Taiwan leader says UN referendum would snub China

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TAIPEI, Oct 29 (Reuters) Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said today he was sure a controversial voter referendum calling for Taiwan's admission to the United Nations would pass, signifying islanders' unwillingness to unify with China.

Beijing has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has pledged to bring the democratic island under its rule, by force if necessary.

The government of Taiwan, still officially termed the Republic of China, held the Chinese seat at the world body from its inception in 1946 until 1971 when the communist People's Republic took its place.

Ever since, Beijing has blocked Taipei from any official UN involvement. Now the independence-minded Chen, nearing the end of his eight-year tenure, has put U.N. membership at the top of the political agenda in his final months in office.

Chen told a news conference today he expected Taiwan voters to pass the referendum in March, sending a signal to the world that most of the island's 23 million citizens want it to have a UN seat.

He said he was ''100 per cent sure'' that the referendum would pass. ''The UN referendum is saying 'no' to China's threat,'' Chen added.

But, pressured by chief ally the United States to keep peace with China, Chen said the referendum was not aimed at declaring formal independence from the Beijing government.

''The referendum is to say no to unification with China, but it's not a step toward independence,'' Chen said.

Passage of the referendum would not obligate the United Nations to take any action.

REUTERS SKB KN1630

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