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China dissident 'fears for family'

A cloud hung over annual talks between the United States and China as a blind Chinese dissident who took refuge in the US Embassy appealed to Washington for more help, saying from his hospital room in Beijing that he now fears for his family's safety unless they are all spirited abroad.

China already demanded an apology from the US even before Chen Guangcheng balked at a deal in which he would remain in his homeland.

Now that he wants to leave, the case could overshadow talks in which US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and treasury secretary Timothy Geithner are to discuss foreign policy and economic issues with their Chinese counterparts.

After six days holed up in the US Embassy, as senior officials in Beijing and Washington tussled over his fate, Chen left the compound's protective confines for a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury suffered in his escape.

A shaken Chen told The Associated Press from his hospital room that Chinese authorities had warned he would lose his opportunity to be reunited with his family if he stayed longer in the embassy.

US officials verified that account. However they adamantly denied his contention that one American diplomat had warned him of a threat from the Chinese that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not get out of the embassy. "I think we'd like to rest in a place outside of China," Chen told the AP, appealing again for help from Washington. "Help my family and me leave safely."

Only hours earlier, US officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.

Clinton spoke to Chen on the phone when he left the embassy and, in a statement, welcomed the resettlement agreement as one that "reflected his choices and our values".

But the murky circumstances of Chen's departure from the embassy, and his sudden appeal to leave China after declaring he wanted to stay, again threatened to overshadow talks that were to focus on the global economic crisis and hotspots such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry signaled its unhappiness with the entire affair, demanding that the US apologise for giving Chen sanctuary at the embassy.

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