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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 1) - Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has signed an historic bill, allowing the country's first-ever referendum.

China has interpreted the holding of any popular vote as the first step towards independence.

President Chen has pledged to hold a referendum alongside the presidential election on March 20, demanding that China remove hundreds of ballistic missiles targeting the island.

He says the arsenal deployment is one of the reasons for the referendum.

The U.S., Japan and the European Union have expressed concern over the planned referendum.

China has threatened to invade Taiwan, should it declare formal independence.

January 1, 2004

Radio Australia: www.abc.net.au/ra


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