CHINESE ACTIVIST TO HILLARY CLINTON: “I WANT TO KISS YOU”. BUT WILL HE BE SAFE?
-THE LATEST…Cheng Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist who escaped house arrest, has left the U.S. Embassy and is seeking medical treatment at Chaoyang hospital in Beijing, according to a senior U.S. official. Chen was escorted to Chaoyang hospital by U.S. Embassy officials and reunited with his wife and two young children who managed to reach Beijing this morning – in an odyssey of their own. It’s unclear how long Chen will remain at the hospital, but U.S officials insist they will have access to him as long as he remains there. Photo here.
-”I WANT TO KISS YOU”…According to U.S. officials, Chen’s first phone call upon leaving the embassy was to Secretary of State Clinton, who arrived in Beijing just hours earlier. He told her, in broken English, ‘I want to kiss you!’” In a statement Secretary Clinton said, “I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children.”
-CHINA WANTS U.S. APOLOGY…China broke its official silence on the case – and then demanded the U.S. apologize. Why? For allowing a Chinese citizen to enter the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
-NOW WHAT?…Dissident sources emphasize that Chen does not want to leave China for the U.S. and was never looking for asylum. Hu Jia, a friend and fellow activist, told ABC News the Chen firmly believes that staying in China is critical to his fight against corruption and injustice. Chen only entered the U.S. Embassy, Hu said, because his supporters believed the police were aware he was in Beijing and they could no longer keep him safe. Outside Chaoyang hospital Jian Tianyong, a human rights lawyer who has worked with Chen in the past, told ABC News that he received a phone call from Chen once he had arrived at the hospital. Jian said Chen is still in poor health and has been in need of medical attention for several years.
-WHERE’S THE WOMAN WHO HELPED HIM?…The whereabouts of He Peirong, the young activist who drove Chen to Beijing, remain unknown. Sources in the dissident community say she was last heard from on Friday April 27th and is believed to be in police custody.
-THE HILLARY CLINTON VISIT…The news of Chen’s latest move came just hours after Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Beijing for two days of annual strategic talks with China that were nearly overshadowed (and may still be) by the drama surrounding Chen. Top- level officials on both sides have been locked in intense meetings on the fate of Mr. Chen for days. The U.S. has long called for human rights reform in China – and Secretary Clinton has singled Chen out by name in the past. But the agenda includes major global issues: in particular nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, currency evaluation and international trade.
-CHEN’S STORY…Chen first came to international attention in 2005 for exposing the abortions and forced sterilizations of women in China’s rural communities as part of the country’s One Child Policy. In 2006 he was sentenced to more than four years in prison for likely trumped up charges of disturbing public disorder. Upon his release he was placed under house arrest at his home in Dongshigu. On April 22nd, Chen made a daring escape from what he has described in videos as a brutal house arrest in Shandong Province.
EXPLOSIONS RATTLE KABUL – HOURS AFTER OBAMA LEAVES
-THE ATTACKS…Aleem AGHA reports from Kabul: Just hours after President Obama delivered his televised speech from Kabul, two major explosions rocked the capital, killing seven. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack was a direct response to Obama’s visit. Meanwhile the Taliban warn their annual Afghan ‘spring offensive’ will officially begin on Thursday.
-OBAMA + THE WAR…Martha RADDATZ files this note on the President’s address, and the overall strategy: The president talked about a “steady pace” of troop withdrawal after September (when the last of the 23,000 surge troops are back). As we reported last night the timeline for the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 troops has not been determined. General John Allen has told ABC News in the past that he would like to hold onto as many of those troops as possible before the handover to Afghans at the end of 2014. A senior administration official tells ABC news that indeed they expect General Allen to argue that he wants to keep those troops but that the administration will have to “balance the request against needs like the economy and other things.” That tells me that Allen is going to have an awfully hard time hanging onto those troops (depending on how the election goes). But the President will continue try to convince the country to think that war is over despite the fact US combat troops will be there nearly three more years in some number. Not exactly a daunting task given how much the country has tuned out the war, and turned against it. And Obama doesn’t really talk about the war much unless it is about leaving.
NAPOLITANO: NO SALVADORAN SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the Secret Service has found no basis to allegations its agents hired strippers and prostitutes in El Salvador last year. The allegations were made by an anonymous source on a Seattle television station. Napolitano, speaking with The Associated Press Wednesday during a trip to New Zealand and Australia, said the service has found no basis to the El Salvador claims after interviewing some of the agents who were in that country at the time. While the interviewing likely was to continue, she said, “to date, nobody has been able to substantiate that anonymous story.”
FBI CHIEF WAS IN LIBYA TO INVESTIGATE LOCKERBIE BOMBING
It wasn’t publicized at the time, but FBI director Robert Mueller and Scottish officials traveled to Tripoli last month to meet with Libyan Prime Minister Abdurahim el-Keib to investigate the Lockerbie bombing. Since Gadhafi’s death, Libyan officials have said they will cooperate with investigation on the bombing.
WILD U.K. SPY CASE – IT MAY NEVER BE SOLVED
A coroner says the mysterious death of a British spy whose naked body was found inside a locked sports bag may never be solved. Coroner Fiona Wilcox said Wednesday that it is unlikely the death of 31-year-old Gareth Williams would “ever be satisfactorily explained” as she began delivering an inquest verdict. Williams worked for Britain’s secret eavesdropping service GCHQ but was attached to the MI6 overseas spy agency when his remains were found in August 2010 at his London apartment, in the bag and inside a bathtub. More from Jean FIEVET: the coroner has given what’s called a “narrative verdict” (rather than “unlawful killing” which is what the family wanted). The reason? That uncertainty cited by the coroner – most of the fundamental questions about his death remain unanswered. One interesting note: she said it remained a “legitimate line of inquiry” that the intelligence services were involved in his death, as she criticised “shortfalls” by MI6 in passing on evidence to Scotland Yard. Her job is not to apportion blame but set out the facts.
FIGHTER JETS ACROSS BRITAIN TO TEST OLYMPIC SECURITY
The Ministry of Defense said Typhoon fighter jets from around the country will arrive at a Royal Air Force base at Northolt in west London for an eight-day military exercise beginning Wednesday.
BSkyB DEFIANT AFTER MPS SLAM MURDOCH
BBC reports British Sky Broadcasting has declared that it is a “fit and proper” company as it reported a 19 percent gain in net profit for the first nine months of its financial year. BSkyB’s declaration comes a day after a parliamentary committee concluded that Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corp., BSkyB’s biggest shareholder, was not fit to run an international company.
BURMA’S AUNG SAN SUU KYI SWORN IN TO PARLIAMENT
Another landmark in the prisoner-to-parliament odyssey of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been sworn in as a member of Burma’s parliament, a month after her party’s sweeping victory in by-elections. The ceremony marks the first time the Nobel laureate has held public office.
SYRIA IN CRISIS
-BOMB KILLS 15 MEMBERS OF SECURITY FORCE…A rebel ambush in northern Syria killed 15 security force members on Wednesday, including two colonels, as fighting flared in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based group said two rebels were also killed in the clashes, another breach of a U.N.-backed ceasefire.
-MORE U.N. OBSERVERS ARRIVE…Meanwhile, the number of observers operating in Syria under the United Nations mission rose to 31 on Wednesday with teams deployed to the country’s most conflict-torn cities of Homs, Hama, Daraa, Idlib and Damascus.
-OFFICIALS CONFISCATE NEWS CAMERA IN DAMASCUS…Syrian officials have confiscated a television camera belonging to a Sky News crew after it filmed an impromptu protest in the capital Damascus. Sky News foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, reporting from the city, said: “We were filming near a statue in the centre of town and about 20 activists started a protest near us. “A uniformed officer with a machine gun approached us and violently ripped the camera away from us.” A U.N.-Arab League peace plan allows for unfettered, free access for journalists who have visas.
EGYPTIAN PROTESTERS KILLED IN CAIRO
As Alex MARQUARDT reported, nine protesters were killed outside Cairo’s Defense Ministry this morning (the actual number may be higher) and dozens were injured. Supporters of a would-be candidate who was barred from running in this month’s presidential elections have been holding a sit-in outside the ministry. The assailants are unknown – some say they are hired thugs, others that they are army or police in plainclothes. Egypt holds the first round of its presidential election on May 23.
OIL, WAR, AND CIVILIANS IN THE MIDDLE
A strong piece from the Washington Post about the war in South Sudan: Every few moments, Nyameat Nyak glances nervously at the sky. It’s been two weeks since Sudanese warplanes bombed her tea shop as she was serving five traders, pregnant with her sixth child. Shrapnel sliced through the walls, covering her in flesh and blood. The men died. Her baby lived. Since the attack, there have been more bombings, more deaths and a growing unease that this nation’s prized asset is becoming its biggest misfortune. “If we had no oil,” said Nyak, 27, seated outside her hut, “we would not be attacked.” Tens of thousands of South Sudanese are trapped in a conflict over oil and territory between their newly independent country and their northern neighbor, Sudan. For the past three weeks, Sudanese warplanes have bombed the town of Bentiu, killing 15 civilians and injuring several dozen more, according to the United Nations. From Angola to Chad, Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea, oil and other natural resources have been more bane than blessing, generating conflicts and corruption while millions of Africans languish in poverty. But many thought oil revenue would prevent another conflict here, with South Sudan dependent on Sudan’s pipelines and ports to export its crude.
THE MCCANNS – FIVE YEARS LATER
As Jeffrey KOFMAN puts it, “It is a dark anniversary – five years tomorrow that Madeleine McCann went missing. But today her parents are speaking with a new sense of hope – cautious hope.” Kate and Gerry McCann said today they are allowing themselves to believe after five years that that their little daughter Madeleine can still be found. In an interview with Britain’s ITV this morning, Mrs. McCann said, “We are realistic. We don’t know what has happened but we know there is a very good chance that she could be alive – there is no evidence to the contrary.” It was five years ago that the McCanns took their three children on holiday to Portugal. Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the day when they returned to their rented villa to discover that Madeleine – then four – was missing. She hasn’t been seen since. While Portugal has abandoned the case, last week Scotland Yard announced it was opening a special unit to investigate almost 200 leads. British police released an age-enhanced photo to show what Madeleine might look like today.
DON’T GET DRUNK & STEAL A PENGUIN – IT’LL COST YOU
Remember that “Hangover”-esque story in Australia with those guys who got drunk and stole a penguin? Well, they were in court today. Sky News reports they’ve been fined $1,000 each. Rhys Owen Jones, 21, a former Royal Marine, and 20-year-old bricklayer Keri Mules pleaded guilty to trespass, stealing and keeping a protected animal. The friends had been to a beach party and were drinking heavily when they decided to break into Sea World on the Gold Coast in Queensland. After swimming in the dolphin enclosure and letting off a fire extinguisher in the shark tank, they then picked up a penguin, taking him back to their rented apartment.