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China activist leaves US embassy

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (L) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing.Mr Chen is said to be happy with the arrangement

Prominent Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has left the US embassy in Beijing, a week after seeking shelter following his escape from house arrest.

State news agency Xinhua said he left “of his own volition“. He is having a check-up at a Beijing hospital. His lawyer said he was “happy” and “free”.

The announcement came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for high-level annual talks.

Mrs Clinton said Mr Chen’s departure “reflected his choices and our values”.

“The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead,” Mrs Clinton said in a statement.

Mr Chen’s case threatened to overshadow the talks, which are due to focus on issues like Syria and trade.

US officials were said to have been in talks with their Chinese counterparts ahead of the announcement.

Chen ‘happy’

After leaving the US embassy, the Chinese dissident had a telephone call with Mrs Clinton in which he said, “I want to kiss you.”

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The wait for news about Chen Guangcheng is over.

The blind activist is thought to have entered the US embassy in Beijing last Thursday – but for days neither China nor America would confirm those suspicions.

Analysts said that something would have to be done about Mr Chen’s situation before high-level talks between the two countries start in Beijing on Thursday. And that is how it has worked out.

There are details in this case that have yet to be revealed – but it would not be surprising if China and the US, along with the activist, have come to some kind of arrangement.

China has protested about the US helping Mr Chen into its embassy, as is to be expected. But Beijing also seems to have shown some flexibility. The activist’s family are in the Chinese capital, which could not have happened without the government’s approval.

The question that now needs answering is where will Chen Guangcheng and his family finally end up.

Mr Chen’s lawyer Li Jinsong said he had spoken to his client on the phone. He said Mr Chen was “very happy and wants to hug all his friends”. Mr Li said the dissident had told him he now had “true freedom”, his rights were now protected by the national law and he was “a free citizen”.

The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas met his wife at Chaoyang Hospital. She told him that she and their two children were well.

A US official said Mr Chen was to stay in China where he had been promised a “safe” place.

Neither Beijing nor Washington had confirmed Mr Chen’s whereabouts.

The US official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the dissident had gone into the embassy because he needed medical care and had not requested political asylum.

“China acknowledged that Mr Chen will be treated humanely while he remains in China,” the official said.

“When he leaves the hospital, the Chinese authorities have stated that Mr Chen and his family will be relocated to a safe environment so that he may attend a university to pursue a course of study,” he said.

“This was an extraordinary case involving exceptional circumstances, and we do not anticipate that it will be repeated,” the official said.

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Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng (file photo 2006)

  • Born 12 Nov 1971
  • Nickname: The Barefoot Lawyer
  • Went blind as a child
  • Campaigned for women forced to have abortions or sterilisation under China’s one child per family policy
  • Jailed for four years in 2006 for disrupting traffic and damaging property
  • Released from jail in 2010 placed under house arrest
  • Daughter barred from school during much of 2011, reports say
  • Escapes house arrest, April 2012

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin earlier said Chen Guangcheng had been taken into the US embassy “via abnormal measures” and the Chinese authorities were “strongly dissatisfied”.

Mr Chen, who has been blind since childhood, has long been a high-profile figure and international rights groups have frequently expressed alarm at the treatment of him and his family.

He was placed under house arrest in 2010 after spending more than four years in jail for disrupting traffic and damaging property.

Mr Chen exposed how local authorities in Linyi, in Shandong province, forced thousands of women to have abortions or be sterilised as part of China’s one-child policy

Mr Chen’s colleagues said the escape from house arrest had taken months to plan, and was carried out with the help of a network of friends and activists.

He scaled the wall that the authorities had built around his house, and was driven hundreds of miles to Beijing, where activists say he stayed in safe houses before fleeing to the embassy.

Several people involved in Mr Chen’s escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days.

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