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Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party says it aims to form government

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Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan's party says it aims to form government
© Reuters. Supporters of Pakistani former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), attend a protest demanding free and fair results of the election, in Peshawar, Pakistan, February 10, 2024. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

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By Ariba Shahid and Charlotte Greenfield

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Candidates backed by the party of jailed Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan plan to form a government, a senior aide to the former prime minister said on Saturday, urging supporters to peacefully protest if final election results are not released.

The nation of 241 million people voted on Thursday in a general election, as the country struggles to recover from an economic crisis and battles militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

Both Khan and his main rival, three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared victory on Friday, increasing uncertainty over who will form the next government at a time when swift policy action is needed to address multiple challenges.

Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) party who also acts as the former prime minister’s lawyer, called on “all institutions” in Pakistan to respect his party’s mandate.

At a press conference, he said if complete results of the polls were not released by Saturday night, the party would hold peaceful protests on Sunday outside government offices returning election results around the country.

Hundreds of Khan’s supporters rallied in the northwestern city of Peshawar led by two of his aides who said they had been declared losers despite having won the polls.

“We never expected it would happen to us,” said Taimur Khan Jhagra, one of Khan’s former provincial ministers.

The protesters chanted slogans against what they called a vote fraud.

Sharif said on Friday his party had emerged as the single largest group and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government.

By 5 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Saturday, results were still not in for 10 of the 265 seats contested in the election – 48 hours after the polls closed.

The latest tally, posted on the election commission’s website, showed independent candidates had won 100 seats, with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) taking 72 seats.

At least 90 of the victorious independent candidates were backed by Khan and his party, a Reuters analysis showed – putting them well ahead of Sharif’s party.

Khan’s supporters were running as independents because they had been barred from contesting the polls under his party’s electoral symbol by the election commission for not complying with electoral laws.

Despite the ban and Khan’s imprisonment for convictions on charges ranging from leaking state secrets to corruption to an unlawful marriage, millions of the former cricketer’s supporters came out to vote for him, even though he cannot be part of any government while he remains in prison.

However, under Pakistan’s electoral laws, independent candidates are not eligible to be allocated reserved seats, 70 of which are meant to be distributed according to party strength. Sharif’s party could get up to 20 of these seats.

Khan’s close aide and media adviser, Zulfi Bukhari, told Reuters the party would announce within the next day the party banner they will ask independents to join. In Pakistan, independent candidates cannot form a government on their own and need to join a party.

“And we have no fear of independents going anywhere, because these are the people who have struggled for the last 18 months and endured all kinds of torture and oppression,” Bukhari told Reuters in a WhatsApp voice message.

Whoever seeks to form the next government would need support from other parties with no one close to the seat threshold for a simple majority in parliament.

Beside Khan and Sharif, the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, remains a major player with at least 53 seats.

The rest were won by small parties and other independents. This sets up a period of intense political negotiations over the next few days before a parliamentary vote to elect a new prime minister and government can take place.

“No one can form a government without us,” Bhutto Zardari told local Geo TV.

‘STABLE HANDS’

Pakistan’s army chief congratulated the country on Saturday for the “successful conduct” of the election, saying the nation needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.

The military remains the country’s most powerful institution and has for decades had a huge role in making and breaking governments. Khan accuses the military of a crackdown on him and his party. The military denies this.

From jail, Khan released an audio-visual message created with artificial intelligence rather than having a statement read out by his lawyers, as is usually the case, in which he rejected Sharif’s claim to victory.

In the message posted on social media platform X, he called on his supporters to celebrate what he called a win that had been achieved despite a crackdown on his party and alleged poll rigging to limit the success of PTI-backed candidates.

The United States, Britain and the European Union on Friday each expressed concerns about the electoral process, urging a probe into reported irregularities.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron cited “serious concerns” that raised questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.

Pakistan’s foreign office responded to the comments on Saturday, saying they ignored the “undeniable fact” that the election had been successfully conducted.

“It is our hope that the process will be concluded effectively and it will reflect the will of the people,” said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is leading the Commonwealth team to observe the voting.

Jonathan called on those with grievances over the election to raise them in line with the laws of Pakistan.

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Wendy’s, blasted over CEO’s pricing comment, vows no price hikes at busy times

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Wendy's, blasted over CEO's pricing comment, vows no price hikes at busy times
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Wendy?s restaurant displays a “Now Hiring” sign in Tampa, Florida, U.S., June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones/File Photo

By Waylon Cunningham and Deborah Mary Sophia

DALLAS (Reuters) -Wendy’s said on Wednesday it has no plans to raise menu prices at times of peak demand, after the burger chain weathered heavy criticism on social media since its CEO said earlier this month it would start testing “dynamic pricing”.

CEO Kirk Tanner told investors on a call this month that starting as early as 2025, Wendy’s (NASDAQ:) would begin testing features including “dynamic pricing and daypart offerings”. Dynamic pricing refers to surge pricing based on demand, especially during peak hours of the day.

This practice often raises prices at busy times, similar to how Uber (NYSE:) adjusts ride fares.

Tanner’s comment this week sparked an online backlash. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in a post on the social media platform X on Wednesday called it “price gouging plain and simple.”

Wendy’s, in a statement to Reuters, said on Wednesday it “would not raise prices when our customers are visiting us most.”

Its initiative to add digital menuboards to certain stores would instead allow Wendy’s to offer discounts to customers more easily, “particularly in the slower times of day,” it added.

“We said these menuboards would give us more flexibility to change the display of featured items. This was misconstrued in some media reports as an intent to raise prices when demand is highest … We have no plans to do that,” the company said.

Warren’s post on X, previously Twitter, said Wendy’s plan “means you could pay more for your lunch, even if the cost to Wendy’s stays exactly the same. It’s price gouging plain and simple, and American families have had enough.”

“I guess I won’t be eating at Wendy’s anymore,” one Reddit user said in a post, while others on X called for boycotts.

Analysts and consultants were skeptical of the idea of surge pricing at restaurants.

Wendy’s “dynamic pricing” was a hot topic at a restaurant conference in the Dallas area, with several executives saying customers – already skittish after recent price increases – would likely be scared off by unpredictable prices.

“I don’t see it taking off any time soon,” said Victor Fernandez, a senior analyst at restaurant analytics firm Black Box Intelligence.

Michael Lukianoff, CEO of SignalFlare.ai, who has consulted with restaurants about pricing for years, said that “dynamic pricing” is a great success in other industries such as airlines, but would not work in restaurants.

“Customers will shop elsewhere,” he said.

Wendy’s sales have already slowed. Placer.ai data showed visits to Wendy’s outlets declined in all three months of the fourth quarter of 2023.

Wendy’s shares, which dropped about 14% in 2023, were up 1% on Wednesday. The company also recently issued a profit forecast for this year below Wall Street estimates, hurt by higher commodity and labor costs.

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Apple shareholders reject AI disclosure proposal

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Apple to disclose AI plans later this year, CEO Tim Cook says
© Reuters. Apple logo is seen in this illustration taken, August 22, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) -Apple plans to disclose more about its plans to put generative artificial intelligence to use later this year, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Cook said that the iPhone maker sees “incredible breakthrough potential for generative AI, which is why we’re currently investing significantly in this area. We believe that will unlock transformative opportunities for users when it comes to productivity, problem solving and more.”

Apple (NASDAQ:) has been slower in rolling out generative AI, which can generate human-like responses to written prompts, than rivals such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:)’s Google, which are weaving them into products.

On Wednesday, Cook argued that AI is already at work behind the scenes in Apple’s products but said there would be more news on explicit AI features later this year. Bloomberg previously reported Apple plans to use AI to improve the ability to search through data stored on Apple devices.

“Every Mac that is powered by Apple silicon is an extraordinarily capable AI machine. In fact, there’s no better computer for AI on the market today,” Cook said.

Apple shareholders on Wednesday rejected a measure asking the company to disclose more information about how it uses artificial intelligence in its business and its ethical guidelines for the technology.

The proposal, which was defeated at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, was put forth by the pension trust of the AFL-CIO, the largest American labor union federation, which has also proposed AI measures at other technology companies.

A similar proposal will be heard at Walt Disney (NYSE:)’s annual meeting in April.

At Apple, the AFL-CIO asked for a report on the company’s use of AI “in its business operations and disclose any ethical guidelines that the company has adopted regarding the company’s use of AI technology.”

In its supporting statement in Apple’s proxy materials, the AFL-CIO wrote that “AI systems should not be trained on copyrighted works, or the voices, likenesses and performances of professional performers, without transparency, consent and compensation to creators and rights holders.”

Apple opposed the measure, saying that disclosures could tip its hand on strategy as it competes against rivals in the fast-moving AI field.

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UMG to generate 250 million euros in savings by 2026, flags job cuts

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UMG to generate 250 million euros in savings by 2026, flags job cuts
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Universal Music Group logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Universal Music Group (AS:) will cut jobs and streamline its operations with the aim of generating 250 million euros ($271.03 million) in run-rate savings by 2026.

In the first phase of the plan, which will be introduced immediately, the group plans to save 125 million euros in 2025, including 75 million euros in 2024, the company said.

“Our organizational redesign achieves efficiencies in targeted cost areas while providing our labels with unprecedented capabilities to deepen artist and fan connections via new experiential, commerce, and content offerings,” the group said in a statement.

UMG also posted a 9.2% year-on-year increase in adjusted core profit (EBITDA), to 677 million euros in the fourth quarter, as its revenue rose to 3.21 billion euros, up 9.0% from previous year.

It proposed a year-end dividend of 0.27 euros per share, bringing total dividend payout in 2023 to 0.51 per share.

($1 = 0.9224 euros)

(This story has been refiled to add ‘euros’ in the headline)

(Reportin by Dagmarah Mackos, editing by Tassilo Hummel)

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