“Blind Chinese activist leaves Beijing for U.S.”

Great news of the day- Chen is currently on a plane headed for Newark (via Reuters):

China’s Foreign Ministry limited its commentary to an acknowledgement that Chen had left the country.

“Chen Guangcheng is a Chinese citizen. China’s relevant departments have handled the procedures for exiting the country in accordance with the law,” the ministry said in a faxed statement to Reuters.

State news agency Xinhua said earlier that Chen had applied to study in the United States under legal procedures. The Foreign Ministry said this month that Chen could apply to study abroad, a move seen as a way of easing Sino-U.S. tensions on human rights.

Chen’s friend, Jiang Tianyong, cited the activist, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, as saying that he and his family obtained their passports at the airport hours before he was due to board a flight.

“I’m obviously very happy,” Jiang said. “When he boards the plane, he can finally say: ‘I’m free’. At the same time, I feel a sense of regret because such a large country like China can’t even tolerate a citizen like him to exist here.”

Chen’s confinement, his escape and the furor that ensued have made him part of China’s dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Communist Party controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Chen’s supporters, however, welcomed his departure, saying he had indicated that he would like to return to China.

“I even told him…that he has to do a repeat of him scaling walls. If not, we wouldn’t be able to believe it,” Nanjing-based activist He Peirong said of her earlier conversation with Chen. She was one of six activists who drove Chen from Shandong to Beijing after his escape.

Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said “getting Chen Guangcheng and his family on a plane is the easiest part of this saga.

“The harder, longer term part is ensuring his right under international law to return to China when he sees fit,” Kine said in an emailed statement.

The village of Dongshigu, where Chen’s mother and other relatives remain, is still under lockdown.

Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was denied his family’s choice of lawyers on Friday to defend a charge of “intentional homicide”, the latest in a series of moves to deny him legal representation, and underscores the hardline stance taken against the blind dissident’s family.

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