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APNewsBreak: VA health care nominee withdraws

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's choice to be the top health official at the Veterans Affairs Department withdrew his nomination Thursday, saying he feared his confirmation could spark a prolonged political battle.

Senate panel rolls back housing, Amtrak cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan coalition on the Senate Appropriations Committee moved Thursday to roll back House GOP-backed cuts to Amtrak, transportation projects and affordable housing projects, but pressures elsewhere in the budget may make the funding levels unsustainable as the massive $108 billion spending bill moves ahead.

Veterans make emotional return to the beaches to mark D-Day

Caen (France) (AFP) - D-Day veterans marched back to Normandy's beaches and villages on Thursday, in an emotional return to mark 70 years since the launch of the biggest amphibious invasion in military history. Royals, top brass and some 20 world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin, will attend the main D-Day ceremony on Friday, with the diplomatic wrangling over the Ukraine crisis acting as an awkward undercurrent to proceedings.

Melinda Gates’s Abortion Blindspot

The Gates Foundation is all about solutions that make the greatest impact on vulnerable populations. So why are they ignoring the 20 million women who die each year from unsafe abortions?

Cameron, Putin meet for talks in Paris

Paris (AFP) - Vladimir Putin met British Prime Minister David Cameron at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris Thursday, airport sources said.

Obama makes 'no apologies' for Taliban hostage deal

President Barack Obama vehemently refused to apologise Thursday for doing a prisoner trade with the Taliban to free a US soldier, despite a fierce political storm over the deal in Washington. Critics, both Republican and Democratic, have asked whether the transfer of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for the release of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was even legal, and question both the price paid and the principle of a swap. But Obama, asked about the row raging in Washington at the G7 summit in Brussels was unapologetic, repeating that he had a duty as commander-in-chief to get Bergdahl home. "I'm never surprised by the controversies that are whipped up in Washington," Obama said.

Mississippi police probe actions by Senate candidate's supporters

By Therese Apel JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - A campaign official for U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel and two others are under investigation in Mississippi after being found locked inside a courthouse where ballots in Tuesday's Republican primary had been counted hours earlier. Investigators are trying to figure out how the three people entered the Hinds County Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after 2 a.m. on Wednesday and what they were doing there, said sheriff's spokesman Othor Cain. The group included Scott Brewster, McDaniel's campaign coalition coordinator;

Obama lands in Paris for D-Day anniversary

Paris (AFP) - US President Barack Obama arrived in France on Thursday ahead of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which will also be attended by some 20 other world leaders.

Israel huge new settlement push raises Palestinian ire

Israel unveiled plans for 3,200 settler homes Thursday in retaliation for the formation of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas and the international community, raising the Palestinians' ire. Tenders for nearly 1,500 new settlement houses and plans to advance some 1,800 others were issued just 72 hours after the new Palestinian government was sworn in, ending seven years of rival administrations in the West Bank and Gaza. Both Washington and Brussels as well as other western states have shown support for the Palestinian line-up, but Israel says it will boycott what it denounces as a "government of terror". Of the 1,454 tenders, 400 homes are to be built in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the rest in the occupied West Bank in what Housing Minister Uri Ariel described as "a fitting Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian government of terror".

Red Cross freezes Libya operations after staffer slain

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it was temporarily freezing its operations in Libya to assess the security situation after a Swiss staffer was killed by gunmen. "We are freezing movement (of personnel) for the time being to analyse the situation so we can adapt our operations," ICRC spokesman David-Pierre Marquet told AFP, stressing there were no plans to permanently halt operations in Libya. The announcement came a day after Michael Greub, a 42-year-old Swiss citizen heading the ICRC's office in Libya's third city Misrata, was killed by gunmen in Sirte, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) further along the coast.

Assad wins vote branded illegitimate by Syrian opposition

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a new seven-year term with nearly 90 percent of a vote in a poll branded "illegitimate" by the opposition and a "non-election" by the United States. Tens of thousands took to the streets in government-held areas of Syria even before the results were announced Wednesday evening, waving portraits of Assad and the official Syrian flag. As celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital and loyalist areas across Syria, at least 10 people were killed as the bullets fell back to earth, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Images of Assad in suit and tie, or military uniform, filled the programming of state television.

Obama: 'no apologies' on deal to free Bergdahl from Taliban

By Jeff Mason BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he would make "no apologies" for agreeing to a deal that released Taliban detainee Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, despite controversy in Washington that Congress was not notified ahead of time. "I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child," Obama said. Republican members of the U.S. Congress have said President Barack Obama set a dangerous precedent with the swap for Bergdahl and might have broken the law.

Israel 'unblocks plans for 1,800 settler homes'

The Israeli government on Thursday ordered officials to move forward with plans for another 1,800 settler homes, just hours after issuing tenders for 1,500 housing units, an official said. "The political echelon has ordered the Civil Administration to advance 1,800 new (housing) units," the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a defence ministry unit responsible for all West Bank planning issues. The order relates to construction in 10 separate settlements across the West Bank, all of which are at different stages of the planning process. The announcement came just hours after Israel's housing ministry published tenders for the construction of more than 1,500 new homes, 400 of them in annexed east Jerusalem and the rest in the West Bank.

Libya's top court to rule on new government's legality

Libya's supreme court is to issue a ruling next week on the legality of Ahmed Miitig's controversial election last month as interim prime minister, a court official said Thursday. Outgoing premier Abdullah al-Thani announced last week that he would ask for a court ruling on the election before handing over power. Jurist Mohamed Salem Dhraa told AFP the verdict would then be communicated to the administrative court in charge of the issue, which would also give its final ruling on Monday.

Obama warns Putin to work with Ukraine or face new sanctions

President Barack Obama said on Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin must recognize and work with Ukraine's new government and stop "provocations" along its border, or face tougher sanctions from members of the G7 group of nations. "We will have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks, and if he remains on the current course then we’ve already indicated the kinds of actions that we’re prepared to take," Obama told at a news conference at the end of a G7 summit.

Last original Navajo Code Talker dies

Chester Nez, the last of 29 Navajo Indians who helped create a code used during World War II and never broken by the Axis Powers, died Wednesday. "The power of our language was shared with the world during World War II when the Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers stepped forward for service," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said in a statement. He said Nez's passing in his sleep during the morning hours "closes another chapter in the annals of Navajo." "The Navajo Code Talkers made invaluable contributions to the war effort in the Pacific theater during World War II," he added, hailing their "heroic actions."

US Navy jet crashes in sea; pilot in stable condition

A US Navy jet crashed into the sea as it was making a late-night approach to land on an aircraft carrier off the coast of southern California, officials said Thursday. The pilot ejected from the F/A-18E Super Hornet before impact at about 10:00 pm Wednesday (0500 GMT Thursday) and was in stable condition aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the Navy said in a statement. The other aircraft operating at the time of the accident were diverted to the Coronado naval base in California, where they landed without incident an hour after the crash, it said. "All air operations have ceased aboard Carl Vinson until further notice," the Navy said, adding that an investigation had been launched to determine the cause of the accident.

Hagel tours warship in Black Sea port, reassures allies

Constanta (Romania) (AFP) - Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel toured a warship stationed at a Romanian Black Sea port Thursday, reaffirming the US commitment to the security of allies worried over Russia's intervention in Ukraine. "The presence of the USS Vella Gulf is a clear expression of this commitment" to the collective security of NATO allies, Hagel told journalists at the port of Constanta. USS Vella Gulf, a guided missile cruiser, is the fourth warship deployed by the US in the Black Sea since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in March. President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a $1 billion US security plan for eastern Europe aimed at allaying fears over a resurgent Kremlin and the pro-Russian uprising in ex-Soviet Ukraine.

Saving Sgt. Bergdahl

Like many of the issues posed by America’s post-9/11 “global war on terror,” the controversy over the exchange of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay arises from murky ground where war and terrorism conflate.