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Chen Phones US Congress for Help, Clinton Treads Carefully

04 May 2012

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Blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng

Blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng made a dramatic plea for U.S. protection in a cell phone call to a congressional hearing from his hospital bed in Beijing, raising pressure on President Barack Obama over his administration's handling of the case, reports Reuters.

Chen, a self-taught legal activist, sheltered in the U.S. embassy for six days until Wednesday when he left after U.S.-brokered assurances from the Chinese government that he and his family would receive better treatment inside China.

But within hours, Chen changed his mind and is now under Chinese control in a Beijing hospital where he says he was taken by U.S. officials for treatment for a broken foot and to be reunited with his wife and two young children.

"I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years," Chen said by phone to Thursday's U.S. congressional hearing on his case. His comments were translated by a witness, Bob Fu, head of Texas-based religious and human rights group ChinaAid, who had called Chen on his cell phone.

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Beijing for talks aimed at improving ties between the two superpowers - a big challenge given increasingly strident Chinese criticism of how Washington has handled the Chen case.

She told Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday that ties were the strongest they had ever been, adding: "We have developed a very open and honest relationship where we can discuss our differences, and we remain committed to bridging those differences whenever and wherever possible."

Despite Clinton's brave face, one of China's main official newspapers accused Chen of being a pawn of American subversion of Communist Party power and called the U.S. ambassador, Gary Locke, a backpack-wearing, Starbucks-sipping troublemaker.

"Chen Guangcheng has become a tool and a pawn for American politicians to blacken China," the Beijing Daily said.

Chen said he wanted to meet Clinton to ask her for help and to thank her, according to Fu's translation. He said villagers who had helped him were "receiving retribution" and he was most concerned about the safety of his mother and brothers.

"I'm really scared for my other family members' lives," Chen said. "They have installed seven video cameras and are in my house."

A pack of camera crews and reporters have been waiting outside Chen's hospital in Beijing, kept away from the entrance by police. Radio Free Asia quoted Chen as saying he had received no visits from friends and his phone service was unreliable.

U.S. officials have defended their handling of the case, but Republicans and Chen's supporters were critical, saying the White House must ensure Chen's safety. He sought refuge in the U.S. embassy after escaping from house arrest in a village in rural Shandong province on April 22.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said if the reports were accurate, the U.S. Embassy "failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Chen and his family.

"If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame of the Obama administration," Romney said in Virginia as he campaigned for the November election.

China's Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on Chen's request to leave the country and repeated its criticism of the way the United States had handled the issue as "unacceptable". China has demanded a U.S. apology.

Tags: World, News, Blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng

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