An independent privacy review board Wednesday defended the National Security Agency's vast foreign intelligence data sweep efforts, despite objections from civil liberties activists. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, formally adopted a report which called the NSA's overseas surveillance a valuable and legal tool in thwarting terrorism. The report, which was released to news media on Tuesday before the unanimous vote, came in sharp contrast to the same panel's rebuke of domestic surveillance efforts earlier this year. The NSA's foreign surveillance "is not a bulk collection program.
Much of Google remains off limits to Internet users in Cuba, despite a recent visit here by top executives from the popular site, state-run media complained on Wednesday. Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt paid a two-day visit to the Americas' only communist-run country last week along with three other officials from the company, which has been accused by Havana of "scandalously" blocking some of its services. The paper said that the viral excitement that the visit generated had less to do with the executives than the fact that Cuba was "one of the few nations in the world where a good part of the country can't get access to the Internet giant." This was because Cuba is "subject to the unjust laws of the US blockade," it said.
Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to represent all Turks as he declared he would stand for president, but critics fear his assumption of a powerful presidency risks further polarising an already divided country. Erdogan, 60, who has already been premier for 11 years, made clear in his announcement on Tuesday that he intended to be a much more powerful president than the largely ceremonial role performed by past incumbents. Erdogan is widely expected to win the August 10 polls that would see him extend his hold on power at least until 2019 and -- should he seek a second mandate -- possibly until 2024. The potential for strife is clear at the most turbulent time in his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party's (AKP) decade-long domination of Turkey, after a year of protests and a stream of corruption allegations.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday that she sees some rise in potentially dangerous risk taking in the US financial system, but none requiring a change in monetary policy. In a speech on how central banks should deal with excessively risky behavior in an economy, especially one underpinned as now by very low interest rates, Yellen said the United States is in much better shape in the wake of the 2008 crisis. "Taking all of these factors into consideration, I do not presently see a need for monetary policy to deviate from a primary focus on attaining price stability and maximum employment, in order to address financial stability concerns."
Three Sukhoi ground attack jets shown landing in Iraq in a video released by the defence ministry are likely from Iran, a think tank said Wednesday. Iraq has purchased more than a dozen Sukhoi jets from Russia in a bid to bolster its forces in their battle against a sweeping militant offensive that has overrun large areas of five provinces. On Tuesday, the defence ministry said a second group of five Sukhoi aircraft had arrived in the country, implicitly as part of the Russian deal. The online statement was accompanied by a video showing Su-25s landing in Iraq.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton flew to London Wednesday, kicking off the first leg of a European tour to promote her new memoir. "We're taking the #HardChoices book tour across the pond!" Clinton wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of herself signing a copy of her new memoir "Hard Choices" at a bookstore in New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The book, which was released on June 10 and chronicles Clinton's time at the State Department, has kept the former US senator and first lady hopping from event to event across the United States and Canada. Clinton's European schedule, which has not been made fully public, includes a video interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper on Friday and an interview at Berlin's Schiller Theater on Sunday.
A grenade thrown into a cafe hurt four people on Wednesday in Lebanon's often-restive northern city of Tripoli, security officials said. The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, but there were suspicions the cafe was targeted for opening its doors during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. "Four people, including two Syrian nationals, were injured when unknown assailants threw a grenade into a cafe in the Bab el-Tebbaneh district" in Tripoli, a security official said. The assailants approached the cafe on a motorbike and tossed the device in before escaping.
Egypt's general prosecutor Wednesday bound over for trial 71 supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi over August 2013 violence that killed 16 people. The trial is part of a relentless crackdown targeting Morsi supporters since the army ousted him last July. More than 1,400 Morsi supporters have been killed in a police crackdown, while at least 16,000 have been jailed, and about 200 sentenced to death in speedy mass trials. The fighting broke out on August 14, the day security forces moved to disband two Cairo Islamist sit-ins calling for Morsi's reinstatement, sparking clashes that left hundreds dead.
Hedge funds backed by a US court in their demands for $1.3 billion from Argentina challenged the country's economy minister Wednesday to enter talks with them this week. NML Capital, one of two funds which sued Argentina for payment on defaulted bonds they hold, said Economy Minister Axel Kicillof should open talks with them during his trip to the United States. "We're ready to meet with Minister Kicillof during his visit to Washington, DC this week, and to negotiate without preconditions," said Jay Newman, senior portfolio manager at Elliott Management, NML's parent. "We're serious about negotiations, but we are still waiting for Argentina to engage in any dialogue with us."
Four Tunisian soldiers were killed by a land mine Wednesday in the country's northwest, where the army has been battling Islamist militants, the defence ministry said. "Four soldiers aboard a Hummer were killed by a land mine explosion during an anti-terror operation" at Jebel Ouergha in Kef province, said ministry spokesman Rachid Bouhoula. The incident is the latest in a string of fatalities caused by roadside bombs and land mines in the remote border region, parts of which have been declared closed military zones as the security forces press a campaign against militants holed up there. On Tuesday, four soldiers and two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded in the Kef region, two days after a similar attack injured another policeman.
A leading Jordanian jihadist ideologist on Wednesday denounced the declaration of a "caliphate" by Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, warning against more bloodshed. "Can every Muslim and weak person find refuge in this caliphate? Or would it be like a sharp sword against all opponents?" Issam Barqawi, known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, wrote on Facebook and on jihadist websites. On Sunday, militants previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), declared a "caliphate", an Islamic form of government last seen under the Ottoman Empire, straddling parts of Iraq and Syria.
The US and Iran fired opening salvos Wednesday in a stormy Vienna as a final round of nuclear talks got under way with chances of a historic deal by a July 20 deadline on a knife edge. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Iran to scale down its nuclear activities in order to ease long-held fears that Tehran might develop atomic weapons. Iran, subject to damaging UN and Western sanctions, insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful and even wants to expand key parts of it. This sixth round of talks starts officially on Thursday, but preliminary meetings -- including between Iran, the US and the EU -- took place on Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
Oil prices fell on Wednesday, hit by the prospect of higher Libyan output but losses were capped by a bigger-than-expected drop in US crude inventories and Iraq unrest, analysts said. Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August dropped 71 cents to stand at $111.58 a barrel in late London deals. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August slipped 43 cents to $104.91 a barrel compared with Tuesday's close. "Brent crude prices have set aside concerns about the situation in Iraq and chosen to focus on the fact that supplies from Libya appear to be on the verge of restarting," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at traders CMC Markets UK.