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Liu cremated as fellow dissident released

An image released by the Shenyang Municipal Information Office shows relatives standing next to the casket of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo during his funeral in Shenyang in northeastern Liaoning province on Saturday. (AP Photo)

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SHENYANG, CHINA: China cremated the body of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died this week of liver cancer amid international criticism of Beijing for not letting him travel abroad as he had wished.

The ceremony coincided with the release by authorities of Xu Zhiyong, another prominent dissident, after serving a four-year sentence that had also brought widespread condemnation.

The government of the city of Shenyang in northeastern China, where Liu had been treated for advanced liver cancer, said in a briefing that the cremation took place early Saturday morning in a ceremony attended by family, including his widow, Liu Xia.

Liu's ashes were scattered on Saturday in the ocean, his brother said later.

Chinese authorities likely feared a grave or burial site could become a monument for pro-democracy movements in the future. Liu's family members had been hoping to bring the ashes to his home in Beijing.

The sea burial was disclosed by Liu Xiaoguang at a news conference in Shenyang. He did not take any questions at the event, which was not attended by Liu Xia.

Liu Xiaobo died on Thursday from multiple organ failure that followed a battle with liver cancer while serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subvert state power. He was 61.

The briefing, at which officials also provided images of the funeral, was the latest in a Chinese government propaganda campaign seemingly aimed at countering criticism that Beijing has failed to act in a humanitarian way.

The wife and other family members of China's best-known political prisoner have been closely guarded by authorities and remain largely out of contact with the outside world even after Liu's death.

Governments around the world have urged China to free Liu Xia from the strict house arrest she has lived under for years even though she has not been convicted of any crime.

The handout images showed Liu's wife, who wore dark sunglasses, being comforted by her brother in a funeral parlor as they stood in a row with Liu's older and younger siblings and their wives. Liu's body lay in an open casket in the centre of the room, surrounded by an arrangement of potted white flowers.

A black banner strung on the wall said "Mr Liu Xiaobo's funeral" in white Chinese characters. It was positioned above a framed picture of Liu. A press release issued by the government said the ceremony was held at 6.30am to the music of Mozart's Requiem and that the body was cremated shortly afterward.

The government also said Liu's friends attended the ceremony, a claim that was difficult to independently verify. In the handout images, none among a group of people standing by the casket were identifiable as any of Liu's close friends.

Asked about the status of Liu Xia, a spokesman for the city's information office said authorities were looking out for her interests.

"As far as I know, Liu Xia has freedom. But she just lost her relative and is in deep sorrow," spokesman Zhang Qingyang said. "After Liu Xiaobo's death, let Liu Xia tend to his affairs and try to keep her away from external interference."

Liu was only the second Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in prison, a fact pointed to by human rights groups as an indication of the Chinese Communist Party's increasingly hard line against its critics. The first, Carl von Ossietzky, died from tuberculosis in Germany in 1938 while serving a sentence for opposing Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Tributes have poured in from around the world to mourn Liu, but there is little mention of him in China's heavily-censored state media and social networking platforms. One notable exception was a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party which on Saturday said the West was "deifying" Liu, a man the paper described as a criminal who was "paranoid, naive and arrogant".

"Liu's memorial tablet cannot find a place in China's cultural temple," the Global Times said in an editorial. "Deification of Liu by the West will be eventually overshadowed by China's denial of him."

The newspaper's editorial marked a rare mention of Liu in the Chinese-language media, possibly indicating a desire to guide popular opinion amid widespread reporting of his death in the overseas press and on social media platforms such as Twitter that are blocked in China.

While Liu did have considerable renown abroad -- official censorship made him virtually a non-person at home -- the party frequently uses the spectre of Western manipulation to demonise its critics.

Liu rose to prominence during the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, and became one of hundreds of Chinese imprisoned for crimes linked to the demonstrations after they were crushed by the military. It was the first of four imprisonments.

His last was for co-authoring "Charter 08", a document circulated in 2008 that called for an end to one-party rule.

He was in prison when he was awarded the Nobel in 2010, which Beijing condemned as an affront to its political and legal systems.

The release of Xu Zhiyong on the same day as Liu's funeral may not have been entirely coincidental, given Beiing's growing sensitivity about global criticism of its handling of rights activists.

Xy, whose "New Citizens' Movement" advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and subsequently convicted of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order".

One of the group's main demands had been for officials to publicly disclose their assets, a demand taken against the backdrop of the ruling Communist Party's own efforts to crackdown on corruption under President Xi Jinping.

Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters he had brought Xu up to speed with "events on the outside", including the death of Liu Xiaobo. He said Xu was "upset" upon hearing the news.

Zhang said Xu, who was released from his jail on Beijing's outskirts on Saturday morning, was in good physical condition and had few immediate plans beyond spending time with family.

At the height of Xu's activism, he attracted hundreds of supporters who participated in activities related to the movement, having first gained prominence in 2003 for helping victims of tainted baby formula and migrant workers without access to healthcare and education.

It prompted a crackdown from the Communist Party, which swiftly crushes any perceived challenge to its rule.

"The idea of the New Citizens Movement is not to overthrow, but to establish," he wrote in a 2010 essay. "It's not one social class displacing another social class, but allowing righteousness to take its place in China."

Xu refused to defend himself in his 2014 trial, and remained silent as a way to protest what Zhang said was a controlled legal process where a guilty outcome was a foregone conclusion.

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