10/03/2006, 00.00
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Influence peddling charges against Taiwan's First Lady dropped

Prosecutors say there is not enough evidence against her. Anti-Chen demonstrations continue on the island, but the president seems dead set against resigning.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There is insufficient evidence to charge Wu Shu-chen, President Chen Shui-bian's wife, with influence peddling, according to prosecutors. But this has not stopped protesters from demanding Chen's resignation.

Wu Shu-chen was alleged to have accepted NT$ 5 million (US$ 150,000) in Pacific Sogo Department Store gift vouchers in exchange for lobbying favours in the ownership fight for the store, which was eventually won by Far Eastern Textile chairman Douglas Hsu Shu-tung.

"There is not enough evidence proving that she was involved in the Sogo case," Lin Chin-tsun, chief prosecutor of the Taipei District Prosecutors Office, said.

Ms Wu did accept some of the vouchers, but they were given to her by her family doctor, Huang Fang-yen, as a gift, rather than given to her directly by anyone involved in the battle for the store.

Still, prosecutors said they will be seeking a 30-month prison sentence for Mr Hsu for breach of trust. They will also seek jail sentences—from two years to 3-1/2 years—for three other businessmen for falsifying documents and breach of trust.

The decision gave the embattled president some relief but did not stop the drive to oust him from office. Last night hundreds of anti-Chen protesters—led by Shih Ming-teh, a former chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)  and Chen supporter—took to the streets of Tainan, Chen's home town, calling for his resignation.

Following overnight clashes between pro- and anti-Chen protesters in nearby Chiay hundreds of police officers moved in to keep them apart.

Travelling in more than 20 buses, anti-Chen protesters are touring the island nation.

Mr Shih has set up his own party attracting many disillusioned DPP members.

For the time being, the DPP is not planning to call for Chen's resignation. His mandate ends in 2008, and early elections would be unpredictable.

The president himself is accused of embezzling NT million (more than US$ 1 million) in state funds. He has acknowledged that some of the receipts, ostensibly used for purchases of children's books and watches, were actually spent on secret diplomatic missions.

The main opposition party, the pro-unification Kuomintang, has called on parliament to organise a referendum to oust Chen.

Chen has instead played the Taiwan-centred nationalist card by, for instance, proposing a change in the country's name from Republic of China to Taiwan, applying for membership to the United Nations, and proposing to formally change the constitution to include a formal declaration of independence.

For some analysts, this may be a good card. They recall that in 1996, when Beijing carried out military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, President Li Teng-hui was re-elected by a wide margin, and that in 2000, when Beijing warned the Taiwanese not to elect the wrong guy, Chen won. (PB)

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See also
Opposition in Taipei to submit recall motion to oust president
Trial of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian opens
Chen’s sentence cut from life to 20 years
Opposition trying to oust Chen Shui-bian again
Two more months in prison for Chen Shuibian


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