Taiwan cries foul as China bars ex-security chief

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TAIPEI, Sep 19 (Reuters) China has rejected a visa for Taiwan Vice Premier Chiou I-jen, a former national security chief, to attend a soccer forum in Shanghai as the island accused its giant neighbour of mixing politics with sport.

The visit would never have been allowed, but the case has significance with China and Taiwan also at odds over the route of the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch. Island officials insist on an itinerary that does not make Taiwan look like a part of China.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the democratic island's 23 million people under its rule, by force if necessary.

China does not allow high-level visits from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, of which Chiou is a member, because it presses for the island's formal independence from China.

A Hong Kong newspaper said Taiwan filed two visa applications -- one for Chiou and one for the deputy head of the Football Association, who is also the island's top spy, meaning any visit would be automatically out of the question.

A spokesman from the Chinese cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office was not immediately available for comment.

Taiwan's Government Information Office said in a statement the intention of the blocking of the visa was clear. ''China used politics to interfere in sports,'' it said.

Chiou applied for a visa after an invitation from an international soccer organisation to attend the Fourth Women's Soccer Forum in Shanghai, Taiwan government spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey said today.

He said Chinese officials in Hong Kong in effect refused the application by not forwarding it to Beijing or Shanghai.

REUTERS SG KP1430

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