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PRESIDENT VOWS TO GO AHEAD WITH MARCH 20 REFERENDUM

2004-01-01 21:34:20

    Taipei, Jan. 1 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian vowed Thursday to go ahead with the country's first national referendum March 20 along with the presidential election despite disapproval from neighboring states.

    Speaking at a campaign rally in northern Taiwan's Miaoli County, the president said it is his lifetime dream to give people the right of referendum and the proposed referendum against Beijing's military threat against the island will be held come what may.

    He made the statement after U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli reiterated U.S. opposition to the referendum a day earlier out of concern that Chen might flirt with the idea of changing the country's current status quo through referendum and he urged the Taiwan authorities to heed U.S. concerns.

    Washington is not alone in worrying about Chen's intentions. Japan expressed similar concerns Dec. 29, putting further heat on the president.

    However, Chen was unfazed, telling a group of supporters in Miaoli that the 2004 presidential election is more a milestone in the country's democratic development because of the referendum than a race between him and other candidates for the presidency.

    The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) , which doubts the justification for the proposed referendum, stayed out of the dispute between Chen and Taiwan's neighboring states Thursday. KMT legislative whip Lee Chia-chin said his party respects the president's decision but he urged Chen to be careful in exercising his power of calling for referendum.

(By Maubo Chang)

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