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Thursday, 17 October 2019

China activist Chen Guangcheng says at Beijing airport

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says he is at Beijing's international airport with his wife and two children, he thinks he will go to New York

AFP , Saturday 19 May 2012
Chen Guangcheng
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng, center, holds hands with U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, at a hospital in Beijing. (Photo: AP)
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Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng said Saturday he was at Beijing's international airport with his family and that he believed he would be flying to New York.

The departure of Chen for the United States would mark the end of his long wait to leave China which began nearly a month ago when he fled house arrest for the US embassy in Beijing, throwing Sino-US ties temporarily into disarray.

"I'm at the airport. I do not have a passport. I don't know when I will be leaving. I think I'm going to New York," he told AFP by telephone.

Chen, who told AFP he was with his wife and two children, said he thought Chinese authorities might hand the passport directly to US officials, who would then insert a US visa before giving it to him.

An AFP photographer outside the hospital where Chen had been for more than two weeks witnessed a motorcade leaving the hospital compound in the early afternoon. It was not clear whether Chen was in the motorcade.

There was a large presence of police at the airport Saturday, as well as officials from the Chinese foreign ministry. The US embassy declined immediate comment.

Chen, 40, had been at the Beijing hospital with his wife, son and daughter since early this month when he left the US embassy in the Chinese capital, where he had sought refuge for several days.

The self-taught legal activist had made his way to the US mission after a dramatic escape from his rural home in east China, where he had been under house arrest since late 2010.

When contacted by AFP earlier in the day, Chen had said there was still no news regarding plans for him and his family to leave China for the United States, suggesting he was told at the last minute to go to the airport.

Chen, who has been invited to study law at New York University, was in touch Wednesday with Chinese officials, who told him they planned to give him a passport within 15 days.

Chen, one of China's best-known dissidents, has won plaudits for exposing rights abuses including forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China's "one-child" family planning policy.

His escape to the US embassy came just days ahead of the arrival in Beijing of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for one of the most important Sino-US meetings of the year.

The presence of the high-profile Chinese activist in the embassy at the sensitive time sent diplomats on both sides scrambling for a solution.

Initially, Chen agreed to leave the embassy compound in return for a Chinese promise to let him stay in China under more tolerable conditions.

He soon changed his mind and instead told reporters he did not feel safe and wanted to leave for the United States.

Bob Fu, the head of US-based organisation ChinaAid and a supporter of Chen, issued a statement Saturday thanking both the US and Chinese governments for apparently making it possible for Chen and his family to leave.

"ChinaAid and Chen family deeply appreciate the international community's tireless efforts to gain his freedom, including both the efforts of the US embassy and the US Congress, who held two timely hearings on his behalf," it said.

"Chen also wanted to express his gratitude to the Chinese government who fulfilled one of its promises to allow his family to leave."

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