Ai release `important signal`: Germany

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei`s release from prison is an "important signal," Germany said today, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao embarked on a trip to Europe that will also take in Berlin.

Berlin: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei`s release from prison is an "important signal," Germany
said today, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao embarked on a trip to
Europe that will also take in Berlin.

"It is an important signal that Ai Weiwei is free and
is living now between his own four walls," deputy government
spokesman Christoph Steegmans told a regular government
briefing.

He echoed Chancellor Angela Merkel in saying however
that with Ai, 54, still prevented by the Chinese authorities
from leaving Beijing, his release from prison was only a
"first step."

"Naturally we hope there will be other steps," he
said.

Ai was freed late Wednesday because of his "good
attitude" in confessing to tax evasion, his willingness to
repay taxes he owes, and on medical grounds, the government
said.

His detention in April during a major government
crackdown on activists launched in February sparked criticism
led by rights groups and Western governments, with London and
Berlin among the most vocal.

The artist`s plight is set to come up during Wen`s
European tour beginning today to Hungary, which currently
holds the EU`s rotating presidency.

He will travel on to Britain and Germany, where the
official tour will wrap up on Tuesday.

The visit will be centred primarily on economic
issues, however, with China the world`s second largest economy
and the European Union struggling to deal with a sovereign
debt crisis among countries using the euro single currency.

Campaign groups including Amnesty International said
in an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel published today
that it would be a "fatal signal" if human rights are not
properly discussed during Wen`s visit.

PTI

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