Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has arrived in New York with his family to begin a new life in the United States.
The blind human rights lawyer caused a diplomatic crisis when he escaped house arrest to arrive at the US embassy in Beijing last month.
Speaking outside New York University, where he has been offered a fellowship, Chen Guangcheng said China had dealt with the situation with “restraint and calm”.
But he raised concerns about ongoing reprisals against his family.
“Acts of retribution in Shandong have not been abated and my rights to practice law have been curbed – we hope to see a thorough investigation into this,” he said, referring to the province where he was kept under house arrest.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has arrived in New York with his family to begin a new life in the United States
The activist thanked US officials and his supporters for their help and said he had come to the United States for “recuperation in body and spirit”.
Chen Guangcheng and his family were taken from a Beijing hospital, where he was being treated for a foot injury, to the capital’s airport on Saturday.
After weeks of uncertainty, the activist, his wife Yuan Weijing and their two children, aged eight and six, were handed passports and allowed to fly to Newark, New Jersey, where they arrived soon after 18:00 on Saturday.
Chen Guangcheng spent six days in the US embassy in Beijing last month after escaping house arrest in north-east China, sparking a diplomatic spat between the US and China.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi described his arrival in the US as “a milestone in the cause for human rights in China”.
“The courage of Chen Guangcheng to risk his life and livelihood to advocate for disadvantaged people in China is an inspiration to freedom-seeking people around the world,” Nancy Pelosi said.
The Congressional Executive Commission on China, set up to monitor human rights there in 2001, said it remained “deeply concerned that Mr. Chen’s supporters and family members who remain in China face the real threat of retaliation from Chinese officials”.
China says activist Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, potentially indicating a way out of the diplomatic crisis with the US over him.
A Chinese foreign ministry statement said Chen Guangcheng could “apply through normal channels in accordance with the law”.
The blind dissident fled house arrest last month and spent six days inside the US embassy. He left the embassy but now says he wants to go to the US with his family.
His case has overshadowed high-level US-China talks taking place in Beijing.
“If he wishes to study overseas, as a Chinese citizen, he can, like any other Chinese citizens, process relevant procedures with relevant departments through normal channels in accordance to the law,” Xinhua news agency quoted spokesman Liu Weimin as saying
Earlier, China had demanded an apology from the US for sheltering Chen Guangcheng in its embassy.
Despite the apparent change of heart from the government, one human rights lawyer told the Reuters news agency that Chen Guangcheng could still be delayed or prevented from leaving the country.
“This notice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is positive news, but how it will play out we don’t know,” Tang Jitian told Reuters.
“For instance, getting the approval for the paperwork to go – there are many potential pitfalls. We can’t be 100% optimistic.”
China says activist Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, potentially indicating a way out of the diplomatic crisis with the US over him
Chen Guangcheng is currently in a Beijing hospital, sealed off by Chinese police. US officials have so far failed to see him.
The deputy head of mission at the US embassy to Beijing was seen arriving at the hospital carrying gifts. He met Chen Guangcheng’s wife Yuan Weijing but was prevented from meeting the dissident himself.
He has been trying to gain access to Chen Guangcheng’s room. The building was ringed by police who prevented as well as lawyers and diplomats, from seeing the dissident.
On Thursday, Chen Guangcheng telephoned a US Congressional hearing in Washington DC, saying he feared for the safety of his family and wanted to meet visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton face to face.
Speaking ahead of a meeting on Friday with President Hu Jintao, Hillary Clinton said the relationship was “stronger than it’s ever been”.
“We have developed a very open and honest relationship where we can discuss our differences, and we remain committed to bridging those differences whenever and wherever possible,” she said.
A joint US-China news conference is expected later in the day.
Chen Guangcheng said he had changed his mind about staying in China because he believed Beijing had reneged on an agreement to guarantee his safety.
There is no official confirmation of any such agreement, but media reports from the US suggest that Chen Guangcheng had been promised safety in a university town in China.
Chen Guangcheng, 40, is a lawyer who has campaigned against forced abortions and sterilizations of women under China’s policy of one child per family.
He told the Associated Press news agency his phone calls to American officials “keep getting cut off after two sentences”.
The activist also told AP his wife was being followed and filmed by unidentified men whenever she was allowed to leave the hospital. And he said one of his friends was taken away by state agents and beaten after he tried to visit Chen Guangcheng.
The case has increasing political resonance in the US, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized the administration of President Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney said that if reports that US officials had persuaded Chen Guangcheng to leave the embassy were true, “this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration”.
The Beijing Daily, one of China’s main official newspapers, said Chen Guangcheng was an American pawn and criticized US ambassador Gary Locke as a “backpack-wearing, Starbucks-sipping troublemaker”.
Gary Locke caused a stir in China last year when he was seen carrying his own backpack and ordering his own coffee at Seattle airport, in contrast to Chinese officials who usually travel with an entourage.
Saudi Arabia has decided to shut its embassy and consulates in Egypt following protests over Egyptian lawyer Ahmed al-Gizawi, who has been detained in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi ambassador to Egypt had also been recalled, according to the Saudi state news agency.
Egyptian protesters have demanded the release of human rights lawyer Ahmed al-Gizawi.
The head of Egypt’s ruling military council has expressed surprise over the Saudi move.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi contacted the Saudi government on Saturday to try to resolve the issue, the Egyptian Mena news agency reported.
Saudi Arabia shuts its embassy in Egypt following protests over lawyer Ahmed al-Gizawi, who is detained in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi closures affect the embassy in Cairo as well as consulates in the cities of Alexandria and Suez.
The Saudi action marks a sharp escalation of a row that has been going on for some days.
Ahmed al-Gizawi was detained earlier this month on arrival in Saudi Arabia and accused of insulting King Abdullah.
Egyptian activists say he was held after lodging a complaint against Saudi Arabia for its treatment of Egyptians in its prisons.
His family says he had gone to perform a minor pilgrimage – a detail which has angered many Egyptians who feel resentment at the kingdom’s treatment of Egyptians.
But Saudi authorities say Ahmed al-Gizawi was found by airport officials to be carrying drugs – allegedly more than 20,000 anti-anxiety pills – in his luggage.
They doubt Ahmed al- Gizawi was on a pilgrimage, as they say he was not wearing white pilgrims’ clothes.
Observers say it is the worst diplomatic falling-out between the two regional powers since Saudi Arabia severed ties after Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979.
Many Egyptians work in Saudi Arabia and there have often been cases where they say they have been mistreated under Saudi law.