This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Chen Guangcheng, the blind, Chinese human rights lawyer, is on a plane headed for America right now, according to his friends and supporters. Chinese authorities gave Mr. Chen a passport today and drove him to an airport in Beijing. His departure caps a remarkable few weeks that included a daring escape from house arrest and high-stakes, diplomatic negotiations.
NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following the story from Shanghai. Frank, thanks for being with us.
Legal activist Chen Guangcheng has reportedly finished submitting applications to Chinese authorities and has been told that he and his immediate family could be issued passports within the next two weeks.
That would then allow him to come to the United States.
To the average observer, they look like ordinary pigeons, caged into a balcony in a high-rise Beijing apartment. But make no mistake. These cooing birds, according to breeder Yang Shibo, are like top-of-the-line sports cars.
"These are the Ferraris of the bird world," he says. "They're the most expensive, and the fastest."
The price of racing pigeons is soaring sky-high, pushed up by wealthy Chinese buyers.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says his family is being hounded by local authorities in his Shandong, his home province, with his brother and sister-in-law placed under house arrest and his nephew detained.
Chen's flight last month from house arrest and his request for refuge from U.S. diplomats has caused considerable embarrassment for Chinese authorities and threatened to damage U.S.-Sino relations. Since then, Beijing has agreed in a face-saving move to allow the blind, self-taught legal activist and his immediate family to study in the United States.