British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage said Sunday that UKIP would flesh out its domestic programme for the 2015 general election after his anti-EU, anti-immigration party topped the European Parliament elections. Farage said the United Kingdom Independence Party would set out its manifesto at its annual conference, which would include tax cuts and selective schools. He also said he hoped to forge a eurosceptic wedge in the European Parliament that would sit between the main left and right blocs. Farage is targeting "two or three dozen" seats at the May 2015 general election where he feels UKIP has the best chance of making a breakthrough under the first-past-the-post system and getting into parliament.
The US National Security Agency is scooping up large quantities of images of people for use in facial recognition programs, the New York Times reported Sunday, citing top secret documents. The Times said documents, which were obtained from fugitive former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, show a significant increase in reliance on facial recognition technology at the agency over the past four years. The report said the NSA was using new software to exploit a flood of images included in intercepted emails, text messages, social media posts, video conferences and other communications. It cited leaked 2011 documents as saying the NSA intercepts "millions of images per day," including 55,000 "facial recognition quality images."
Iraq's army must do more to protect a northern oil pipeline and should pay as much attention to it as it does to fighting militants, Iraq's top energy official told AFP Sunday. The rare criticism of the security forces comes with the pipeline, which connects the northern province of Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, having been disabled for three months as a result of militant attacks as the army grapples with a year-long nationwide surge in violence. "I have pointed out repeatedly that this -- protection of the export pipeline -- should be a national priority, no less than confronting the terrorists in Fallujah or elsewhere," Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister responsible for energy affairs, said in an interview. He was referring to battles between security forces and anti-government fighters who have held sway over Fallujah, a city a short drive west of Baghdad, since the beginning of the year.
Miranshah (Pakistan) (AFP) - Freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl developed a love for Afghan green tea, taught his captors badminton, and even celebrated Christmas and Easter with the hardline Islamists, a Pakistani militant commander told AFP Sunday. Army Sergeant Bergdahl, the only US soldier detained in Afghanistan since war began in 2001, was released Saturday in exchange for the freeing of five senior Taliban figures held at Guantanamo Bay, in a dramatic deal brokered by Qatar. Bergdahl's almost five years in captivity saw him transferred between various militant factions along the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border, finally ending up in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district, according to militant sources. A commander of the Haqqani network, a militant outfit allied with the Taliban with ties to Al-Qaeda, on Sunday painted a picture of a man who adjusted to his new life by engaging with his captors while clinging to aspects of his own identity.
Former guerrilla commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren was sworn in Sunday as president of El Salvador with the pressing tasks of dealing with violent gangs, a struggling economy and endemic poverty. Sanchez Ceren, 69, promised to govern "with honesty, austerity, efficiency and transparency." A former teacher, Sanchez Ceren belonged to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and rose to become one of the guerrilla group's top commanders, under the nom de guerre Leonel Gonzalez, during the country's bloody 1979-1992 civil war. In doing so, he became the fourth former leftist guerrilla to be elected president in Latin America after Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Jose Mujica in Uruguay, and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
Turkish police on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters in Ankara a day after violent clashes on the one-year anniversary of the country's largest anti-government demonstrations in decades. Police stepped in to disperse around 500 people from Ankara's downtown Kizilay Square who wanted to stage a demonstration at the site where a 26-year-old protester was shot and killed by police the same day last year, an AFP photographer said. "Ethem's murderer is the AKP police," protesters shouted in Ankara, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party.
The United States on Sunday defended its decision to allow five Taliban detainees to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar to secure the release of a US soldier held in Afghanistan, saying time was running short. Republican lawmakers have sharply criticized the move to send the five senior Taliban figures to Qatar to facilitate the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, captured nearly five years ago, saying it sets a bad precedent and endangers US soldiers still in Afghanistan. Some have even suggested that the administration of President Barack Obama may have broken the law by failing to notify Congress 30 days before the Guantanamo detainees were transferred.
Pope Francis prayed Sunday for victims of violence in the Central African Republic, where 27 people were kidnapped this week in an attack on a church which left 17 others dead. He also called for greater efforts to be made to secure dialogue and peace in Ukraine, where an increasingly volatile conflict has seen European monitors detained by rebels in the country's restive east. "It is with a very sad heart that I pray for the victims of continuing tensions in some regions of the Ukraine, and in the Central African Republic," Francis said after his Regina coeli prayer in St. Peter's Square. On Friday, three people were killed in the capital of the Central African Republic just days after an attack on the Notre Dame de Fatima church, which left 17 people dead and saw another 27 kidnapped.
World governments should not rush to approve the new Palestinian cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, after the Palestinians accused the Jewish state of punishing them over a unity deal. "I call on all responsible elements within the international community not to hurry to recognise the Palestinian government that Hamas is part of, and which relies on Hamas," the rightwing premier told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, saying it would "strengthen terror". Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has said the new government, which is to be sworn in on Monday in Ramallah, will be a government of political independents that will reject violence, recognise Israel and abide by all existing agreements. Although the formal line-up has not yet been made public, it has been pieced together by Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers in line with a reconciliation deal inked in April.
A gang of arms traffickers killed six Egyptian border guards on Sunday after they crossed into the country from Libya, the military said. "The army deplores the killing of an officer and five soldiers from the army's border protection corps attacked by arms traffickers while patrolling a mountainous area," it said in a statement. The attack, in Egypt's northwest, happened shortly after midnight, with the assailants believed to be Egyptians, a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "This attack comes after border guards successfully arrested 68 traffickers and seized a large quantity of weapons," the army statement said, without elaborating or giving a date for the operation.
Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - A recent surge in violence in the Central African capital of Bangui was caused by "agitators" trying to "manipulate the youth for purely political reasons", President Catherine Samba Panza said on Sunday. Samba Panza said recent improvements in the security situation "do not please everybody". "They are agitators who underhandedly try to manipulate, to use the youth for purely political reasons," she said. Her comments mirrored those of her prime minister, Andre Nzapayeke, who said on Thursday that recent attacks were part of "a planned conspiracy" by "politicians very close to power", including people close to his own cabinet and the presidential office.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he will introduce legislation this week that would offer military veterans the option of private medical care, rather than endure long waits at facilities under the troubled Veterans Affairs Department. "We are going to introduce legislation either tomorrow or Tuesday which addresses the short-term need to make sure that any veteran who is on a long waiting line will be able to get the care that he or she needs, either at a private facility or a community health center or Department of Defense base," Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. Eric Shinseki resigned on Friday as Veterans Affairs secretary, under fire for scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for healthcare at VA facilities. In Phoenix, doctors have said some 40 veterans died while awaiting healthcare.
Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah on Sunday started a landmark visit to Tehran focused on mending fences between Shiite Iran and the Sunni-ruled monarchies in the Gulf. The two-day visit comes amid a thaw in ties between Tehran and six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since the election of Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013. Sheikh Sabah, on his first visit to Tehran as head of state, flew in at the head of a high-level delegation including the foreign, oil, finance, commerce and industry ministers.
Palestinian and Israeli rights groups on Sunday wrote to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanding her "urgent intervention" on behalf of 125 prisoners on long-term hunger strike. The letter was sent as the overall number of Palestinian prisoners refusing food climbed to 290, including 70 being treated in hospital, an Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman told AFP. Of that number, 125 have been on hunger strike for more than five weeks, beginning their mass protest on or shortly after April 24, Palestinian rights groups say. "We... wish to bring to your attention the ongoing mass hunger strike involving approximately 125 Palestinian detainees and prisoners, and request your urgent intervention on their behalf," said the letter, signed by 17 rights groups and the Palestinian prisoners' affairs ministry.
Akkar (Lebanon) (AFP) - Hundreds of Syrian refugees held a protest march Sunday in the Akkar district of northern Lebanon to condemn Syria's June 3 election poised to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power. "Vote for the man who killed 200,000 Syrians!" read one poster held by a protester in Kusha village, as demonstrators marched waving flags of the Syrian opposition. Men, women and children living in tents in unofficial refugee camps in and near Kusha took part in the protest march held under the banner of a "blood election", two days ahead of the presidential poll in Syria. Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of Syrians living in Lebanon flocked to their embassy in Beirut to cast their vote in an election branded by the Syrian opposition and its backers as a "farce".