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Taiwan slams France over China exercises

TAIPEI, March 16 (AFP) – Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian on Tuesday fiercely criticised France for staging joint naval exercises with China days before the island holds its presidential election.

Chen accused China of trying to interfere with its third free presidential poll on Saturday by teaming up with “bad hearted” France for its biggest ever naval drill with a foreign country.

Chen, who is fighting a close-run battle for a second four-year term, told thousands of supporters at a campaign rally in the capital Taipei that France was “willing to be used” by China.

“When we are holding the presidential election, China is holding its biggest-ever naval exercies with France,” said Chen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“China has previously said it would not interfere with our elections, but now they are teaming up with France.”

Despite the timing of the naval exercise, observers said there was almost certainly no link with the Taiwanese election despite China’s record of exerting pressure with military drills before previous polls.

Chen is running neck and neck with his rival Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), which is seen as having a more conciliatory policy towards China.

The president was lagging badly in polls before he ramped up his rhetoric against China and called a referendum to run alongside the presidential election.

It will ask voters to back government plans to build up military defences against some 500 Chinese missiles pointed at the island.

The two sides have been ruled separately since 1949 when communists drove their nationalist rivals from the mainland. China has maintained its claim to reunify Taiwan, using force if necessary.


                                                              Subject: France news