US protecting activist, in talks with China: group

The overseas rights group China Aid said Saturday that escaped Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was under US "protection", with Washington and Beijing in talks over his status.

Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer imprisoned after uncovering a series of rights abuses in China, escaped from house arrest on Sunday and is believed to be sheltering in the US embassy in Beijing, it said.

China Aid is run by Bob Fu, a former Tiananmen Square democracy activist who fled China for the United States in 1996 but has been in close contact with Chen and the supporters who helped him escape.

In a statement, the group said it had learned from a "source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation" that the activist was under US protection.

"High-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said the statement, which also called on the United States to ensure the safety of the activist and his family.

The United States has expressed concern about Chen, but refused to comment on his whereabouts.

If he has been given refuge at the embassy, it could prove a major diplomatic irritant just as China and the United States are preparing for wide-ranging annual talks next week on their often testy relationship.

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