Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has reportedly left Beijing on a plane bound for the United States. Chen escaped house arrest last month and fled to the US embassy, sparking a high-profile diplomatic row.
The US State Department confirmed on Saturday that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng had been granted a passport and was en route to the United States, where he has been invited to study law at New York University.
"We can confirm that Chen Guangcheng, his wife and two children have departed China and are en route to the United States so he can pursue studies at an American university," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
"We are looking forward to his arrival in the United States later today. We also express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr. Chen's desire to study in the US and pursue his goals."
According to airport staff, the United Airlines flight took off at 17:50 p.m. local time, and is due to arrive in Newark, outside New York, late Saturday evening.
Earlier Chen told reporters that he had left hospital in Beijing and was at the capital's international airport waiting to receive a passport.
"I'm at the airport. I do not have a passport. I don't know when I will be leaving. I think I'm going to New York," he told news agency AFP by telephone. He added that his wife and two children are with him, but didn’t have passports yet either.
Chen, 40, had been at the hospital since leaving an American embassy on May 2. The self-taught legal activist had sought the protection of US diplomats after fleeing house arrest last month.
His case triggered a serious diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Washington, which coincided with a visit by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Beijing for high-profile talks.
As both sides scrambled to resolve the row, Chen agreed to leave the embassy compound, provided that Chinese authorities allowed him to remain in the country under more tolerable conditions. He went back on the deal shortly afterwards, saying he feared for the safety of himself and his family and wished to leave for the US.
Chen became one of China's most high-profile dissidents after exposing human rights abuses, including forced sterilisations and late-term abortions, under China's "one-child" family planning policy.
He had been confined to house arrest in his hometown in northeastern China for 19 months before his escape, having already served a four-year prison sentence.
ccp/tm,ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)