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BEIJING – Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, left China on Tuesday for Europe after eight years under house arrest, her relatives and friends said.
Western governments and activists have urged China for years to release Liu Xia, citing the fact that she has never been charged with any crime.
Liu Xia's brother, Liu Hui, wrote on a social media site: "Sister has already left Beijing for Europe at noon to start her new life. Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. I hope from now on her life is peaceful and happy."
Gao Yu, a family friend and veteran Chinese journalist in Beijing, confirmed the post was written by Liu Hui and told AP that Liu Xia was headed to Berlin. Su Yutong, a family friend based in Germany, also confirmed her departure.
Liu's release comes as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is visiting Germany, a country that in May said it would welcome the widow after a recording was released of her crying in desperation and indicating she has given up hope of being able to leave China.
Chinese authorities put her under house arrest in 2010, days after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded her imprisoned husband the Peace Prize, infuriating the Chinese government.
Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer last July while under government custody, prompting renewed calls for Liu Xia's release. The first anniversary of Liu Xiaobo's death is Friday.
China sentenced Liu Xiaobo in December 2009 to 11 years' imprisonment on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he helped write a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalization. Chinese authorities repeatedly declined to discuss Liu Xia's confinement, which critics say was cruel and illegal.
Authorities had assigned guards around-the-clock outside Liu's Beijing home and restricted her access to Internet and the outside world, allowing her only occasional phone calls with a small circle of friends.
An accomplished artist and poet, Liu told Associated Press reporters during an unexpected visit to her home in 2012 that she had anticipated China would punish her for her husband's Nobel award but she had not expected to be kept under "Kafkaesque" house arrest.
Liu's friends in recent months have said her mental condition has steadily deteriorated, particularly since the death of her husband.