China Missing Tennis Star

In this 2020 photo, China's Peng Shuai reacts during her first round singles match against Japan's Nao Hibino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia.

Chinese tennis star

Peng says she is safe

BEIJING | Missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai told Olympic officials in a video call from Beijing that she was safe and well, the International Olympic Committee said Sunday after Peng reappeared in public at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photos released by the organizer.

The 30-minute call came amid growing global alarm over Peng after she accused a former leading Communist Party official of sexual assault. China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to quell fears abroad while suppressing information in China about Peng.

Sunday’s call — with IOC president Thomas Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association — appears to be Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on Nov. 2.

Peng “thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being,” the Switzerland-based Olympic body said in a statement.

”She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now,” the statement said.

Peng, who played for China at three Olympics from 2008 to 2016, made the sexual assault allegation on Chinese social media three weeks ago against a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli.

That post was removed within minutes and the former top-ranked doubles player went missing from public view. She did not respond publicly to calls for information to show she was safe.

Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

Some reemerge weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they are warned not to disclose they were detained or the reason.

Bach, the IOC president, has invited Peng to join him at a dinner when he arrives in Beijing in January “which she gladly accepted,” the IOC said Sunday. Terho and Li were also invited.

”I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” Terho said in the IOC statement. The hockey player from Finland represents athletes on the IOC executive board.

”She appeared to be relaxed,” Terho said. “I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”

The photos of Peng posted Sunday by the China Open on the Weibo social media service made no mention of her disappearance or her accusation. The former Wimbledon champion was shown standing beside a court, waving and signing oversize commemorative tennis balls for children.

Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to appeals for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, a prestige event for the Communist Party. The women’s professional tour threatened to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former No. 1 doubles player was assured.

The IOC had previously remained quiet about the status of Peng, helping to contribute to the IOC’s multimillion-dollar revenue from broadcasting and sponsorships.

The Olympic body’s stated policy is “quiet diplomacy.” The IOC had said Saturday it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”

Discussion of Peng’s accusation has been deleted from websites in China. A government spokesman on Friday denied knowing about the outcry. The ruling party’s internet filters also block most people in China from seeing other social media abroad and most global news outlets.

Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who spoke up about Peng. Comments in Chinese on Twitter poked fun at the awkward release of photos and video of Peng by employees of state media this weekend while the government stayed silent.

”When will the WTA get out of China?” said a comment on the Sina Weibo social media service, signed “Sleep Time.”

Peng’s appearance Sunday was mentioned in the final sentence of a report about the tournament on the website of the English-language Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling party and aimed at foreign readers, but not immediately reported by other media within China.

The Global Times editor, Hu Xijin, said Saturday on Twitter, which can’t be seen by most internet users in China, that Peng “stayed in her own home freely” and would “show up in public” soon.

The Global Times is known for its nationalistic tone. Hu uses his Twitter account to criticize foreign governments and point out social and economic problems abroad.

A comment on Twitter signed bobzhang999 said, “Hu Dog, with so many photos, why don’t you let Peng Shuai talk?”

Another, signed Magician, said, “Let Peng Shuai’s parents hold a news conference.”

Tennis stars and the WTA have been unusually vocal in demanding information about Peng. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliation.

The ruling party has given no indication whether it is investigating Peng’s accusation against Gao, 75, who left the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life.

Even if Peng’s accusation is deemed valid, people in China often are jailed or face other penalties for embarrassing the party by publicizing complaints about abuses instead of going through the secretive, often unresponsive official system.

The status of star athletes such as Peng is especially sensitive. State media celebrate their victories as proof the party is making China strong. But the party is vigilant about making sure they cannot use their prominence and public appeal to erode its image.

Steve Simon, the WTA’s chairman and CEO, expressed concern for Peng’s safety after Hu, the newspaper editor, posted two videos Saturday that appeared to show her in a restaurant.

”While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient,” Simon said. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

The IOC said Saturday it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”

Asked two weeks ago about human rights in China, senior IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch said “we are not discussing with the Chinese government anything” about that subject.

The IOC has previously said its partner in organizing the Winter Games is the local organizing committee, not the Chinese state. That committee is controlled by the Communist Party.

Emma Terho, the newly elected head of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission that is charged with representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement Saturday “we support the quiet diplomacy” approach favored by the IOC.

Last week, the foreign arm of state TV issued a statement in English attributed to Peng that retracted her accusation against Zhang. The WTA’s Simon questioned its legitimacy while others said it only increased their concern about her safety.

Sudan military leaders reinstate deposed PM

CAIRO | Sudan’s deposed prime minister signed a deal with the military on Sunday that will see him reinstated, almost a month after a military coup put him under house arrest. A key pro-democracy group that has mobilized dozens of protests had dismissed the deal as “a form of betrayal.”

The deal, announced in a ceremony broadcast live on Sudan state TV, envisages an independent technocratic Cabinet to be led by Abdalla Hamdok until elections can be held. It remains unclear how much power the government would hold. It would still remain under military oversight.

It also remains unclear whether any political parties or pro-democracy groups have signed off on the agreement.

The deal expects the military to release government officials and politicians arrested since the Oct. 25 coup.

The coup, more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government, has drawn international criticism.

”The signing of this deal opens the door wide enough to address all the challenges of the transitional period,” said Hamdok, speaking at the signing ceremony.

Sudanese have been taking to the streets in masses since the military takeover, which upended the country’s fragile transition to democracy. The agreement comes just days after doctors said at least 15 people were killed by live fire during anti-coup demonstrations. Hamdok has been held under house arrest by military leaders for weeks.

The deal also stipulates that an investigation shall be conducted to identify those responsible for the killing and injuring of civilians and troops that marred protests following the coup.

Hamdok thanked Sudan’s “regional and global friends” who helped in reaching this agreement but he did not name the countries.

The 14-clause deal also stressed that power should be handed over to an elected civilian government after the end of the transitional period.

”By signing this declaration, we could lay a genuine foundation to the transitional period,” said Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the country’s top military leader. “We want to establish a true partnership with all national forces so that we can eventually build institutions that can take us forward.”

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a group that played a key role in the uprising against Bashir, voiced their vehement opposition to the agreement, accusing Hamdok of committing “political suicide.”

”This agreement only concerns its signatories and it is an unjust attempt to bestow legitimacy on the latest coup and the military council,” tweeted the group shortly after the deal was signed.

Several Western nations welcomed the agreement while noting challenges ahead. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was encouraged by the reports and urged all sides “to further talks and redouble efforts to complete key transitional tasks on a civilian-led path to democracy in Sudan.” He also called on security forces “to refrain from excessive force against peaceful protesters.”

Earlier, the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, an umbrella of many political parties and pro-democracy groups, objected to any deals with the military.

In a statement Sunday, the group reiterated its opposition to any new political partnership with the military, insisting the perpetrators of the coup should be brought to justice.

”We are not concerned with any agreements with this brute junta and we are employing all peaceful and creative methods to bring it down,” the statement said.

The largest of the political parties said to be included in the deal, the Umma Party, had also issued a statement implying that it did not sign off on it.

Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. State Department official and Sudan expert at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said the deal allows the generals to largely retain their control and avoid accountability for the coup and the deaths of dozens of protesters.

”This is a deal among elites that largely seems to prioritize their preservation over the demands of the street,” he said.

Thousands had taken to the streets in the capital of Khartoum on Sunday, shortly before the signing ceremony, to denounce the coup and demand the immediate transfer of power to civilians. Protesters waved the Sudanese flag and chanted “Power to the people! The military belong in their barracks.” Activists have circulated on videos on social media showing tear gas being fired at protestors.

Also earlier, military and government officials who spoke of the deal on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information, said that the U.N., the U.S. and others had played “crucial roles” in crafting the agreement.

The United States, its allies and the United Nations have condemned the use of excessive force against anti-coup protesters.

The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, welcomed the agreement and urged both parties to “urgently address unresolved issues to complete the political transition in an inclusive manner, with respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

Poland: Belarus eyes

using Afghan migrants

as border pawns

VILNIUS, Lithuania | Poland’s leader on Sunday warned against more possible migrant pressures on the European Union’s border with Belarus, this time coming from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, following talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte about ways of solving the “very difficult situation” at the borders of EU members with Belarus. He was on a one-day tour of meetings with the prime ministers of EU members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have also been hit by the migrant pressures.

All leaders stressed the need for acting jointly and said the border crisis created by Belarus has strengthened their cooperation.

The EU says the new surge of migrants on its eastern borders has been orchestrated Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in retaliation for EU sanctions placed on Belarus after its crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters. It calls the move “a hybrid attack’’ on the entire 27-nation bloc. Belarus denies the charge.

Poland’s Border Guard said Sunday it prevented a forceful illegal entry by some 100 “very aggressive foreigners” on Saturday who had been brought to the fenced border near the village of Czeremcha by Belarus forces.

Morawiecki said he expected the migrant pressures on Poland and the EU to continue, but now from a different region, claiming knowledge of “diplomatic” contacts that Belarus and Russia had with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

”There is a threat of an even more difficult scenario,” Morawiecki said. “There will most probably be an attempt at using the crisis in Afghanistan as a new act in the migration crisis, putting to use the West’s remorse related to the disorderly pullout from Afghanistan.”

In Latvia’s capital of Riga, Morawiecki said “only the full pullback of the migrants and steps toward deescalation can lead back to any kind of a constructive scenario with Lukashenko.”

Earlier in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, Morawiecki said Poland was ready to contribute financially to return flights home for migrants who have been stranded at the border’s damp forest for weeks. He said Warsaw was also ready to close all border crossings with Belarus to step up the economic pressure on Lukashenko’s regime. The Polish road crossing near Kuznica was closed last week.

Lithuania’s Simonyte stressed that the EU should coordinate all further actions on Belarus with countries at the forefront of these attacks — Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

”The European Commission has now taken over the technical talks with Minsk. It is very important that no decisions are taken that will not allow the situation to be resolved,” Simonyte told reporters, warning against any separate Poland-Belarus discussions.

Poland is pushing the migrants back, saying it is protecting the border for all of Europe and NATO. It has received words of support from the EU, NATO and the U.S.

A few migrants have died in the forests straddling the border. Others have abandoned hopes of reaching Europe and were flown back to their home countries last week.

Poland’s Tatar community in the eastern village of Bohoniki on Sunday held a third funeral for a migrant, burying a 37-year-old Yemeni, Mustafa Mouhamad Murshid al-Raimi, who was found Sept. 19 in the forest with hypothermia.

The EU Commission on Sunday leveled further accusations against Lukashenko.

”In the crisis, Lukashenko behaved like an unlicensed tour operator who sold expensive travel packages to the EU, only for them to collapse on arrival,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “Families and children were deceived and lured into a tragedy that meant a lot of suffering,”

Poland’s Border Guard says it has registered over 34,000 attempts at illegally crossing into Poland this year, including over 17,000 in October and over 6,000 in November so far. Germany has registered a few thousand who have reached its territory from Belarus.

About 80 thieves

ransack department

store near San Francisco

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. | About 80 people, some wearing ski masks and wielding crowbars, ransacked a high-end department store in the San Francisco Bay Area, assaulting employees and stealing merchandise before fleeing in cars waiting outside, police and witnesses said.

Three people were arrested while the majority got away after the large-scale theft Saturday night shocked shoppers at the Nordstrom at the Broadway Plaza outdoor mall in Walnut Creek, police said in a statement Sunday.

Two employees were assaulted and one was hit with pepper spray during what police called “clearly a planned event.”

NBC Bay Area reporter Jodi Hernandez tweeted that she saw the thieves rush into the store in the downtown shopping district in the city some 20 miles northeast of San Francisco.

”About 25 cars just blocked the street and rushed into the Walnut Creek Nordstrom making off with goods before getting in cars and speeding away,” Hernandez said on Twitter.

Cellphone video from the scene showed masked people streaming out of the store, carrying bags and boxes, jumping into the cars and fleeing the scene.

Brett Barrette, the manager of a nearby PF Chang’s restaurant, began locking doors at his establishment while watching the chaos unfold.

”We probably saw 50 to 80 people in ski masks, crowbars, a bunch of weapons,” Barrette told ABC 7 News.

The Walnut Creek Police Department said a firearm was recovered from one of the three arrested suspects.

Nordstrom employees began calling 911 around 9 p.m. as thieves entered the store and began stealing merchandise, police said.

”Walnut Creek Police investigators are in the process of reviewing surveillance footage to attempt to identify other suspects responsible for this brazen act,” the department said in Sunday’s statement.

Nordstrom was open as usual on Sunday.

The incident came a day after several high-end stores in San Francisco’s Union Square were broken into by a large group of people who smashed windows, stole merchandise, and then ran to waiting cars, police said.

Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry, and Dolce & Gabbana were all targeted Friday night, Fox 2 News reported.

San Francisco Police Officer Robert Rueca said in a statement posted on social media that officers responded to reports of possible looting and vandalism at Union Square stores Friday night and arrested several people.

Stores in Union Square, a posh shopping district popular with tourists, have been targeted for years by well-organized thieves who at times have rammed vehicles into storefronts to break glass doors and windows and enter the buildings during non-business hours.

In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that allows prosecutors to charge those who work with others to steal merchandise.

Atlanta airport

checkpoint chaos: Man grabs gun, it goes off

ATLANTA | A passenger awaiting a search at the Atlanta airport’s main security checkpoint reached in his bag and grabbed a firearm, and it went off, causing chaos among travelers and prompting a temporary FAA ground stop on flights Saturday afternoon, officials said. The man fled.

The man, later identified as a convicted felon, ran with the gun from the checkpoint and escaped out an airport exit, the Transportation Security Administration said. Authorities said it was not an active shooter incident and described the discharge as accidental.

Police said later they had issued a warrant for the arrest of the passenger, 42-year-old Kenny Wells.

U.S. missionaries say two of 17 abductees freed in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | Two of 17 members of a missionary group who were kidnapped more than a month ago have been freed in Haiti and are safe, “in good spirits and being cared for,” their Ohio-based church organization announced Sunday.

Christian Aid Ministries issued a statement saying it could not give the names of those released, why they were freed or other information.

“While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the 15 people who are still being held,” the group said.

The missionaries were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16. There are five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, including an 8-month-old. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization.

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang has threatened to kill the hostages unless his demands are met. Authorities have said the gang was demanding $1 million per person, although it wasn’t immediately clear that included the children in the group.

The spokesman for Haiti’s National Police, Gary Desrosiers, confirmed to The Associated Press that two hostages were released on Sunday.

The FBI, which is helping Haitian authorities recover the captives, declined to comment.

The release comes as Haiti struggles with a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings, with the U.S. government recently urging U.S. citizens to leave Haiti amid deepening insecurity and a severe lack of fuel blamed on gangs blocking gas distribution terminals. On Friday, Canada announced it was pulling all but essential personnel from its embassy.

The fuel shortage has forced hospitals to turn away patients and paralyzed public transportation, with some schools closing and businesses shortening their work hours.

Haiti also is trying to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

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