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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Taiwan nationalists pick new head
Ma Ying-jeou
Ma Ying-jeou is seen as popular among female and young voters
Taiwan's largest opposition party, which favours closer ties with China, has elected Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou as its new leader.

He beat legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng to take over as head of the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT).

Ma - whose family are from mainland China - is said to be reformist and incorruptible, correspondents say.

China's president says he hopes Ma's victory will mark a period of closer, peaceful relations with Taiwan.

Closer ties

Hu Jintao said he hoped that the KMT could work with the Communist Party of China "to promote the peaceful and steady development of cross-Straits relations".

The election was the KMT's first leadership contest since the party's creation some 110 years ago.

Map of Taiwan

The party, which governed Taiwan for more than half a century until 2000, is hoping that the 55-year-old mayor, who was educated at Harvard, will reinvigorate the party following two election defeats.

The KMT once ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, but it is now trying to boost its image after two presidential election losses and damaging splits, the BBC's Caroline Gluck in Taiwan says.

Both candidates ruled out independence for Taiwan and said they would continue a process begun by the current chairman, Lien Chan, who made an historic visit to China in April and worked to push for closer ties with the mainland, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory.

"My only objective of running for the KMT party chairman is to create a favourable condition to win back ruling power in 2008," Mr Ma said after his election victory.

"The KMT cannot afford to split," he said.

See the celebrations surrounding the election of Ma Ying-jeou

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