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[BEIJING] Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo is in critical condition and his breathing is failing, the hospital treating him said on Wednesday.
Mr Liu, a prominent participant in the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after helping to write a petition known as "Charter 08" calling for sweeping political reforms.
He was recently moved from jail to a hospital to be treated for late-stage liver cancer.
Mr Liu's kidney and liver functions are failing, and he suffers from blood clots, among other ailments, the hospital in the city of Shenyang said on its website.
However, Mr Liu's family has declined the use of intubation machinery to help him breathe with the aid of a plastic tube in his windpipe, the hospital said.
"The patient is in a critically ill condition, the hospital is doing all it can to save him, and his family members understand the situation and have given their signatures," it added, without elaborating.
The announcement suggested a significant deterioration in Mr Liu's health since early on Wednesday, when the hospital said he was being treated for worsening liver function, septic shock and organ dysfunction.
Rights groups and Western government have urged China to allow Mr Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, to leave the country to be treated abroad, as Mr Liu has said he wants to.
But the government has warned against interference in its internal affairs and has said Mr Liu is getting the best care possible and is being treated by renowned Chinese cancer experts.
The state-backed Global Times tabloid said the "confrontational tone" of those in the West voicing their opinions on Mr Liu failed to focus on his illness.
"China has already taken the feelings of relevant Western forces into consideration, and has no obligation to meet their unreasonable demands," it said in an English-language editorial on Wednesday.
The government allowed two foreign doctors, from the United States and Germany, to visit Mr Liu on Saturday and they later said they considered it was safe for him to be moved overseas, but any move should be done as quickly as possible.
After the doctors' Sunday statement, China released short videos of their visit, apparently taken without their knowledge, in which the German doctor appeared to praise the care Mr Liu had received.
Hu Jia, a dissident and friend of Mr Liu's, said he was deeply saddened to hear the news of his worsening condition but vowed to do all he could to push for Mr Liu's freedom.
"So long as Liu is still breathing and conscious, we should keep calling for him to be released and go abroad with Liu Xia, even if it is the last thing he does," Hu said.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing Wen said on Twitter that the self-ruled island that China claims as its own, was closely following reports that Mr Liu was in critical condition.
"I call on Beijing to free Liu Xiaobo and allow him to seek treatment wherever he wishes. Taiwan is willing to provide any medical assistance," she said.
Mr Liu's friends voiced suspicion about the hospital's earlier statement, which suggested a worsening of his health soon after two foreign doctors said he was well enough to travel abroad.
"We do not know how reliable these accounts are, or if they mean Liu Xiaobo cannot travel," one family friend told Reuters, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
No one answered the telephone at the hospital's publicity department on Wednesday.
In Hong Kong, about 50 protesters sat outside the Beijing representative office surrounded by placards demanding Mr Liu's release.
Some protesters have been there for the third day and said they were dismayed to learn Mr Liu was not being released despite his condition.
"I feel scared. If we lose Liu Xiaobo, nobody could replace him," said 17 year old student Anson Hui.
"If there's no Liu Xiaobo we can't unite the whole world to speak out ... The world will lose a spiritual leader."