Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday the country's nuclear negotiating team at talks in Vienna will defend "the rights of the nation" in negotiations with world powers. "We trust the negotiating team and are sure they will not allow anyone to harm the nation's nuclear rights," said Khamenei who has the final say on major issues, his official website said. Ultra-conservative groups in Iran regularly criticise the country's nuclear talks team, saying it has ceded too much to the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany. The aim is to reach an agreement guaranteeing the peaceful nature of Iran's programme, after a decade of international tensions.
Three Congolese witnesses who testified before the International Criminal Court have been returned to Kinshasa after failed asylum bids in the Netherlands, their lawyer said on Monday. "They were sent back yesterday (Sunday)," Goran Sluiter told AFP after the men were transferred from a Dutch detention centre. Floribert Ndjabu, Pierre Celestin Mbodina and Sharif Manda Ndadza applied for asylum after testifying in 2011 in the cases of former Congolese militia bosses Mathieu Ngudjolo and Germain Katanga.
Leaders from struggling eurozone economies continued a push to loosen strict EU budget rules Monday despite firm opposition from Germany, which feels that flexibility must be matched by structural reform. "We must find a balance between stability in the rules and a flexible and intelligent interpretation of these rules," Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said upon arrival for talks with eurozone counterparts. With the worst of the debt crisis in the past, "some flexibility (…) would be welcomed," Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan agreed. All 28 members of the European Union are bound by the Stability and Growth Pact which sets limits on the size of deficits and amount of public debt a country can run up every year.
Russia and Bulgaria pressed the EU on Monday to approve the controversial South Stream gas pipeline, a project that would bypass Ukraine and which Brussels views critically. Having suspended preparations for the project last month at the height of the crisis between Moscow and Kiev, EU member Bulgaria changed tack to row back in behind the Russians. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference in the Bulgarian capital that "we hope the European Commission will adopt a reasonable approach ... without political considerations." Meanwhile Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Orecharski voiced optimism that Brussels would accept "the very good arguments" in favour of going ahead with South Stream's Bulgarian section.
Human Rights Watch urged Morocco Monday to stop prosecuting and jailing people for their sexual orientation, after an appeals court upheld the convictions of six men accused of homosexual acts. "Moroccan authorities should stop prosecuting and jailing people for their intimate behaviour with other consenting adults," said HRW's regional director, Sarah Leah Whitson.
The United States wants China to break a logjam over a proposed WTO information technology pact in annual bilateral talks this week, the top US trade envoy said Monday. China should show "real leadership" by helping to advance negotiations on the expansion of the World Trade Organization's Information Technology Agreement, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said. Froman, who will join the US delegation at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday, said that the expansion of the ITA was high on the list of US trade priorities. Froman said there had been some progress with China on the issue on the sidelines of the APEC finance ministers meeting in May and afterward, but "we're not there yet."
A summit aimed at creating half a million badly needed jobs in France got off to a rocky start on Monday, with two major labour organisations saying they would boycott the event. President Francois Hollande opened the two-day conference, where he hopes to hammer out a deal to create more jobs to lower France's record unemployment in return for corporate tax and benefit cuts.
Hamas militants in Gaza fired "dozens" of rockets into southern Israel late Monday, the Islamist movement said after six of its men were killed in air strikes. The bombardment was confirmed by the Israeli army which said militants had launched "a few dozen rockets" within a short period of time. At least four were intercepted over Netivot by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, while another 16 struck the area around the southern city of Beersheva, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Gaza, and which is home to 200,000 people, the army said.
A staffer from the International Organisation for Migration has been abducted in Sudan's Darfur, the IOM said on Monday. "An IOM colleague has been abducted from South Darfur at about 5:30-6:00 pm Sunday," Maysaa Alghribawy, acting officer in charge of IOM's Sudan mission, told AFP. They were taken while travelling on assignment near Kutum town in North Darfur. Also in June, an Indian contractor with Darfur's UNAMID peacekeeping mission was freed after 94 days in captivity.
Oil prices dropped Monday on easing concerns over tight supplies linked to violence in Iraq and Libyan disruptions, analysts said. Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August fell 41 cents to stand at $110.63 a barrel in late London deals. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August slid 75 cents to $103.31 a barrel compared with Friday's close. Desmond Chua, market analyst at traders CMC Markets, said oil prices "continue to track lower as Iraq's production remains unaffected by the recent unrest".
China denied entry to a prominent US scholar of Tibetan issues, he said Monday, after he advocated on behalf of a detained Chinese minority academic. Elliot Sperling, of the University of Indiana, was ordered to return home shortly after arriving at Beijing's international airport this weekend despite having a valid visa for entry, he told AFP. Several US-based scholars researching Chinese politics and its policies towards ethnic minorities have been barred from entering China in recent years, but they are generally denied visas rather than being turned away. Sperling said he was not given any explanation for the denial, but suspects that it was linked to his public support for Ilham Tohti, a scholar from China's mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, who was detained in January and charged with "separatism".
Bahrain's foreign ministry said Monday that US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Tom Malinowski, is "unwelcome" in the Sunni-ruled kingdom and should "leave immediately." The ministry accused Malinowski of "meddling in Bahrain's internal affairs" by meeting "with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors", in an apparent reference to the Shiite-led opposition, according to a statement carried by BNA state news agency. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Malinowski is in Bahrain -- home base of the US Fifth Fleet -- and "he remains in Bahrain." Bahrain, a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran, is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty.
By Moriah Costa WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supporters of legal marijuana in Washington on Monday delivered more than double the signatures needed to put the issue on a ballot, an initiative that could face congressional opposition. Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, said the group had collected about 57,000 signatures to put the measure on a Nov. 4 ballot in the U.S. capital, well over the 22,373 required by law. This would not lead to D.C. becoming a tourist haven," he told reporters at the District of Columbia Board of Elections. "This is just for the citizens who live here, the residents who pay taxes, to have the right to use marijuana freely in their homes without fear of arrest, harassment or a ticket." The measure would allow people 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of marijuana for personal use.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Monday a decision to raise fuel prices was "bitter medicine" that should have been taken before, but was not as governments feared a backlash. The authorities on Friday slashed state subsidies on petrol and diesel, sparking anger among taxi drivers and others affected. "We have to take this bitter medicine," Sisi said in a televised national address commemorating Egypt's military crossing of the Suez Canal during the 1973 war against Israel, which took place on the 10th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The ex-army chief, who toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 before himself being elected president by a landslide in May, has repeatedly advocated austerity to narrow the budget deficit.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who have proposed bills to audit the Federal Reserve and to limit its policy mandate, on Monday set a hearing to discuss measures aimed at the U.S. central bank. The title of the hearing is "Legislation to Reform the Federal Reserve on Its 100-year Anniversary," according to a memo from the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has pledged to demand more transparency from the Fed. Some politicians have criticized the central bank for its aggressive actions after the financial crisis to lower unemployment and stimulate the economy using unconventional tools such as a monthly bond-buying program and building a balance sheet that now exceeds $4.5 trillion. A Federal Reserve Spokeswoman declined to comment on the upcoming hearing.
South Sudan's warring leaders must resume stalled peace talks in earnest before the months-long bloody conflict is written off as an international lost cause, a senior AU official warned on Monday. "They have to realise that the world is watching them, that the world will not wait for them indefinitely," said Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of an African Union team probing atrocities in the war-torn country. Thousands have been killed and more than 1.5 million people forced to flee as a political row between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has spiralled into brutal ethnic conflict. The world's newest nation is facing a worse crisis than during the two decades of war before South Sudan declared independence three years ago, with some 100,000 people crammed into squalid UN camps.