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Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 07:41 GMT
Tibet focus for Taiwan election
KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou at a rally in Taipei county on 21 March 2008
KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou wants closer economic ties with China
Taiwan's presidential rivals have been campaigning hard ahead of elections on Saturday, in which the Tibetan protests have become a key issue.

Frank Hsieh, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, faces a tough battle against Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang.

Both men advocate closer economic ties with China, but after the protests both have spoken out against Beijing.

Mr Ma mooted an Olympic boycott while Mr Hsieh warned that his rival could make Taiwan a "second Tibet".

Mr Ma, whose party has traditionally taken a more conciliatory line towards Beijing, has led consistently in Taiwanese media opinion polls.

Taiwanese share their views on the presidential race

But analysts believe Mr Hsieh may have narrowed the gap by accusing his rival of being soft on China and portraying himself as the man best placed to defend Taiwan's interests.

China says that Taiwan is part of its territory, although the two have been separately governed since 1949.

It has threatened to use force if the island moves towards formal independence.

'Resume dialogue'

Before the protests in Tibet began, election campaigning had focused primarily on economic issues.

Many Taiwanese think closer links with Beijing would help revive the island's faltering economy - but ties have been strained under President Chen Shui-bian because of his pro-independence stance.

Frank Hsieh delivers a speech in Kaohsiung on 20 March 2008

Speaking at a press conference in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, Mr Hsieh promised talks with China if elected.

"I will resume dialogue, including with China," he said. "I will open up, and I will also defend Taiwan's sovereignty."

"In the past the DPP was criticised for not opening up but I will be more compromising, I will do better. That's my pledge," he said.

Mr Ma, who has called for the creation of a "common market" with China, said he "would adopt a flexible manner" to improve cross-strait ties.

Earlier this week he talked of a possible Olympic boycott if the situation in Tibet deteriorated, but on Friday he said he would not "push the issue to the extreme".

The BBC's Caroline Gluck, in Taipei, says it is not clear what impact events in Tibet will have on the electorate.

Most have already made up their minds, our correspondent says, but the issue could sway the undecided voters.

Polling begins at 0800 on Saturday (0000GMT).



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