China activist appeals to Obama to get him to US

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng appealed to US President Barack Obama to help get him and his family out of China, saying he feared for his life just hours after leaving the US embassy in Beijing.

"I would like to say to President Obama: please do everything you can to get our family out," Chen told CNN, according to a translation of his quote.

He also accused US embassy officials of pushing him hard to leave the safety of the embassy on Wednesday where he had sought refuge for six days after fleeing his home in the eastern province of Shandong.

"The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital, but this afternoon, as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone," Chen told CNN by phone.

CNN correspondent Stan Grant said he interviewed Chen, who is in a Beijing hospital, at around 3:00 am Thursday (1900 GMT Wednesday) with his wife sitting by his bedside. The US network aired two short audio clips of the interview.

Chen's comments came hours after US-based rights group China Aid said the dissident had "reluctantly" left the embassy and that it had been told by "reliable sources" that Beijing had made threats against his relatives.

That claim came despite US officials saying after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for pre-arranged talks that Beijing had pledged Chen and his family would be treated "humanely" and moved to a safe place.

Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, denied threats were made, but said Chinese officials had made clear Chen's family would be returned to their home in Shandong -- where they suffered repeated abuse -- if he remained at the embassy.

China Aid said in a statement: "Chen's decision for departure from the US embassy was done reluctantly because 'serious threat to his immediate family members were made by Chinese government' if Chen refused to accept the Chinese government's offer.

"We are deeply concerned about this sad development if the reports about Chen's involuntary departure (from the US embassy are) true," added the group, run by the exiled Chinese activist Bob Fu, who has been in close touch with Chen and his supporters.

Zeng Jinyan, wife of the dissident activist Hu Jia, who met with Chen after his dramatic flight from house arrest, also claimed that Chen "did not want to leave the embassy", citing the wife of the blind campaigner.

Chen, who riled Chinese authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilisations under the "one-child" policy, fled house arrest on April 22 and sought refuge in the US embassy, where he demanded assurances on his freedom.

In a video address to Premier Wen Jiabao released after his escape, the activist alleged he and his wife and young child had suffered repeated abuses at the hands of local officials in his hometown.

Clinton said the United States remained "committed" to the 40-year-old legal campaigner, whose treatment she has repeatedly criticised in the past.

But China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: "What the US needs to do is to stop misleading the public and stop making every excuse to shift responsibility and conceal its own wrongdoing."

Chen spoke to Clinton by telephone soon after he left the embassy for a nearby hospital, where he was treated for an injury sustained during his escape and reunited with his family, a senior US official said.

"After saying in Chinese how grateful he was that she had mentioned him in the past and supported his case, he said in broken English, 'I want to kiss you'," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

US officials also said that, while in the embassy, Chen never sought passage to the United States and instead wanted to live and work in China alongside his family.

Any renewed abuse against Chen could prove to be a political nightmare for Obama's administration, which has faced calls to show its commitment to defend human rights in China.

The case threatens to overshadow the annual meeting between leaders of the world's two largest economies on key issues ranging from North Korea's recent rocket launch to Syria.

Despite Wednesday's agreement, Beijing demanded that the United States apologise for what it called "interference" in its affairs.

"China is very unhappy over this. The US action is an interference in China's internal affairs and China cannot accept it," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu said.

A US official said there would be no repeat of the incident, but declined to comment on China's call for an apology.

Chen's flight came despite round-the-clock surveillance at his home in Shandong, where he has alleged that he and his family suffered severe beatings after he ended a four-year jail term in 2010.

In the video released after his escape, he appealed to Wen to punish several local officials he said had made his family's life a misery.

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