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Taiwan president plans visit to Hawai'i

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Unofficial trip taps emotions

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Chen leaves storm damage at home as he heads for Latin America

An unofficial and quick visit to Oahu by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian drew about 300 demonstrators outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village yesterday afternoon.

While most who lined up along Kalia Road waived Taiwanese flags and cheered as Chen arrived via police motorcade, others chanted "xia tai," which means "resign" in Chinese.

For some, Chen's arrival in the United States and his next stops in Panama and Belize come at an inappropriate time since Taiwan is still recovering from the effects of Typhoon Aere.

"We don't think he should be here," said Karl Chao, a retired state public safety employee originally from Taiwan. "A lot of people are suffering, and he comes out here and enjoys."

Scott Lu led a round of chanting by the gathered crowd of supporters.

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The storm dumped rain that triggered deadly flooding and landslides last week in northern Taiwan, killing more than 30 people.

However, Hawaii's acting governor said when he greeted Chen at Honolulu Airport, concern for his people was the first thing the president talked about.

"He said he regretted his time here was so short because of the typhoon," said state Attorney General Mark Bennett, who is acting governor while Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona attend the Republican National Convention in New York. "He talked about the damage it had caused and the loss of life, and I gave him our condolences."

Chen arrived at Honolulu Airport about 3 p.m., visited the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri, and he hosted a dinner at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to thank the "Friends of Chen Overseas" group. He was scheduled to leave Hawaii before 10 p.m. yesterday.

Chen's visit also comes despite rival China's intense campaign to block Taiwanese leaders from visiting major nations. China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing is eager for unification.

China's communist rulers consider democratic Taiwan to be a province of China that is ruled by an illegal government, and Beijing has tried to isolate Taiwan by pressuring countries to sever formal ties with the island and deny visas to Taiwanese leaders.

The U.S. government cut off official ties with Taiwan in 1979 to recognize China, and Beijing reacts angrily when the island's leaders stop in the United States.

Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he met Chen "unofficially" at the Hilton before the president left for Pearl Harbor. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes.

Inouye, who arrived in a gold Lincoln DeVille with nongovernment license plates and used a back entrance to the Hilton, said he had a "frank discussion of the issues" with Chen, though he would not go into details about their conversation.

"If there's anything to be reported, I think it should come from the president (Chen)," Inouye said. "This is not official ... because I'm here as a citizen of the United States, as a member of the Senate, but I'm not here under the auspices of the Senate."

Chen supporters said he is popular among those who want Taiwan to have a voice in the United Nations, and that his trip to gain support from Latin American countries is important.

"Taiwan has 23 million people but no voice in the U.N.," said Flora Lu, president of the Taiwanese Association of America. "We are all here to support him -- doctors, professors, business people and artists.

"There are some people here with different political views about President Chen, but really we are all friends."

Honolulu police and Hilton security officials said the demonstration was peaceful.

Police closed portions of the H-1 freeway between 3 and 7 p.m. as Chen's motorcade traveled from the airport to the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, then to Pearl Harbor and back to Waikiki to attend the banquet. Chen had no public events scheduled in Hawaii.

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