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Trump’s pick for UN ambassador withdraws nomination

WASHINGTON (Reuters): State Department said on Saturday that Spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration for the U.S. ambassador to UN.

Last December, President Donald Trump had announced he was picking Nauert for the UN job to replace Nikki Haley, but the formal nomination had not been sent to the Senate.

While announcing his decision on former Fox News host Nauert, President Trump said she was “very talented, very smart, very quick and I think that she will be respected by all.”

“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in a statement. 

“However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.”

She entered the role of State Department spokeswoman in 2017 without any foreign policy experience and under her tenure, the Department dramatically scaled back its once daily press conferences to only a handful, at best, each week.

In the same statement, Pompeo praised Nauert for “unequalled excellence.”

“Her personal decision today to withdraw her name from consideration to become the nominee for United States Ambassador to the United Nations is a decision for which I have great respect,” said Pompeo.

Trump will make an announcement with respect to a nominee for the UN post “soon”, according to the statement.

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Police and protesters clash outside Albanian parliament

TIRANA (AFP): Thousands of opposition supporters protested outside the Albanian parliament Saturday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama, and clashed with police who used tear gas and water cannons.

The socialist prime minister has been in power since 2013. His critics accuse him of corruption.

Two police officers were hospitalised and four demonstrators had to be treated for breathing problems after the clashes, the health ministry said. Protesters tried repeatedly to break through police lines.

Several windows were broken as some demonstrators threw smoke grenades and stones towards the parliament building.

Around 10 protesters also tried to force their into the building with an attempt to break down the entrance door, before being pushed back by police inside.

“The situation is out of control,” Lulzim Basha, leader of the main opposition centre-right Democratic Party. He blamed the police for having let the demonstrators get too close to the building so as to “incite violence” and allow Rama to denounce the opposition.

Thousands of demonstrators were still massed outside parliament by the early afternoon, an AFP journalist said.

“The 16th of February will be the last day in power for Rama,” Basha told a meeting of his supporters on Wednesday. “This regime must be overturned at all costs.”

Saturday’s demonstration in the capital is the latest in a series that Basha has organised.

An opposition coalition made up of five parties, ranging from the centre right to the centre left, has accused Rama of “collusion with organised crime” and having “plunged the country into corruption and poverty”.

They want him to stand aside in favour of a government of technocrats who would prepare early parliamentary elections.

One of the characteristics of political life in Albania is the violence of its rhetoric. Both the left and the right have accused their opponents of corruption and of being linked to organised crime.

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Trump urges Europe to ‘take back’ Daesh terrorists

WASHINGTON (AA): U.S. President Donald Trump late Saturday urged European states to “take back” hundreds of foreign Daesh terrorists captured in Syria and prosecute them.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump tweeted.  

“The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them,” he warned, referring to Daesh terror group.  

He said the U.S. does not want to watch as Daesh terrorists “permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go”. 

The president reiterated his plan to pull back the U.S. troops from Syria “after 100% Caliphate victory!”  

In December, he made a surprise announcement that the U.S. would be withdrawing all troops from Syria, and said Daesh had been defeated in the country.  

Since then, no troops have been withdrawn, however, last month the Pentagon confirmed additional troops were being sent to protect American forces and equipment as they prepare to leave.

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Bangladesh slum fire kills at least eight

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (Reuters): A fire gutted more than 200 slum houses in the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong on Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 50, police and fire fighters said.

A fire official said the fire may have been caused by a short circuit.

Bangladesh is an impoverished country where safety regulations are rarely followed and accidents kill hundreds every year.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

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France: 16 people arrested in Yellow Vest protests

PARIS (AA): Yellow Vest protestors continued demonstrations across France on Saturday, for the 14th straight weekend.

Sixteen people were arrested in Paris, according to the Police.

Protestors threw stones and bottles at the police. The police fired tear gas to repel Yellow Vest demonstrators.

In the city of Rouen, a driver injured three people while he was trying to escape from the protestors who attacked his car.

A total of 10,000 people took part in the protests across France on Saturday, according to the French Interior Ministry.

Yellow Vest protests are also expected to continue on Sunday.

Since Nov. 17, thousands of protesters wearing bright yellow vests — dubbed the Yellow Vests — have gathered in major French cities, including Paris, to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial fuel tax hikes and deteriorating economic situation.

Demonstrators held protests blocking roads as well as entrances and exits to gas stations and factories across the country.

Under pressure, Macron announced a rise in the minimum wage and scuttled the tax hikes.

Since then, however, the protests have grown into a broader movement aimed at tackling income inequality and are calling for giving citizens a stronger voice in government decision-making.

At least 11 people died, around 8,400 others were detained, over 2,000 were injured in the protests and 1796 people received prison sentence.

The protests started in France but spilled over to other European countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands.

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Ch Shujat appreciates CJP decision about lying

F.P. Report

LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President and former Prime Minister Ch Shujat Hussain has said that decision of Chief Justice Supreme Court of Pakistan Mr Justice Asif Saeed Khosa about lying is quite appreciable, defamation laws in Pakistan are weak, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa should do good to the nation and introduce reforms in the defamation law so that nobody is humiliated without evidence.

In a statement issued here today (Saturday), he said that it is also mentioned in the Holy Quran that Allah’s curse be on liar as such the apex court is requested to take measures for curbing the liars and those leveling allegations without evidence.

Ch Shujat Hussain further said that there is hardly any politician in Pakistan who has gone to London and filed a defamation case against prominent newspaper Guardian there.

He said “we have never got loan written off but newspaper Guardian had leveled allegation against us that we have got loan written off, we had filed a case against this news in the Queen Bench of London High Court, after one month hearing newspaper Guardian not only published apology on the front page but also paid all expenses of the lawyers in London and Pakistan.”

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Saudi Arabia announces reduction in visa fees for Pakistanis

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: While showing another good gesture towards Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has significantly lowered visa charges for the nationals.

According to a press release issued by Saudi embassy, the fee of single entry visit visa has been cut down from SAR2,000 to SAR338, which, in dollar terms, equals a reduction from $533 to $90.

Meanwhile, the charges of multiple entry visit visa has been lowered from SAR3,000 to SAR675, which in dollar terms, amounts to a reduction from $800 to $180.

According to Saudi embassy, the decision will be applicable from February 15.

It is to be mentioned here that Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman will visit Pakistan on 17 and 18 February.

The Crown Prince will be accompanied by a high-powered delegation including members of the Saudi Royal family, key ministers and leading businessmen.

This will be the first state-level visit of the dignitary to Pakistan since his elevation to the position of the Crown Prince in April 2017.

During his visit, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will call on the President Dr. Arif Alvi. He will also meet PM Imran and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

A Senate delegation will also call on the Crown Prince to discuss ways to enhance parliamentary cooperation between the two countries. The Saudi Ministers accompanying the Crown Prince will meet their counterparts to discuss bilateral cooperation in their respective fields.

During his stay, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be signing a number of agreements and MoUs in diverse sectors.

The two countries will also discuss ways and means to develop a robust follow-up mechanism to ensure effective implementation and quick progress on tangible areas of cooperation.

Federal government has announced a public holiday in Islamabad on February 18 due to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visit.

According to details, educational institutions and all federal government offices situated on Constitution Avenue in the capital will remain closed on Monday.

The authorities said that the holiday was announced so that the Saudi prince visit will not create problems for the locals.

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Nawaz terms JIT report in Pakpattan land allotment case ‘one-sided’

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday submitted his response in the Supreme Court in Pakpattan illegal land allotment case.

Sharif submitted the response in the capacity of Chief Minister Punjab, a position which he held from April 1985 to August 1990 before being elevated to the post of Prime Minister in November 1990.

The top court in December last year had constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the illegal transfer of a piece of land belonging to the Auqaf department in Punjab’s Pakpattan district in 1985.

On January 15, the JIT told the Supreme Court through its report that Sharif had illegally allotted 14,398 acres of Waqf property, which is attached to the shrine of Baba Farid-ud-Din Ganj Shakar in Pakpattan to one named Dewan Ghulam Qutab when he was the provincial chief executive.

A three-judge SC bench headed by then Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, upon receiving the JIT report, had asked Mr Sharif and the Punjab government to furnish replies on the report within a fortnight.

In his response, Sharif termed the JIT report ‘one-sided’ and based on ‘mala fide intentions’.

He prayed to the court to dismiss the JIT report which incriminated him in the illegal land allotment case.

Raising questions on the formation of the JIT headed by Hussain Asghar, Sharif said that the top court had constituted a three-member JIT on December 27 last year, which had to include one officer each from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB).

However, he said, the other two officers were not named in the JIT report. Moreover, the report doesn’t mention the court’s consent on the Terms of Reference (ToRs).

He maintained that due to reasons mentioned above, it looked like the report was prepared solely by Hussain Asghar in contravention to the court’s orders.

The response also said that the JIT didn’t contact Nawaz Sharif at any point during its investigations, which was “a violation of his fundamental rights”.

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How could corrupt, jailed leaders be invited to dinner: Fawad

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Saturday said that the opposition leaders facing corruption charges or imprisoned will not be invited to dinner hosted in honour of Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman .

Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet that absence of seniors opposition in the country was tantamount to a political crises. He said that remaining opposition leaders were not of that caliber to be invited to the dinner.

Sources said that opposition leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have not been invited to the dinner.

It is pertinent to mention here that Nawaz Sharif is in police custody, Zardari is facing an investigation into the fake bank accounts case, while Shehbaz is facing a case of alleged misuse of power as Punjab former chief minister in awarding contract of a housing scheme.

Earlier, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman will arrive in Pakistan on Feb 17, said Foreign Office on February 15.

In a statement, it had said the Saudi crown prince would now be visiting Islamabad from Feb 17 to 18. However, the visit programme remains unchanged.

Earlier, the Saudi crown prince was scheduled to reach Islamabad on a two-day visit on Saturday evening (Feb 16).

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Zubair ‘Chariya’ smiled as fire burnt people alive in Baldia factory: witness

F.P. Report

KARACHI: Testifying in Baldia factory fire case in an Anti-Terrorism Court here, a witness said that the prime suspect Zubair alias Chariya was present at the site as the inferno happened, and was smiling as people burnt alive in the factory.

The court was hearing the case of one of Pakistan’s worst industrial disasters in which fire had engulfed a garment factory Ali Enterprises in September 2012.

The incident, which claimed 289 lives, was subsequently determined to be an act of sabotage.

The court recorded the statements of a police investigation officer and a witness in the Baldia factory fire case and summoned more witnesses at the next hearing on February 20.

The witness confirmed that MQM’s activist Zubair alias Chariya was present in the factory when it was set on fire. “He was seen smoking and smiling along with his accomplices at the site”, the witness said.

The other witness, a police investigation officer, told the court that the suspects set the factory on fire over extortion refusal. The police officer apprised the court that the suspect had sought Rs200mn extortion from the factory owners.

He said that the factory was torched on the directives of than Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Karachi Tanzeemi Committee’s (KTC) chief Hammad Siddiqui and others.

The police officer said that MQM’s activist Abdul Rehman alias Bhola had confessed to setting the factory on fire.

Earlier, Sindh Minister for Labour Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, on February 15, had backtracked from his statement about giving compensation money to the families of deceased in the horrific incident of ‘Baldia factory fire’.

The Sindh government, in its written reply submitted to the Sindh High Court, cited that the distribution of Rs560 million among the victims’ families was only a newspaper report which did not reflect government’s policy.