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China activist to get passport 'within 15 days'

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng said on Thursday China had agreed to issue him a passport within 15 days, allowing him to go to the United States, after a bitter row between Beijing and Washington.

world Updated: May 17, 2012 09:35 IST

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng said on Thursday China had agreed to issue him a passport within 15 days, allowing him to go to the United States, after a bitter row between Beijing and Washington.

It was the first indication of when the 40-year-old legal campaigner would be allowed to leave China since he left the US embassy more than two weeks ago, after seeking refuge there following his escape from house arrest.

Speaking to AFP by telephone from the hospital where he is being treated, Chen also said authorities had promised to investigate murder charges brought against his nephew, which he has said are motivated by revenge for his escape.

"Officials visited yesterday, we filled out passport application forms for my myself, my wife and children," said Chen, who triggered a diplomatic crisis when he fled to the US embassy last month.

"They said the passports should be issued within 15 days."

The meeting was the first between the activist and government officials since May 7, when they told Chen they were processing papers for him to leave to the United States where he has been offered fellowships to study law.

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

His activism earned him a four-year prison sentence that ended in 2010 when he was placed under extra-legal house arrest in his home village of Dongshigu, in the eastern province of Shandong, where he languished until his escape.

His dramatic flight came just days before US secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing for pre-arranged talks, and made headlines around the world, causing major embarrassment for the Chinese government.

As Clinton arrived in China, Chen was released by the US embassy to a Beijing hospital after Chinese authorities guaranteed his safety.

But last week, officials in Shandong charged his nephew, Chen Kegui, with "intentional homicide" over an attack on a local official who broke into the family's home following his uncle's escape.

The official survived the attack but the charge related to "homicide" stands under Chinese law, and Chen has said his nephew's arrest was motivated by revenge over his escape.

"I told the government official of the situation in Dongshigu, and they said they would investigate," Chen said, of his Wednesday meeting with the authorities.