WASHINGTON — Without specifically mentioning negotiations over blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, President Barack Obama on Monday urged China to do more to improve its record on human rights issues “because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system.”
A confidant of Chen’s said U.S. diplomats have met with officials at the Chinese Foreign Ministry to try to hammer out an agreement on what to do about Chen before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrive Wednesday morning. Chen escaped from house arrest in China last week and is reportedly in U.S. custody now.
During an appearance at the White House Monday afternoon with Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, Obama said he was not going to make a statement on Chen, but did say human rights comes up “every time we meet with China.”
Bob Fu, a U.S.-based activist with the group China Aid who says he helped Chen escape house arrest last week, said it seems increasingly likely that Chen would be brought to the United States, possibly for the stated reason of seeking medical treatment.
Chen had initially been “very, very reluctant” to seek asylum abroad, Fu said in an interview on Monday. But the difficulty of guaranteeing his safety inside China, Fu added, was making departure for the United States the most attractive option for both American and Chinese officials.
Chen left his wife and daughter behind when he fled to Beijing a week ago and, in a video posted on YouTube, appealed to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to guarantee their safety. He is believed to be under the protection of U.S. diplomats, though his precise whereabouts are not publicly known.
Top EPA official resigns over ‘crucify’ comment
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s top environmental official in the oil-rich South Central region has resigned after Republicans targeted him over remarks made two years ago when he used the word “crucify” to describe how he would go after companies violating environmental laws.
In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson sent Sunday, Al Armendariz says he regrets his words and stresses that they do not reflect his work as administrator of the five-state region including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The environmental engineer apologized last week for his remarks. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Associated Press that Armendariz has since received death threats. His resignation was effective Monday. Sam Coleman, a career official who led the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina and served as Armendariz’ deputy, took over as acting regional administrator.
Mass. woman balks at paying old $73 debt to NJ
AMESBURY, Mass. — A Massachusetts woman who got a bill for $73 from the state of New Jersey for a decades-old debt says she has no intention of paying.
Alice Mainville, of Amesbury, got a letter recently telling her she owes New Jersey’s Department of Labor $73 because it gave her too much money in an unemployment check 35 years ago.
Mainville tells the Daily News of Newburyport (http://bit.ly/IlpLlf ) she collected unemployment during a labor dispute at the bakery where she worked when she was 17.
Mainville, who moved to Massachusetts after high school, says she won’t pay because New Jersey officials have not explained how they concluded she owes the money.
New Jersey Department of Labor spokeswoman Kerri Gatling says there is no bad debt “write-off” in unemployment insurance law.
George Zimmerman defense team launches new website, social-media accounts
ORLANDO, Fla. — George Zimmerman’s defense attorney has established a new website, Facebook and Twitter accounts to provide details about the high-profile, controversial case.
On gzlegalcase.com, attorney Mark O’Mara acknowledges that it is “unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case.”
Zimmerman is charged with killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at a Sanford, Fla., neighborhood Feb. 26. Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense.
The site says the defense is working to identify and eliminate fraudulent websites and social media profiles that pretend to represent Zimmerman.
States seek court action on Yucca nuclear-waste dump
WASHINGTON — Federal judges are again being asked to solve a difficult problem that lawmakers can’t fix: the decades-old morass of how to handle tons of nuclear waste lying in temporary storage around the country.
A panel of federal appellate judges on Wednesday will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by South Carolina and Washington state seeking an end to a political stalemate that now could be linked to the presidential election.
The states want the judges to force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decide whether the Energy Department has properly withdrawn its application for a nuclear-waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Until that decision is made, nothing can move forward unless Congress decides to act.
Congress passed a law in 1987 requiring that a central waste repository be dug beneath Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, but Nevada politicians’ fierce opposition has stymied the project.
While 36 states are holding waste from active or decommissioned nuclear power plants, South Carolina and Washington have more waste — and more toxic waste — than others. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Hanford Site in Washington contain large amounts of waste from plutonium used in former nuclear-weapons production.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Monday that his state was suing the U.S. Energy Department because it had stopped building the Yucca dump despite failing to get the required approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, to abandon the project.