Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan set to lose friend in US Senate as Helms may retire

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a congressional champion of conservative causes for nearly 30 years, was expected to announce yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year, Republican sources said.

Helms, whose career in the Senate has been marked by strong opposition to communism and internationalism in general, planned to announce his decision on local television station WRAL in Raleigh, where he once was a political commentator and executive vice president.

The 79-year-old senator, who has suffered a variety of health problems in recent years, was expected to serve out the remainder of his current term, which ends in January 2003. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972.

Helms' office would not confirm or deny that the five-term senator had decided to retire. "You'll hear it when you hear it," an aide said.

But the decision, confirmed by two sources on condition of anonymity, was widely expected.

A staunch defender of Taiwan through thick and thin, after the 2000 presidential elections Helms wrote to President-elect Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁): "With your election this weekend -- which will result in the first-ever transfer of power from a Chinese ruling party to its democratic opposition -- Taiwan's democratic transformation is now complete.

"The people of Taiwan are to be congratulated for this enormous feat -- especially coming, as it did, in the face of belligerent threats from the Communist dictators in Beijing.

"The people of Taiwan made clear this weekend that if there is still `one China,' there are without question two Chinese states -- one Communist, one free; one whose leaders rule with an iron fist, the other whose leaders serve at the pleasure of the people."

Age and health concerns had raised questions for months about whether he would run for re-election.

Helm's retirement would further heat up the race for control of the closely divided Senate.

Democrats had planned a vigorous campaign in North Carolina even if Helms ran again, but his retirement might also open up a major primary battle among Republicans to replace him.

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