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Taiwan puts former president on trial

world Updated: Mar 26, 2009 10:57 IST
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Taiwan put former president Chen Shui-bian on trial on Friday for corruption, the first of several charges that could jail him for life -- and that he calls a witch-hunt driven by his tough stance on China.

Chen was brought into a packed Taipei courtroom in handcuffs, becoming the island's first ex-president ever to stand trial, in a case full of political and family intrigue that has gripped Taiwan for months.

The combative 58-year-old is being tried on bribery allegations but the trial is just one of several ahead as Chen is also accused of embezzlement, money-laundering, influence peddling and extortion.

Chen has repeatedly denied the charges and insisted that he is being persecuted by the government that succeeded him in power last year, led by China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou.

Ma has worked swiftly to build closer ties with China, which considers the island part of its territory that must eventually be reunited with the mainland -- and has threatened to invade if it ever formally declares independence.

The two sides had had virtually no direct links since the island split from China in 1949 after a civil war, and Ma's new policies mark an about-face from Chen's pro-independence rhetoric, which repeatedly irked Beijing.