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Dozens of African migrants thrown overboard by smugglers and feared dead: IOM
3 March 2021, 9:41 PM

Dozens of African migrants are feared to have died on Wednesday after smugglers threw them overboard off Djibouti as they were en route to Yemen, hoping to enter Saudi Arabia to find work.

Their boat, carrying 200 migrants, left Oulebi in Djibouti at 2 a.m., according to Yvonne Ndege, spokeswoman for the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

But survivors said that, half an hour later, the smugglers judged the boat was overloaded and threw at least 80 passengers off, Ndege said.

She said five bodies had been retrieved so far.

Drownings in the waters off Djibouti, typically involving migrants from Ethiopia or Somalia trying to escape poverty and war at home by finding work in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, have become common.

They include would-be migrants who have become stranded in Yemen after failing to cross into Saudi Arabia, sometimes due to coronavirus restrictions, and drown on the return crossing.

Hatton ready to defend maiden PGA Tour title at Bay Hill
3 March 2021, 9:22 PM

Tyrrell Hatton added a red cardigan to his closet with his win at last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and returns to Bay Hill this week knowing he must work on his putting if he wants to add a Green Jacket to his wardrobe at next month’s Masters.

World number six Hatton, the final winner on the PGA Tour before the COVID-19 shutdown, missed the cut at Augusta National last year and his best Masters finish in four starts was a share of 44th place in 2018.

“I need to figure out how to putt at Augusta, if that is ever going to be happen, to be honest,” the Englishman said on Wednesday in Orlando, Florida.

“Normally putting is a strong point for me and I’ve never putted well there, sadly. So obviously hoping that changes this year.”

Last year at Bay Hill, Hatton delivered a gritty performance during which he held off a strong field and even stronger winds to pick up a maiden PGA Tour title five days before the PGA Tour halted for three months because of the novel coronavirus.

But Hatton did not let the hiatus impact his game and has since enjoyed an impressive stretch that includes a number of top-10 finishes and European Tour victories at last October’s BMW PGA Championship and January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“Although we did have, unfortunately, a long break not long after the tournament last year, I guess I kind of kept that run going and ended up having a brilliant year,” said Hatton.

Hatton, who may have been on the receiving end of the last big roar in golf, is looking forward to some semblance of normalcy as Bay Hill will allow 25% fan capacity, which would make it the most attended PGA Tour event since play resumed.

“It’s kind of hard to remember the cheers, really. We played a lot of golf since then with obviously no fans,” said Hatton, who will play the opening two rounds this week with Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari.

“It will be nice having a limited number of fans out there again, just to kind of give a bit more of an atmosphere and hopefully I can do something worth cheering about.”

Senate trims parts of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill before votes
3 March 2021, 8:18 PM

President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would phase out $1 400 payments to high-income Americans in a compromise with moderate Democratic senators, according to lawmakers and media reports.

The Democratic-controlled Senate expects to open debate on the package as early as Wednesday, with a final vote for passage seen later in the week. Before the bill hits the chamber floor, Democrats are negotiating limits to a measure Republicans have attacked as wasteful.

Senate Democrats said the proposal, which would block Americans earning $80 000 per year or more and couples earning $160 000 or more from receiving the $1 400 payments, was a good solution.

The income cutoff had been higher – $100 000 for individuals and $200 000 for couples filing jointly – in the House-passed version of the legislation.

“It’s an appropriate way of bringing this to a successful conclusion,” Senator Michael Bennet told reporters. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the caps would be “a reasonable compromise.”

The 100-seat chamber, where control is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, will consider on Wednesday a motion to begin 20 hours of debate on the sweeping legislation. That vote could be an early indicator of how much Republican opposition the package faces.

The bill would pay for vaccines and medical supplies, boost jobless assistance and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. Democrats aim to get it to Biden to sign into law before March 14, when some current benefits expire.

“The plan that we are going to vote on this week is going to provide real, robust relief for all of us,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have denounced the bill. On Wednesday McConnell called it a “vast catalog of liberal spending” and a partisan “smorgasbord of borrowed money” packed with “crazy provisions” unrelated to the pandemic, which has killed more than 517 000 Americans and left millions more jobless.

But a new Morning Consult/Politico poll showed strong bipartisan support for the measure is holding against the Republican attacks. It said 77% of all voters and 59% of Republicans backed the plan.

Before the legislation comes to a final vote, Democrats will have to sort out a welter of competing ideas as they seek to advance the bill.

First to go will be a minimum-wage increase, which the Senate parliamentarian said last week could not be included in the package while the Democrats are using a special procedure that allows them to pass the bill with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation in the chamber.

With Democrats and their allies controlling 50 seats, Vice President Kamala Harris might need to give them a tie-breaking vote, but so long as the Democrats remain united, they would not need Republican votes.

STICKING POINTS

Democrats have shown no interest in dropping another partisan sticking point: $350 billion in aid for state and local governments, which face rising costs and uncertain tax revenues because of the pandemic. But they are negotiating what to include in that figure, with some advocating for spending on rural broadband internet service, a priority for senators from states with large rural populations.

A Reuters analysis found that Democratic-leaning states would get a larger share of that money this time around than they did under the first $150 billion of state and local aid that Congress approved last year.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a key centrist, pushed to scale back enhanced unemployment benefits to $300 per week from $400.

Once the Senate votes on the bill, the House would then have to sign off on the changes before Biden can sign it into law.

Powerful earthquake shakes central Greece, no casualties
3 March 2021, 6:04 PM

An earthquake of magnitude 6.2 struck central Greece on Wednesday, sending people rushing from their houses but drawing no immediate reports of casualties or significant damage.

The quake, which was felt across the country, struck close to Tyrnavos, a town about 230 km (140 miles) north of Athens, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

“I have never experienced anything like this before, I immediately left the house,” a citizen in Larissa region, in central Greece, told ERT state television.

The USGS said the magnitude was 6.3, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) put it 6.2, revising earlier reports that suggested the tremor was as much as 6.9.

The Fire Brigade rescued a disabled elderly man from a house that partly collapsed in the village of Mesochori, in the Tyrnavos area. Minor damage was reported at a school in the nearby village of Damasi.

There were no immediate reports of other people trapped in buildings in the area.

Greek seismologists said there was a sequence of post-quake tremors and said schools should stay closed in coming days.

Costas Agorastos, a local governor in the central Thessaly region, told state television that local schools had been advised to shut.

Greece is often rattled by earthquakes, most of them causing no serious damage. A quake measuring 5.9 killed dozens of people in Athens in 1999.

A total of 100 people were also killed in Turkey and Greece after a strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea in October.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara that Turkey would provide Greece with “all the support we can, if needed.”

Senegal opposition leader arrested as supporters clash with police
3 March 2021, 5:52 PM

Senegal’s main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, was arrested on Wednesday after hundreds of his supporters clashed with police in the capital while protesting a rape accusation against him.

An employee at a beauty salon accused Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, of rape last month and he was summoned for questioning after his parliamentary immunity was removed last week.

Sonko, a 46-year-old former tax inspector who enjoys significant support among younger Senegalese, has denied the allegation and accuses President Macky Sall’s government of stirring up the charge to undermine his strongest rival.

Near his house on Wednesday, Sonko’s supporters burned tyres and threw rocks at riot police, who responded by firing tear gas. A Reuters reporter saw two protesters who were injured, including one bleeding from the head.

“We are ready to die for Sonko!” some chanted.

Amid the melee, Sonko, who was in a convoy headed for a courthouse in downtown Dakar to respond to questioning about the rape allegation, was arrested by the police.

His lawyer, Bamba Cisse, said he was accused of disturbing public order and participating in a banned demonstration.

“They want to catch him in the act, judge him and convict him in order to get him off the electoral rolls,” Cisse told Reuters. “The first accusation of rape wasn’t working so they have now found something else.”

The police were not immediately available for comment.

Other top rivals of Sall have been targeted by criminal charges in the past, including former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade. As a result, neither was able to run for president in 2019.

Sall, 59, denies there has been any political interference in the cases. In power since 2012 and reelected in 2019, he has not commented on reports that he might seek a third term in 2024.

Sall’s opponents say running for a third term would violate the constitution.

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