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Widow of Nobel dissident leaves China for Europe

Shenyang Municipal Information Office / AFP | Handout photo of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia (C) holding a portrait of her husband as she receives his ashes at a funeral parlour in Shenyang, China, on July 15, 2017.

Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo, left China for Germany on Tuesday for medical treatment, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing
that Liu Xia left for medical treatment "according to her will". The spokeswoman however had no further information to offer on the case and added that she did not see any association linking Liu Xia's departure with a visit to Germany by Premier Li Keqiang.

Liu Xia had left to "start her new life" in Europe, her younger brother, Liu Hui, said on his WeChat account, according to a screenshot of the message shown to Reuters by a friend who declined to be identified.

Her departure, following a year of pressure on the government from activists and international human rights organisations, comes at the end of Chinese Premier Li's visit to Germany. He was due to leave Germany on Tuesday.

Germany has been pushing China to let Liu leave following the death of her husband on July 13, 2017, from liver cancer while in Chinese custody, Western diplomats have said.

Timed before Liu Xiaobo's death anniversary

Liu Xia, a poet and artist who suffers from depression, had been under house arrest since 2010 when Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who was sentenced to a 11-year prison term in 2009 for inciting subversion, was awarded the Peace Prize.

China has repeatedly said Liu Xia is free and accorded all rights guaranteed to her by law.

Johnny Lau, a political commentator based in Hong Kong, said he believed the authorities had let her leave in order to avoid her case sparking a "surge" of pressure on China around the July 13 anniversary of Liu Xiaobo's death.

Several Western diplomats tried to visit her at her Beijing apartment in May amid concerns over her psychological health but were refused entry without explanation.

The US, the European Union and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had called on Beijing to free her.

In an emotional phone call with her close friend Chinese writer Liao Yiwu recently, Liu said, "They should add a line to the constitution: 'Loving Liu Xiaobo is a serious crime – it's a life sentence'."

China, Germany vs USA in trade war

China has been seeking to bolster its ties with the European Union amid a trade war with the United States.

"A trade war has also broken out between China and the United States. China hopes to team up with Germany against the United States," he said.

"Now China has made use of an opportunity to do Germany a favour so as to strengthen the Sino-German relationship."

Liu Xia's departure from China was "wonderful news" but harassment of her family remained a risk to her freedom to criticise China, Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon said.

Her brother, Liu Hui, who was handed an 11-year jail sentence for fraud in 2013. He was later released but remained closely monitored, according to friends of the family, and is still in China.

"It’s worrying that her brother Liu Hui is still kept in China. Liu Xia might not be able to speak much for fear of her brother’s safety," Poon said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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