Fri, May 05, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Chen rejects Alaska, refuels in UAE

CHANGE OF PLAN The president unexpectedly decided to decline the offer to make a transit stop in Anchorage and instead landed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

By Ko Shu-ling, Chang Yun-ping and Nadia Tsao  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN TAIPEI AND WASHINGTON

In a move local media interpreted as a means of showing his displeasure with the US, which refused his request for an overnight stay in New York, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday turned down Washington's offer of a transit stop in Anchorage, Alaska, en route to Paraguay and Costa Rica.

Chen and his entourage left for an eight-day state visit to Latin America yesterday morning.

The president had appeared to grudgingly accept the US offer, but apparently changed his mind. The sudden change of plan set the local media speculating on where Chen and his entourage would make a transit stop. After a nine-hour flight from Taipei, Chen eventually landed in Abu Dhabi for refueling, proving true the rumors that the transit stop would be in a non-allied country.

Earlier yesterday afternoon, Beirut confirmed that it had received a transit stop request from Chen's chartered flight but said that the application was denied.

An AFP report cited a government source in Beirut as saying that the Lebanese authorities prevented Chen's plane from landing after a strong protest by the Chinese ambassador to Beirut, who met Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and a top foreign ministry official yesterday.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Michel Lu (呂慶龍) yesterday confirmed that Chen had decided to make a transit stop in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, instead of Anchorage, Alaska.

Lu said Chen and his entourage had landed in Abu Dhabi around 6pm Taipei time yesterday for a short refueling stopover.

Lu declined to comment on whether the president would make another stopover in the Dominican Republic before flying to Paraguay.

According to a local TV station report last night, after stopping for nearly six hours in Abu Dhabi, Chen left for the Dominican Republic where the president would make another transit stop before flying to Asuncion, Paraguay.

Chen is expected to arrive in the Dominican Republic at 11am Taipei time and in Asuncion at 10pm tonight, the FTV report said.

Lu said Taiwan's official representative to the US David Lee (李大維) informed US authorities early yesterday morning (Taipei time) about Chen's decision not to make a transit stop in Anchorage on the way to Paraguay.

However, according to a CNN report last night, Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang said that Chen would stop in Anchorage on his way back to Taipei.

A source from the US administration complained yesterday that Taiwan's last-minute decision on the transit stop had caused trouble for the US. Diplomats in Washington were cautious on whether the incident would have a lasting impact on Taiwan-US relations, but said it would be difficult to avoid damage to relations in the short term.

At a press conference later the same day, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said that Chen had not made a decision about his return route to Taiwan.

Prior to boarding his plane, Chen lambasted China's intensifying suppression of Taiwan, vowing to endure adversity and reiterating his administration's sincerity to talk with Beijing.

"The more we are suppressed, the more determined we are," he said. "We have chosen the correct way; democracy. We will continue down this road, believing that peace across the Taiwan Strait will eventually be achieved."

If Beijing were genuinely sincere about engaging in dialogue with Taiwan, Chen said, they should sit down and talk with the popularly elected government instead of driving Taiwan into a corner.

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