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Taiwan ex-leader Chen Shui-bian granted parole

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Taiwan's ailing ex-leader Chen Shui-bian was freed from prison on medical parole Monday, after serving six years for graft relating to his presidency.

[TAIPEI] Taiwan's ailing ex-leader Chen Shui-bian was freed from prison on medical parole Monday, after serving six years for graft relating to his presidency.

The 64-year-old, who led Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, will be released from a prison hospital this afternoon due to his "medical condition", said deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang, but will be subject to monthly health checks.

The former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader, who ended 50 years of Kuomintang rule when he came to power, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 for money-laundering and bribery - a term reduced to 20 years after appeals.

Chen was transferred to a prison hospital in April last year after being diagnosed with severe depression, suspected Parkinson's disease and other conditions.

He attempted suicide in June, trying to hang himself with a towel in a bathroom of the prison hospital.

"The (independent) medical team think Chen needs to leave his present location where his medical treatment is not helpful to his condition," said justice minister Chen after a parole board meeting on Monday morning.

"So a decision has now been made to parole him for a month." The ex-president's freedom after that would be contingent on his medical condition, the justice minister added.

"He is expected to leave jail this afternoon," he said.

More than 200 supporters gathered outside the prison in the central city of Taichung where Chen was serving his sentence, waiting to greet him on his release.

One held a placard which read: "God Bless Taiwan - Go A-bian!" referring to Chen's nickname.

Some supporters had been waiting outside the prison since Friday.

The medical report on Chen was completed on Friday but its delivery to the island's justice ministry was held up in traffic, leading some supporters to criticise the government for delaying his release.

But justice minister Chen said: "No politics was involved in this matter," as he delivered the parole report Monday.

Chen insists that the charges against him are part of a politically motivated vendetta by the current Kuomintang government, in retaliation for his eight years in power when he promoted the idea of Taiwan declaring its independence from China.

Relations with China have warmed under current Kuomintang president Ma Ying-jeou, while the DPP is traditionally more sceptical over closer ties with Beijing.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war. Taiwan has never formally proclaimed independence.

Chen's supporters had recently stepped up their campaign for his early release.

Their calls intensified after the ruling Kuomintang's dramatic election defeat at local polls in November, as public fears grow over Chinese influence on the island.

Chen's former deputy, Annette Lu, 70, undertook a three-day hunger strike in a tent in central Taipei in December demanding he be freed.

Justice minister Chen said the former president's release was "nothing to do with the result of the election".

He is now free to return to his home in southern Taiwan.

AFP