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Dilemma for US as activist Chen wants out

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng and his family want to leave China, which would undo a diplomatic deal and presents American officials with a dilemma.

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BEIJING: The Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng has been offered a fellowship at a university in the United States. A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese government had ''indicated that it will accept Mr Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents'' and the US expected China would ''expeditiously process his applications'', Ms Nuland said in the statement. ''The United States government would give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.''

China said earlier that Mr Chen can apply to study abroad, signalling the government may be seeking to resolve a crisis that flared after the legal activist fled house arrest last month for the American embassy.

Chen Guangcheng.

Chen Guangcheng ... wants to thank Hillary Clinton in person.

The dispute over Mr Chen comes ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership change in China later this year and has fed into the US presidential campaign, with Republicans attacking the President, Barack Obama, over his handling of the affair.

''Over the course of the day, progress has been made to help [Mr Chen] him have the future that he wants and we will be staying in touch with him as this process moves forward,'' the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is in Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders, said before the fellowship offer was announced.

Yesterday, Mr Chen phoned in to a US congressional hearing from his Beijing hospital bed to make an emotional plea for US protection.

Hillary Rodham Clinton.

China's President Hu Jintao (R) speaks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AP

He asked to meet Mrs Clinton and expressed concern over the welfare of his mother and other members of his family.

''I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her,'' Mr Chen said during a hearing on his case in a congressional commission on human rights in China, adding he wanted to thank her in person.

Mr Chen, a self-taught lawyer who has campaigned against forced late-term abortions, had sheltered in the US embassy for six days but left on Wednesday after receiving assurances in a deal brokered by the US and Chinese governments that he and his family would not be harmed.

He had a change of heart just hours going to a hospital for treatment to broken bones in his foot. Initial reports reflected a frantic and disoriented Mr Chen who felt unprotected by US officials and wanted to seek permanent asylum, but he has now proposed that he visit the US temporarily for medical treatment.

''I want to come to the United States to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years,'' he said.

In the US, Republicans criticised the Obama administration's handling of the affair, The Washington Post reported.

''Our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would have assured the safety of Mr Chen and his family,'' Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said. ''If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration.''

Despite earning a stern rebuke from China over the US embassy's handling of the affair, Mrs Clinton told the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, that ties between the two nations were as strong as they had ever been.

''We have developed a very open and honest relationship where we can discuss our differences, and we remain committed to bridging those differences whenever and wherever possible,'' she said.

The nation's major official newspapers have united in denouncing Mr Chen, as well as criticising the US embassy's role in the diplomatic dispute. "Chen Guangcheng has become a tool and pawn used by American politicians to discredit China," the Beijing Daily said, in an editorial.

with Bloomberg