CHINA DISSIDENT: A FELLOW ACTIVIST SPEAKS
-THE ESCAPE – AND THE FALLOUT…Hu Jia, a friend a fellow activist of Chen Guangcheng who met with Chen after his escape, tells ABC News that Chen’s entry into the U.S. Embassy was pre-arranged. Hu, who was detained and questioned by Beijing police for 24 hours, recounted the tense hours that led up to Chen’s transfer to U.S. officials. Last Thursday, Hu visited Chen in the same location where Chen shot the video uploaded onto YouTube. “The situation was very dangerous,” he said. After the video was recorded Hu, Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based writer and human rights advocate, and other unnamed activists came to the conclusion that it was no longer safe for Chen to stay within the underground network of safe houses that had sheltered him since his escape from his village in Shandong province. His supporters knew that Beijing police were aware Chen was in town. “We felt them closing in,” said Hu. “We feared we would no longer be able to protect him.” Hu says there is only one place in Beijing that is safe; the U.S. Embassy. It was then decided that one of his supporters would phone contacts at the U.S. Embassy to tell them Chen was coming in. Chen would be accompanied to the Embassy and travel by car. According to Hu, the small group was pursued by unmarked Beijing police security vehicles and a brief car chase ensued. “[Chen] managed to escape the Shandong police but was almost caught by the Beijing police.” Chen, Hu is certain, made it to the embassy just in time. On Saturday Hu was taken into police custody. He said that while he was in detention the police told him that the actions of Chen, Guo Yushan, He Peirong (the young activist who tweeted that it was she who drove Chen to Beijing) and himself were not illegal. Hu said that He Peirong has now been missing for 108 hours and counting; they have been unable to reach her by cell phone since she disappeared last Friday. There is no one at her home in Nanjing. Hu emphasized that Chen sought refuge and not asylum but is now in a difficult position. “The situation now is that if he steps out of the U.S. Embassy he will be arrested, ” says Hu. “If he seeks political asylum he cannot come back.” Hu, who has not had any contact with Chen since he went into detention himself, did outline a potential solution for Chen, China and the U.S. “Another option is for Chen and his family to go to the U.S. for ‘medical treatment’. The Chinese government should give them passports and the U.S. Embassy should grant visas so that he can come back to China.” The best option, Hu believes, is what Chen appealed for in his direct plea to Premier Wen Jiabao. He is asking that the government to admit the wrongful persecution of Chen Guangcheng and his family for the last seven years, guarantee the future safety of Chen and his family and prosecute those responsible for the abuses committed against Chen and his family.
-THE DIPLOMACY…Top level officials from the U.S. and China continue to debate Chen’s fate, just hours ahead of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s arrival in Beijing. Chinese leaders are highly motivated to see a resolution as soon as possible. Some analysts say the best possible outcome from the Chinese government’s perspective would be for Chen to go to the U.S. with his family as an exile. Returning to his village as a free man is far more complicated. The Chinese do not even acknowledge that Chen is under any kind of surveillance or duress at his home at all. The party line is that he is a free man. To go back would mean the Chinese would have to invest more money in keeping an eye on the (now angry and embarrassed) authorities they had been paying to keep an eye on Chen. A mess. Interesting to note that in the most recent video released on YouTube, Chen singled out the local authorities who have committed abuses against him by name and appealed to Premier Wen Jiabo to end the injustices committed against him and his family.
-SOCIAL MEDIA CRACKDOWN…As word of Cheng Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest spread, admirers rushed to popular Chinese social media to cheer on the blind legal activist – and censors swung into action to block them. A look at the blocked phrases – including “blind man” and “Shawshank Redemption” in reference to his escape – is a case study of the communist government’s extensive Internet censorship and how the public tries to evade its controls.
BIN LADEN, ONE YEAR LATER
-THE THREAT…On the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, authorities are readying for possible terror attacks. As Brian ROSS has been reporting, authorities fear al Qaeda may soon try to explode U.S.-bound aircraft with explosives hidden inside the bodies of terrorists.
-HIS LAST DAYS…Among the many tidbits emerging about the Qaeda leader’s final days, The Washington Post reports that a few months before Osama bin Laden’s death, Web sites linked to al-Qaeda ran excited commentary about a proposed new killing machine dubbed the “human lawn mower.” The idea was to attach rotating blades to the front of a pickup truck and drive the contraption into crowds. While some jihadists admired the idea, bin Laden himself took a stand against it. The man who famously ordered jetliners flown into skyscrapers drew the line at cutting down humans like weeds. “He was upset about it,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who viewed bin Laden’s writings on the subject. “He felt it conflicted with his vision for what he wanted al-Qaeda to be.” New excerpts show the extent of bin Laden’s obsession with ideological purity as he sought to manage the group’s demoralized and scattered networks in his final years. They show him seeking to reassert control over factions of loosely affiliated jihadists from Yemen to Somalia, as well as independent actors whom he believed had sullied al-Qaeda’s reputation and muddied its central message.
-THE BIN LADEN COMPOUND…Muhammad LILA and Habibullah KHAN report from Abbottabad today – where we were first on the ground one year ago. Today the old Bin Laden compound is a ruin, the doctor who helped the CIA is in custody, and the locals still either don’t believe Bin Laden was there – or think the U.S. had to right to swoop in and get him.
-PAKISTAN: NO ANSWERS?…From the AP: Islamabad has failed to answer tough questions over whether its security forces were protecting the world’s most wanted terrorist. Partly as a result, fallout from the raid still poisons relations between Washington and Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment, support for Islamist extremism and anger at the violation of sovereignty in the operation can be summed up by a Twitter hashtag doing the rounds: 02MayBlackDay. The Pakistani government initially welcomed the raid that killed bin Laden in his three-story compound, but within hours the mood changed as it became clear that Pakistan’s army was cut out of the operation. Any discussions over how bin Laden managed to stay undetected in Pakistan were drowned out in anger at what the army portrayed as a treacherous act by a supposed ally. That bin Laden was living with his family near Pakistan’s version of West Point — not in a cave in the mountains as many had guessed — raised eyebrows in the West. A week after the raid, President Barack Obama said bin Laden had a “support network” in Pakistan and the country must investigate how he evaded capture. There are fears a promised Pakistani investigation will be more of a whitewash than a genuine probe. “We’re disappointed,” said a U.S. official. “They promised to do it, but they haven’t yet.”
MURDOCH “NOT FIT” TO RUN MAJOR CORPORATION
From Jeffrey KOFMAN in London: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is not “a fit person” to run a major international corporation, a committee of MPs said today. In a devastating report into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee accused the News Corp chief of exhibiting “wilful blindness” towards the wrongdoing in his organisation. It said News Corp had been guilty of “huge failings of corporate governance” and that throughout its instinct had been “to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators”.
ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES IN LONDON
From Nick SCHIFRIN in London: Residents in east London are beginning to tweet pictures of soldiers setting up anti-aircraft missiles that will sit on the residents’ roof to help protect the Olympics. As one quips, “Trying to do some work but a little distracted by the military outside my window.” Pretty extraordinary – thousands of people will have to sleep underneath missiles and put up with armed guards roaming their complex. All this week the British military is holding a major exercise practicing how it will protect the games. This will be the largest deployment of British military in the UK since World War Two. There’s lots of good pictures available, starting tomorrow, when warplanes arrive in London; on Wednesday, more surface-to-air missiles are deployed; on Friday, a massive Carrier sails into London full of helicopters with snipers on board. Meanwhile – the Telegraph reports experts have claimed the systems are useless in poor weather as they rely on the operator being able to see the target. Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane’s International Defense Review said: “The system’s weakness is that the missiles are laser-guided, steered onto their target by the soldier keeping his sight on an aircraft. So if the soldier can’t see an aircraft, they can’t hit it. As a result, the missiles can be badly affected by weather and would also not be able to engage targets ‘masked’ by buildings on their approach to the stadium.”
INDIA FERRY DISASTER
Army divers and rescue workers pulled 103 bodies out of a river after a packed ferry boat capsized in heavy winds and rain in remote northeast India, an official said Tuesday. At least 100 people were still missing Tuesday after the boat carrying about 350 passengers broke into two pieces late Monday, said Pritam Saikia, the district magistrate of Goalpara district. Deep sea divers and disaster rescue soldiers worked through the night to pull bodies from the Brahmaputra River in Assam state. Heavy winds and rain hampered rescue operations.
US KEEPS MUM ON SOME AFGHAN ATTACKS
From the AP and Luis MARTINEZ: The military is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops. The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time an American or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But The Associated Press has learned it does not report insider attacks in which the Afghan wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target. It also doesn’t report the wounding of troops who were attacked alongside those who were killed.
DEMONSTRATORS BLOCK MAIN AFGHAN HIGHWAY
Aleem AGHA reports hundreds of demonstrators carrying the bodies of 8 people, including three children have blocked the main highway linking Kabul to Kandahar. Demonstrators claim the 8 were killed by ISAF & Afghan forces Monday, a claim ISAF and Afghan officials deny.
POLICE USING COUNTERINSURGENCY TACTICS LEARNED IN IRAQ
The New York Times profiles two Massachusetts state troopers – and Green Berets – who have successfully used counterinsurgency strategies they learned on deployments in Iraq in dangerous neighborhoods here at home. They hold weekly community meetings, designed to gain support from residents who can tip police off to trouble spot in their neighborhoods. Ideas for neighborhood improvement suggested by residents in those meetings are quickly implemented, giving residents reason to trust the cops in their community.
MAY DAY & THE EURO-MESS
-PROTESTS…Europeans are taking to the streets to protest against the measures that are being blamed for a big increase in the number of unemployed, particularly in Greece, Spain and Portugal. In Moscow, around 100,000 people — including President Dmitry Medvedev and president-elect Vladimir Putin — took part in the main march through Moscow’s city center. As our Kirit RADIA reports, Putin and Medvedev shared beers after the rally. In Asia, thousands of May Day protesters in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan demanded hikes in pay that they say has not kept up with rising consumer prices, while also calling for lower school fees and expressing a variety of other gripes.
-RECESSION…Spain has joined seven other euro-zone nations in recession, providing new evidence that austerity policies are failing to spark confidence in the region’s economies ahead of a week of expected anti-austerity protests and a string of important national elections. Almost every piece of new economic data in recent weeks has reinforced the impression that swaths of the European economy are contracting. The worsening economic picture is raising political tensions around the euro zone—both French and Greek elections this weekend are expected to castigate incumbents. A growing number of politicians, led by François Hollande, the Socialist candidate in the French presidential ballot, and by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, have called for a shift in the focus of policies toward growth and away from austerity. Their calls have been reinforced by the weakness of many euro-zone economies, which some economists argue undermines the contention that cutting budgets pays dividends in increased economic confidence. Among the 17 euro-zone nations, Spain joined Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia in recession. Outside the bloc, the U.K., Denmark and the Czech Republic are also in recession.
APRIL WAS UK’s WETTEST MONTH IN 100 YEARS
It has been the wettest April in the UK for over 100 years, with some areas seeing three times their usual average, BBC reports. Some 121.8mm of rain has fallen, beating the previous record of 120.3mm which was set in 2000.
SYRIA FORCES KILL 10 IN MORTAR ATTACK
Reuters reports Syrian forces fired mortar bombs at a village in the northern province of Idlib on Tuesday, killing 10 people, nine of them from the same family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based monitoring group said two of the dead were children. Many others were wounded, some of them critically, it added. The shelling marks another violation of a shaky U.N.-brokered truce, which has already been marred by sporadic clashes and a string of explosions in the capital, Damascus, last week and central Idlib on Monday.
UN CHIEF HAILS MYANMAR’S SUU KYI
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has praised Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for supporting her country’s path to democracy by making a political compromise. Ban said Tuesday after meeting Suu Kyi that he admired her for agreeing to drop a demand that the wording of the oath of office be changed. Her party members are expected to take their seats in parliament Wednesday.
DUTCH TRY BAN ON SOME TOURISTS BUYING MARIJUANA
A policy barring foreign tourists from buying marijuana in the Netherlands goes into effect in parts of the country Tuesday, with a protest planned in the southern city of Maastricht. Weed is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but it is sold openly in small amounts in designated cafes under the country’s famed tolerance policy. The government has said that as of May 1, only holders of a “weed pass” will be allowed to purchase the drug, and nonresidents aren’t eligible.
YOUTH OBSESSION IS HARMING ELDERLY, WARNS ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
An obsession with “young and hyperactive” people has driven the elderly to increasing isolation, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned. People have developed wildly unrealistic expectations about health and happiness, rather than settling for simply being in “reasonable working order”, Dr Rowan Williams said. As a result “deep anxieties about ageing” in society have helped “marginalize and demean” older people The Telegraph reports.
MOBILE APP HELPS TRAVELERS REPORT UNFAIR SCREENING
Anti-discrimination action has found its way into a new app for iPhone and Android phones launched Monday, The Los Angeles Times reports. The FlyRights app, created by the Sikh Coalition, offers air travelers a way to record the details of incidents of perceived discrimination during screening directly to the Transportation Security Administration. Not just focused on racial profiling, the app includes a reporting page that walks users through the type of discrimination they feel they were subjected to including gender and ability — that’s in addition to racial, religious, and ethnic — and includes a way to memorialize all of the relevant information right after it happens.
WEIRD NOISE TURNS INTO INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT
The Wall Street Journal writes of the so-called “Windsor Hum,” a low-frequency rumbling sound that is tormenting residents of Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. Research by Canadians suggest the noise is coming from a man-made industrial island built on the U.S. side of the river, but the Americans can’t seem to hear it and say they don’t have the funds to investigate further. As you can imagine, the Canadians don’t like that very much.