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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 10:06 GMT
Taiwan's Chen pushes for poll
Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen says Taiwan needs to pre-empt a possible Chinese attack
Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian, has said that the hundreds of missiles which China has trained on the island justify holding a referendum vote on independence.

Taiwan's parliament last week passed an historic bill which sets the stage for a "defensive referendum" on the island's sovereign status if it comes under attack from a foreign power.

If we wait for the old Communists to really attack us, then we won't have time, and holding a referendum would be useless
Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen argued at a campaign rally on Sunday that this was already the case.

He said China had deployed 496 missiles in six bases in its south-east, and has warned that it would attack Taiwan if it attempted to break away from the mainland.

Beijing "deployed the missiles to ready an invasion of Taiwan", he said.

Election issue

On Saturday, Mr Chen raised the possibility of holding a referendum on sovereignty to coincide with presidential elections next March.

The Taiwan premier has made the issue of Taiwan's status a key issue in his election campaign.

His opponent in the presidential race, Lien Chan of the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT), accused Mr Chen of exploiting tensions with China in an attempt to win votes.

"We shouldn't rely on provoking China to gain sympathy and to gain some kind of election benefit," Mr Lien said.

He urged all Taiwanese mothers to write to the president to urge him not to send their sons to war.

"We don't want him to create a tense situation and put your child and husbands in danger just for the sake of his own power and the campaign," he said.

The Taiwanese opposition has only recently supported the possibility of a referendum on the island's status.

However, it forced the referendum bill to be watered down before it was passed by parliament on Thursday.

It pushed through a clause that blocks referendums on Taiwan's sovereignty in any circumstance other than that of imminent attack from abroad.

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