U.S. State Department keeps mum on China activist

WASHINGTON Fri Apr 27, 2012 2:42pm EDT

1 of 2. Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng stands in his village home in Linyi in eastern Shandong province, in this still image taken from file video.

Credit: Reuters/Chinaaid via Reuters TV/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday repeatedly declined to answer questions about blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng amid speculation that he had taken refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping from house arrest.

"I don't have anything for you on that subject," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in response to questions about Chen.

"I don't have anything on this issue at all."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing also did not respond to questions about Chen. U.S. officials regularly decline to comment on individual requests for political asylum or sanctuary.

The State Department's silence on Chen - whose release has been called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - underscored the delicacy of the situation as Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prepare to travel to China next week for high-level meetings.

Chen, a human rights advocate who is one of China's best known activists, had been restricted to his village home in Linyi in eastern Shandong province since September 2010 when he was released from jail.

Activists said on Friday he had escaped, but his whereabouts were unknown.

Chen's reported escape and the furor it has unleashed could add to the headaches of China's ruling Communist Party, which is striving to ensure stability and authority ahead of a leadership transition later this year.

The United States found itself in an uncomfortable position in February when a senior Chinese policeman who implicated the wife of top Chinese official Bo Xilai in a British businessman's murder visited the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.

U.S. officials say that the policeman, Wang Lijun, did not request asylum and left the consulate of his own accord. But his trip set in motion a broader scandal that saw Bo removed from his top leadership post in one of the most divisive political upheavals in China in decades.

Clinton and Geithner are due to participate in a series of meetings in Beijing next week as part of the annual "strategic and economic dialogue" between the two governments.

(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Paul Simao)

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