Activist not pressured to leave, says US

Activist not pressured to leave, says US

US officials have said they are still trying to help a blind Chinese activist who says he fears for his family's safety, and denied he was pressured to leave the American Embassy to resettle inside China.

After fleeing persecution by local officials in his rural town and seeking refuge in the embassy in Beijing for six days, Chen Guangcheng left on Wednesday to get treatment for a leg injury at a Beijing hospital and be reunited with his family.

US officials said the Chinese government had agreed to resettle him in a university town of his choice.

Mr Chen initially said he had assurances that he would be safe in China - which is what US officials said he wanted - but hours later he said he feared for his family's safety unless they were spirited abroad. He also said he felt pressured to leave the embassy.

US ambassador Gary Locke told a news conference that he could say "unequivocally" that Mr Chen was never pressured to leave. Mr Locke said Mr Chen left the embassy after talking twice on the telephone with his wife, who was waiting at the hospital.

"We asked him, was he ready to leave. He jumped up very excited and said 'let's go' in front of many, many witnesses," Mr Locke said.

A senior US official said today that further contacts with Mr Chen and his wife show that "his view of what the best thing for him and his family may be may be changing".

The official said the US side was seeking to find out if Mr Chen and his wife had a change of heart about his earlier decision to stay in China.

China objects to any US involvement in its internal affairs and has demanded an apology from Washington for harbouring Mr Chen, who ran afoul of local officials in his rural town for exposing forced abortions and other abuses.

The dispute overshadowed the opening of annual talks today between China and the United States attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in a speech that China must protect human rights, in remarks that rejected Beijing's criticism of the US for getting involved in Mr Chen's case.


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