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2004-01-29 17:23:30

    Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian broke his silence Thursday on French President Jacques Chirac's warning against Taiwan's referendum plan, saying he couldn't understand why the head of state of France would interfere with Taiwan's internal affairs.

    Chen made the remarks while meeting with Junior Chamber International (JCI) President Fernando Sanchez-Arias and senior executives of the Taiwan Junior Chamber. The JCI president is currently on a visit in Taipei.

    Noting that France itself has a 213-year history of holding nationwide referenda on major policy issues, Chen said it is unthinkable that the president of a country with glorious democratic traditions would ever meddle with Taiwan's domestic affairs.

    Chirac warned Taiwan Tuesday at a state dinner in Paris in honor of visiting mainland Chinese President Hu Jintao that the island will be committing a "grave error" that could destabilize the region by holding a referendum in March.

    Commenting on Chirac's statement, Chen said everybody knows that the referendum system has existed in France since 1791. In its current fifth republic, France has held nine nationwide referenda. During the Charles de Gaulle era alone, four referenda were held, including one referendum on whether the French president had to be elected directly by ordinary citizens. "Even Chirac himself called a referendum in 2000 to ask French voters whether the presidential tenure should be shortened to five years from the current seven years, " Chen said, adding that he feels deep regret over Chirac's interference with Taiwan's referendum plan.

    Chen acknowledged that there have been misunderstandings, distortions and unfounded allegations about his decision to call for a referendum on mainland China's missile threat to coincide with the nation's March 20 presidential election.

    However, Chen said, his administration will not be daunted by obstructions from home or abroad since a referendum is a necessary and rightful step to consolidate and strengthen Taiwan's young democracy.

    Chen told his guests that Taiwan's road to democracy has been bumpy and winding. Many people, including himself, were once imprisoned for promoting democracy, he recalled. "We have come a long way to build a democratic system. And after years of strenuous efforts, we finally have enacted a referendum law. We must treasure this hard-won achievement. The March 20 referendum will mark yet another milestone in our democratic development, " Chen said.

    Asserting that a referendum is a universal value and a basic human right, Chen said no other country is in a position to oppose Taiwan holding a referendum on its national security issue.

    In the face of mainland China's ever-mounting military threat, Chen said he wants to hold a referendum in accordance with the nation's newly enacted Referendum Law to ask voters whether Taiwan should beef up its anti-missile defenses if Beijing refuses to withdraw the hundreds of ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan. "The upcoming referendum is part of our efforts to safeguard our national security and democratic lifestyle as well as to preserve peace in the Taiwan Strait," Chen said, adding that the referendum is by no means aimed at changing Taiwan's status quo or provoking a cross-strait conflict.

(By Sofia Wu)


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