Hong Kong activists celebrate after Liu Xia 'leaves China'

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Veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, also known as Long Hair, (C), speaks as pro-democracy campaigners Tuesday celebrate the release of the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo

Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners Tuesday welcomed news that the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo had left China for Germany after years under effective house arrest.

Liu Xia, 57, had faced no charges but endured heavy restrictions on her movements since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize, infuriating Beijing.

Friends said the poet had taken a Finnair flight to Berlin via Helsinki, just days before the first anniversary of her husband's death from liver cancer which sparked condemnation around the world.

Activists in Hong Kong gave a minute's applause for Liu Xia, followed by a minute's silence at a memorial for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran Liu Xiaobo, which was adorned with pictures of the couple.

"I'm in a sea of joy," said veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, also known as Long Hair, as he drank from a bottle of wine and gave a toast to Liu Xiaobo.

"We hope Liu Xia's release signals another stage in China, that the treatment of dissidents will be improved," Leung told AFP, but added he was worried about her younger brother Liu Hui who could be held "hostage" while he remained in China.

"Liu Xia can finally leave China -- not because (Chinese President) Xi Jinping had a change of heart, but because of the unity displayed by the global civil society," said prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, citing the efforts of "freedom fighters around the world" who have pressured Beijing.

Exiled dissident Wu'er Kaixi, speaking in Taipei, told AFP he was "glad" Liu Xia could leave China but also voiced concerns about her brother.

As her brother remains on the mainland, Chinese authorities would "make sure that Liu Xia's behaviour overseas will meet its expectations", said Wu'er.

It is believed Liu Xia had been reluctant to leave her family behind.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which enjoys freedoms unmatched on the mainland, is the only place in China where public campaigning for the couple and human rights are tolerated by authorities.

While news and information about the couple are strictly censored in mainland China, people in Hong Kong took to Facebook to send their good wishes to Liu Xia.

"I wish Ms. Liu Xia well, and that she will be safe from now on," wrote a commenter on Facebook.

"Thank you, Germany," others wrote.

Veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, also known as Long Hair, (C), speaks as pro-democracy campaigners Tuesday celebrate the release of the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo

Activists in Hong Kong gave a minute's applause for Liu Xia, followed by a minute's silence at a memorial for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran Liu Xiaobo which was adorned with pictures of the couple