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PM Imran feels strong concerns for Haleem Sheikh

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken exception to the Sindh government for making Haleem Adil Sheikh suffer the worst.

‘Leaving’ snake in the prison cell of an opposition leader is lamentable, the premier said, asking his party reps to be alert to fend off such heinous crimes.

Last week, Haleem Adil Sheikh told the media at the court that a snake was found in his cell.

He was arrested on charges of, The PTI leader accused PPP leadership and Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah of being masterminding the act to kill him. About the upcoming Senate vote, Imran Khan showed satisfaction at the preparations of the PTI to get its candidates, especially Hafeez Sheikh, elected.

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Antonio Guterres says encouraged by Pak-India pact on ceasefire along LoC

F.P. Report

NEW YORK: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is encouraged by Pakistan and India’s decision to strictly observe all agreements on a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and hopes that the “positive step” would “provide an opportunity for further dialogue”, said Secretary General’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric on Thursday.

“The Secretary-general is encouraged by the joint statement issued by the militaries of Pakistan and India on their agreement to observing the ceasefire at the Line of Control in Kashmir and engaging through the established mechanism. He hopes that this positive step would provide an opportunity for further dialogue,” said Dujarric during a daily briefing.

On Thursday, Pakistan India released a joint statement saying that they have held discussions regarding establishing a mechanism for hotline contact among both nations. Both sides also agreed to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) starting from February 25.

Director Generals of Military Operations of Pakistan and India also reviewed the current situation across the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors “in a free, frank and cordial atmosphere”.

“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight of February 24/25,” the joint statement said.

The United States also welcomed Pakistan and India’s decision, calling it a “positive step” towards greater peace and stability in South Asia.

“United States welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan, that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25. This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia, which is in our shared interest and we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

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Pakistan records 32 more COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has recorded 32 more coronavirus-related deaths in past 24 hours, surging the overall death toll to 12,804, on Friday.

According to the latest statistics of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the COVID-19 has claimed 32 more lives and 1,541 fresh infections were reported.

The total count of active cases is 22,285.

In the past 24 hours, as many as 2,505 patients have recovered from the virus in a day and 1,558 patients are still in critical condition.

According to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), with the fresh inclusion of the infections in the country the national tally of cases now currently stands at 577,482.

A total of 41,849 tests were conducted across the country during this period. Overall 542,393 people have recovered from the deadly disease so far while 8,873,741 samples have been tested thus far.

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NZ’s Guptill surpasses Rohit for most sixes in T20Is

F.P. Report

DUNEDIN: New Zealand’s opener Martin Guptill has surpassed India’s Rohit Sharma to become the leading six-hitter in T20Is.

The 34-year-old Guptill hammered eight sixes against Australia in second T20I of the series. He scored 97 off just 50 balls, leading New Zealand to a powerful score of 219/7 in 20 overs.

Before this match, Guptill had 124 sixes but after hitting eight, his six counter has elevated.

Guptill now stands at 132 maximums in 96 T20Is while Rohit has 127 to his name in 108 games.

Eoin Morgan of England is third on the list with 113 sixes while Colin Munro (107) and Chris Gayle (105) stand at fourth and fifth.

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Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

WASHINGTON (Axios): A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous “kids-in-cages” disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

“We’re seeing the highest February numbers than we’ve ever seen in the history of the [Unaccompanied Alien Child] program,” a Department of Health and Human Services official told Axios.

What to watch: The administration is already preparing to quickly expand its network of migrant-child shelters, which have had their capacity sharply reduced because of coronavirus protocols.

The scandal-ridden shelter in Homestead, Florida, is expected to be opened in April, according to a source familiar with the call. CBP chief of staff Lise Clavel provided the border-crossing projection.

HHS, which oversees the child shelter network, is talking with the Pentagon about finding additional overflow sites, which often resemble big tents. Military bases were used during the 2014 and 2019 crises as additional temporary facilities.

Officials discussed the importance of addressing so-called “push factors” in Central American countries — things causing migrants to flee. President Biden has long supported plans to invest in those nations as a way to stem the flow of migrants.

There was no discussion of U.S.-based policies or practices that would work to deter migrants, such as reinstating the use of an emergency public health order to quickly deport migrant kids. Deterrent strategies were preferred by the Trump administration.

Background: The National Security Council hosts frequent calls about a range of topics. Thursday’s 1 p.m. call focused on the growing number of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It included several senior-level officials at HHS, Homeland Security, State and other departments.

Overall, the tone was not frantic. Despite the Trump administration’s frequent mishandling of migrant families and children, it managed to establish processes for expanding shelter space when border numbers increased — providing a blueprint for the current administration.

However, Jonathan White, a top HHS career official, expressed more concern about the sheer volume of expected migrants combined with space-limiting coronavirus protocols. Those factors could force kids to wait in unfit CBP holding cells.

White had warned the Trump administration early on about the harm the family separation policy would cause for child migrants.

It’s not the only sign of the new administration buckling up.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief of staff told officials this month, “We need to prepare for border surges now,” according to an internal email obtained by Axios but first reported by the Washington Times.

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U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

WASHINGTON (Axios): The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes “in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

What they’re saying: “”The proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with Coalition partners,” Kirby said.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel.”

“At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on later on Thursday that officials are “confident in the target we went after, we know what we hit,” per CNN.

“We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”

The big picture: Kirby said the strikes destroyed facilities at a border control point used by multiple militia groups that are backed by Iran.

The strike was in response to at least three rocket attacks that were launched against U.S. targets in Iraq, one of which killed a non-U.S. contractor and wounded nine additional people, including five Americans, according to Politico.

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Senate Majority Leader Schumer wants to freeze stimulus changes

WASHINGTON (Axios): Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is privately saying he can pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus package but wants to avoid any last-minute changes jeopardizing its trajectory, three sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: While the president hoped to enlist Republican support for the measure, Schumer has worked to ensure he has a solid 50 votes to muscle it through if necessary. A parliamentary ruling Thursday improved his chances.

What we’re hearing: Schumer met with a group of moderate Democratic senators Thursday morning. They pushed for some changes in the bill — including moving pots of money around, more funding for broadband and rural hospitals and extending unemployment benefits beyond August.

“They have some ideas and we are going to check them out,” Schumer told Axios afterward.

Asked if some of the lawmakers suggested lowering the bill’s overall price tag, Schumer said: “I am not going into any details.”

The leader is wary of rocking the boat right now, the sources said, and expects the measure will remain relatively unchanged in its final version.

“Schumer [has] been privately meeting with members to get their input on the legislation to make sure it was included in the drafting,” a person familiar with the meetings said.

The latest: The Senate parliamentarian announced Thursday night that Democrats could not include a $15 minimum wage provision within the measure under the reconciliation process.

The ruling was significant because Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said they were opposed to including the wage hike in the package, potentially costing the Democrats critical votes.

The bottom line: Democrats have largely been in lockstep that a nearly $2 trillion package is required to meet the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis.

Last month, a group of 10 moderate Republican senators offered an approximately $600 billion counterproposal, but it was summarily rejected by the White House.

The White House has been publicly optimistic it will add some Republican support but has privately been preparing to pass the package regardless.

That strategy requires the entire Democratic Senate caucus to support it, leaving no room for error.

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President Biden holds first call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (Axios): President Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Thursday, and affirmed “the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Why it matters: The phone call comes ahead of the expected public release of a potentially damning intelligence report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,

Context: The report, an unclassified document produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, implies Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son, was involved in Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Axios’ Hans Nichols reports.

Bin Salman has denied involvement, but accepted responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader.

The big picture: Biden and the king also discussed Yemen and the “the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups”, according to the readout.

Biden applauded the kingdom’s release of multiple Saudi-American activists and Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist.

The readout did not specifically mention Khashoggi.

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Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

WASHINGTON (Axios): The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It’s now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden’s rescue bill.

Between the lines: The process, called “reconciliation,” allows any bill in which each provision affects the federal government’s finances to be voted on by a 51-vote majority, as opposed to the regular 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The provision cannot be “merely incidental” to the government’s finances, according to a statute known as the Byrd rule. The interpretation of this vague requirement was up to the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, to decide.

What they’re saying: “We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the Thursday evening decision.

“We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families,” he added.

“The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement late Thursday that “House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary. Therefore, this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the Floor tomorrow.”

She added, “Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight For 15.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden was “disappointed” in the outcome, but “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.”

Biden “will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” Psaki added.

What’s next: Biden has promised to support a standalone bill to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, but it’s unlikely to get any Republican support.

The other side: Republicans have introduced their own versions of bills to increase the minimum wage.

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) proposed an increase to $10/hour by 2025. This bill, however, contains a provision that would mandate E-Verify for all employers to ensure the rising wages go to “legally authorized workers,” which likely would not get any Democratic support.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced an alternative to the Democrats’ proposal that would use federal dollars to increase low-earning workers’ income. One foreseeable problem: the subsidy would disproportionally benefit those in states that have kept their minimum wages low.

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Eminem shares good news with fans in latest video

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Eminem on Wednesday took to social media to inform his millions of fans that  his famous song “Lose Yourself”   has hit “1 billion on  Spotify”, referring to music streaming service. 

The Detroit rapper’s announcement was accompanied by a video clip and the  popular song which he recently performed during the Oscars.

“You can do anything you set your mind to, man… #LoseYourself is over 1 billion on @spotify,” Eminem caption read on Instagram.

“Lose Yourself” is a song from the soundtrack to the 2002 motion picture “8 Mile”.

 The song was written by Eminem and produced by him along with longtime collaborator Jeff Bass, one half of the production duo Bass Brothers, and Luis Resto. It was released on October 28, 2002 as the lead single from the soundtrack.