APD | Weekly top 10 hot news (Feb.12- Feb.18)



Every weekend, Asia Pacific Daily will provide you with a run-down of the latest hot news.

This week, the following hot news you should know:

**Top 1 |**Senate averts government shutdown after amendments to repeal COVID mandates fail

Senators narrowly avoided a government shutdown Thursday evening, passing a short-term funding bill one day before funds were set to lapse.

The bill, which continues funding at current levels, will keep the federal government operating until March 11. Congressional leaders are hopeful that by that time, negotiators will have ironed out an agreement on a yearlong package of funding bills.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle have assured the public for several days that the government would not shut down on Friday, but negotiations came down to the wire as GOP lawmakers looked to use the budget bill as an opportunity to challenge Democrats' COVID-19 mandates.

**Top 2 |**New GOP governor signs bill ending mask mandates in Virginia schools

Virginia's newly elected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a law Wednesday that ends mask mandates in public schools throughout Virginia and lets parents opt out of their children from wearing masks, despite conflicting local mandates, without providing a reason or getting an exemption.

The law prevents school districts from adapting policies using the infection and hospitalization data of a particular area and prevents school boards from enacting policies that Youngkin's critics say could be safest for their community.

Youngkin, who signed an executive ordering barring mask mandates on the day he was inaugurated in mid-January -- but that several school districts challenged in court -- rushed to deliver on his campaign promises to end the mandates and affirm what he said are the rights of parents in education.

**Top 3 |**Iran says 'closer than ever' to an agreement in nuclear talks as U.S. notes talks in 'very final stages'

Iran on Wednesday said negotiators were "closer than ever" to reach an agreement over a 2015 nuclear deal while the United States said its indirect talks with Iran were entering the "very final stages."

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, tweeted on Wednesday that "after weeks of intensive talks, we are closer than ever to an agreement. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, though."

France on Wednesday said a decision on salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers is just days away, and that it is now up to Tehran to make its political choice.

**Top 4 |**Biden braces Americans for higher energy prices if Russia invades Ukraine

With fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine remaining a "distinct possibility," President Joe Biden is sending a stark warning to Americans about what he says could be very real economic consequences at home -- especially at the gas pump.

The average price of a gallon of gas reached $3.51 on Wednesday, according to AAA, up roughly a dollar from a year ago and the highest level since October 2014. And in just the last month, prices in more than a dozen states have jumped 25 cents.

Russia is the second largest oil producer in the world, and if it invades and U.S. sanctions then keep its oil from the world market or make it more expensive, and ABC News Chief Business Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis reports some analysts predict prices at the pump in the U.S. could jump as much as 50 cents.

**Top 5 |**UN chief calls to address Russia-Ukraine tensions through diplomatic framework

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for diplomacy to defuse the heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Guterres expressed his deep worries about the current tensions and increased speculation about a potential military conflict.

The secretary-general had held a virtual meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He also spoke separately with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

**Top 6 |**Biden assures Ukraine president US will respond 'swiftly' to Russian aggression

President Joe Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States and its allies will respond "swiftly and decisively" to any further aggression by Russia against Ukraine, according to a White House readout of a phone call between the two leaders.

The Sunday morning call took place as U.S. officials continue to warn that an attack from Russia could come "any day now" and urge all Americans still in Ukraine to leave the country.

The conversation with the Ukrainian president comes one day after Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where Biden similarly warned that should Russia take action against Ukraine, the U.S., along with its allies, "will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia."

According to a White House official, the call between Biden and Zelensky, who last spoke at the end of January, lasted 51 minutes, a shorter call than Biden's discussion with Putin on Saturday, which lasted just over an hour.

**Top 7 |**Ukraine's leader invites Biden to visit Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky invited U.S. President Joe Biden to visit Ukraine during a phone call on Sunday, the Ukraine presidential office said.

Zelensky and Biden have exchanged information on the security situation around Ukraine and discussed ways of de-escalation, said a statement on the Ukrainian presidential website.

Zelensky also stressed the importance of providing effective security guarantees for Kyiv.

Top 8 | Germany's President Steinmeier re-elected for second five-year term

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected to a second term as Germany's president on Sunday after a special assembly voted the veteran politician, seen as a symbol of consensus and continuity, back in to the prominent yet largely ceremonial post.

Steinmeier's election by secret ballot by a majority of the assembly for another five years was widely expected, amid broad support from most of Germany's major parties during a time of global turmoil and following a recent change of government.

In his acceptance speech, Steinmeier criticized Russia's military build-up near Ukraine. "I can only warn (President Vladimir Putin)... Don't underestimate the strength of democracy."

Top 9 |****'Past time' to leave: US evacuates diplomats, troops from Ukraine amid 'war zone' warnings

With increasingly dire warnings from the U.S. that Russia will likely attack Ukraine in the coming days, the U.S. is evacuating its diplomats and troops in the country and urging private American citizens to leave immediately, according to the State Department and Pentagon.

The U.S. embassy announced it was evacuating all but non-emergency staff from the country and that among the skeleton crew left behind, many would pull out of the capital, Kyiv, to the western city, Lviv, near the border with Poland.

The Pentagon also announced that it was withdrawing 160 soldiers from the Florida National Guard, among the only U.S. military presence in the country.

**Top 10 |**UK's Met Police send questionnaire to PM Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received a questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police and will respond as required, his spokesperson said on Friday.

The Metropolitan Police are contacting more than 50 people believed to have attended lockdown parties at Johnson's Downing Street office and residence to explain their involvement.