Nation/world briefs 12/8/13

Published:

SAN FRANCISCO -- A tired but smiling 85-year-old U.S. veteran detained in North Korea for several weeks returned home Saturday to applause from supporters, yellow ribbons tied to trees outside his home and the warm embrace of his family.

Merrill Newman arrived at the San Francisco airport after turning down a ride aboard Vice President Joe Biden's Air Force Two in favor of a direct flight from Beijing. He emerged into the international terminal smiling, accompanied by his son and holding the hand of his wife amid applause from supporters. He spoke briefly to the assembled media, declining to answer questions about his ordeal.

"I'm delighted to be home," he said. "It's been a great homecoming. I'm tired, but ready to be with my family."

He also thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping to secure his release. He declined to answer any questions and didn't discuss his detention.

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.

Last month, Newman read from an awkwardly worded alleged confession that apologized for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war. Analysts questioned whether the statement was coerced, and former South Korean guerrillas who had worked with Newman and fought behind enemy lines during the war disputed some of the details.

North Korea cited Newman's age and medical condition in allowing him to leave the country.

Judge didn't block merger: A judge refused to block a merger between American Airlines and US Airways on Friday, saying a bankruptcy judge correctly rejected arguments made by a lawyer for some consumers. San Francisco attorney Joseph Alioto argued that the deal would harm fliers because it would result in less competition and higher prices. But U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska repeatedly noted that his arguments relied on outdated facts, had no evidence to support them and sometimes made no sense. American is owned by AMR Corp. and is based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company has said it plans to complete the merger with Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways on Monday.

Dylan's guitar sold: Like Elvis' no-hips-allowed appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," or the Beatles' arrival in America, or Woodstock, it is considered one of the milestone moments in rock history: Bob Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. On Friday, the Fender Stratocaster that Dylan plugged in at the festival sold in New York City for nearly $1 million -- the highest price ever paid for a guitar at auction. A buyer identified only as a private individual agreed to pay $965,000 at Christie's, including the auction house's fees, for the sunburst-finish electric guitar.

Hagel receives assurances: Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday he received assurances from Afghanistan's defense 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 -- by the end of December. Karzai says he wants his successor to decide after the April 5 elections.

WTO approves trade deal: A deal to boost global trade has been approved by the World Trade Organization's 159 member economies for the first time in nearly two decades, keeping alive the possibility that a broader agreement to create a level playing field for rich and poor countries can be reached in the future. The centerpiece of the agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia was measures to ease barriers to trade by simplifying customs procedures and making them more transparent.

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