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10 May 2004
• Taiwan Begins Presidential Recount
• Chinese Premier Calls for U.N. in Iraq
• China Unveils Plan to Curb Rapid AIDS Spread

Taiwan Begins Presidential Recount

On May 10, Taiwan began to recount the votes cast in the hotly disputed March presidential election. Legislators hope that the recount will help defuse a political crisis that has included violent street protests and weakened the legitimacy of President Chen Shui-bian. Officials estimate that the recount will take at least ten days.

On March 20, the incumbent Chen Shui-bian beat Lien Chan by a razor-thin 0.2 percent margin just one day after being lightly wounded in a supposed assassination attempt. Lien has claimed that the shooting may have been staged to create sympathy for Chen, and has filed two lawsuits to overturn his defeat.

Lien has repeatedly stated "As long as the judicial process is fair, just, transparent and independent, I believe everyone will accept the outcome." However in addition to the lawsuit demanding a recount Lien also a lawsuit requesting a nullification of the result and a new election, saying the March 20 vote should have been postponed after the shooting that gashed Chen across the abdomen and wounded Vice President Annette Lu. It is still unclear whether he will drop the second lawsuit is the recount upholds his defeat.

Although legislators have ordered the recount to be completed before the May 20 presidential inauguration, lawyers for both sides have said they were not confident of meeting that deadline due to a shortage of manpower. As a result, analysts expect more protests on inauguration day.

One of the most conspicuous irregularities of the March 20 election was a record 330,000 spoiled ballots. The Election Commission says most invalid ballots were rejected because voters had marked their choices outside designated squares. Judges have ordered disputed ballots to be set aside to await a court ruling after all other votes are counted.

Chen’s party is extremely hopeful that the recount will help repair his credibility in Taiwan. "The recount is not only to resolve an election dispute, but to clear the unnecessary doubts and confrontation in society," said Chang Chun-hsiung, secretary-general of the DPP.

Lien also wants an impartial inquiry into the shooting, a demand that Chen has rejected. Police have identified no suspects in the attack even after top U.S. forensic experts lent their expertise to the investigation last month.

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Chinese Premier Calls for U.N. in Iraq

On May 10, after talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for the United Nations to be given the leading role in Iraq and said China was very concerned about the ongoing instability there. During his statement Wen said it was important to hand power back to the Iraqis as soon as possible but declined to comment on allegations that coalition troops tortured and mistreated Iraq prisoners of war.

"The unstable situation in Iraq, we feel very concerned and even worried," said Wen, in a joint news conference with Blair. "We must hand over the government back to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. We need to give the United Nations the leading role in the resolution of the Iraqi issue."

During their meeting, Wen and Blair pledged to hold annual face to face talks in an effort to strengthen political and trade ties. The two leaders also issued a joint statement pledging greater cooperation on issues such science, technology, education, culture and the environment, as well as anti-terrorism and non proliferation.

Wen, who has already visited Germany, Belgium and Italy during the 10-day trip, is accompanied by a large delegation, including ministers for foreign affairs, commerce and national development. Also among Wen’s delegation are a number of business executives, and Blair said contracts worth US$1 billion had been signed with British companies during the visit. During his trip Wen repeated his call for the European Union to lift a 15-year arms embargo and officially recognize China as a market economy.

Blair was cautious on the arms-embargo issue, and raised British concerns about human rights abuse in China and also discussed the sensitive issue of democracy in Hong Kong, which Britain handed back to mainland China in 1997 after 156 years of colonial rule. Britain believes it has a political and moral responsibility to the territory and wants to see democratic elections there. He was more supportive of the market economy designation and states, "We will give China every support in that endeavor".

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China Unveils Plan to Curb Rapid AIDS Spread

The Chinese government issued a circular that warns that AIDS was continuing to spread rapidly in the world's most populous country, and announced "urgent measures" to improve prevention and education efforts that include holding local officials directly responsible for curbing the disease. The new announcement noted that AIDS was in every province and region of China.

Vice Premier Wu Yi, the government's point person in fighting AIDS, has cautioned that China is at a crucial stage because the disease might soon jump from high-risk groups like prostitutes and intravenous drug users into the general population. Vice Premier Wu, who oversees the Health Ministry, has ordered a crackdown on prostitution and the kind of illegal blood sales that led to an outbreak of AIDS in rural central China. She also said condom use and clean needle exchanges for drug users should be encouraged.

Government statistics estimate that 840,000 people in China are H.I.V. carriers, while 80,000 more have tested positive for AIDS. More than 100,000 people are already believed to have died of the disease. Experts have predicted that China could have as many as 10 million AIDS patients by 2010 if the government fails to adequately fight the disease.

The circular is the latest effort by the Chinese government to actively deal with a dangerous social issue that officials once actively sought to conceal. A central focus of this new initiative is on improving education, particularly in rural areas. AIDS education will be included in the curriculums of the country's middle schools, vocational schools and colleges. AIDS prevention posters should be displayed at public “entertainment venues,” according to the pamphlet. Already, posters and billboards with such messages are on display in major cities like Beijing.

The circular states that medical workers will also be charged with discussing AIDS prevention with patients and encouraging condom use to protect against the disease. Pregnant women will be given free treatment to protect against mother-to-child H.I.V. transmission.

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