By David Alexander and Phil Stewart WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are deeply divided over whether the Obama administration did the right thing by swapping five Taliban leaders to win the freedom of Afghanistan prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl, according to Reuters/Ipsos survey released on Friday. Americans strongly agree the United States should make every effort to free prisoners of war like Bergdahl, an Army Sergeant who was captured in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 958 Americans interviewed online found that 44 percent disagreed with the statement that trading Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl was "the right thing to do," with 26 percent of them strongly disagreeing. Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan last Saturday after the Obama administration agreed to send five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo prison to Qatar, where they must remain for a year.
US President Barack Obama said Friday that Russia must recognize Ukraine's newly elected leader as legitimate if it wants to resolve months of crisis. Obama was speaking to US television before a busy day of diplomacy at D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France, where Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke briefly to Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko. Obama, who also met informally with Putin, said that he valued cooperation with Russia on issues including the Afghanistan war and the interim nuclear agreement with Iran.
South Africa's policy of race-based affirmative action is "killing babies" and must be scrapped, the country's Institute of Race Relations said Friday. The institute, which spoke out against racial discrimination under apartheid, said black empowerment policies had seen unqualified people appointed to positions where their incompetence hit poor and vulnerable communities. "The Bloemhof municipality 'lost its capacity' to maintain the sewer plant," the independent think-tank said in a statement quoting its Chief Executive Frans Cronje that accompanied its paper entitled "Killing Babies". "There is no doubt that the officials responsible for these deaths were appointed, at least in part, on grounds of race-based affirmative action and that a direct causal link therefore exists between the policy and the deaths."
Four Nigerian newspapers said soldiers stopped and seized copies of its editions on Friday over security concerns, with one likening the raids to censorship during the country's military rule. Four dailies -- The Nation, the Daily Trust, the Leadership and Punch -- all said they were affected, while The Nation said soldiers stormed one of its circulation offices. Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said the search "followed intelligence report(s) indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint-related consignments". Nigeria's military has been under sustained pressure, including in the media, over its response to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives since it began five years ago.
Sudanese troops on Friday captured a rebel position in South Kordofan, the military said Friday, as the United Nations voiced concern for civilians caught in fighting between the two sides. "At noon today our armed forces liberated Al-Atmur region, which is a military base... where the rebels stocked heavy weapons, including cannons and multiple rocket launchers," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP. Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels used the base to launch mortar attacks on South Kordofan's state capital Kadugli, 45 kilometres (30 miles) away, he said. Ethnic minority rebels in South Kordofan have been fighting government forces for three years in a largely-hidden war which the United Nations says has affected more than one million people.
Club-wielding police broke up a protest Friday by supporters of jailed Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, beating up demonstrators, an AFP correspondent said. Mahdi, an ex-premier who heads the opposition Umma Party, was arrested on May 17 for alleged treason after he reportedly accused a counter-insurgency unit, the Rapid Support Forces, of rape and other abuses of civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Hundreds of youths after weekly Muslim prayers emerged from a mosque in Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city, chanting slogans of support for Mahdi and calling for the fall of the government. Anti-riot police equipped with sticks and clubs gave chase, beating them up and forcing them to flee to side streets, the correspondent said.
By Edith Honan NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, wants Democrats to stage their 2016 national convention in the borough of Brooklyn, saying in a formal invitation that the city's progressive energy would help galvanize the party before the presidential election. In a letter made public on Friday to U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, de Blasio offered Brooklyn's Barclays Center arena as the central venue. With more than two years to go before the November 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state, who was also a U.S. senator from New York, is considered the Democratic front-runner if she decides to enter the race.
A senior UN official on Friday criticised Tunisia's efforts to eradicate torture, which was widespread under the former regime ousted in a 2011 revolt. "There are very encouraging developments" on the human rights front in Tunisia, UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez told reporters as he wound up a brief visit. In May, Tunisia formed a "truth and dignity commission" to identify and compensate victims abused under decades of dictatorship. Torture was widespread during the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the longtime president ousted in 2011.
South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu and a raft of human rights organisations have signed an open letter demanding reforms from Swaziland's King Mswati III, denouncing arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. The open letter urged the government "to begin meaningful discussions with the growing number of citizens and independent organisations that are demanding their basic freedoms and calling for democratic reform in Swaziland." They also called for the removal of the kingdom's chief judge, Michael Ramodibedi, a Lesotho national who was reappointed in 2012 despite a new constitution stipulating the position should be held by a Swazi. The judge's actions "lie at the root of the current crisis," according to the group, which includes academics and law units of universities in South Africa, the United States, and France, as well as respected international rights organisations.
The US economy added a net 217,000 positions last month, nearly all from private companies, the Labor Department reported Friday. That suggested that the economy still has far to go to reach full employment. The unemployment rate held for a second month at 6.3 percent, after falling sharply from 6.7 percent in March, mainly due to data showing a large number of people leaving the workforce. Even so, economists said the May numbers were strong enough to suggest that the economy is picking up speed after the 1.0 percent contraction of the first quarter of the year.
The race to be Mauritania's next leader began on Friday, with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz expected to hold onto power in elections marred by calls for a widespread boycott. He launched his campaign for re-election in the southern city of Kaedi, telling supporters that since he came to power the country had made "great strides" in security and economic growth. The mainly Muslim republic, sandwiched between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, is seen by Western leaders as strategically important in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked groups within its own borders, in neighbouring Mali and across Africa's Sahel region. Abdel Aziz said he had transformed the country into a regional haven of peace, thanks to his reorganisation of the military and security forces.
Rival rallies in the Libyan capital for and against an anti-jihadist renegade ex-general turned violent on Friday, leaving at least one person injured, witnesses and private television said. On May 16, former general and longtime US exile Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in second city Benghazi dubbed "Operation Dignity," aimed at eradicating jihadist "terrorists". The eastern city, cradle of the NATO-backed revolt that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, has become a bastion of jihadists blamed for a wave of deadly attacks on security forces. Haftar has won widespread support for his campaign, including from air force units which have carried out air raids on jihadist positions in and around Benghazi.