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Sunday, September 26, 2004 /stories/eastasia/view /108468/1/.html

TAIPEI : Thousands of protestors on Saturday rallied against Taiwan government plans for an US$18 billion arms deal they say will lead to an arms race with rival China.

"Refuse raising debts to purchase weaponry," the protestors chanted as they prepared to march towards Taipei's Presidential Office.

A "love and peace" concert is scheduled to take place outside the Presidential Office in the evening with a turnout of 4,000 to 10,000 expected, an organizer said.

Taiwan's cabinet on June 2 approved the special budget of 610.8 billion Taiwan dollars (US$18.2 billion) to purchase weaponry from the United States.

It is pending final approval by parliament.

It has stirred up heated debate on the island with critics, including about 170 retired generals, warning the hefty military spending would further provoke China and heighten cross-Strait tensions.

Others worry the government would be forced to raise debts or cut social welfare and education budgets for the arms deal.

Taiwan's opposition leader Lien Chan also voiced his disapproval of the special defense budget during a party gathering on Saturday.

"Such a hefty arms procurement should not be handled recklessly and we think it's time to slash military spending and put more money into public welfare," he said.

The arms package includes eight diesel-powered submarines, a modified version of the Patriot anti-missile system and a fleet of anti-submarine aircraft over a 15-year period beginning in 2005.

The government has defended the arms deal by stressing the growing military threats from China.

China regards Taiwan as a part of its territory awaiting to be reunified despite their split in 1949 after a civil war. - AFP

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