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Taiwan's Ruling Party Ponders President Chen's Political Future

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's party is trying to decide whether to support him in his determination to remain in office, despite mounting legal problems. Accusations of embezzlement are fueling an opposition drive to recall him - but Mr. Chen says he has acted purely in Taiwan's interest.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's hold on political power remains precarious, following a criminal investigation that has seen his wife charged with a major crime.

Opponents are vowing to force him out of office with a recall referendum, and some members of his own Democratic Progressive Party are suggesting he step aside temporarily.

After a four-month probe, prosecutors formally indicted Taiwan first lady Wu Shu-chen last week, and announced there is enough evidence to prosecute Mr. Chen. The two are accused of siphoning off at least $450,000 in public funds for personal use.

In a televised address Sunday, Mr. Chen admitted he falsified some paperwork, but described his actions as "white lies," and said the money he took was used in the national interest. He refused to say what he did with the money, saying that must remain confidential for national security reasons.

Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party was pushing for Mr. Chen's resignation even before the criminal charges were revealed. The party is leading new efforts for a recall motion in parliament.

Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT chairman, says his party has run out of patience.

He says it is unacceptable for Mr. Chen to remain president, and called for the Democratic Progressive Party to, in his words, "clean house."

Two previous recall attempts this year have failed, because passage would require support by at least 14 members of Mr. Chen's party.

After Friday's indictment, DPP members are under heavy pressure to support the recall. If a recall motion passed a referendum would be held to determine whether Mr. Chen should be removed from office.

DPP lawmaker Cheng Yun-peng suggests that Mr. Chen voluntarily step aside.

Cheng says this case has inflamed bitter conflict between the ruling and opposition parties. He suggests Mr. Chen "take some time off" and concentrate on his wife's trial.

Mr. Chen has immunity from prosecution while in office, but in Sunday's speech he vowed to resign if his wife is convicted.

Shih Ming-teh, a former chairman of the DPP, dismisses that as a stalling measure, saying the legal process could take years.

He says for anyone who has any sense, President Chen's response to the charges is unconvincing. He says it "breaks his heart" as a former DPP chairman to see where Mr. Chen has taken the party.

Shih is leading thousands of Taiwan residents in anti-Chen rallies this week. He has vowed to hold round-the-clock sit-ins in Taipei until the president steps down.

Mr. Chen's insistence on discretion regarding public money is not unprecedented in Taiwan, where much of the island's diplomacy is conducted in secrecy.

Senior leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party are expected to meet on Wednesday to determine their next move.