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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 January, 2004, 11:02 GMT
Chen blasts Chirac's 'meddling'
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen's referendum plan has angered Beijing
Taiwan's leader Chen Shui-bian has accused French President Jacques Chirac of meddling in the island's affairs.

President Chen's unusually sharp rebuke came after Mr Chirac criticised Taiwan's plan to hold a referendum about Chinese missiles.

In another move to protest against Mr Chirac's comments, Taiwan suspended two high-level government visits to France.

China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province, is worried the vote could move the island to formal independence.

"France holds referendums and its referendum system has a history of 200 years," Mr Chen told a business meeting in Taipei.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (left) and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac share a laughter during a joint press conference  in Paris
Mr Chirac reaffirmed his backing of a "one China" policy

"I just don't understand why such a national leader (Chirac) would interfere in the internal affairs of another country," Mr Chen said.

"A referendum is not only a universal value but a human right that no country, government or individual has reason to stop, block or deprive."

In a separate move, Taiwan's Premier Yu Shyi-kun announced that next week's visits to France by Taiwan's Cultural Affairs Minister and Science Minister had been called off.

Mr Yu also accused President Chirac of bowing to "pressure from China", adding that his remarks "opposing our 'peace' referendum" were "against the spirit of freedom and democracy".

On Monday, President Chirac told his visiting Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao that holding the poll in Taiwan would be a " grave mistake" and a threat to stability in South East Asia.

The French leader also reaffirmed his backing of a "one China" policy and warned Taiwan against "breaking the status quo".

The 20 March referendum is due to ask voters if Taiwan should increase its defences, if China refused to redeploy hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan.

People are also set to be asked if they backed opening negotiations with China.


SEE ALSO:
Taiwan rejects Paris poll warning
27 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
French MPs snub China president
27 Jan 04  |  Europe
Chirac backs China on Taiwan
27 Jan 04  |  Europe
US drawn into Taiwan-China dance
10 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
China condemns Taiwan poll plans
17 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Taiwan's ties with China
27 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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