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Thousands protest against Taiwan's government

Written by: Staff
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TAIPEI, Mah 12 (Reuters) Waving banners reading ''We love peace! We hate war!'', thousands of people marched through Taiwan's capital today to denounce President Chen Shui-bian, accusing him of fanning tensions with neighbouring China.

Relations have been strained since pro-independence Chen scrapped the island's National Unification Council and its 15-year-old guidelines on eventual unification in February.

China, which considers the island part of its territory, called the move a ''dangerous provocation''.

China and Taiwan split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and Beijing is determined to regain control of the island one day, by force if necessary.

Led by Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), or the Nationalist Party, the marchers braved light rain and walked to the presidential palace in Taipei.

Organisers have said they planned to mobilise 100,000 people to take part in the protest.

''We don't need Taiwan independence. We want to live, we want to survive,'' said a retired veteran surnamed Lee.

''Taiwan independence is a dead end. It is (Chen's) own personal view, not the view of the majority of the people,'' Lee said.

Many protesters also said they opposed a weapons package offered by Washington that the government said would help fend off China in the event of an attack.

Ma, seen as the opposition's best hope to win the presidency in 2008, blamed Chen for unnecessarily provoking Beijing, saying the government should focus on the economy rather than politics.

''The government has one scandal after another and people are suffering, but our president chooses to make unification versus independence his main agenda,'' the KMT leader said.

''We must let our government hear the real voice of the people,'' said Ma, whose party opposes independence and favours closer ties with the mainland.

Businessman Chiang Chien-min agreed: ''I am very dissatisfied. I am dissatisfied with the economy, the corruption cases and the incompetent government.'' The president's ruling Democratic Progressive Party plans its own protest on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of China's passage of the Anti-Secession Law legalising the use of force against the self-ruled island of 23 million people.

''We want peace and direct links (with China) so everyone can have a job and live a good life,'' said Tang Yu-ling, a housewife.

REUTERS DKS RN1404

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