Taiwan's Chen makes surprise Libya visit
TAIPEI, May 11 (Reuters) Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian made a surprise transit stop in Libya on his way home from Latin America and met with family members of leader Muammar Gaddafi, a visit likely to displease its giant neighbour China.
China, which has diplomatic ties with Tripoli, has claimed Taiwan as its own since the Communists defeated the Nationalists in a civil war in 1949, and views any country that plays host to Chen as encouraging his vision of a separate identity.
The Libyan stopover yesterday was the latest surprise in Chen's overseas trip, in which transit destinations have been kept secret to avoid interference from Beijing. Chen had originally been scheduled to fly home via Abu Dhabi.
''President Chen met with some members of Gaddafi's family and discussions were about setting up representative offices, boosting ties and trade, petrochemical and infrastructure issues,'' foreign ministry spokesman Michel Lu said today.
Lu decline to comment whether or not Chen met personally with Gaddafi. Libya broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1978.
The Chinese-language Liberty Times showed pictures of Chen meeting with one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, and suggested the president could transit in Lebanon before returning home.
Chen had hoped to stop in Beirut on his way to Latin America but said the request had been denied under pressure from Beijing.
Lu declined to comment on whether Chen would make additional stops or when he might return to Taiwan, but confirmed he had already left Libya.
Chen had originally hoped to transit via New York, but the United States offered him short refuelling stops in Alaska or Hawaii, which he turned down and accused China of pressuring Washington.
Due to international pressure from China, Taiwan only has official diplomatic ties with 26 states, mostly third world countries in Africa and Latin America.
REUTERS SRS RN0953