World News

Thousands in Taiwan protest ex-president's arrest

Supporters of former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian gather during a night rally in Taipei November 22, 2008. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Thousands of Taiwanese on Saturday protested the arrest of former president Chen Shui-bian, an anti-China firebrand who says his detention as part of a graft probe was politically motivated.

About 6,000 people waved flags at an evening rally in a Taipei park in support of Chen, who has gone on a hunger strike for much of the time since his arrest on Nov. 12. He was hospitalised for almost three days after refusing to eat for 108 hours, his lawyer said.

Chen’s fate is likely to affect public opinion of Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which backed Chen in office and faces tough local elections next year, experts say.

The 57-year-old ex-president, who upset Beijing and Taiwan’s key ally the United States while in office from 2000 to 2008, was arrested on suspicion of graft, forgery, money laundering and other crimes.

Chen has denied wrongdoing and called the probe against him and other senior opposition leaders a political plot.

A probe into the ex-president’s suspected role in several money-related crimes will be finished by year end, possibly leading to an indictment, a special prosecutor’s spokesman said.