Taiwan's ex-VP Goes on Hunger Strike Seeking Parole for Chen

Taiwan's former vice-president started a hunger strike Sunday as part of a growing campaign for the release from prison of ailing ex-leader Chen Shui-bian.

Chen, now 63, who led the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to power in 2000 after 50 years of Kuomintang rule, is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption.

He was convicted of money-laundering and bribery related to his eight-year presidency and was sentenced to life in prison in 2009, a term reduced after appeals.

Chen was transferred to a prison hospital in April last year after being diagnosed with severe depression, suspected Parkinson's disease and other conditions.

He attempted suicide in June last year, trying to hang himself with a towel in a bathroom of the prison hospital.

Since then his supporters have stepped up their campaign for his early release.

His former deputy, Annette Lu, 70, started her hunger strike Sunday in a tent in central Taipei.

"Chen had served more than six years (of his sentence) and now he has been diagnosed with various diseases and is growing thin. He is in a critical condition," Lu told reporters.

"Since 2011, the justice ministry has repeatedly denied the applications for his medical parole, a move which has violated the prison law despite his deteriorating health condition."

Lu was joined by around 30 friends and politicians at her tent outside a national museum while dozens of pro-independence activists chanted slogans.

A medical team assigned by legal authorities will Monday evaluate Chen's physical and mental condition.

Chen and his family were accused of laundering millions of dollars by sending political donations and secret diplomatic funds abroad, and of taking kickbacks on government contracts.

The ex-leader insists that the charges against him are part of a politically motivated vendetta by the current Kuomintang government, in retaliation for his eight years in power when he promoted the idea of Taiwan declaring its independence from China.

The DPP is sceptical about warmer ties with China, whereas the Kuomintang has advocated a closer relationship in recent years.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Taiwan has never formally proclaimed independence.

As public fears grow over Chinese influence on the island, the Kuomintang was routed in the island's biggest ever local elections in November -- seen as a key barometer before the 2016 presidential race.

Source: Agence France Presse

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