A US soldier captured nearly five years ago in Afghanistan was freed Saturday in exchange for five Taliban inmates held at the Guantanamo prison in a dramatic deal brokered by Qatar. US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was in "good" condition after Taliban fighters handed him over to "a few dozen" US special operations forces backed up by helicopters at an undisclosed location in eastern Afghanistan, defense officials said. "Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays, and the simple moments with family and friends which all of us take for granted," President Barack Obama said in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by the soldier's parents Bob and Jani. Obama thanked Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the government in Kabul for helping to bring home the only American held captive by the Taliban in the 13-year-old war.
President Barack Obama said Saturday the Qatari government had given the United States security guarantees over five Guantanamo Bay prisoners transferred to secure the release of a US soldier in Afghanistan. Obama appeared at the White House with Bowe Bergdahl's parents Bob and Jani, saying "the Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security." The five prisoners were named by the Taliban as Mohammad Fazl, Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq.
Luxembourg's former premier Jean-Claude Juncker is confident that he will be elected president of the executive European Commission, despite opposition from some countries, including France, German newspaper Bild reported Sunday. "In the European Council, a large majority of heads of state and Christian-Democrat and Socialist governments back me," Juncker told Bild, according to extracts of the interview released in advance by the newspaper. While he has the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Juncker faces strong opposition from leaders of other major European economies, including Britain's David Cameron, and, according to Bild, French President Francois Hollande. "He put pressure for a large-scale investment programme and put (the name of) his former finance minister Pierre Moscovici on the table," said the newspaper.
Morocco's King Mohamed VI Saturday called for the reactivation of the Arab Maghreb Union, which has been frozen since its 1989 launch, saying the five-nation body is key for regional development. The union, which is made up of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia has stumbled over disputes among member states since its inception. The issue of the Western Sahara -- a former Spanish colony controlled by Morocco and claimed by the Algeria-backed separatists the Polisario Front -- is the main obstacle for the union. "The Arab Maghreb Union is not an option or political luxury, it is a pressing popular demand and a strategic regional need that cannot be ignored," the king told Tunisia's national assembly.
Bagram Airfield (Afghanistan) (AFP) - The American soldier released Saturday by the Taliban after nearly five years in captivity is in "good" condition and undergoing medical treatment at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, officials said. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is able to walk on his own power and will be flown soon to a US military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany for further medical care and to "decompress" after his ordeal, US defence officials told AFP on condition of anonymity. Bergdahl was handed over to "a few dozen" US special operations forces in eastern Afghanistan earlier Saturday, a senior defence official said. At the US medical center in Landstuhl, Bergdahl will "begin the reintegration process, which will include time for him to tell his story, decompress and begin to reconnect with his family," the senior defence official said.
Syria's electoral commission said on Saturday that 95 percent of registered expatriate voters took part in a presidential election expected to return incumbent Bashar al-Assad to power, state media said. "The president of the foreign ministry's central electoral committee said that voting took place in 43 embassies of the Syrian Arab Republic, and the participation rate by registered voters had exceeded 95 percent," state news agency SANA said. Refugees in Lebanon and Turkey who oppose the Assad regime have protested against the vote, which dissidents see as little more than a show of force by Damascus. Damascus has said its nationals in countries that back the opposition, including the United Arab Emirates and France, were preventing people from voting.
Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the line-up of a unity government will be announced Monday, after a delay over who will head the foreign ministry. Islamists Hamas and the Western-backed Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is dominated by Abbas's secular Fatah party, signed a surprise reconciliation agreement in April to end years of rivalry. Under the deal, the sides are to work to form an "independent government" of technocrats, paving the way for long-delayed elections. "The unity government comprising technocrats and independents will be revealed on Monday," Abbas said on Saturday during a visit by a French delegation to his Ramallah headquarters on the West Bank.
Tens of thousands of people Saturday answered a call by Burkina Faso's opposition to protest against any move by President Blaise Compaore to get a fifth term in office. Crowds poured into the largest stadium in Ouagadougou, filling it to its 35,000 capacity, voicing their anger against any move by the 63-year-old to extend his decades-long hold on power in the landlocked nation. "It's a historic mobilisation... The stadium is full from top to bottom," said opposition leader Zephirin Diabre. Change is here and now," said Benewende Sankara, president of the Union for Rebirth/Sankarist Movement party, one of 30 opposition parties at the rally.
A Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to hang for apostasy will be "freed within days", a foreign ministry official told AFP Saturday, after her case triggered an international outcry. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was condemned to death on May 15 under the Islamic sharia law that has been in place since 1983 and outlaws conversions under pain of death. "The lady will be freed within days in line with legal procedure that will be taken by the judiciary and the ministry of justice," said Abdullah al-Azraq, a foreign ministry undersecretary. The court gave her three days to "recant" her faith and when she refused, Ishag was handed the death penalty and sentenced to 100 lashes for "adultery".
Clashes erupted between Iraqi troops and anti-government fighters on the outskirts of Fallujah on Saturday, as the militant-held city's main hospital said 366 people had been killed in the months-long conflict. The latest unrest comes after security forces pressed an apparently unsuccessful assault into the city, which is west of Baghdad and has been out of government control since the beginning of the year. Clashes on the city's northern fringes, in the region of Saqlawiya, broke out earlier on Saturday between Iraqi security forces and anti-government fighters, a tribal leader told AFP on condition of anonymity. "With aerial cover, they tried to enter Fallujah from the Saqlawiya area," he said.
US President Barack Obama said Saturday that an American soldier held for nearly half a decade in Afghanistan has been freed, in what officials indicated was a swap for five Guantanamo detainees. "Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years," said Obama, announcing the release of the army sergeant. Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 from a base in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province, with the Taliban later saying they had captured him. The US leader expressed his "deepest appreciation" to the Emir of Qatar "for his assistance in helping to secure our soldier's return."
At least 20 Syrian regime forces were killed Saturday when Islamist rebels planted explosives in a tunnel under an army position in the northern city of Aleppo, a monitor said. Aleppo's historic Old City has seen horrific violence ever since the rebels launched a major offensive against Syria's former economic hub in July 2012. "Islamist rebels detonated a tunnel near the Zahrawi market in the Old City of Aleppo, killing at least 20 army soldiers and pro-regime militiamen," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Fighting broke out after the explosion, and at least one rebel was killed, said the Britain-based Observatory.