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Chen Guangcheng not pressured to leave US Embassy, ambassador says

The US denies that Chen Guangcheng was pressured to leave the US Embassy in Beijing, contrary to what the activist himself says.

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Chinese activist activist Chen Guangcheng is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing on May 2, 2012. (Jordan Pouille/AFP/Getty Images)

Chen Guangcheng phoned into a congressional hearing on Thursday, pleading for help from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported AFP.

"I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her," Chen told Rep. Chris Smith during a hearing on Chen's case in a congressional commission on China, said AFP.

Chen said he wanted "freedom of travel guaranteed" so he could come to the US to rest, and added, "I really am fearing for my family members' lives," according to AFP.

Clinton is currently in China, along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other US officials for previously scheduled talks on economics and other topics, but the diplomatic incident has overshadowed the visit.

"I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was eager and excited about leaving," Ambassador Gary Locke insisted during a press conference in Beijing on Thursday morning, cited by the BBC.

Locke added, "He made it very, very clear from the very, very beginning that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to be part of the struggle to improve the human rights within China," according to Reuters.

Chen yesterday told reporters that the Chinese authorities had threatened to harm his wife if he didn't leave the embassy, threats which he claimed were relayed to him by US officials.

A State Department spokesman denied that allegation, the BBC reported.

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The State Department does, however, acknowledge that Chen and his family want to leave China – contrary to the plan announced yesterday, which would have seen him remain in the country and attend university there.

According to spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, cited by the New York Times, "It is clear now in the last 12 to 15 hours they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China."

The "change of heart" may have come after Chen was able to speak at more length to his wife, Yuan Weijing, the Times suggested. She reportedly told him of threats made against herself and their children while he was at the embassy, and said communications with other members of their family had been cut.

Chen has since made several public pleas to the US government, for instance in this interview with CNN, for help leaving China.

More on GlobalPost: Chen Guangcheng explained

He has been unable to meet US officials directly, however, he told the BBC today, claiming that Chinese authorities were preventing them from visiting him in the hospital in Beijing.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waded into the issue on Thursday, saying that if reports were true, then the US embassy "failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr Chen and his family," according to Reuters.

He continued, "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame of the Obama administration," while speaking at a campaign event in Virginia.

China's Foreign Ministry has not commented on the affair since issuing a statement yesterday accusing the US of interfering in its internal affairs, according to the Times.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/120503/chen-guangcheng-us-embassy-beijing-china