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China promises passport for activist Chen in two weeks

Relief may be in sight for Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who hopes to leave China for the US to escape persecution. China has said it will process his passport application within two weeks.

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has been told by Chinese officials that his application for passports for himself and his family will be processed within 15 days, the 40-year-old said on Thursday.

He has been held in virtual house arrest in a hospital for two weeks following a dramatic escape from house arrest at his home last month. He fled to the US embassy in Beijing, touching off a diplomatic row between China and the US.

Chen has expressed his desire to travel to the United States with his family to pursue studies. The US State Department has said that entry visas for Chen, his wife, and their two children are ready.

However, in an interview with the AP news agen, Chen said he wasn't certain if Chinese authorities would actually allow him to leave the country after receipt of the passports.

The rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders has made claims that some of Chen's relatives had been detained and tortured in retaliation for Chen's escape from local authorities.

In particular, Chen's brother Chen Guangfu had received harsh treatment at the hands of authorities. Chen Guangfu is said to be in custody after receiving beatings while handcuffed and shackled.

Chen Guangcheng campaigned for years for the Chinese government to end its harsh practices of forced abortion and sterilization to enforce its one-child policy. He was arrested in 2006 and placed under house arrest in 2010.

mz/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa)