Critics should wait for the facts before rushing to judge released Taliban detainee Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday. Bergdahl, held for nearly five years in Afghanistan, was freed last week in a controversial prisoner-swap deal with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari government. Some former comrades have accused Bergdahl, who was captured in unknown circumstances on June 30, 2009, of walking away from his unit and prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers. "I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. solders dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl," Hagel told a news conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who romped home in Egypt's presidential election after crushing Islamists, faces a tough task to restore stability and revive a battered economy amid fears of a return to autocracy. On Tuesday, the electoral commission declared Sisi won 96.91 percent of the vote on turnout of 47.5 percent, nearly a year after he toppled the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi. The crushing victory over leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi had never been in doubt, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Morsi's year of divisive rule 11 months ago. The United States said it looks forward to working with Sisi but expressed concerns about the "restrictive political environment" in which last week's vote took place.
The United States will review its troop presence in Europe as it seeks to reassure allies they will not be left unprotected after Russia's intervention in Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday. President Barack Obama's $1 billion US 'reassurance plan' for eastern Europe announced Tuesday is a key part of such efforts and will involve Washington "reviewing the US force presence in Europe," Hagel said. "In light of the new regional security environment, it would be irresponsible for us not to," he added, in an apparent reference to Ukraine. This is a sensitive issue at the heart of the NATO-Russia treaty that formalised the end of the Cold War and set the parameters for security in Europe with Moscow.
Conflicting comments by Sudanese officials over whether a Christian woman sentenced to hang for apostasy will be freed reflect confusion within the Islamist government, hit by international outrage over the verdict, analysts say. Khartoum is torn between hardline Islamists, who demand the execution of the 27-year-old mother of two, who just gave birth to a daughter in prison, and foreign pressure to free her, Sudanese analyst Khaled al-Tijani al-Nur says. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, who was born to a Muslim father, was sentenced to death on May 15 under the Islamic sharia law that has been in place since 1983, and which outlaws conversions under pain of death. Ishag was raised an Orthodox Christian, her mother's religion, married a Christian man originally from South Sudan and already had a 20-month-old son before she gave birth last week.
Ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Egypt's first freely-elected leader, will be sworn in as president on Sunday after he overwhelmingly won last week's election, state media reported. The electoral commission on Tuesday said Sisi won 96.91 percent of the vote with a turnout of 47.5 percent, nearly one year after he overthrew Islamist Mohamed Morsi. His crushing victory over sole rival, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, had never been in doubt, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Morsi's year of divisive rule 11 months ago. Sisi will be sworn in at 0730 GMT on Sunday before the general assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court, state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday, quoting Maher Sami, deputy head of the court.
French President Francois Hollande has already written to US President Barack Obama in defence of BNP Paribas bank, threatened with huge sanctions on charges of embargo breaches, Hollande's office said on Wednesday. In a statement before Hollande and Obama meet for dinner, the Elysee Palace said that two months ago the French president urged Obama to take account of what it described as "disproportionate" penalities being lined up to hit the bank. These penalties, which could also include action crimping the bank's ability to provide services in dollars, are reported to amount to more than $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) on charges that BNP broke US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba between 2002 and 2009. A diplomatic source said that the threat hanging over the bank would would be one of the issues Hollande will raise when he meets Obama for the dinner, against the background of D-Day World War II celebrations.
By Natalia Zinets and Roberta Rampton WARSAW (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday, offering Kiev financial and security help and saying he was the right choice to lead the country locked in a stand-off with Moscow. At their first meeting since the billionaire confectionary magnate was elected last month against a backdrop of armed clashes in Ukraine's east, Obama said he was impressed by Poroshenko's vision for pulling his nation out of crisis. They reject violence," and want the opportunity to determine their own future, Obama told reporters after meeting Poroshenko in the Polish capital. "That's the hope that President Poroshenko represents," Obama said.
The United States on Wednesday called on China to account for those killed, detained, or missing in the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989, as Washington marked the 25th anniversary of the pro-democracy revolt. "Twenty-five years ago, the United States deplored the use of violence to silence the voices of the peaceful demonstrators in and around Tiananmen Square," the statement from the White House said. It comes as tensions simmer between the two countries on issues ranging from alleged hacking by the Chinese military into private US firms to displeasure in Washington with what it calls Beijing's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.
Japan edged closer to banning the possession of child pornography on Wednesday, the last major developed country to do so, but paedophilia portrayed in the country's popular manga comics will be exempt. Under current laws, only the production and distribution of child pornography are banned, a situation that campaigners say is damaging to children. A revised law would ban possession of photographs and videos depicting real children, but would exclude "manga" comics and "anime" video, following calls to protect freedom of expression. "The primary reason (for the new rule) is to protect the rights of real children.
By Edith Honan NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Republican Tom Corbett, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the country, trails Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 20 percentage points five months ahead of November's election, a poll released on Wednesday showed. Wolf, a businessman who poured his personal fortune into the four-way race for the Democratic nomination in May, leads Corbett 53 to 33 percent in the governor's race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. "There's no good news anywhere for Gov. Corbett," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in a statement. "Gov. Tom Corbett looks like easy prey for Democratic challenger Tom Wolf." Corbett has struggled with poor approval ratings for much of his first term as governor.