- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Chen Shui-bian suffered the biggest blow of his presidency yesterday when prosecutors indicted his wife in connection with corruption and said they have enough evidence to charge him, too — an announcement that could quickly end his fragile leadership.

The news sent thousands of anti-government demonstrators into the streets of the island’s capital, and the main opposition party said it would begin a new recall drive if Mr. Chen doesn’t resign by Monday.

Underlining the gravity of the situation, Presidential Office spokesman David Lee said Vice President Annette Lu, who would replace Mr. Chen if he leaves office before the end of his term, had been called back to Taipei from a trip to the island of Penghu.

Chang Wen-cheng of the Taiwan High Prosecutor’s Office — who announced that first lady Wu Shu-chen and three aides were indicted on embezzlement, forgery and perjury charges — said there is a strong possibility that Mr. Chen also will be indicted after he leaves office.

Under Taiwanese law, a sitting president cannot be indicted other than on charges of sedition. Mr. Chen, who didn’t comment on the indictments, has said he would step down if there is evidence of wrongdoing.

If Mr. Chen quits with two years left in his second term, his outspoken and unpredictable vice president, Ms. Lu, would likely take power. That could raise tensions with rival China, which reviles Ms. Lu and has called her “insane” and “scum of the nation.”

A civil war split China and Taiwan in 1949, and Beijing insists the Taiwanese must eventually unify with the mainland — a notion the staunchly pro-independence Ms. Lu rejects. China has warned it will attack the Taiwanese if they stall too long on unification.

Mr. Chen’s nemesis, Nationalist Party leader Ma Ying-jeou, demanded that he resign immediately.

“He has lost the people’s trust and respect, and as he is burdened with scandals, he can no longer lead the people nor effectively represent the country,” Mr. Ma said.

Mr. Ma said the Nationalists, the biggest opposition party, will begin a recall drive against Mr. Chen if the president does not resign by Monday.

Moreover, Mr. Chen’s support base showed signs of crumbling yesterday.

Leaders of his Democratic Progressive Party huddled late last night to discuss the charges. The meeting broke up with party officials insisting that Mr. Chen explain the charges within three days.

“We strongly demand that President Chen Shui-bian explain the unclear parts from the prosecutor’s report,” said Yu Shyi-kun, the ruling party’s chairman.

There has long been grumbling inside the president’s party that the scandal-tainted Mr. Chen has become too much of a liability and should be dumped before the 2008 presidential election.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a small party that backed him, said it would support a recall motion against him if it comes up in the legislature.

With the TSU’s support, Mr. Ma’s Nationalists and People First Party ally would need the support of about a dozen lawmakers from Mr. Chen’s party. If a recall measure passed, it would be sent to the voters for approval in an islandwide referendum.

Mr. Chang, of the prosecutor’s office, said Mrs. Wu took about $450,000 from a fund between 2002 and 2006, and there were no receipts accounting for the money.

Mr. Chang said the president met with prosecutors twice to discuss the handling of the fund but that serious discrepancies had emerged in his testimony.

“Chen presented documents about six cases in which secret diplomatic funds were used, but investigation by prosecutors showed that only [the documents for] two cases were accurate,” Mr. Chang said.

Yesterday’s announced indictment sent people into the streets of the capital, Taipei. About 3,000 anti-Chen demonstrators gathered outside the main railway station.

Mr. Chen made history with his election in 2000 as president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which broke the Nationalist Party’s five-decade grip on the presidency. He was re-elected in 2004.

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