April 20, 2006

China heckler at White House prompts Bush apology

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A heckler from the Falun Gong
spiritual movement, who entered White House grounds as a
reporter, interrupted a formal arrival ceremony for Chinese
President Hu Jintao on Thursday, prompting President George W.
Bush to apologize to his guest.

After being welcomed by Bush, the Chinese president was
just beginning his response when a woman, who had been allowed
into the press section, started shouting. She was escorted away
by a uniformed U.S. guard.

"President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make
him stop persecuting Falun Gong," the woman yelled. U.S.
officials later identified her as Wang Wenyi, 47, a reporter
with The Epoch Times, an English-language publication strongly
supportive of the meditation movement that is banned in China.

"This was unfortunate and I'm sorry this happened," Bush
told Hu, according to Dennis Wilder, a senior official with the
National Security Council.

The Secret Service charged Wang with disorderly conduct
under local statutes. The U.S. Attorney's office was weighing
federal charges of "willing intimidation or disruption of a
foreign official," said Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren.

Outside the White House, hundreds of yellow-clad Falun Gong
disciples, Taiwanese nationalists, and Tibetan youth group
members demonstrated against Hu and his government.

The protesters denounced China's human rights record, its
missile build-up near Taiwan and its 55-year-long rule over the
Himalayan Buddhist region of Tibet.

"Communist Party = Tyranny + Lies," read a yellow banner,
carried by one female member of Falun Gong, which China
outlawed and brutally crushed in 1999.

"Taiwan is not a part of China," read a placard hoisted by
one of around 300 Taiwan activists, who reject China's claim of
sovereignty over the island. Tibetans, mostly U.S.-based
students, called for independence for their homeland.

A U.S. official said Hu's team was probably offended by the
incident. "The hardliners on Hu's team are going to ask, why
did it take so long for us to pick her up. It is not a good
thing," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zahren of the Secret Service said the woman had passed
through "all appropriate levels of security," including a metal
detector. She was allowed into the event under a temporary
press pass.

Falun Gong, which thrives overseas despite being largely
stamped out in China, alleges that government persecution of
the group includes a vast system of concentration camps, where
doctors harvest inmates' organs for transplants.

China has vehemently denied this, but a U.N. investigator
is examining the allegation.

In remarks at Hu's arrival ceremony, Bush did not mention
Falun Gong, but he said he would discuss human rights. He urged
Hu to allow "the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to
speak freely and to worship."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Caren Bohan)