Dissident Chen Guangcheng 'wants to leave China'

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Media captionChen Guangcheng, speaking in hospital, said he feared for his family's safety

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has said he fears for his life and wants to leave China, hours after leaving his refuge in the US embassy.

Mr Chen said he left the embassy after Chinese officials made threats to his family members.

But US Ambassador Gary Locke said Mr Chen was "never pressured" to leave.

The issue continues to overshadow two-day US-China trade and security talks in which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking part.

In an interview with CNN, Mr Chen appealed to US President Barack Obama to help him.

"I would like to say to President Obama - please do everything you can to get our family out," he said.

The activist said he was disappointed with the US government.

"The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital. But this afternoon as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone."

Yuan Weijing, Mr Chen's wife, echoed his appeals for help, saying: "If they ever get us back home, they would put us in an iron cage."

Ambassador Locke, speaking on Thursday morning in Beijing, rejected the idea that pressure had been put on Mr Chen to leave the US embassy.

"I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was excited and eager about leaving," he said.

State department spokesman Mark Toner earlier also defended the embassy's treatment of Mr Chen.

"At no time did any US official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children, and nor did any Chinese officials make any threats to us or through us," he said.

'Universal rights'

The ongoing row continues to overshadow the high-level US-China talks taking place in the capital.

Both Hillary Clinton and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are attending the annual two-day talks, which had been expected to focus on North Korea and Syria.

Mrs Clinton has previously expressed her support for Mr Chen, who has been held under house arrest for almost two years.

As the talks opened she did not mention him by name but addressed the topic of human rights.

"The United States believes that no state can legitimately deny the universal rights that belong to every human being - or punish those who exercise them," the top US diplomat said.

"A China that protects the rights of all its citizens will be a stronger, more prosperous partner for the United States."

China and the US could not solve all the world's problems, she went on, "but without our co-operation it is doubtful that any problem can be solved".

President Hu Jintao, also speaking at the start of the talks, said it was not possible for China and the US to see "eye-to-eye on every issue".

"We should properly manage the differences by improving mutual understanding so these differences will not undermine the larger interests of China-US relations," he said.

Chinese officials on Wednesday accused the US of interference in their domestic affairs and demanded an apology for housing Mr Chen at the embassy.

Abortion activist

Mr Chen had been at the US embassy for almost a week after escaping from house arrest in his home village in the eastern Shandong province.

He left the embassy on Wednesday, and initial statements from his lawyer suggested the activist had been released after getting assurances about his safety.

But Mr Chen, 40, later said he left the embassy only after he heard of threats being made to his wife and children.

Mr Chen had planned his escape from house arrest for months, scaling the wall the authorities had built around his house and then being driven hundreds of miles to Beijing.

The activists spent seven years in prison or under house arrest after he exposed human rights abuses, including the way thousands of women were forced to have abortions under China's "one-child-policy".

Several people involved in Mr Chen's escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days.

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