Taiwan president on surprise Libya visit

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian made a surprise visit to Libya, an official said Thursday, after the Taiwanese leader turned down a U.S. offer to make a refueling stop in Alaska in an apparent sign of diplomatic pique.

Officials said Chen was set to arrive soon in Taiwan's capital, Taipei, after his eight-hour visit to Tripoli on the way back from a four-day trip to Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Taiwan's China Times newspaper quoted Foreign Minister James Huang as saying the Libya visit was aimed at fostering economic ties between Taiwan and the oil-rich northern African country.

In the report, Huang also said Libyan authorities had resisted pressure from rival Beijing to bar Chen's visit.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing still considers the self-governing island to be Chinese territory, and opposes anything that gives it the trappings of sovereignty, such as letting its leaders travel the globe freely.

There was no immediate indication if Chen met Libyan leader Moammer Gahdafi during his stay in Tripoli. In January, Chen received an invitation to meet with Gahdafi while conferring with his son, Seif al-Islam, in Taipei.

On May 4, Chen declined Washington's offer of a transit stop in relatively isolated Alaska, after the U.S. refused his request for stops in San Francisco and New York. Chen said no to the Alaska stop, considering it a sleight to Taiwan's dignity.

In five previous Latin American trips since taking office in 2000, Chen has stopped in U.S. cities including New York, Los Angeles and Houston, all with U.S. authorities' permission.

Huang and other Taiwanese officials attributed the U.S. decision to limit Chen to Alaska to a desire to gain support from China in a U.N. Security Council showdown over Iran's nuclear program, reports the AP.

I.L.