Berlin university offers chair to detained Chinese artist

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The University of the Arts in Berlin has invited Ai Weiwei to be a guest professor, the institution said in a statement Thursday, amid ongoing international uproar at the Chinese artist's detention.

Hailing the outspoken dissident as "one of the best-known contemporary artists", the university said it "stood for the freedom of the arts and therefore for the freedom of artists."

Ai, who was taken into custody in Beijing on April 3 as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong, is under investigation for unspecified "economic crimes". Relatives of the avant-garde artist say they do not know where he was taken.

His detention -- part of a major government crackdown on dissent, which followed online calls for demonstrations in China to emulate the uprisings that have rocked the Arab world -- has sparked an outcry in the West.

On Wednesday, the United States reiterated its "deep concern" about human rights in China as Beijing freed two top human rights lawyers, including one who represents Ai.

The same day, hackers based in China disrupted an online petition signed by nearly 100,000 people calling for his release, the website operator said.

It remained unclear when Ai could take up his chair, the university said, but the institution's president, Martin Rennert, said: "We hope that Ai Weiwei will soon be able to start his work here."

© 2011 AFP

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