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Protests Mount Against Taiwan's President


Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has come under mounting pressure to resign this month after his wife and three former aides were indicted on charges of graft and embezzlement. Prosecutors say there is evidence to charge the president as well -- once he loses the immunity he has while in office. Mr. Chen appears determined to stay in power -- with tentative support from his party. But there is growing anger on the streets and moves by the political opposition to see Mr. Chen step down sooner rather than later.

Shih Ming-teh has lived in a van next to the main train station in Taipei for about two months now. He is not homeless -- he is leading a demonstration movement to get Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian out of office.

Prosecutors indicted Mr. Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, and former aides this month on charges of embezzling at least $450,000 of public money and spending it on luxury personal items like diamond rings.

Prosecutors announced they also have enough evidence to indict the president but he has immunity while in office.

The latest corruption allegations to hit the presidency have reignited public anger. So Shih, the one-time Chairman of Chen's Democratic People's Party, is wearing a lot of red these days, which he says is symbolic.

He says red is the color of anger and passion. He says he is angry at the president.

His supporters feel the same way. During the day, street vendors sell red clothing with anti-Chen slogans…for when public demonstrations pick up steam each evening.

Protesters here are giving thumbs down to Mr. Chen remaining in office and are not shy about sharing their sentiments with the camera.

A man says President Chen should step down. "President Chen took money from the country. He has to step down right now."

On this particular night, demonstrators watch with disappointment as they learn Mr. Chen's party will rally around him to oppose an opposition motion in parliament to recall the president. A vote is scheduled on November 24th but now has little chance of succeeding.

Political analysts say a majority of Taiwan residents want Mr. Chen to resign - but his party is reluctant to go against their leader who has taken a strong stance in policy toward communist China.

Beijing claims the democratically-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province, and has threatened to invade the island if it formally declares independence or delays too long in reunification.

Emile Sheng, a political science professor at Taipei's Soochow University, says pro-independence voters are Mr. Chen's pillar of support. "If you asked them individually, they probably know and think there are integrity problems with the president. But still they made a rational decision to continue to support him because of the political agenda he represents."

On Friday, Taiwan's parliament began formal debate of the recall motion. Opposition lawmakers say if and when it fails, they will keep up the pressure to remove Mr. Chen.

Protesters say they hold the Taiwan president to his promise that he will resign if his wife is convicted and hope the pressure of people power will get him to step down before that.

One protester says she is planning to stay put for the duration of the protest. "I'm a housewife but I plan to come here every night until he quits."

And Shih says he will keep living in his van as long as necessary. He says he's even willing to live this way until May 2008 when Mr. Chen's term in office expires under Taiwan's constitution.

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