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10 things you need to know today: February 18, 2016

Harold Maass
AP Photo/ Andrew Harnik
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President Obama plans March visit to Cuba

President Obama plans to travel to Cuba in March, administration officials familiar with the plan said Wednesday. The historic visit will be the first for a sitting U.S. president in 88 years. It comes more than a year after Obama started an effort to restore ties to the communist Caribbean island after a half-century of estrangement. Earlier this week, the U.S. and Cuba signed a deal to restore commercial flights between the two countries. The White House plans to officially announce the trip on Thursday. [The New York Times]


Ted Cruz overtakes Donald Trump in national poll

Ted Cruz has pulled ahead of longtime frontrunner Donald Trump among Republican voters nationally, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday. The same poll gave Trump a 13-point lead a month ago, but now it shows Cruz with the support of 28 percent of Republican primary voters, compared to 26 percent for Trump, and 17 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The poll differed sharply from a recent national Reuters/Ipsos poll, which showed Trump maintaining a 20-point lead over Cruz. [NBC News, Reuters]


S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley endorses Marco Rubio

Nikki Haley (R) endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday. The South Carolina governor's support gave Rubio a much-needed boost as he heads into Saturday's primary trailing Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who trailed Rubio in the CNN poll, had said earlier that Haley's support was "probably the most meaningful endorsement," and he'd have to "work harder" if he didn't get it. [CNN]


Pope Francis calls for compassion for migrants at U.S.-Mexico border

Pope Francis concluded an emotionally charged visit to Mexico on Wednesday with a stop at the U.S.-Mexico border, where he called for compassion for migrants. In a cross-border Mass for people in Ciudad Juarez and, via video link, in El Paso on the U.S. side, Francis decried the "humanitarian crisis" created when people risk death to flee poverty and violence in Central America and Mexico, hoping to reach the U.S. but being preyed on by human traffickers along the way. "Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned, and extorted," he said. [Los Angeles Times]


Oil prices buoyed by Iran's praise for planned output freeze

Oil prices extended a rally early Thursday, reaching $35 a barrel after Iran welcomed an oil output freeze proposed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other major oil producers. Iran has not agreed to join the effort to ease the global glut that has dragged down prices. It has vowed to ramp up production to levels seen before years of recently lifted sanctions over its controversial nuclear program. Iran's oil minister, however, said that after meeting with OPEC ministers Wednesday Tehran "backs any measures which help stabilize the market," raising hopes it will join the freeze. [Reuters, Business Insider]


Humanitarian aid trucks reach besieged Syrian cities

More than 100 trucks carrying food and medicine began reaching five besieged Syrian towns on Wednesday. The aid deliveries were the first under a deal negotiated in Munich last week and finalized on Tuesday when Syria promised the United Nations to give humanitarian organizations access to the towns. Diplomats from the U.S., Russia, and other members of the International Syria Support Group were preparing to meet in Geneva on Thursday to discuss expanding the aid to cover at least 15 besieged towns with hundreds of thousands of people. [The New York Times]


China believed to have deployed missiles on disputed island

China has deployed suspected surface-to-air missile batteries on a disputed island in the South China Sea, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday. A U.S. defense official confirmed the "apparent deployment" on Woody Island in the Paracel chain, which China has controlled for more than 40 years but Taiwan and Vietnam also claim. Satellite images of the alleged missile sites were released at the end of President Obama's summit with nations with maritime claims in the region. [The Washington Post]


Car bomb kills 28 in Turkey

A car bomb detonated next to buses carrying military personnel in Ankara, Turkey's capital, on Wednesday, killing 28 people. The dead included soldiers and civilians. Sixty-one other people were wounded. The blast hit near the armed forces' headquarters, and government buildings, including parliament. The attack was the latest in a series of bombings in the country over the past year. Most of the attacks have been blamed on the Islamic State, although the Turkish government has also clashed with Kurdish militants. [Reuters]


Venezuela imposes first gasoline price hike in almost 2 decades

Venezuela on Thursday is hiking subsidized gasoline prices for the first time in nearly two decades as the oil-producing South American nation contends with rock-bottom oil prices. President Nicolas Maduro's government also devalued the country's currency in an attempt to address triple-digit inflation and a deep recession. Venezuelans will still have the cheapest gas in the world after the 60-fold price hike, which will bring the price of a gallon of gas to the equivalent of about 11 U.S. cents per gallon. [Bloomberg]


Polish anti-Soviet hero Lech Walesa was paid Communist informant, official says

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity trade union federation is credited with hastening the fall of the Soviet Union, was a paid informant for the Communist-era secret security service from 1970 to 1976, the head of Poland's Institute of National Remembrance said Thursday. Walesa previously acknowledged signing a promise to become an informant, but denies providing information. The history institute chief, Lukasz Kaminsky, said recently seized documents include reports and expense reimbursements signed by Walesa. [The Associated Press]

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