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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Taiwan opposition figure cleared
Ma Ying-jeou reacts to court verdict - 14/08/07
Ma Ying-jeou and his supporters welcomed the verdict
A court in Taiwan has cleared the main opposition's presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, of charges of corruption.

Mr Ma was accused of misappropriating T$11.2m ($339,000) in funds while he was mayor of the capital, Taipei.

He resigned as head of the Kuomintang Party following the indictment but denied any wrongdoing.

The verdict is expected to boost his chances of succeeding President Chen Shui-bian in elections due next March, correspondents say.

His main rival, the governing party candidate Frank Hsieh, has also denied allegations of corruption.

China ties

Supporters of Mr Ma danced and cheered outside the court in Taipei when the verdict was announced.

"This is good news because it not only involves my personal integrity but also the protection of human rights," Mr Ma said afterwards.

"Many defendants in the future could... benefit from what this judgement has said."

Mr Ma was accused of shifting money from a special fund into a personal account during his time as mayor, from 1998 to 2006.

But his lawyers argued that the use of discretionary funds without providing detailed accounting had long been a common practice among thousands of other public official holders.

This has been a high-profile trial, especially damaging for a politician whose career has been built around his squeaky clean image, the BBC's Caroline Gluck in Taipei says.

The outcome is likely to prove a huge boost for his electoral chances, our correspondent adds. Taiwan's stock market rebounded on the news.

This trial is the latest in a string of cases involving allegations of improper use of public funds by politicians.

Mr Hsieh, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is facing allegations that he received kickbacks in connection with the construction of a subway system in the southern city of Kaohsiung, where he once served as mayor. He denies the allegations.

If the two men square up in a fight for the presidency next year, then their views on Taiwan's relations with China will play a key part.

Mr Ma's faction of the Kuomintang - which governed Taiwan until 2000 - favours closer ties and more trade with China.

The DPP wants greater independence from China. Under President Chen Shui-bian the relationship between the two sides has been tense.

Taiwan and China have been ruled by separate governments since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

But Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory and believes that it should be reunited with the rest of China - by force if necessary.

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