Germany's federal prosecutors said Wednesday they had opened an investigation over alleged snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by the US National Security Agency (NSA) 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.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday cleared the way for lawmakers to decide on Thursday whether to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as President Barack Obama's new health secretary. Senators voted 67-28 to approve a procedural measure limiting debate on Burwell's nomination to no more than 30 hours, allowing a final confirmation vote to move forward sometime on Thursday. A confirmation vote allowing Burwell to take over implementation of Obamacare from departing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could help open a new chapter for Obama's healthcare law just five months before November's midterm congressional elections. Burwell, a skilled technocrat who is widely respected by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, had been serving as Obama's budget director.
Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah called Wednesday for international pressure on Israel to let Palestinians in annexed east Jerusalem vote in an upcoming general election. Hamdallah's new unity government is tasked with organising parliamentary and presidential elections in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by the end of the year. But voting in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed, would require Israeli authorisation. Meeting foreign delegates in Ramallah Wednesday, Hamdallah urged "the international community to intervene and exert pressure on Israel to hold the elections in east Jerusalem," his office said.
World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim said on Wednesday international support for Jordan and Lebanon to help them cope with hosting more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees was "disappointing." "So far the support for Jordan and also Lebanon... has been frankly disappointing. We need donor countries and all who care about peace and stability in this region to step up...," Kim told a joint news conference in Amman with Jordan's planning minister Ibrahim Seif. "Jordan is bearing too much of a burden of a really global issue.
Critics should wait for the facts before rushing to judge released Taliban detainee Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday. Bergdahl, held for nearly five years in Afghanistan, was freed last week in a controversial prisoner-swap deal with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari government. Some former comrades have accused Bergdahl, who was captured in unknown circumstances on June 30, 2009, of walking away from his unit and prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers. "I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. solders dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl," Hagel told a news conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who romped home in Egypt's presidential election after crushing Islamists, faces a tough task to restore stability and revive a battered economy amid fears of a return to autocracy. On Tuesday, the electoral commission declared Sisi won 96.91 percent of the vote on turnout of 47.5 percent, nearly a year after he toppled the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi. The crushing victory over leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi had never been in doubt, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Morsi's year of divisive rule 11 months ago. The United States said it looks forward to working with Sisi but expressed concerns about the "restrictive political environment" in which last week's vote took place.
The United States will review its troop presence in Europe as it seeks to reassure allies they will not be left unprotected after Russia's intervention in Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday. President Barack Obama's $1 billion US 'reassurance plan' for eastern Europe announced Tuesday is a key part of such efforts and will involve Washington "reviewing the US force presence in Europe," Hagel said. "In light of the new regional security environment, it would be irresponsible for us not to," he added, in an apparent reference to Ukraine. This is a sensitive issue at the heart of the NATO-Russia treaty that formalised the end of the Cold War and set the parameters for security in Europe with Moscow.
Conflicting comments by Sudanese officials over whether a Christian woman sentenced to hang for apostasy will be freed reflect confusion within the Islamist government, hit by international outrage over the verdict, analysts say. Khartoum is torn between hardline Islamists, who demand the execution of the 27-year-old mother of two, who just gave birth to a daughter in prison, and foreign pressure to free her, Sudanese analyst Khaled al-Tijani al-Nur says. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, who was born to a Muslim father, was sentenced to death on May 15 under the Islamic sharia law that has been in place since 1983, and which outlaws conversions under pain of death. Ishag was raised an Orthodox Christian, her mother's religion, married a Christian man originally from South Sudan and already had a 20-month-old son before she gave birth last week.
Ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Egypt's first freely-elected leader, will be sworn in as president on Sunday after he overwhelmingly won last week's election, state media reported. The electoral commission on Tuesday said Sisi won 96.91 percent of the vote with a turnout of 47.5 percent, nearly one year after he overthrew Islamist Mohamed Morsi. His crushing victory over sole rival, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, had never been in doubt, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Morsi's year of divisive rule 11 months ago. Sisi will be sworn in at 0730 GMT on Sunday before the general assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court, state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday, quoting Maher Sami, deputy head of the court.