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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 February 2007, 14:44 GMT
China lets Aids activist visit US
Chinese Aids campaigner Doctor Gao Yaojie
Dr Gao says she expects to leave for the US in eight days' time
The Chinese authorities are to allow a prominent critic of the country's HIV/Aids policies to visit the US to receive an award from a rights group.

Beijing had previously refused Dr Gao Yaojie, 80, permission to travel and placed her under house arrest a fortnight ago.

Human rights groups criticised Beijing for restricting her freedom.

Dr Gao had exposed corrupt blood selling deals that infected thousands of people with HIV in the 1990s.

She blew the whistle on commercial blood operations in Henan province, often run by officials, which spread HIV among farmers who sold their plasma.

Dr Gao overcame a climate of secrecy to end the practice, and draw attention to the scandal.

China has only recently begun to allow the discussion of its growing Aids problem.

Dr Gao was originally allowed a certain degree of leniency by the authorities, who permitted her to draw attention to the illegal blood selling.

But Beijing grew uncomfortable with her criticism of provincial communist leaders, and stopped her from going abroad twice since 2001 to receive prizes.

The chairwoman of Vital Voices, Melanne Verveer, welcomed the Chinese government's apparent change of heart.

"Dr Gao expressed her joy and desire to accept the award in person, and we are pleased it now appears her wish will be realised," she said in a statement to Reuters news agency.

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