Peking frees leading dissident

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The Independent Online
HONG KONG - China yesterday freed one of its most prominent dissidents, a few days before Bill Clinton decides on the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status, writes Teresa Poole.

However, the favourable impact of China's decision on opinion in the United States will be overshadowed by this week's confrontations in Lhasa in which police with tear-gas quelled demonstrations for Tibetan independence. Yesterday, police remained on the streets of Lhasa.

The release of Xu Wenli, who served 12 years of a 15-year sentence, is the latest example of Peking freeing well-known dissidents in apparent response to world pressure. Mr Xu, an important participant in the Democracy Wall movement, was paroled 'on account of his performance while in prison', Xinhua news agency said.

Mr Xu, 49, was imprisoned for publishing an underground journal, April Fifth Forum, which argued for political reform. The former electrician spent years in solitary confinement but yesterday said he had been treated well and was 'not in bad shape physically'. He was unrepentant: 'I didn't do anything wrong to my country and my people. I feel no guilt,' he said.

Emotional scenes on television showed Mr Xu embracing his wife and daughter, and carrying home boxes of books from prison.

President Clinton is expected to announce shortly that China's MFN trading privileges will be renewed for a year, but that further extension will be tied to human rights improvements and compliance with trade and non-proliferation agreements.

(Photograph omitted)