While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, March 11

US Congress passes Covid-19 relief Bill in big win for Biden

The US Congress on Wednesday passed Joe Biden’s enormous economic relief package, delivering a resounding victory for the US president and a desperately needed injection of cash to millions of families and businesses enduring the coronavirus pandemic.

The US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) plan, which funds Covid-19 vaccines and sends stimulus cheques of up to US$1,400 to most Americans, passed the House of Representatives with zero support from Republicans, who accused Biden of abandoning his Inauguration Day pledge to unify the nation.

The White House said Biden – who made the American Rescue Plan his top legislative priority – planned to sign the measure into law on Friday, days before unemployment benefits were scheduled to expire for millions of people.

The measure provides US$400 billion for US$1,400 direct payments to most Americans, US$350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for vaccine distribution. Forecasters expect it to supercharge the US economic recovery.


Top US, China diplomats to hold first in-person talks under Biden

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with top Chinese officials on March 18 during a stop in Alaska, the State Department said on Wednesday, marking the first high-level in-person contact between the two countries under the Biden administration.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will join the meeting in Anchorage with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi.

The meeting will follow Blinken’s first overseas trip to US key allies Japan and South Korea. The two sides will discuss “a range of issues,” the department said in a statement without giving further details.


Millions of websites offline after fire at French cloud services firm

A fire at a French cloud services firm has disrupted millions of websites, knocking out government agencies’ portals, banks, shops, news websites and taking out a chunk of the .FR web space, according to Internet monitors.

The fire, which broke out on Wednesday shortly after midnight at OVHcloud, destroyed one of four data centres in Strasbourg, in eastern France, and damaged another, the company said.

There was no immediate explanation provided for the blaze, which erupted just two days after the French cloud computing firm kicked off plans for an initial public offering.


Three hours in ‘hell room’: Myanmar protester describes beating

A protester in Myanmar who says he was detained by troops for three hours as part of the crackdown against opponents of last month’s military coup has described being beaten with belts, chains, bamboo sticks and batons.

In a rare first-hand account of the treatment of detained activists, the man told Reuters he was one of about 60 people picked up on Tuesday by police in Myeik, a southern coastal town, as they hid in a house after a protest was broken up by them.

A military spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment on the man’s allegations. Myeik police station did not answer its phone. The army has previously said it is dealing with protests lawfully.


Tennis: Federer makes winning return after 13 months out

Roger Federer won his first match contested in over a year on Wednesday as the 20-time Grand Slam champion returned from injury to beat British number one Dan Evans at the Qatar Open.

Federer, who underwent two knee surgeries in 2020, still proved a tough opponent for an in-form Evans who ultimately succumbed 7-6 (10/8), 3-6, 7-5 after an epic tussle lasting two hours and 24 minutes.

The Swiss great had not played a match since a semi-final defeat by Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in January 2020 – 405 days ago – and acknowledged it was unusual for a player of his age to return after injury.


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