Updated: 06/27/2014 02:25 | By Agence France-Presse

US urges China to free dissident Liu Xiaobo

President Barack Obama's administration on Thursday renewed calls on China to free democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo but stayed mum on a bid to rename a Washington street after him.

US urges China to free dissident Liu Xiaobo

A member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China holds placards calling for freedom for China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, on December 10, 2012 - by Philippe Lopez

Beijing has warned the United States against the bid in Congress to name the street outside China's embassy in honor of Liu, a writer who was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison for spearheading a bold petition for democratic reforms.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Liu -- whose wife Liu Xia has been under house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 -- "has played an important role in advancing dialogue in China."

Liu Xiaobo "has been a voice, should be released from prison (and) his wife's house arrest should end," Harf told reporters.

But on the proposal over the street, Harf said: "Publicly, we're not taking a position on it at this time."

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum have supported calls to rename the street. The House Appropriations Committee approved the change Tuesday as part of a State Department funding bill, which still needs backing from the full House of Representatives and Senate.

The street, International Place, is home to several embassies and is administered by the federal government. The chairman of Washington's city council, Phil Mendelson, has supported the move but said that it needed to be done by an act of Congress.

The campaign has taken inspiration from the 1984 decision to name the street outside the Soviet embassy after then dissident Andrei Sakharov. Soviet leaders later granted Sakharov freedom of movement.

China has derided the move to rename the street as "provocative" and described Liu Xiaobo as "a man who has violated Chinese laws."

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