President Barack Obama's decision to swap five detained Taliban operatives for an American soldier captured in Afghanistan has baffled lawmakers, with many questioning the military and political merits of the controversial exchange. Some warned that the president, already burdened by a series of crises, has sunk deeper into political quicksand by negotiating with terrorists, keeping Congress in the dark or manufacturing a military success story in order to mask other scandals. Obama stands accused by a senior member of his own Democratic Party, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, of breaking US law by failing to provide lawmakers 30 days' notice before transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo. In addition to its legality, Republicans and Democrats alike questioned the timing, political optics and price of the operation that saw US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl released by his Taliban captors after five years of captivity in Afghanistan.
China has detained 29 people described as "terrorist suspects" in its ethnically divided western region of Xinjiang, state media said Thursday, as authorities crack down following several deadly attacks. Suspects detained in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi face charges including "inciting separatism" and "disturbing order in a public place", the state-run Xinjiang Net said. In the past year Xinjiang -- home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority -- has seen an increase in violent clashes, which Beijing blames on organised terrorist groups seeking independence for the region. Critics say the terror threat in Xinjiang is exaggerated by Beijing to justify hard-line measures, and point to economic inequality and cultural and religious repression of Uighurs as causes of unrest.
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."
Caen (France) (AFP) - Seventy years to the day after the first planes set off for the invasion of France, veterans gathered in Normandy on Thursday to remember the dead and be honoured for risking their lives on D-Day. Prince Charles will lead the tributes to those who took part in the first wave, when thousands of Allied troops flew or parachuted in during the early hours of June 6, 1944, catching the German army by surprise. No less than 20 world leaders are due to attend the main D-Day ceremony on Friday, when all eyes will be on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the diplomatic manoeuvering over Ukraine. But a series of smaller events on Thursday will put the spotlight on the survivors, the youngest of whom are touching 90 and consider this their final return to France.
The UK Independence Party hopes to get its first Member of Parliament on Thursday as voters in Newark go to the polls in a by-election triggered by the resignation of Conservative incumbent Patrick Mercer. But the Tories look likely to retain the constituency, with the latest polls putting them on 42 percent, 15 points ahead of UKIP and 22 percent ahead of Labour. UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is currently in Malta, told AFP that his candidate Roger Helmer -- a Conservative defector -- could still cause an upset, saying "all the by-election polls under-estimate us." Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited the Midlands town in support of his candidate, Robert Jenrick.
By Steve Holland and Warren Strobel WASHINGTON (Reuters) - For President Barack Obama, it seemed like the right thing to do, according to officials in his administration: Release five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in return for Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan. As a political firestorm engulfs the White House over that deal, Reuters interviews with current and former Obama administration officials involved in the negotiations, along with U.S. lawmakers, reveal how a close-knit circle in the Obama administration pursued the plan despite intense discord in the past over similar proposals. The White House was ultimately persuaded to go ahead, in part, after Qatar agreed to take the Taliban detainees and said it would allow the United States to track the five men in the Gulf emirate.
South Korea's ruling party breathed a sigh of relief Thursday after a better-than-expected showing in local elections seen as a referendum on President Park Geun-Hye's handling of the April ferry disaster that killed about 300 people. With counting still continuing from Wednesday's nationwide polls, Park's Saenuri Party was set to win eight of the 17 main contests for city mayors and provincial governors. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which had urged a protest vote against Park's response to the Sewol ferry tragedy, had won or was leading in nine races. As well as retaining posts in its traditional regional strongholds, the Saenuri Party managed to win a number of battleground contests in Incheon city and Gyeonggi province.
Germany's federal prosecutors said they had opened an investigation over alleged snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by the US National Security Agency in a case that has soured relations. The long-anticipated probe, which follows an explosive allegation last year that US spies had eavesdropped on Merkel's mobile phone conversations in the past, is against persons unknown, chief federal prosecutor Harald Range said. "I informed parliament's legal affairs committee that I have started a preliminary investigation over tapping of a mobile phone of the chancellor," he said after addressing the committee.
Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government, an Irish television documentary claims. A European Commission report later found the men were subjected to five techniques of deprivation: hooding, wall standing in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation and subjection to noise.
Chan Koonchung's novel "The Fat Years", set in a China of the near-future where a dark moment of history has been erased from public memory, has never been published on the mainland. The book released in 2009 presents a dystopian vision of 2013 in which China's rise coincides with the economic weakening of the West. But its chances of being published in China were always going to be slim, given its allusions to the Communist Party's censorship machine and the way events such as the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown 25 years ago this week have been virtually deleted from official history. "My novels are unpublishable (in China)," said Chan in an interview in Hong Kong.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Joni Ernst, a mother from farm country and Iraq war veteran who was little known outside her rural legislative district only months ago, surprisingly won Iowa's Republican Senate primary going away and now appears well positioned to compete for a seat that could help determine whether the GOP wins control of Congress.
US companies have promised $1 billion for off-grid power projects in Africa, putting a growing focus on small-scale and renewable energy in the push to ease the continent's chronic electricity shortages. President Barack Obama's administration announced commitments by 27 investors as it moves forward on a goal of doubling electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of power has been a key impediment to improving education and public health. "With close to 600 million people without access to modern-day electricity, it is clear that centralized grid access is not a comprehensive solution for these countries in one of the world's least urban continents," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Tuesday on a visit to Ethiopia, according to a statement. "But through solutions including off-grid and small scale energy projects, we can bring electricity to these rural areas," he said.
Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Heavily armed gunmen raided four villages in northeast Nigeria leaving scores dead and sending survivors fleeing the attacks blamed on Boko Haram, a local lawmaker and residents said on Wednesday. "There were deadly attacks on these villages by Boko Haram insurgents who killed a large number of people and destroyed homes," lawmaker Peter Biye, who represents the area in Nigeria's lower chamber of parliament, told AFP. "Boko Haram have hoisted their flags in at least seven villages in the area which they now claim to be under their control," said the lawmaker. Military jets bombarded Boko Haram positions in the affected area to try to flush out the insurgents, he added.
The leader of the world's Anglicans on Wednesday visited Nigeria, his office said, expressing sympathy to the country's president over security concerns and the fate of more than 200 schoolgirl hostages. "The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made a last-minute visit to Nigeria today to offer his heartfelt sympathy for the recent events affecting the country," Lambeth Palace said in a statement. During a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, described by Welby's office as a "pastoral visit", the cleric expressed his "personal pain and condolence about the ongoing terrorism" affecting mainly Muslim northern Nigeria. The talks also touched on a recent twin car bomb attack in the central city of Jos, also blamed on Boko Haram militants, which killed at least 118.
Dharamsala (India) (AFP) - The Dalai Lama and other exiled Tibetan leaders will on Thursday launch a renewed push for autonomy within China as they seek to end a wave of gruesome self-immolations against perceived oppression in their homeland by Beijing. The leaders will meet in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala to kick off a media campaign promoting the "Middle Way" for peaceful autonomy for Tibetans, in a bid to pile global pressure on Beijing to revisit the issue. The prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, is expected to host a press conference, after taking over the job of pushing for autonomy from the revered spiritual leader. But the Dalai Lama, who stepped down from political duties in 2011, stole the spotlight on the eve of the launch by urging China to embrace democracy in comments marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The United States has selected career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis as its new top diplomat in Havana, a State Department official said Wednesday. DeLaurentis, who has previously worked as a diplomat in Havana, Bogota and at the United Nations, will lead the US Interests Section in the Cuban capital, a de facto embassy.