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China activist Chen Guangcheng visits Taiwan

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June 23, 2013 11:36 AM EST | AP

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled house arrest in China and later moved to the U.S., arrived Sunday in Taiwan, where he is to give several speeches expected to attract the attention of Beijing.

He told reporters at Taipei's airport that he was impressed with Taiwan's democracy and its concern for China's human rights situation. "Your support has been very important to us," he said.

The 18-day trip is part of Chen's efforts to enhance freedoms and human rights for his fellow Chinese, the organizer, the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, said in a statement.

Chen sparked a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States last year when he fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from house arrest. Since then, he has been a special student at New York University's U.S.-Asia Law Institute while working on a book due out this year.

Chen's Taiwan visit offers a challenge to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who has built his administration around better relations with China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

China claims Taiwan as its territory and resents any Taiwanese activity that embarrasses Beijing.

The island has one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia, but Ma is also trying to improve relations with Beijing.

The presidential office said Ma has not scheduled a meeting with Chen.

Chen will give a news conference, address the island's legislature, meet parliamentary Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and speak at universities, organizers said.

Chen escaped house arrest in his rural town in eastern China's Shandong province in April 2012. Chinese officials later let him move to the U.S. with his wife and children in an arrangement negotiated with the United States.

He had angered local Chinese officials by documenting complaints about forced abortions. A self-taught lawyer, Chen has criticized China's human rights record, speaking about it before a U.S. congressional committee.

Chen caused a controversy earlier this month when he accused New York University of bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and forcing him to leave.

The university denied that, and said it had offered him a one-year fellowship to help him leave China, and that it was concluding at the end of the academic year as planned.