Taiwan says former leader Chen tried to kill himself

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Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian (R) leaves for the Taipei high court from the Tucheng Detention Centre in Taipei County September 24, 2009. Photo: Reuters

Former Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian tried to kill himself in a prison bathroom with a towel but was discovered by wardens in time, the island's Justice Ministry said on Monday.

Chen, serving a 20-year term for corruption charges he claims were politically motivated because of his strong anti-China stance, attempted suicide at his jail in the central city of Taichung on Sunday night, the ministry said in a statement.

Chen tried taking his own life in protest against his conviction for corruption, it added, without providing details on how the towel was used.

"No serious abnormalities were found after a health check," the ministry added.

The jail had arranged for a psychologist to visit Chen, it said.

"At present his mood is gradually improving," the ministry added.

Chen was Taiwan's president from 2000 to 2008 and a vocal advocate of the island's formal independence, infuriating China which sees the island as a renegade province it must recover, by force if necessary.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists.

Chen's later years in office were dogged by allegations of corruption and embezzlement and his wife was charged in 2006.

Chen himself was not charged until his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost the 2008 presidential election and he stepped down, losing his immunity from prosecution.

In his 2004 presidential re-election campaign, Chen escaped death when he survived a controversial assassination attempt after being grazed by a bullet from a home-made gun.

Chen went on to win the election by a razor-thin margin, with the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT), which had ruled Taiwan continuously from 1949 until Chen's first victory in 2000, saying the attack was staged to win votes.

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