Timeframe: May 7 to May 13, 2023
Contributors: Farhan Uddin Ahmed, GM Sifat Iqbal, and Safin Mahmood
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Pakistan top court orders release of former PM Imran Khan
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ruled the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan to be illegal and ordered that he be immediately released, two days after his detention on corruption allegations triggered violent protests.
After the ruling on Thursday, violence around the country appeared to ease, though clashes between celebrating supporters of Khan and police briefly broke out near the Supreme Court building.
Student Loan Repayment Pause to End by June 30 as US Supreme Court Decision Looms
In a recent Senate appropriations committee hearing, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced that the current pause on student loan repayments will come to an end “no later than June 30.” This pause, which was implemented in November, will conclude either 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after the Supreme Court issues its much-anticipated ruling on debt relief.
While the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan remains in legal limbo, Cardona expressed confidence in his strategy before the Supreme Court and assured borrowers that efforts are being made to ensure a smooth transition back into repayment. He acknowledged the challenges faced by borrowers during the pandemic and emphasized the commitment to resume payments after a decision is made, with the process beginning no later than June 30.
The Biden administration’s proposed debt relief plan aims to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for individual borrowers earning under $125,000 annually. However, the plan’s fate rests with the Supreme Court, which seemed inclined to reject the broad relief initiative during oral arguments in February.
Secretary Cardona acknowledged the need for borrowers to receive information and have ample time to prepare for the resumption of payments. He emphasized that a lengthy transition period is necessary, given the three-year hiatus in payments. The aim is to provide borrowers with a smooth reentry into the repayment process.
As the June 30 deadline approaches, borrowers eagerly await the Supreme Court’s ruling and the subsequent actions from the Education Department regarding student loan repayment. The fate of the Biden administration’s ambitious debt relief plan hangs in the balance, while borrowers hope for a favorable outcome that could significantly alleviate their financial burdens.
Thailand’s Upcoming Election Crucial for Democracy
Thais go to the polls May 14 in an election pro-democracy parties say is critical for resetting the kingdom’s politics nearly a decade after the military and its establishment supporters seized power in a coup.
The election broadly pits pro-democracy parties, including the main opposition Pheu Thai and the youth-facing Move Forward, against conservative rivals, whose leading light is caretaker prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth, 69, is a former army chief who led a coup in 2014 as head of the military. His critics say he has presided over nearly nine years of falling freedoms and soaring inequality, which have seen young pro-democracy activists chased through the courts, and the benefits of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy shared among an increasingly narrow elite.
2. Economics & Business
China’s cash-strapped local governments can’t pay workers on time
Hu Mingdan, a civil servant in eastern China, prided herself on landing a job known as an “iron rice bowl” – the kind where you don’t worry about being laid off or chasing payment.
That is until late last year when, for the first time in more than 10 years of working as an accountant for the local government, Hu’s paycheck was delayed for three months.
Many of my colleagues’ salaries were delayed, and it was hard because we have families to feed,” Hu, who lives and works in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, told Al Jazeera. “This was unimaginable before.”
Hu’s delayed wages are a symptom of a deeper malaise in the finances of local governments in China.
Across the world’s second-largest economy, cash-strapped provincial and local governments are auctioning off public schools, cutting back on contracts with private contractors, and slashing pensions.
Despite China’s better-than-expected economic growth of 4 percent in the first quarter of 2023, many subnational authorities are deeply mired in debt, posing a challenge to the country’s recovery from COVID-19 and nearly three years of tough pandemic curbs.
3. Science & Technology
Google upgrades Bard to compete with ChatGPT
Google is adding a collection of new features to its AI chatbot Bard, including support for new languages (Japanese and Korean), easier ways to export text to Google Docs and Gmail, visual search, and a dark mode.
First announced in February, Bard struggled early to gain traction for a host of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that — unlike ChatGPT which is freely and widely available — Bard had a waitlist with limited availability. Google is now removing the waitlist and opening up Bard to a global audience.
For more general uses, Google is making Bard more visual, with the ability to analyze images, offer images in query results, and generate visuals using AI.
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