The UK Independence Party hopes to get its first Member of Parliament on Thursday as voters in Newark go to the polls in a by-election triggered by the resignation of Conservative incumbent Patrick Mercer. But the Tories look likely to retain the constituency, with the latest polls putting them on 42 percent, 15 points ahead of UKIP and 22 percent ahead of Labour. UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is currently in Malta, told AFP that his candidate Roger Helmer -- a Conservative defector -- could still cause an upset, saying "all the by-election polls under-estimate us." Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited the Midlands town in support of his candidate, Robert Jenrick.
By Steve Holland and Warren Strobel WASHINGTON (Reuters) - For President Barack Obama, it seemed like the right thing to do, according to officials in his administration: Release five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in return for Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. As a political firestorm engulfs the White House over that deal, Reuters interviews with current and former Obama administration officials involved in the negotiations, along with U.S. lawmakers, reveal how a close-knit circle in the Obama administration pursued the plan despite intense discord in the past over similar proposals. The White House was ultimately persuaded to go ahead, in part, after Qatar agreed to take the Taliban detainees and said it would allow the United States to track the five men in the Gulf emirate.
South Korea's ruling party breathed a sigh of relief Thursday after a better-than-expected showing in local elections seen as a referendum on President Park Geun-Hye's handling of the April ferry disaster that killed about 300 people. With counting still continuing from Wednesday's nationwide polls, Park's Saenuri Party was set to win eight of the 17 main contests for city mayors and provincial governors. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which had urged a protest vote against Park's response to the Sewol ferry tragedy, had won or was leading in nine races. As well as retaining posts in its traditional regional strongholds, the Saenuri Party managed to win a number of battleground contests in Incheon city and Gyeonggi province.
Germany's federal prosecutors said they had opened an investigation over alleged snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by the US National Security Agency in a case that has soured relations. The long-anticipated probe, which follows an explosive allegation last year that US spies had eavesdropped on Merkel's mobile phone conversations in the past, is against persons unknown, chief federal prosecutor Harald Range said. "I informed parliament's legal affairs committee that I have started a preliminary investigation over tapping of a mobile phone of the chancellor," he said after addressing the committee.
Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government, an Irish television documentary claims. A European Commission report later found the men were subjected to five techniques of deprivation: hooding, wall standing in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation and subjection to noise.
Chan Koonchung's novel "The Fat Years", set in a China of the near-future where a dark moment of history has been erased from public memory, has never been published on the mainland. The book released in 2009 presents a dystopian vision of 2013 in which China's rise coincides with the economic weakening of the West. But its chances of being published in China were always going to be slim, given its allusions to the Communist Party's censorship machine and the way events such as the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown 25 years ago this week have been virtually deleted from official history. "My novels are unpublishable (in China)," said Chan in an interview in Hong Kong.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Joni Ernst, a mother from farm country and Iraq war veteran who was little known outside her rural legislative district only months ago, surprisingly won Iowa's Republican Senate primary going away and now appears well positioned to compete for a seat that could help determine whether the GOP wins control of Congress.
US companies have promised $1 billion for off-grid power projects in Africa, putting a growing focus on small-scale and renewable energy in the push to ease the continent's chronic electricity shortages. President Barack Obama's administration announced commitments by 27 investors as it moves forward on a goal of doubling electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of power has been a key impediment to improving education and public health. "With close to 600 million people without access to modern-day electricity, it is clear that centralized grid access is not a comprehensive solution for these countries in one of the world's least urban continents," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Tuesday on a visit to Ethiopia, according to a statement. "But through solutions including off-grid and small scale energy projects, we can bring electricity to these rural areas," he said.
Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Heavily armed gunmen raided four villages in northeast Nigeria leaving scores dead and sending survivors fleeing the attacks blamed on Boko Haram, a local lawmaker and residents said on Wednesday. "There were deadly attacks on these villages by Boko Haram insurgents who killed a large number of people and destroyed homes," lawmaker Peter Biye, who represents the area in Nigeria's lower chamber of parliament, told AFP. "Boko Haram have hoisted their flags in at least seven villages in the area which they now claim to be under their control," said the lawmaker. Military jets bombarded Boko Haram positions in the affected area to try to flush out the insurgents, he added.
The leader of the world's Anglicans on Wednesday visited Nigeria, his office said, expressing sympathy to the country's president over security concerns and the fate of more than 200 schoolgirl hostages. "The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made a last-minute visit to Nigeria today to offer his heartfelt sympathy for the recent events affecting the country," Lambeth Palace said in a statement. During a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, described by Welby's office as a "pastoral visit", the cleric expressed his "personal pain and condolence about the ongoing terrorism" affecting mainly Muslim northern Nigeria. The talks also touched on a recent twin car bomb attack in the central city of Jos, also blamed on Boko Haram militants, which killed at least 118.
Dharamsala (India) (AFP) - The Dalai Lama and other exiled Tibetan leaders will on Thursday launch a renewed push for autonomy within China as they seek to end a wave of gruesome self-immolations against perceived oppression in their homeland by Beijing. The leaders will meet in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala to kick off a media campaign promoting the "Middle Way" for peaceful autonomy for Tibetans, in a bid to pile global pressure on Beijing to revisit the issue. The prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, is expected to host a press conference, after taking over the job of pushing for autonomy from the revered spiritual leader. But the Dalai Lama, who stepped down from political duties in 2011, stole the spotlight on the eve of the launch by urging China to embrace democracy in comments marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The United States has selected career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis as its new top diplomat in Havana, a State Department official said Wednesday. DeLaurentis, who has previously worked as a diplomat in Havana, Bogota and at the United Nations, will lead the US Interests Section in the Cuban capital, a de facto embassy.
Senator Thad Cochran and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel on Wednesday formally headed to a Republican Senate primary runoff in Mississippi, launching what is expected to be an expensive and bitter three-week campaign sprint. McDaniel had 49.5 percent of the vote to Cochran's 49 percent, giving him a nearly 1,400-vote edge out of more than 310,000 cast. A little known third candidate, Thomas Carey, drew 1.5 percent of the vote, keeping one of the two leaders from a clear win.
The United States on Wednesday welcomed Iran's recent efforts to alleviate concerns about its nuclear programme, but urged it to increase the pace of cooperation. A recent report by the UN atomic watchdog IAEA found Iran was sticking to its agreements with the agency and implementing all newly agreed measures, even addressing matters related to bomb-making for the first time in six years. "You can't see steps taking place and say it's not sufficient, those are good steps," the US delegate to the IAEA, Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, told journalists Wednesday on the sidelines of an IAEA board of governors meeting. Addressing member states earlier, Macmanus however highlighted that Iran's engagement was "long overdue," according to a copy of his address.
Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government minister, an Irish television documentary claimed Wednesday. In 1971, as violence intensified in the sectarian conflict, internment â or imprisonment without trial â was introduced by the British state as they tried to bring order to the province. The men were subjected to five techniques of deprivation: hooding, wall standing in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation and subjection to noise, according to the report.
A major nuclear deal between world powers and Iran can still be achieved by next month as planned, Tehran said Wednesday as lack of progress recently raised fears the talks had hit a wall. Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany -- are trying to draft a potentially historic nuclear agreement by July 20. "We believe that we can meet the deadline set out in the Geneva agreement and we work toward that aim," Iran's ambassador to the UN atomic watchdog IAEA, Reza Najafi, said Wednesday in Vienna.
Fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking to extend his refugee status in Russia, his lawyer said Wednesday, despite Snowden saying recently he wants to move to the United States or Brazil. We are working on the questions of extending his status, so everything is normal," Anatoly Kucherena told the Interfax news agency. Snowden flew into Russia from Hong Kong in June last year after shaking the intelligence establishment to its core with a series of leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world. He was only able to leave Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on August 1 after obtaining temporary refugee status, which lasts for one year.