A blind Chinese activist who sparked a diplomatic crisis by fleeing into the US Embassy last month filled out a Chinese passport application and posed for a photo Wednesday, moving forward in his bid to study in the United States.
Paperwork for Chen Guangcheng, his wife, and two children was completed in the hospital where the family of four has stayed since he left the embassy in Beijing two weeks ago.
Chen said the officials who handled the paperwork were sent by the central government.
"I am sure they were sent by the central government, which appears to be fulfilling its responsibility," he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said Chen is free to study abroad like any other Chinese citizen, but security officials have kept him under virtual house arrest in his hospital room for two weeks. Until today, there was no clear sign that the government would let him apply for a passport.
Chen made a dramatic late night escape from abusive house arrest in Shandong province last month and after several days hiding from security officials in Beijing wound up in the protection of US diplomats. He left the embassy after six days with assurances from China that he and his family would be relocated to a new city away from the abusive officials in their home village.
A few hours after leaving the embassy however, Chen had a change of heart, insisting he wanted to leave China with his family as soon as possible to travel and study. He insists he does not want political asylum.
Chen said he plans to attend New York University, probably as a visiting scholar, and has been given relevant paperwork for the posting from a US official.
The US has said visas for Chen and his family have been prepared and can be issued as soon as they obtain Chinese passports.
A blind, self-taught legal activist, Chen gained recognition for crusading for the disabled and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community. But he angered local officials and was convicted in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges. After serving four years in prison, he then faced an abusive and illegal house arrest.
Also today, lawyers tried to visit Chen's nephew, who was detained in Shandong province's Linyi city last month.
Chen Kegui, 32, is accused of attempted homicide related to a clash he had with local officials who stormed his house after discovering his uncle had fled house arrest.
Shanghai lawyer Si Weijiang said he was trying to get permission from police to visit Chen Kegui.
Si said he and another lawyer, Ding Xikui, have written permission from Chen Kegui's family to represent him and there should be no legal impediment to their visit.
Other lawyers who have tried to take up Chen Kegui's case say they have been threatened or been unable to renew their legal licenses.
Chen Kegui allegedly hacked at local officials with knives. Chen Guangcheng says Chen Kegui was defending himself after being brutally beaten. Chen said on Sunday that his nephew was beaten so badly in the clash that his pants were shredded.