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In this photo released by the U.S. embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in wheel chair, meets his wife Yuan Weijing, right, daughter Chen Kesi, in blue shirt at second right, and son Chen Kerui, left, at a hospital in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
In this photo released by the U.S. embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in wheel chair, meets his wife Yuan Weijing, right, daughter Chen Kesi, in blue shirt at second right, and son Chen Kerui, left, at a hospital in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng backtracks on asylum request Add to ...

During the interview, Mr. Chen also rescinded some of the stinging criticisms he had levelled this week against U.S. embassy personnel, who, he told reporters, abandoned him at the hospital on Wednesday night. He said he has since learned that the diplomats intended to stay by his side but were forced by Chinese security officers to leave the hospital while Mr. Chen was out of the room receiving an examination.

Mr. Chen says he fractured his foot during his harrowing escape from Shandong – “every step was difficult” – and that he also has some other long-standing medical issues that went untreated during four years in prison, after being convicted of “organizing a mob to disturb traffic,” and the subsequent detention in his home.

Mr. Chen said that he spoke to U.S. diplomats by phone on Thursday but they had been prevented by police from visiting him. Uniformed and plainclothes police were stationed inside and outside Chaoyang Hospital on Thursday, keeping close watch on a crowd of foreign media who gathered outside.

In an unusual flourish, he also talked to members of the U.S. Congress. A witness at a Washington hearing on Mr. Chen’s situation called the dissident in the hospital and put his cellphone against a microphone so his words could be heard, and translated, for the transfixed audience. Mr. Chen repeated that he wanted to come to the United States for a “rest.”

The drama began April 22 when the Mr. Chen decided to flee his captors in Shandong. He deceived his guards into believing he was ill, then slipped out during the night to meet a friend, who was waiting in her car at a prearranged point. They drove 500 kilometres to Beijing and the U.S. embassy. “I went to the American embassy because democracy, freedom and human rights are the pillars of the country,” he explained.

While he was initially pleased with the deal he reached six days later, he made the decision to leave the embassy without being allowed to call his friends and fellow dissidents. Once he was out, they convinced him that he had put himself in danger by leaving the embassy, and told him he should request asylum.

The saga has been set against the backdrop of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a biannual summit attended by both Ms. Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao that has coincidentally been taking place in Beijing this week and which ends Friday. Mr. Chen’s case quickly pushed the important economic talks about trade imbalances and the valuation of China’s currency to the side burner in negotiations.

Mr. Chen’s case has also become part of the U.S. presidential race. Leading Republican contender Mitt Romney said Thursday that the U.S. embassy’s decision to let Mr. Chen leave into an uncertain situation was “a dark day for freedom” and a “day of shame” for the administration of President Barack Obama. The attacks will heighten the pressure on Ms. Clinton to secure a new deal for Mr. Chen before she heads home following the close of the U.S.-China meeting on Friday.

In the interview, Mr. Chen said that he wanted to publicly thank Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton. “I hope they will continue working for human rights and continue providing help to me. I still need their help.” He credited Ms. Clinton with negotiating the “unprecedented” deal that convinced him to leave the embassy.

The saga to date has also been influenced by the shifting political ground in China. Mr. Chen thrust himself into the international spotlight at a time when the ruling Communist Party is publicly divided ahead of a highly sensitive power transfer – during which seven of the nine members of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo are expected to retire to make way for a new generation of leaders – this fall.

One faction, of which Premier Wen is the most prominent member, believes China desperately needs a more open political system, one in which activists like Mr. Chen would conceivably have more freedom to speak and promote their causes. The other, which is linked to the security services that detained and threatened Mr. Chen, believes tight control is necessary to maintain Communist Party rule.

Some activists who helped Mr. Chen during his escape say they have been put under heightened police surveillance since he left the embassy. He Peirong, the woman who met Mr. Chen after he escaped house arrest and drove him to Beijing, has disappeared.



With a report from Reuters

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