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Profile: Chen Shui-bian

Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen, who served two terms as president, is a controversial figure

Chen Shui-bian, a native-born Taiwanese, served as the island's president from 2000 to 2008.

A charismatic public speaker from a poor rural background, Chen was seen as a steely fighter with a populist touch.

Despite winning a second term in office in 2004, his hopes of building a lasting political legacy were undermined by waning popularity and a series of corruption scandals.

In 2006, following a string of allegations against his family and advisers, he was seriously weakened when prosecutors arrested his son-in-law on insider trading charges in July and then, in November, his wife faced charges of corruption and forgery.

Presidential immunity prevented prosecutors charging Chen when he was in office, but he stepped down in May 2008 and six months later was arrested.

He was sentenced to life in prison in September 2009 after being found guilty on charges of money laundering, bribery and embezzlement of government funds.

He said the charges, and the trial, were politically motivated and appealed against the verdict.

On 8 June 2010 the Taipei District Court overturned one of the lesser corruption charges, saying there was insufficient evidence he had embezzled $330,000 (£205,000) of diplomatic funds.

An appeal against his conviction was rejected on 11 June, but his jail term was reduced to 20 years after Taipei's High Court ruled there had been less money involved in the corruption than previously thought.

Controversial

Chen has often been a controversial figure.

He was an ardent supporter of independence for Taiwan, but insisted he was a "peacemaker, not a troublemaker", saying he had no plans to declare independence except in the event of a Chinese invasion.

But his often prickly approach towards Beijing, and his Democratic Progressive Party's traditional pro-independence stance, caused some to worry about Taiwan's longer-term stability and prosperity.

China was deeply suspicious of him when he was in office, accusing him of planning constitutional changes that would destroy its hopes of eventual reunification.

Best student

Chen Shui-bian's life is a tale of tenacity in the face of adversity.

He was born to illiterate tenant farmers in a village in southern Taiwan in 1951.

Wu Shu-chen, Taiwan's first lady
Chen Shui-bian's wife was paralysed in an apparent assassination attempt

Education became his ticket out of poverty. He was the best student in his county and earned himself a place at the prestigious Taiwan National University where he gained a law degree.

As an ambitious young lawyer, he joined a maritime legal firm and married Wu Shu-chen, the daughter of a wealthy doctor.

Chen fell into politics in the early 1980s when he defended a group of pro-independence leaders following a protest in the port of Kaohsiung.

He lost the case, but he was won over by his clients' ideals. The defendants and their lawyers subsequently became the core of the democratic opposition.

Tragedy struck in 1985, when his wife was paralysed from the waist down after a truck ran over her in what many believe was an assassination attempt on Chen himself.

Imprisonment

The following year, Chen was jailed for eight months after losing a libel case involving the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

But if his enemies hoped to keep him out of politics, they achieved the very opposite.

A woman waves the Republic of China flag out of her apartment window
China accused Mr Chen of promoting Taiwanese independence

He became a member of the Taipei municipal council and, after the birth of multi-party politics and the formation of the DPP, became the capital city's first popularly elected mayor in 1994.

Chen fought corruption, shut down brothels, improved traffic and levelled a large slum to create a park. But his abrasive and sometimes autocratic style also made him enemies.

When Taipei's voters threw him out four years later, he turned his defeat into an opportunity to run for the presidency in 2000.

His personal success in that campaign was followed by his party's victory in parliamentary elections the following year - the first democratic transfer of power from one party to another in the Chinese world.

Much of Chen's appeal to voters lies in his personal dynamism and his down-to-earth background - many refer to him by his nickname, A-bian.

Theatrical showman

"At his public rallies," said one observer, "he is quite brilliant at working the crowd. He gets them laughing and uses elaborately choreographed music, fireworks and balloons to build up the atmosphere. He's a real showman."

He has also been seen as something of a maverick.

In 2004, in Taiwan's first televised presidential debate, his opponent Lien Chan focused on the president's character, calling him "capricious," "irresponsible" and "unreliable".

Chen indignantly dismissed his allegations. "My hairstyle has never changed over the years," he said, "nor my love for my wife."

Chen Shui-bian left office in May 2008 when he was succeeded by Ma Ying-jeou, who had campaigned on promises to expand economic ties with Beijing and end the confrontational approach of his predecessor.



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