Protester disrupts Hu arrival ceremony; Bush apologizes

President George W. Bush expressed personal regret to Chinese President Hu Jintao for a protest during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday.

The protester interrupted the ceremony by shouting to Bush to stop the Chinese president from "persecuting the Falun Gong."

Bush later spoke of the matter when he met with Hu in the Oval Office. "He just said this was unfortunate, and I'm sorry it happened," said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.

Wilder said Hu was gracious in accepting Bush's apology. The two leaders moved on in their talks and it was not mentioned again in several hours of meetings. Hu and Bush sat next to each other at an elaborate luncheon _ a departure from traditional protocol, which would have had them at different tables, reports AP.

On a long-awaited visit to the White House, Hu received the 21-gun salute and full military honors that the Chinese had coveted as a sign of respect.

But in an embarrassing episode that marred the South Lawn ceremony, a Chinese woman in the press section heckled Hu just as he began speaking.

"President Hu, your days are numbered. U.S. President George W. Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong," she yelled, referring to the spiritual meditation movement that is banned in China.

She was led away by a Secret Service uniformed guard for questioning, and was later identified as Wang Wenyi, 47, a reporter for The Epoch Times, a New York-based newspaper that supports the Falun Gong.

The Secret Service planned to charge her with disorderly conduct and was weighing more serious federal charges that she intimidated or disrupted a foreign official.

"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," said a U.S. official involved in Hu's visit.

In a concession to U.S. protocol, Hu answered reporters' questions in the Oval Office. He seemed to be treading a thin line between addressing U.S. concerns about a trade surplus that reached $202 billion last year, without been seen to buckle to U.S. pressure.

Stating that China wanted to boost its domestic demand and did not seek an excessive trade surplus, Hu said Washington could help reduce the imbalance by allowing more high-tech exports to China.

Washington would like to see China revalue its currency, the yuan, which it regards as seriously undervalued against the dollar. That would allow U.S. exporters to compete more effectively in China and reduce the trade deficit, informs Reuters.

While Bush and Hu pledged their cooperation on mutual strategic interests, including Iran and North Korea, their meeting produced no breakthroughs in resolving differences, including those on currency, trade and expanding freedom in China.

Currency has been a persistent source of tension between the world's largest industrial power and the biggest developing country.

China ended its decade-old peg to the dollar last July and said it would allow the yuan, a denomination of the renminbi, to fluctuate as much as 0.3 percent each day against the U.S. currency. Since then, the yuan has gained 1.2 percent, reports Bloomberg.


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