Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 11:07 UK

Differing views on Taiwan trial

By Cindy Sui
BBC News, Taipei

Chen Shui-bian (centre) raises his handcuffed-hands outside the prosecutor's office in Taipei
Mr Chen says the claims against him are politically motivated

The trial of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian is being closely watched by the whole island.

While many people believe he is guilty, others accuse the government of selectively prosecuting certain people, especially former political rivals.

On the eve of his trial, Mr Chen said the current government of the Kuomintang (KMT) party had launched "an all-out purge and cleansing" against officials in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which he once led.

Many Taiwanese citizens agree. "They are making it too big. They should just prosecute the [former] first family, but what they're doing is trying to drag down the entire DPP, beat it to death so it will never rise up again," said Huang Liang-shi, reflecting the views of a large proportion of DPP supporters.

But lots of other people disapprove of Mr Chen, and many of those watching the round-the-clock news reports of the court proceedings are eager for him to be judged harshly.

Such divergent views are common in Taiwan, a relatively small island of 23 million people which is notorious for large street protests and political battles that break out into fistfights on legislative floors.

Disagreements between its two main parties - the ruling KMT and the main opposition DPP - have often divided the population.

Blow to the opposition

Mr Chen's prosecution has been a blow to the DPP, which has long supported independence for the island which China still considers one of its provinces, despite it being ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Chen Shui-bian leaves the detention centre for the courtroom, 26 March
Mr Chen was taken to the courtroom in handcuffs at the opening of his trial

As the new government of President Ma Ying-jeou and the ruling KMT actively push for closer economic ties with China, many believe Taiwan needs strong opposition parties now more than ever.

And some say that it's not just Mr Chen and members of the DPP that needs investigating - past members of the KMT too should be in the dock.

"If he [Mr Chen] is really guilty, we should lock him up. But the KMT's past corruption was very bad - no one is investigating them," said Taipei resident You Ying-hsien.

Although there have been few protests against Mr Chen's prosecution, the case still has the potential to ignite anger - especially if there is a perception of an unfair trial.

"What's important - whatever the verdict in [the] case - is whether the opposition parties use it to stir up the masses or whether they deal with it in a rational way," said Kou Chien-wen, an associate professor of political science at National Chengchi University.

"No doubt, politicians will use this to win support."

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