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US pulls out some government employees from Iraq

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Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency government employees from Iraq on Wednesday, after repeated U.S. expressions of concern about threats from Iranian-backed forces.

The US State Department has ordered the pullout of the employees from both the US Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, the embassy said in a statement.

Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended, it said, recommending those affected depart as soon as possible. It was unclear how many staff would leave.

On Tuesday, the US military reaffirmed concerns about possible imminent threats from Iran to its troops in Iraq, although a senior British commander cast doubt on that and Tehran has called it psychological warfare.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up sanctions pressure by ending waivers for some countries to purchase Iranian oil - part of efforts to roll back the Islamic Republic’s expanding regional clout.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he was getting indications from talks with both the United States and Iran that things will end well despite the rhetoric.

Washington has sent additional military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles in a show of force against what U.S. officials have said is a threat to its troops and interests in the region.

A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has said Tehran would retaliate against any aggressive U.S. moves.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the decision to withdraw non-emergency staff was based on a security assessment, but would not give details on how many personnel were leaving.

Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority and we are confident in the Iraqi security services’ (ability) to protect us, he said.

Plane makes emergency landing in UAE after Indian man dies mid-air

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According to Indian Embassy officials, an Alitalia New Delhi-Milan flight made an emergency landing in the United Arab Emirates following the death of an Indian man onboard.

An Alitalia New Delhi-Milan flight made an emergency landing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following the death of an Indian man onboard the flight, Indian Embassy officials said.

The victim Kailash Chandra Saini, 52, from Rajasthan, was accompanied by his 26-year-old son Heera Lal, reports the Khaleej Times.

"The flight made an emergency landing (at the Abu Dhabi International Airport) on Monday night. The body was taken to Mafraq Hospital. The formalities have been completed. The death certificate was issued on Tuesday. The body will be repatriated on an Etihad flight, hopefully by Wednesday morning," Embassy counsellor M. Rajamurugan said on Tuesday.

Pakistan to bifurcate Punjab to create new South Punjab province: Shah Mehmood Qureshi

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The South Punjab province will comprise Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts, Qureshi told reporters in Multan, Punjab.

The Pakistan government is going ahead with its plan to create the new South Punjab province by bifurcating Punjab and would move a bill in the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced on Wednesday.

Punjab is Pakistan's second largest province by area after Balochistan. It is also the most populated province and politically influential. In the run-up to the 2018 general election, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by Imran Khan had promised to bifurcate Punjab province to form South Punjab.

The South Punjab province will comprise Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts, Qureshi told reporters in Multan, Punjab.

The Punjab Assembly seats will be reduced to 251 from the current 371 while 120 seats have been proposed for the South Punjab Assembly in the bill.

Qureshi said that certain constitutional amendments have to be passed for the formation of the new South Punjab province.

The region will turn into a province when amendments to Articles 59, 51, 1, 106, 158 and 218 of the Constitution are passed.

"The word 'South Punjab' in the first paragraph of Article 1 will be inducted, and the territories that will be part of south Punjab have been named in the proposed bill," he was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

"The province will come into being through Article 51, it calls for the separate formation of the assembly. South Punjab will also get representation in the Senate," he said.

On Monday, PTI lawmaker Sami-ul-Hassan Gillani tabled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 before Parliament, calling for the creation of a separate South Punjab province, Geo News reported.

The planned South Punjab province will be the sixth province of Pakistan after Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan.

Qureshi, a senior leader of the ruling PTI, said that the National Assembly Speaker will formulate a special committee for consent on the bill.

"We require co-operation of different parties for a two-thirds majority, said Qureshi.

Qureshi said that he had held a meeting with Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) leadership. "I request them to support us as it is in our joint interests and a part of the PTI manifesto."

"We believe it strengthens a federation, and have decided to hold political dialogue with like-minded political parties," he said.

Qureshi also requested the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to support the bill.

"I am hopeful they will review their attitude over it," he said.

The National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house, has a total of 342 seats, which means the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf needs 228 votes to get its way.

The PTI has 157 lawmakers. The Pakistan Muslim League-N has 84 members and the Pakistan Peoples Party has 54 lawmakers in Parliament. There are four independents.

To get the South Punjab bill approved, the PTI would only need the support of the PPP, if the PML-N opts to stay out of the vote count, Geo News reported.

The PPP support will also be needed in the Senate where the party has an upper hand, the report said.

Meanwhile, PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal said Qureshi was fooling people on the name of South Punjab.

Iqbal said the PML-N had already presented a bill in the National Assembly for the formation of the South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces. But the bill was opposed by the PTI then, he said.

Trump order clears way for barring Huawei from US telecommunications networks

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President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring a national emergency and barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk.

president Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order declaring a national emergency and barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk, paving the way for a ban on doing business with China's Huawei Technologies Co.

The executive order invokes the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to regulate commerce in response to a national emergency that threatens the United States. The order directs the Commerce Department, working with other government agencies, to draw up a plan for enforcement within 150 days.

Members of Congress said the order was squarely aimed at Chinese companies like Huawei that U.S. intelligence officials say could be used by the Chinese state to spy.

"China's main export is espionage, and the distinction between the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese 'private-sector' businesses like Huawei is imaginary," Republican Senator Ben Sasse said.

Senator Ted Cruz said the order would help protect 5G networks from Huawei.

The order, which has been under review for more than a year, is aimed at protecting the supply chain from "foreign adversaries to the nation's information and communications technology and services supply chain," said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

"Under President Trump's leadership, Americans will be able to trust that our data and infrastructure are secure," he said.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Trump was expected to take action on the long-awaited proposal this week. The order does not specifically name any country or company, but U.S. officials have previously labelled Huawei a "threat" and actively lobbied allies to not using Huawei network equipment in next generation 5G networks.

Facebook restricts Live, White House snubs New Zealand's call to rein in online violence

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The White House said in a statement the United States was "not currently in a position to join the endorsement" of Christchurch call in view of the mass shooting in New Zealand.

Facebook announced steps on Wednesday to temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video, in the wake of an international outcry after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand last month and streamed the attack live on his page.

The tweaks to Facebook's rules came as the White House snubbed other world leaders, who met with tech companies in Paris to back a call by New Zealand's prime minister for stronger measures against social media hate speech.

Silicon Valley tech giants expressed their support for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's so-called "Christchurch Call," named for the city where the gunman attacked two mosques on March 15 and broadcast his killings live.

But Washington declined to send a delegation to the meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. The White House said it would not endorse Ardern's initiative, although it supported the broader aims.

Facebook said in a statement it was introducing a "one-strike" policy for use of Facebook Live, a service which lets users broadcast live video. Those who broke the company's most serious rules anywhere on its site would have their access to make live broadcasts temporarily restricted.

The range of offences that would qualify for one-strike suspensions would be broadened.

The company did not specify which offences would result in such a ban or how long suspensions would last, but a spokeswoman said it would not have been possible for the Christchurch shooter to use Facebook Live on his account under the new rules.

Facebook has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over hate speech, privacy lapses and its dominant market position in social media. The company is trying to address those concerns while averting more strenuous action from regulators.

Ardern called the changes announced on Wednesday "a good first step to restrict the application being used as a tool for terrorists, and shows the Christchurch Call is being acted on."

The company said it plans to extend the restrictions to other areas over coming weeks, beginning with preventing the same people from creating Facebook ads. It also said it would fund research at three universities on techniques to detect manipulated media, which its systems struggled to spot in the aftermath of the attack.

Ardern said the research was welcome and that edited and manipulated videos of the March 15 mosque shootings had been slow to be removed, resulting in many people, including herself, seeing video of the killings played in their Facebook feeds.

WHITE HOUSE "NOT IN A POSITION TO JOIN"

Macron hosted Ardern, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canada's Justin Trudeau and other leaders at a summit on Wednesday to support Ardern's initiative.

Signatories would "encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online, to avoid amplifying terrorist and violent extremist content," although the initiative is non-binding, light on details and leaves countries and companies to decide how to apply guidelines.

Countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, India and Sweden said they backed it, as did U.S. tech giants Microsoft, Alphabet's Google and its video platform YouTube and Amazon.

But the White House said in a statement the United States was "not currently in a position to join the endorsement," although it added: "we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the call".

In comments made at a joint news conference with Ardern, Macron put a positive spin on the White House response.

"We'll do everything we can so that there is a more concrete and formal commitment, but I consider... the fact that the U.S. administration said it shared the objectives and the common will as a positive element," Macron said.

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, said the call was "leading to real action, even if it's not binding".

"The Christchurch Call will be assessed ultimately by the impact it has. And the impact it has will be determined not only by governments but also by tech companies," Smith told Reuters.

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