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SAN FRANCISCO - Merrill Newman was tired and looking forward to reuniting with his family, but he was all smiles Saturday after arriving at the San Francisco airport after being detained for several weeks in North Korea. The 85-year-old U.S. veteran of the Korean War held the hand of his wife and was accompanied by his adult son when he briefly addressed the assembled media after disembarking from a direct flight from Beijing. He also thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, and U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping to secure his release. Newman was detained in late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.
CAIRO - Egyptian authorities released Saturday two dozen Islamist women and girls convicted for staging a street protest after an appeals court reduced their harsh penalties, including prison terms of 11 years, to suspended sentences. "This is God-given," Ola Alaa, an 18-year-old medical student who was initially sentenced to 11 years, told The Associated Press by telephone after reaching her home in the coastal city of Alexandria. The 14 women, mostly around the age of 20, were originally sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted in connection to an Oct. 31 protest in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Human Rights Watch called the sentences "blatantly political" and said the court had violated the right to free trial, by failing to allow witnesses to testify in the women's defence, and providing little evidence for the charges they faced.
KABUL - Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday he received assurances from Afghanistan's defence minister that a stalled security agreement with the United States would be signed in "a very timely manner." But in a highly unusual move, Hagel chose not to meet with President Hamid Karzai, who is holding up a pact that Washington and NATO officials say is needed to plan for a post-2014 training and counterterrorism mission expected to involve thousands of troops. Hagel said he did not think additional pressure from U.S. officials would be helpful or persuade Karzai to sign the bilateral security agreement according to the U.S. timetable â€” by the end of December. "There is not much I could add in a meeting with President Karzai to what's already been said," Hagel told reporters after meeting with Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.