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Beijing Frees Political Foe


CHINA released one of its longest-held political prisoners yesterday on the eve of a US decision on whether to levy trade sanctions to press for human rights improvements.

Dissident Xu Wenli was released from a Beijing prison after serving 12 years of a 15-year sentence. In high spirits, Mr. Xu declined to speculate on why he was freed. Xu, the editor of an underground pro-democracy magazine, was arrested in 1981 during Deng Xiaoping's first crackdown on dissent. Western governments and international human rights groups have long appealed for his release.

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Xu is the sixth political prisoner given early release this year as China tries to avert trade restrictions by the US and win its bid to stage the 2000 Olympics. United States officials say President Clinton will extend China's most-favored-nation trading status for the coming year but make further renewals conditional on improvements in human rights.

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