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Chen Guangcheng leaves China for US - reports

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was reported to be aboard a flight from Beijing to New York this afternoon.

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Chen Guangcheng: The blind legal activist from China successfully made a daring escape from under house arrest, seeking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing and causing a diplomatic furor between the US and China. His escape highlighted China's dismal human rights record and caused the Asian regional power severe embarrassment. After extended and tense negotiations between the Americans and Chinese, Chen was allowed to leave China to study abroad. (U.S. Embassy Beijing Press /Getty Images)

Chen Guangcheng has reportedly left China for the US.

According to the Associated Press, the blind activist, his wife and two children boarded a flight from Beijing to New York this afternoon. It is due to arrive at Newark airport this evening.

"I am requesting a leave of absence," Chen reportedly told the AP shortly before boarding, "and I hope that [my supporters] will understand."

Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, told the Wall Street Journal that Chinese officials had collected the family from the hospital room where they have been staying since Chen emerged from the US embassy almost three weeks ago.

"They came in and told us to get everything together at 12.30 and we left at 1 o'clock," she said.

More from GlobalPost: Chen Guangcheng's nephew denied lawyers, brother beaten

Chen left the US embassy on May 2, having sought shelter there after escaping house arrest – an episode that embarrassed the Chinese government and caused diplomatic tension with the US.

He initially said he planned to study in China, but subsequently asked for help to leave the country, apparently after his family complained of harassment at the hands of the authorities.

Chen has been offered a place to study law at New York University.

Earlier this week, he told reporters that Chinese officials had promised him and his family passports "within 15 days," while the US State Department has already said that all the paperwork is in place for them to get their American visas. 

Observers have expressed fears that Chen's extended family may face retribution from local officials after his departure. His brother has complained of being beaten in the days after Chen's escape from house arrest, while his nephew may face charges of attempted murder for allegedly pulling a knife on officials who came to his house for information.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/120519/chen-guangcheng-leaves-china-us