Chatter: Blind Chinese dissident escapes house arrest




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Need to know:

Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese rights lawyer and one of the country's best-known dissidents, has fled house arrest and released a video addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao.

Activists say Chen escaped from his home in Shandong province and traveled to Beijing, where he is being held in a safe location.

In the video, Chen asks Premier Wen to investigate the brutal beatings of his family members. Supporters who have tried to visit Chen, including actor Christian Bale, have been attacked by thugs guarding his village.

There are rumors Chen is at the US embassy in Beijing. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly called for Chen's release, is due to visit the Chinese capital next week. 

Want to know:

More bad news for Spain: unemployment has hit a record high of 5.64 million people, and it is expected to climb further.

The unemployment rate is now 24.4 percent - a dramatic rise from 7.9 percent just five years ago, according to newly released official figures. There are now 5.64 million people unemployed.

The news came mere hours after Standard & Poor's cut Spain’s credit rating for a second time this year, dropping it to BBB+ from A, with a negative long-term outlook. 

Dull but important:

The United States and Japan have reached a deal to move some 9,000 US Marines from Okinawa.

The marines and their families will be sent to Guam, Hawaii and other Asia-Pacific locations. Some 10,000 troops will remain on Okinawa.

The agreement eases local resentment over the US military's presence in Japan. Calls for the military to leave escalated after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three US servicemen.

But Washington and Tokyo still haven't reached an agreement on closing the controversial Futenma air base. 

Just because:

Forget oil nationalization, or the Falklands: Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has a far more pressing crisis to deal with.

Argentines are furious over a shortage of mate, pronounced "MAH-tey," the people's stimulant of choice. Many Argentines slurp the caffeine-laced herbal drink instead of coffee or tea.

But in recent weeks Argentines have been finding it hard to get their daily fix, due to a combination of rising production costs, alleged economic incompetence by the government, and hoarding of yerba mate (mate leaves) by retailers. 

Strange but true:

Some Muscovites feared the apocalypse was upon them: eerie green clouds hovering over the Russian capital.

With Moscow in a panic, officials rushed to explain that the green clouds were the result of a far less scary phenomenon: birch pollen.

Sudden warm weather and a southerly breeze caused several species of trees to bloom, resulting in a yellow-green pollen.

The greenish clouds swept over Moscow as the region observed the 26th anniversary of Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster, which the Soviet government initially tried to hide.

So no wonder Muscovites were a little suspicious when their sky suddenly turned green.