Blind Chinese activist leaves for US

Blind Chinese activist leaves for US

Month-long diplomatic tussle between two countries ends

A blind Chinese activist was hurriedly taken from a hospital on Saturday and boarded a plane that took off for the United States, closing a nearly month-long diplomatic tussle that had tested the US-China relations.

Chen Guangcheng, his wife and their two children were on United Airlines Flight 88, which took off late on Saturday afternoon from the Beijing airport.

Earlier Saturday, Chen said he had left the hospital where he’d been staying and expected to leave for Newark, outside New York City.

“Thousands of thoughts are surging to my mind,” Chen said, sounding hurried but calm. To his supporters and others in the activist community, Chen expressed gratitude and indicated that he hoped to return.

“I am requesting a leave of absence, and I hope that they will understand,” he said.
Chen and his family were driven up to the plane in a vehicle resembling a minibus, and Chen could be seen being pushed in a wheelchair on the tarmac and then onto an elevator that took them up to a sky bridge that was connected to the plane.

Chen and his family’s departure to the United States marks the conclusion of nearly a month of uncertainty and years of mistreatment by local authorities for the self-taught legal activist who made a daring escape from abusive house arrest in his village last month.

His supporters welcomed his departure. “I think this is great progress. We are happy about it,” said US-based rights activist Bob Fu. “It’s a victory for freedom fighters.”

Chen sought the protection of US diplomats at the American Embassy in Beijing, triggering a diplomatic standoff days ahead of unrelated high-level talks on global hotspots and economic imbalances led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After days of negotiations, the sides announced an agreement in which he and his family would be allowed to travel to the United States for him to study.

The departure of Chen, his wife and two children seemed hastily arranged and entirely orchestrated by Chinese and American officials with no apparent input from the activist.

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