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Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng arrives in U.S.

May 19, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro and Barbara Demick
  • Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, left, is seen pushed in a wheelchair from an elevator to a sky bridge that is connected to a plane at Beijing International airport.
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, left, is seen pushed in a wheelchair… (Associated Press )

WASHINGTON — After years of detention and a bold escape to the U.S. Embassyin Beijing, blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States, a bittersweet moment in a harrowing journey that had touched off a diplomatic crisis and poses continued challenges for U.S.-Chinese relations.

The human rights leader and his family were whisked quickly and suddenly out of Beijing, as Chen expressed gratitude but also concerns about the safety of the relatives he was leaving behind in China. He arrived Saturday night in Newark, N.J.

Chen has emerged as a political hero among Chinese dissidents and some U.S. officials for his activism in China — where his name is banned from the Internet — a status that became magnified after his escape from house arrest last month and secret flight totheU.S. Embassy. A self-taught lawyer, he had been imprisoned for years as an outspoken opponent of the state's treatment of women and its one-child policy.

The White House said it was pleased a resolution was reached between the two countries to allow the activist to study in the U.S. He is expected to be a fellow at the New York University School of Law.

“We welcome this development and the fact that he’ll be able to pursue a course of study here in the United States upon his arrival,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. “We are pleased with the efforts that have been made within our own government by the State Department and with Chinese authorities, and with Mr. Chen to reach this resolution.”

Chen, 40, had sought to remain in China, but, in a dramatic series of events this month, he telephoned into a congressional hearing and sought help from U.S. lawmakers. A deal delicately brokered by U.S. officials to protect Chen’s safety with the Chinese government appeared to unravel as he became concerned about further persecution in his country.

“I am very happy to receive the news that Chen Guangcheng is on his way to the US,” said Jerome A. Cohen, co-director of NYU Law School's U.S.-Asia Law Institute, who had been a champion of Chen's case. “I look forward to welcoming him and his family tonight, and to working with him on his course of study.”

Andrew Tangel in New York contributed to this report.

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