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China Releases Leading Human Rights Activist


China has released a leading human rights activist who had been jailed for his role in the 1989 pro-democracy protests. Friday, China's annual National People's Congress opens and the delegates are expected to discuss a wide range of issues ranging from economic growth to human rights.

Just one day before China's National People's Congress is due to convene in Beijing, China has released dissident Wang Youcai from prison for what are described as health grounds.

A U.S. based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation says the dissident has boarded a plane bound for the United States. Mr. Wang had been suffering from health problems. The well known dissident was a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and later founded the China Democracy Party.

China has released political prisoners on frequent occasions in the past, prior to high profile events such as Friday's Congress.

This year's gathering is scheduled to introduce several firsts for China's legal system. The NPC is expected to pass a measure to protect private property rights in China. And, for the first time, the phrase "human rights" is expected to be added to China's constitution. But China's use of that term is to be defined by economic status rather than civil liberties.

Economic issues are also expected to be high on the agenda. China's economy grew by more than nine percent last year, fueling problems from income disparity to environmental damage. NPC delegates say they seek a more even approach to handling China's economic boom.

Lawmakers also plan to take on public health issues - particularly disease control. The Chinese government came under sharp criticism for not doing more to prevent the outbreaks of avian flu and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - both of which have been traced back to Chinese farms and animal markets.