U.S., CHINA, + CHEN GUANGCHENG: LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
-COMING TO AMERICA?…Hillary Clinton and Tim Geithner traveled halfway around the world to deal with global security and economic issues – but for the moment the U.S. is busy with one question: How to grant blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng his wish to leave China – when he’s under guard at a Chinese hospital? The most promising scenario was floated by China’s Foreign Ministry: a website statement saying Chen would be allowed to apply for study abroad. Secretary Clinton said the US is “heartened” – addressing the issue for the first time since arriving in Beijing she said, “We are encouraged by the progress we have seen today but there is more work to do.” Secretary Clinton confirmed that Chen now says he is certain he wants to go to the U.S. with his family. Chen has expressed his desire to accept an invitation he says he received from New York University. Earlier members from the US Embassy staff were able to visit Chen in the hospital – after taking heat for failing to station someone there after he left the U.S. Embassy. “We will be staying in touch with him,” she said, “and we will continue to engage with the Chinese government at the very highest level.”
-WHAT CHEN WANTS – AND WHAT HE FEARS…U.S. Embassy personnel have today spoken by phone to Chen and met in person with Chen’s wife, according to State Department officials. Earlier, Chen again changed his plans, saying he now only wants to come to the U.S. for a short stint and does not wish to seek asylum here permanently. His overriding concern appears to be the safety of his family – and he continues to request help directly from Clinton, notably in an extraordinary moment last night when he addressed a U.S. congressional panel over a cell phone held up by an American activist.
-CHINA BASHES CHEN, U.S….The diplomatic dance got ugly earlier Friday. In a strident editorial, the state-run Beijing Daily portrayed Chen as a “tool and a pawn” of U.S. politicians seeking to undermine China. “Packaged by the U.S. and Western media, this so-called ‘rights defending hero’ has been given an eye-catching political label,” the editorial said. “But Cheng Guangcheng doesn’t represent a majority of people. All he truly represents are the interests of his backstage bosses and Western anti-China forces.” As for U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, the paper said, “Unfortunately…the U.S. ambassador to China has insisted on performing a role that is far from glorious and even could be called low and petty…a standard-issue American politician who goes out of his way to stir up conflict.”
-CHEN’S CAREER…How did Chen arrive at this moment? From the Washington Post: By the time he took the case that would cost him his freedom, Chen Guangcheng had established his fearlessness. The blind and self-educated legal advocate had fought polluters and tax authorities in Shandong province and had pushed for the rights of people with disabilities since the late 1990s. In 2005, the authorities decided to rein in Chen after he took on the cause of peasants who were being forcibly sterilized or taken to abortion clinics. Incensed by the practice, Chen decided to confront the bureaucrats who were still pursuing a coercive one-child policy long after the state had declared such measures illegal. “He is a genuinely idealistic person shaped by his rural experience, and especially that of being a blind man,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a professor at New York University and a friend of Chen’s. “He is a very driven person. Can you imagine the steely determination to live through what this guy has lived through, and what he has accomplished?”
OLYMPIC TEST: BRITISH NAVY SAILS INTO LONDON
It’s the U.K. military’s largest-ever peacetime mobilization – and the first time that missiles and fighter jets will be based in London since World War II – and we are in the middle of it. All week long, London has been holding a security test-run for the Olympics. Nick SCHIFRIN and Angus HINES are aboard today as the British Navy sails into London on the Thames. Nick has also been reporting on the Londoners whose homes are being used to stage missile batteries.
KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED TO BE ARRAIGNED
Five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, including the self-proclaimed mastermind, are headed back to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay Saturday, more than three years after President Barack Obama put the case on hold in a failed effort to move the proceedings to a civilian court and close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba. This time the defendants may put up a fight. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who told military authorities that he was responsible for the planning of the terror assault “from A to Z,” previously mocked the tribunal and said he would welcome the death penalty. His co-defendant, Ramzi Binalshibh, told the court that he was proud of the attacks. But Jim Harrington, the civilian lawyer for Binalshibh, said the defendants are expected to fight the charges against them, which include murder and terrorism and carry a potential death penalty. “He has no intention of pleading guilty,” Harrington said. “I don’t think anyone is going to plead guilty.” The men never entered formal pleas in previous hearings, but Mohammed told the court that he would confess to planning the attacks and hoped to be a “martyr.” He dismissed the military justice system, saying, “After torturing, they transferred us to inquisition land in Guantanamo.” The arraignment Saturday will be held before an audience that includes a handful of people who lost family members in the Sept. 11 attacks.
EUROPE VOTES – WITH GLOBAL CONSEQUENCES
-FRANCE: END FOR SARKOZY?…French President Nicholas Sarkozy faces an uphill fight against Socialist François Hollande in the presidential election Sunday. The outcome could well upend French cooperation in Euro-zone reforms – and thus send jitters through financial markets. Mr. Sarkozy could well join the long list of leaders swept aside by Europe’s economic crisis or by austerity measures that proved unpopular with voters. Ten have fallen so far, including Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
-MEANWHILE, IN ATHENS…Furious Greek voters are promising to punish ruling parties for the nation’s awful economy by voting for fringe candidates who vow to end benefit and spending cuts that the EU demanded in return for a debt bailout to stabilize Europe. The election has European Union leaders deeply worried over Greek commitments to austerity measures that are increasingly being questioned around Europe and, if broken, could rattle social stability and economies. “Most of the MPs and ministers are old wolves in the Greek arena of politics,” said Theodore Pelagidis, professor of economic analysis at the University of Piraeus in Greece. “They are full of the sins of everything that the country got so wrong. They are culprits, and the people know that.” Polls indicate that Sunday’s election may change the political landscape for the first time in four decades.
SYRIA: PROTESTS EXPECTED AFTER UNIVERSITY RAID
Mass protests are expected today in Syria after security forces raided dorms at Aleppo University yesterday, killing four students. Friday is typically the day of weekly anti-government protests in Syria, but new protests have been added as a result of yesterday’s raids.
SUICIDE ATTACK IN PAKISTAN MARKET
A suicide bombing in a Pakistani market close to the Afghan border killed at least 20 people. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives as he approached a security checkpoint near the market, killing five security force members who were manning the checkpoint. He also killed schoolchildren who were on their way to school at the time of the attack. No group has claimed responsibility.
U.S. TROOPS’ ORGANS SAVE EUROPEAN LIVES
USA Today reports that since 2006, about 140 European lives have been saved because organs – hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and pancreases – were harvested from 36 U.S. servicemembers determined to be brain dead from wounds suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan.
DSK: HERE WE GO AGAIN
French prosecutors said Friday they are examining witness testimony that suggests disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn took part in a gang rape at a sex party in Washington DC. From Agence France-Presse: Strauss-Kahn, two businessmen and a police chief had already been charged with “aggravated pimping in an organized gang” for allegedly organizing a prostitution ring for orgies in France, the U.S. and elsewhere. On Friday, a spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office in the northern French city of Lille said investigating magistrates had submitted new evidence that could also implicate the men in a gang rape. The magistrates have not requested permission for a formal investigation, but for official purposes have warned the prosecutor that some testimony points in that direction. The notice is based on testimony from a Belgian sex worker who alleged she was forced to take part in sex acts against her will at a party attended by Strauss-Kahn and his friends in a Washington hotel suite in December 2010. Strauss-Kahn has admitted he had a free-wheeling sexual lifestyle when he was managing director of the IMF, but he has fiercely denied that he was ever violent towards a partner.
DOZENS KILLED IN NIGERIA MARKET ATTACK
From Bazi KANANI: Nigerian officials say 60 people were killed overnight Wednesday at a cattle market in a remote village when gunmen threw bombs and opened fire. The motive for the attack is unclear. Some suspect it is the work of Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect that has killed hundreds of people in similar attacks this year. But the town of Potiskum is in an area where there has been ethnic violence over land disputes, and criminal groups have also been known to attack cattle markets to steal cash.
AFRICAN LEADERS TO ATTEND G8
The White House says four African leaders are invited to join the G8 summit at Camp David later this month to talk about food security concerns. The heads of state of Ethiopia, Benin, Ghana and Tanzania are invited for the session to be held May 19th, the second day of the summit. Food prices in many parts of Africa hit historic highs during the past year and prices are expected to continue to climb for some staples including rice.
MEDIA MOGUL TO BE RELEASED FROM JAIL
The Miami Herald reports former media mogul Conrad Black is expected to be released from prison today. In 2007, Black was sentenced to prison for a $6.1 million fraud scheme involving his media empire Hollinger International, including the Telegraph, the Chicago Sun Times and the Jerusalem Post.
ALL THAT STUDYING MAY BE BAD FOR YOUR EYES
The BBC notes a study from the Lancet that shows Asian students are increasingly struggling with short-sightedness. Researchers believe Asian students’ famous work ethic and the hours they spend inside studying has left as many as 90 percent of Asian graduates struggling with sight problems.
IRELAND TO BAN “13″ FROM CARS
The BBC reports Ireland’s auto industry is backing calls to scrap the use of the number “13″ in new cars’ license plates because it might put off superstitious car buyers. Irish number plates carry the year of the car’s registration as well as the country in which it was registered. The industry wants to replace the “13″ on the plate to head off a dip in sales next year, 2013.
WWII SURRENDER: AN APOLOGY, 67 YEARS LATER
The Associated Press has apologized for the agency’s decision to fire its top European correspondent…in 1945. Edward Kennedy was dismissed by the AP after he became the first journalist to send a firsthand account of the German surrender at Reims, France to end World War II. Kennedy and other journalists had been ordered to keep the surrender a secret for 36 hours as a condition of being allowed to witness it firsthand.
NATO GOOFS IN VIDEO
The Chicago Tribune notes a video about Chicago made by NATO in advance of this month’s summit there is riddled with mistakes. The video calls Chicago the capital of Illinois. It is, of course, Springfield. It says President Obama grew up in Chicago. He, of course, grew up in Hawaii. And the video says the Tribune was founded by Colonel Robert McCormick for whom the McCormick Place convention center is named and where the summit will be held. Three other men actually founded the paper.
CANADA WILL OFFICIALLY BE PENNILESS TODAY
We previously reported Canada was going penniless, but today’s the official farewell to the copper-colored, one-cent coin that features Queen Elizabeth II. In a ceremonial event at the Royal Canadian Mint’s manufacturing facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will deliver the coin’s “last strike.” A coining press there will push out its final penny, ending 150 years of production.
DA VINCI SKETCHES GO ON DISPLAY
The largest-ever collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the human body go on display today at Buckingham Palace. The exhibition at the palace’s Queen’s Gallery includes 87 pages from the artist’s notebooks and groundbreaking anatomical sketches.