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Taiwan opposition decries US pressure on weapons

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    TAIPEI, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Taiwan opposition lawmakers today denounced U.S. pressure to pass a budget to buy American arms, saying it was meddling with parliament's sovereign right.

    The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan urged parliament yesterday Thursday to pass the budget for the multibillion-dollar weapons package by the end of the year, following years of delay, to help counter China's growing military buildup.

    The opposition Nationalist (KMT) party and its allies in the People First Party, which both favour closer ties with China, say the package is pricy, unnecessary and provocative and have used their majority in parliament to block review of the budget for two years.

    ''Lawmakers have the sovereign and independent right of review, which can't be interfered with from outside,'' Tsai Chin-lung, the KMT's parliamentary convener, told Reuters.

    U.S. diplomat Stephen Young's comments, especially his timeframe, ''are no help in getting the arms budget passed''.

    Young's remarks also sparked a small backlash on the streets of Taipei, with dozens of angry protesters demonstrating outside the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy.

    China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.

    The independence-leaning government of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has long sought approval of the arms funding, originally set at billion but now cut down to around billion and wrapped into the regular defence budget.

    President George W. Bush offered to sell Taiwan eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3 ''Orion'' anti-submarine aircraft and six Patriot missile batteries in 2001. It would have been the island's biggest arms purchases in more than a decade.

    The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to defend the island.

    Taiwan's military wants the hardware, but parliament's failure to fund the deal over the past two years has fuelled worries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its own defence.

    Young's comments were the sternest American warning to date on the necessity for Taiwan to acquire the weapons.

    Young pointed to China's growing military might, which the Taiwan government estimates now includes more than 800 missiles aimed at the island with another 100 being added each year.

    The Taiwan Defence Ministry admitted earlier this month that Washington had temporarily blocked Taipei's request to buy 66 F-16C/D fighter jets because of parliament's repeated failure to approve funding for the earlier arms package.

    REUTERS PDM SND1546

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