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China

Ai Weiwei supporters urge Merkel to help secure artist's passport

German supporters of artist Ai Weiwei have asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to stand in the dissident's corner in upcoming talks with China. They hope the artist will be able to attend a Berlin exhibition of his work.

Ai Weiwei supporters call for Merkel aid

The president of Berlin's Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), Klaus Staeck, said he hoped Merkel would take up the case of one of the well-known Chinese dissident on her visit to the country.

"We expect our government not to tip-toe around this, but rather to raise the issue in a concrete manner," Staeck said on Wednesday, in reference to President Xi Jinping's scheduled visit to Berlin later this month.

The German supporters of the 57-year-old dissident artist are hoping that Ai will attend the world's largest exhibition of his works to date. The display is scheduled to open in Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau on April 3, precisely three years after Ai's initial arrest and detention by Chinese authorities on charges of economic crimes.

Berlin-based lawyer Peter Raue, fresh from three days of talks with Ai in Beijing, said that since Ai's release after around three months in custody, Chinese authorities had not leveled any formal charges against him. Therefore, Raue said that he could see no reason for Chinese authorities to retain Ai's passport - seized when he was first arrested in 2011. Chinese courts convicted a company co-founded by Ai's wife of tax evasion, but lawyer Raue said Ai had never been involved in the company's work.

Staeck also said that he hoped Ai, a member of the Berlin academy, would be able to attend its annual assembly in May. Ai briefly addressed the Berlin assembly on Wednesday by video-address, saying he had formally requested the return of his passport so he could travel to Germany.

"If they can't, I really want them to give me a clear reason," Ai said in the video. The 57-year-old is permitted to work and send his pieces abroad for display, but cannot exhibit them within China. The son of a famous poet, Ai has become one of world's more prominent Chinese dissidents.

msh/dr (dpa, Reuters)

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