Taiwan leader denies meddling in opponent probe

TAIPEI, December 17, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou Saturday rejected allegations that he was behind a corruption probe implicating his main political rival in a bid to manipulate next year's presidential polls.

"The accusations of me instructing the prosecutors are unacceptable and they severely smear and insult my character. I did not and will never do this. I will withdraw from the presidential election at once if I did," Ma said at the start of a televised debate.

Ma, who took office in 2008, is running for a second and final four-year term against Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and independent James Soong in the January 14 vote.

Prosecutors this week started investigating claims of Tsai's alleged illegal involvement with a biotech start-up while she was the vice premier under the previous DPP government -- claims she has flatly rejected.

"I am saddened that Ma's campaign team uses government resources and his officials use false documents to smear me and to mislead the public," Tsai reiterated at the final debate before voting.

She accused the prosecution of violating administrative neutrality and judicial independence to "cooperate" with Ma's Kuomintang party in the investigation.

"I urge Ma not to jeopardise Taiwan's democracy for the sake of one election victory."

The race is neck-and-neck, as Ma led Tsai by a razor-thin one percentage point with 40 percent of support in a survey released on Thursday by the China Times, while Soong had eight percent and 13 percent was undecided.