provided food aid — branded as a gift from the American people — to more than 180,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza on behalf of the World Food Program. USAID had planned to contribute $19 million a year for the next five years to continue the project but pulled out in August.

Global Communities can now only provide aid to 90,000 people through March, and Abu Hijleh had to lay off around 30 staff, including in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

“It really hurts, because you’re talking about the most basic level of assistance,” she said. The average family receives a monthly voucher worth around $130.

Sadeqa Nasser, a woman living in Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp, used her voucher to support her disabled husband, their six children and four grandchildren.

She says her sons each bring in less than $5 a day from odd jobs. “They cannot afford to buy food for their families, so I help them out,” she said.

Since the aid was cut off, she’s been able to qualify for welfare payments from the Palestinian Authority, which itself relies heavily on foreign aid. “Without it we would go hungry,” she said.

Funding has also been cut for a five-year, $50 million program run by a coalition of NGOs to provide health services, including clinical breast cancer treatment for some 16,000 women and treatment for some 700 children suffering from chronic diseases.

Infrastructure projects, including desperately needed water treatment facilities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, have also been put on hold.

Anera, which has carried out development projects in the Middle East for more than 50 years, said it was forced to halt five infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza before completion and cancel three more in Gaza that were pending funding approval. It says the projects would have benefited more than 100,000 people.

The NGOs are reaching out to other donors, but USAID is one of the biggest sources of funding for a global aid community overwhelmed by conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

The Trump administration has also cut off funding for peace-building initiatives involving Palestinians — even residents of east Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be part of its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, to be the capital of their future state.

Kids4Peace, a group founded by Israeli and Palestinian families in Jerusalem in 2002, brings Jewish, Christian and Muslim teenagers together for seminars and summer camps where they can share their experiences and learn more about one another.

The group’s organizers acknowledge the longstanding criticism of such initiatives — that campfires and singalongs won’t bring peace to the Middle East, especially after a decade of diplomatic paralysis and little hope for resuming meaningful negotiations.

But they say that with a $1.5 million USAID grant in 2016 they tripled the number of annual participants to around 70 and revamped programs. USAID takes a hands-on approach, requiring regular audits and demanding concrete accomplishments.

Participants now take part in a Youth Action Program in which they plan and execute projects in their communities. One group is campaigning for Arabic subtitles in Jerusalem cinemas. Another set up a community garden in a tense neighborhood where Jews and Arabs had rarely interacted.

Kids4Peace was a finalist for another $1.5 million grant this year, but that has been indefinitely postponed because of the funding cuts. It will continue to run programs with the help of private donors, but its growth prospects are in doubt.

“We see the trend lines moving in a negative direction, in terms of more hostile attitudes toward the other, less interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, more resistance to peace negotiations,” said the Rev. Josh Thomas, executive director of Kids4Peace International. “We see that as a need for greater investment rather than less.”

Trump also halted aid to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides basic services to more than 5 million Palestinians across the Middle East, but UNRWA was able to narrow the funding gap with aid pledges from other countries.

Palestinian officials say they won’t bow to pressure.

“We don’t want their money, we don’t want anything to do with America,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “If (Trump) thinks he can put pressure on us through his money, it won’t work.”

Critics of the policy fear that cutting off aid will further diminish Washington’s ability to manage a conflict that remains highly combustible.

“When America vacates the Middle East space, we do so at our own risk and we do it to the benefit of our adversaries,” said Dave Harden, a former USAID mission director in the West Bank and Gaza.

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Arab Gulf states silent on China’s Xinjiang crackdown

Giorgio Cafiero

BEIJING: Unlike other cases of repression against Muslims around the world, such as Myanmar, the “cultural cleansing” taking place in China’s Xinjiang Province (known by separatists as East Turkestan) has not been officially condemned by the Gulf monarchies.

This silence is mostly a result of their economic interdependence with China, which has prompted concerns about retribution from Beijing if Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states were to stand up to China over the plight of its Muslim minority. Not lost in the equation is the fact that Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Peninsula monarchies have faced strong criticism from the West on human rights grounds, giving officials in the GCC more incentive to avoid criticizing Beijing on sensitive issues that China views as internal matters.

Global attention on Xinjiang

In 2018 international attention on China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups increased significantly. In August, the United Nations expressed deep concerns about the reported 1 million Uighurs held in internment camps across western China, four months after American diplomats highlighted concerns over increasing levels of repression in Xinjiang. The global outcry has intensified following other reports that Chinese authorities have banned veils and forced Uighurs to cut off their beards, eat pork, and drink alcohol. Evidence has also emerged that the Chinese government is tracking cellphone activity in Xinjiang while pressuring the Uighur diaspora to provide personal information by threatening family members in western China if they do not comply.

Economic factors

Like many Muslim-majority countries around the world, GCC states have deep economic ties with China that could, potentially, be jeopardized if they shine a spotlight on human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Saudi Arabia has been China’s number one crude oil supplier since 2002, and China is the kingdom’s top destination for oil exports. All Gulf states have joined Saudi Arabia in making their own geo-economic pivots to the East and forging strong commercial ties with Beijing. China is the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest trading partner and its number one source of imports. China’s ambitious plans for the Belt and Road Initiative also offer the GCC states lucrative opportunities in the areas of finance, trade, and infrastructure linking Asia and Europe.

With US demand for Gulf oil set to fall in the coming years as Chinese demand is expected to rise, GCC officials see China as their most reliable partner when it comes to security of demand. Thus, as Gulf governments see it, the issue of oppression in western China is not important enough to justify taking the risk of addressing in any international forum.

“Stability is a blessing, instability is calamity”

Beyond their interests in securing deeper economic and energy ties with China, GCC states have other incentives to remain silent on Beijing’s crackdown as well. Given their extreme sensitivity to outside scrutiny of their own human rights violations, the Gulf monarchies welcome China’s foreign policy doctrine of “non-interference” and want to reciprocate.

China also brought itself greater goodwill by remaining silent throughout the Khashoggi saga last year, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) will doubtless remember which governments and world leaders stood by him during what has been his greatest challenge on the international stage to date. Put simply, when it comes to Sino-Gulf relations, Beijing’s practice of not bringing up human rights-related issues seems to have paid off.

The model of “authoritarian stability” advocated by both the GCC and China also factors into the Gulf monarchies’ decision to avoid pressing the issue. According to the Chinese government’s narrative, it has taken the necessary actions in Xinjiang to protect the country from Islamic extremism and terrorism. With a strong focus on stability over individual rights, China approaches security issues in a way that resonates with the Gulf regimes, which also prioritize preservation of the status quo above human rights.

GCC states, particularly Saudi Arabia, are seeking to learn from China and copy important aspects of its legal system, which gives the Gulf monarchies an even stronger interest in avoiding problems as they seek to deepen their legal relations with Beijing. Last year, for example, Riyadh’s vice minister of justice and his counterpart from Beijing signed a memorandum of cooperation to share judicial information and expertise.

In addition, as Cindy Yu opined, the Saudi crown prince’s Vision 2030 reforms are generally “on the same path as Beijing” while truly distinct from the West’s values. China is, according to Yu, a “perfect prototype” for Saudi Arabia where the “people choose riches over freedom.” To that point, China’s ambassador to Riyadh, Li Huaxin, praised MbS for the wave of arrests at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, claiming that the “anti-corruption” drive would benefit the kingdom’s foreign investment climate due to perceived improvements in the “rule of law.”

The GCC states’ silence on Xinjiang should also be understood within the context of the mainstream media in the greater Arab world, which has not paid much attention to western China. The Chinese authorities closely monitor and regulate foreign journalists’ work in Xinjiang, so the outside world has, until relatively recently, had little access to information. In the Gulf region, there is a general lack of awareness about the plight of the Uighurs, and even extremists and jihadist groups from the Arab world, which often dwell on injustices against Muslims in other parts of the world, pay little attention to Xinjiang.


The one Muslim-majority state that has condemned China on the issue of human rights in Xinjiang is Turkey. Yet key lessons learned from Ankara’s stance on this matter inform the GCC states’ decision to stay silent.

Ten years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s then prime minister, went as far as to accuse China of waging a “kind of genocide” in Xinjiang against the Uighurs, who share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious ties with Turks. Ankara’s strong language regarding the Uighurs’ plight, however, created significant tension in Sino-Turkish relations, especially after Turkish officials began offering Uighur refugees shelter in their country. Due to a host of issues, including the failed July 15, 2016 coup plot, which prompted Turkey to hedge its bets on the West by deepening ties with Beijing (along with Moscow and Tehran), Turkish officials have avoided speaking out on Islam, Uighur identity, and human rights in Xinjiang in recent years. Nonetheless, China’s leadership has not forgotten Turkey’s support of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and the GCC states are keen to avoid creating friction in their ties with Beijing.

Posing a dilemma

Beijing’s “war on terror” in western China likely constitutes the harshest campaign of forced social reengineering in the post-Mao Tse-tung period. Although portrayed by Chinese officials as a “securitization campaign” or a “pacification drive,” the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang is more of an effort at coerced ethnic assimilation.

China’s radical “anti-extremism” strategies pose a dilemma for Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. While their silence in the face of large-scale violations of Chinese Muslims’ rights may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of their claims to defend the greater global Muslim community, they are likely to keep quiet given the GCC’s growing economic and geopolitical ties with China. Moreover, even if the GCC states were to stand up to Beijing over the plight of its Muslim minority, it is unclear what this would entail and what, specifically, they would expect to gain from such a stance.

Looking ahead, as China continues its economic and geopolitical ascendancy, Beijing’s relations with the GCC states will deepen. At a time when the U.S. administration’s foreign policy is confusing and incoherent, the Gulf monarchies are looking to China to hedge their bets on Washington amid the unpredictable Trump presidency. Given how much the Gulf regimes value their relations with Beijing, the Chinese leadership understands that it has little reason to worry about a potential crisis in Beijing-GCC relations stemming from developments in Xinjiang, even as the situation there has fueled an outcry from Western governments and human rights organizations worldwide.

Courtesy: (

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The iPhone is reportedly going OLED-only in 2020

Brian Heater

CALIFORNIA: Apple could drop LCDs from the iPhone line next year, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. That interesting — if not altogether surprising — revelation is buried in a piece about a Japan supplier’s struggles in the wake of disappointing iPhone XR sales.

The news, which comes courtesy of people familiar with the matter, makes sense, as prices for the display technology should drop, making it more attainable for more people. Whether Apple is giving up on the budget take on its flagship remains to be seen, but the XR appears not to have gotten the reception the company was banking on.

Apple has downplayed any disappointment, noting that the cheaper handset (starting at $250 less than the XS) has been the “most popular iPhone” since going on sale in October. But handset sales are ebbing across the board — a phenomenon that’s hardly specific to Apple.

Besides, moving to a higher-end technology across the board is just part of the inevitable march of progress, though the company is still expected to release an LCD-sporting successor to the XR later this year. A number of competitors, meanwhile, will be dipping their toes into the foldable display waters in 2019, though that technology isn’t expected to go fully mainstream any time soon.

2020 will also reportedly be the year Apple makes the move to a 5G iPhone.

Courtesy: (