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Chen to press for independence

Protestors are demanding a vote recount and an independent probe into the disputed election.

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Taiwan election a headache for China
Shui-bian Chen
Lien Chan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Chen Shui-bian says he has been given a mandate to press for Taiwan's independence from China despite a razor-thin margin in his hotly-disputed re-election.

Chen has vowed to proceed with plans to write a new constitution, developing Taiwan as an "independent, sovereign country" despite the risk of war with China, he said in an interview with the Washington Post.

"The fundamental reason I won this presidential election . . . is because there is a rising Taiwan identity and it has been solidified," Chen said in his first interview since an assassination attempt on the eve of the election.

"I think the Beijing authorities should take heed of this fact and accept the reality."

China, which regards the island as a renegade province ultimately subject to Beijing's control, has said it would use force if Taiwan declares independence.

The political tension between the two camps has bitterly divided the island and raised international concerns over Taiwan's stability, particularly in China.

The United States has said it will defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack, but in December U.S. President George W. Bush issued a warning to both Beijing and Taipei not to upset the status quo after Chen called for the island's first-ever referendum.

Less than half of Taiwan's electorate took part in the pilot referendum, which took place on the same day as the national elections, rendering the controversial ballot invalid. (Referendum fails)

Chen -- who was re-elected by a scant 30,000 votes over Kuomintang leader Lien Chan -- has agreed to a recount by the High Court.

"This is my word -- that I will accept the results of the recount, whether it's in favor of me or not in favor of me," Chen has said.

Lien has filed a lawsuit to nullify the election.

Lien is also expected to a call for an independent investigation into the mysterious shooting that lightly wounded Chen and Vice President Annette Lu on the last day of campaigning.

Lien has claimed the attack unfairly swung sympathy votes Chen's way, and he has insinuated that the president might have staged the incident, though no conclusive evidence has been presented for the conspiracy theory.

Three U.S. crime experts arrived in Taiwan on Monday to offer additional expertise. Their presence is expected to signal to the public that the government wants an open probe into the incident. (Forensics question Chen)

Taiwan's prosecutor general has appointed an independent investigative task force to look into the incident and said that he would "welcome and appreciate [the help of] any capable forensic medical expert."

Chen said he and his family "wanted answers."

So far, no arrests have been made, no weapons found and no suspects identified in the shooting of Chen and Lu, despite a $400,000 reward for information leading to a suspect.

The political fight has battered the economy, with investors abandoning the Taiwan stock market, sending its key Taiex indicator plummeting, and selling off the Taiwan dollar.

The crisis has also exacerbated tensions within the opposition ranks with some key figures unhappy about the brinkmanship displayed by Lien in the wake of the vote.

CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.

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