China's Chen Guangcheng 'Set To Fly To US'

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng - who was at the centre of a diplomatic crisis with the US - says he is at Beijing's airport, where he expects to leave to go to the US.

Chen campaigned against forced abortionsChinese activist Chen Guangcheng - who was at the centre of a diplomatic crisis with the US - says he is at Beijing's airport, where he expects to leave to go to the US.

The blind activist told reporters he did not have a passport, but believed he was going to New York.

Mr Chen recently spent six days in the US embassy in Beijing after escaping house arrest in north-east China.

He wants to leave China and has been offered a place at New York university.

Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who campaigned against forced abortions under China's one-child policy, was jailed for four years in 2006 for disrupting traffic and damaging property, and placed under house arrest after his release in 2010.

'Leave of absence'

Mr Chen later told AFP news agency by phone: "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 said his wife and two children were at the airport with him, accompanied by hospital staff.

"Thousands of thoughts are surging to my mind," Mr Chen told the Associated Press news agency.

Referring to his supporters, he said: "I am requesting a leave of absence, and I hope that they will understand."

Last month he fled from house arrest in Shandong province. According to media accounts, the blind activist climbed over the wall of the property with the help of his wife late at night.

When he landed on the other side he broke his foot. He is then said to have felt his way in the dark, stumbling and falling, to a nearby village when a friend took him into his home.

He was then driven hundreds of kilometres away to the American embassy. He took refuge there during a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Beijing for high-level talks.

On 2 May, after six days at the embassy, he agreed to leave the compound, initially saying he wanted to stay in China.

He was taken to a Beijing hospital to be treated for his injury. During his stay at the hospital he called the US Congress twice.

On 3 May he pleaded for help to leave China with his family, saying he feared for his safety. On 16 May he called US lawmakers again accusing Shandong authorities of harassing his family.

Mr Chen was offered a place to study law at New York University after Beijing said he would be allowed to apply to study abroad.

The US has said visas for Mr Chen and his family are ready.