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Pandas welcome visitors in Taipei

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The pandas at Taipei Zoo

The pair of pandas donated by China to Taiwan have made their official debut at Taipei City Zoo, China's state news agency Xinhua has reported.

The two pandas have completed a month-long quarantine period since their arrival on 23 December last year.

A group of 500 schoolchildren joined Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou for a preview peek at the pandas on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected from today, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

"It's an honour for Taiwan to breed the two pandas, as there are only about 1,600 pandas in the world," said Mr Ma when he visited the zoo.

He officially opened the panda house, watched by children and teenagers who are either orphans or from low-income families.

'Panda diplomacy'

The pandas are named "Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan", and when linked, their names mean "reunion" in Chinese.

Beijing first offered the pandas to Taiwan in 2005 but the island's former leaders rejected the offer as a propaganda ploy.

When Mr Ma took office in May last year he promised to improve relations with China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

The Taiwanese government has spent more than $9m (6.6m) to build the panda exhibition house which is expected to hold 500 to a thousand visitors at any one time.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are four years old and weigh 106.8 kg and 107.2 kg respectively.

"The pandas are so cute and I think we can look at the arrival of the pandas from a more humane perspective, rather than politicising the issue," Mr Ma was quoted as saying by the Taipei Times website.

Outside the zoo, Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councillor Lee Ching-feng protested against the city government's high-profile celebration of the opening of the Panda Hall, the website reported.

Mr Lee said Mr Ma, a former Taipei mayor, should visit the nearby Maokong Gondola site instead and apologise for the problematic cable car system whose operation has been suspended since October.

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