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China activist under US protection

A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in rural China is under the protection of American officials and top-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, a human rights group said.

Texas-based ChinaAid said in a statement that Chen Guangcheng was under US protection in Beijing. Some activists say Mr Chen is in the US embassy after escaping from 18 months of house arrest in Shandong province earlier this week.

Blinded by fever in infancy, Mr Chen served four years in prison for exposing forced abortions and sterilisations.

Since his release in September 2010, regional authorities confined him to his home, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so.

The whereabouts of Mr Chen could be a major political complication for the two countries as secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other top US officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

"Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said ChinaAid, citing a source close to the situation.

ChinaAid and its founder Bob Fu have been active in promoting Mr Chen's case and confirmed yesterday that he had escaped to Beijing from where he was being held in his village in Shandong province in eastern China.

The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment, as did US officials in Washington.

Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai told a briefing earlier on the upcoming talks with the US that he had no information on Mr Chen's case.

"Your question does not come within the scope of today's briefing. So I have no information to give you," he said.

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