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".
In a video posted online by AQAP, four suspects described as "spies" say they placed tracking devices on the vehicles of jihadists killed in drone attacks two years ago in the southern Shabwa province. An AQAP security official named Abu Islam al-Muhajer said in the video that US and Yemeni authorities were behind the drone attacks. The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert operations. The drone programme has been defended by both the White House and Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, in the face of protests by human rights groups over civilian casualties.
Syria entered its final day of campaigning on Sunday for the June 3 presidential election expected to return Bashar al-Assad to power, a vote the opposition brands a "parody of democracy". With swathes of the country out of government control, voting will only take place in regime-held territory, far from where Assad's forces are battling the rebels who seek to topple him. The fragmented opposition, and their Western and Arab allies, are set to watch powerlessly as the ballot returns Assad to power for a third, seven-year term at a time when the army is making advances on the battlefield. The rebels have urged Syrians to boycott the vote in which Assad's sole competitors, MP Maher al-Hajjar, and businessman Hassan al-Nouri -- are little known and seen as token rivals.
Ukraine's new pro-Western leader enters a defining week Sunday seeking to head off a Russian gas cut and secure US President Barack Obama's backing with his country threatened by civil war. Confectionery tycoon Petro Poroshenko will also attempt to arrange the first meeting by a Ukrainian leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin regime in Kiev sparked the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. The 48-year-old will cap off the pivotal week with his inauguration Saturday as the fifth president of Ukraine after a convincing May 25 election win handed him a mandate to resolve a separatist insurgency threatening the very survival of the ex-Soviet state. "These meetings will be crucial," said Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
Iran on Sunday executed a political prisoner because authorities thought he was behind recent unrest in a Tehran prison, an exiled opposition group said. Gholamreza Khosravi Savadjani was convicted of "waging war against God" (moharebeh) by helping the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and then hanged, state media reported. The PMOI said Khosravi Savadjani had been executed on suspicion of being the alleged mastermind of an April 17 prisoners' revolt at an infamous Tehran prison. "Khosravi Savadjani's execution is a reprisal targeting prisoners of Section 350 of Evin jail where he was placed and aimed at those who continue to resist the fascist religious regime from inside the prison walls," it said in a statement in French.
Top Congressional Republicans have raised sharp questions about President Barack Obama's deal to swap five Taliban members for a captured US solder, with some even accusing him of breaking the law. Several opposition Republicans issued statements welcoming Saturday's release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. But several Republicans also claimed that his exchange for "terrorists" held in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre would just encourage more kidnappings of US soldiers. Lawmakers were not told of the Guantanamo prisoner transfer until after the swap, the Washington Post reported.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit Sunday, a US defence official said, following the release of soldier Bowe Bergdahl after five years in Taliban captivity. Hagel arrived at Bagram Airfield, a US-controlled vast military base north of Kabul, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Bergdahl's release in exchange for five senior Taliban figures held at Guantanamo Bay has been hailed as a breakthrough for peace efforts by a senior member of Afghanistan's High Peace Counil. Hagel's trip comes a week after President Barack Obama made a surprise trip to hail the sacrifices of US soldiers in Afghanistan as combat troops prepare to pull out by the end of this year.