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Taiwan opposition leader goes on trial

Taiwan's opposition leader and presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou went on trial for corruption Tuesday in a case that could shape the 2008 election.

Taiwan opposition leader goes on trial

Taiwan'sopposition leader and presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou went on trial forcorruption Tuesday in a case that could shape the 2008 election.

Ma, former chairman of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, wascheered by dozens of supporters on arrival outside Taipei District Court, wheresome of his backers scuffled with opponents.

The 56-year-old, indicted in February for allegedly misusing more than 11million Taiwan dollars(333,330 US) in expenseaccounts during his time as Taipeimayor from 1998 to 2006, again denied any wrongdoing.

"I have faith in my innocence and high expectations as to the fairnessof the court. I hope to fight for a 'not guilty' verdict," he toldreporters after the trial's initial hearing.

"I felt wronged because I did not commit any crime," Ma said,declining to comment on the specifics of the proceedings. The next hearing wasscheduled for April 17.

Ma resigned as KMT chairman after the indictment but immediately announcedhe was running for president in 2008, a move that unexpectedly boosted hispopularity.

If convicted he faces a minimum of seven years in prison, but prosecutorshave asked the judges for leniency on the grounds that Ma has donated some 15million dollars to charity during the investigation.

Last year Ma admitted that one of his aides had swapped receipts in claiminghis mayoral expenses for 2003-2006.

He has apologised for the "serious administrative flaws" butdenied prior knowledge of the aide's actions or any attempt at embezzlement.

He has also said he would try to stay in the presidential race even if he isfound guilty by filing an appeal, a process that would be unlikely to befinished before the March 2008 election.

Opinion polls suggest Ma is the front-runner for the race ahead of thedeclared ruling party candidates.

Ma was elected KMT chairman in July 2005 and oversaw the party's landslidevictory in local government chief elections five months later.

After losing his job as justice minister in 1996 for waging a battle againstcorruption which impressed the public but proved unpopular with politicians, Mawas elected Taipeimayor in 1998 and won re-election in 2002.

 

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