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WASHINGTON - Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng appealed to US President Barack Obama to help get him and his family out of China, saying he fears for his life just hours after leaving the US embassy in Beijing.
"I would like to say to President Obama -- please do everything you can to get our family out," Chen told CNN, according to a translation of his quote.
He also accused US embassy officials of pushing him hard to leave the safety of the US mission on Wednesday where he had sought refuge for six days after fleeing his home in the eastern province of Shandong.
"The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital, but this afternoon as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone," Chen told CNN by phone.
CNN correspondent Stan Grant said he interviewed Chen, who is in a Beijing hospital, at around 3:00 a.m. Thursday (1900 GMT Wednesday) with his wife sitting by his bedside. The US network aired two short audio clips of the interview.
The 40-year-old won worldwide acclaim for exposing forced sterilizations and late-term abortions under China's "one child" policy, and for using his legal knowledge to help people battle other injustices including illegal land grabs.
He and his family were put under round-the-clock house arrest after he completed a four-year jail sentence in September 2010.
But the blind activist escaped from his home on April 22, and made his way via a series of safe houses to the US embassy in Beijing just days before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the Chinese capital for important pre-arranged talks with Chinese officials.
The diplomatic incident is threatening to overshadow Clinton's visit, and CNN said Chen was now feeling betrayed by US officials.
"Chen Guangcheng says he is very much in fear for his life. He says his family is being threatened and he is now making a plea to President Obama to help him," CNN's Grant said.
Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, also told CNN that she did not want to raise her children in China, but that guards were refusing to let her leave the hospital.
US officials insisted to CNN they had followed protocol, and had asked Chen three times if he was "willingly able to leave" the embassy, CNN's Grant said.
"He says when he left the embassy, he did not know how bad the situation was outside. He did not know about the threats. He did not know what was being done to his wife."
Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Chinese officials had made no physical or legal threats about Chen to US officials during the negotiations to resolve the situation.
"At no point during his time in the embassy did Chen ever request political asylum in the US," she said in a statement.
"At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country."
Chen told CNN that Chinese officials had said that "if you stay at the embassy, we're waiting for your wife and family here with weapons in your house," Grant said.
"He also said that the guards have said that they installed cameras inside the house where they can watch their every move and that (he) will be taken back there and never be able to leave again."