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Taiwan opposition vow to seek president's removal

Written by: Staff
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TAIPEI, June 7 (Reuters) Taiwan's biggest opposition party today decided to try to drive President Chen Shui-bian from office over an insider trading scandal that has mired his son-in-law and plunged the island into political crisis.

But the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, and the splinter People First Party lack the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to push through a vote authorising a referendum on the issue.

The Legislative Yuan is currently in recess. Ruling party and opposition deputies are to meet on Sunday to set a date for an extraordinary session to review the government budget but they are divided over whether the agenda should include a vote to recall the president from office.

''This is not a power struggle,'' KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou said after the party's Central Standing Committee approved a proposal to seek such a vote.

''This issue is not the Nationalists versus the (ruling) Democratic Progressive Party,'' Ma said. ''It's honesty versus corruption, competence versus incompetence.'' Premier Su Tseng-chang accused the Nationalists of fuelling social instability.

People First, which is struggling for political survival, seized the initiative and pushed for a recall vote after Ma, to the dismay of some of his supporters, initially opposed it.

Ma gave no reason for his change of heart other than to say the move was aimed at forcing Chen, whose approval rating has sunk to new lows, to quit voluntarily.

SIGNATURE DRIVE The KMT hope to collect more than 1 million signatures in their bid to force Chen to quit.

''Every signature shows a lack of trust in President Chen and is a protest against a corrupt and incompetent government,'' said Ma, the current favourite to win the 2008 presidential elections. ''He has lost the people's trust and respect.'' If the 225-seat parliament approves the recall motion, a referendum would be held with a minimum voter turnout of 50 per cent required. It would take only a simple majority to oblige Chen to step down.

Chen has come under growing opposition pressure to resign since his son-in-law was detained in May on suspicion of using insider information and dummy accounts to buy shares in a financially troubled real estate developer. The firm's share prices surged after a banking consortium bailed it out.

In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism from both backers and opponents, Chen has agreed to cede some powers to Premier Su.

Su took Ma to task today for changing his mind.

''Does he care about grabbing power or the people's livelihood? Does he want the economy to prosper and stocks to rise, or to knock down the stock market? Does he want to let the police focus on fighting crime or focus police efforts on (controlling) masses mobilised?'' the premier asked.

''Taiwan cannot afford chaos.'' After his detention Chao Chien-ming, a doctor married to Chen's daughter, requested bail but the court turned him down after questioning him and his parents.

REUTERS SHB BD1615

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