Taiwan's president calls for direct talks with China

President Chen Shui-bian says that regardless of which Taiwanese opposition leaders China chooses to speak to, eventually Beijing must arrange meetings with his government.

His statement was in reference to the talks Chinese President Hu Jintao held this week with the leader of Taiwan's main opposition party, Lien Chan.

Both men pledged to work to end hostility in the relations and avoid a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwanese officials criticized the meeting, saying only governments can conduct such talks.

The president of Taiwan called for direct talks with China on the third day of Lien's historic visit to the mainland.

Lien and members of his family travelled to Xi'an, the city where he was born, to visit his grandmother's grave for the first time in 60 years.

Enormous crowds have followed Lien since he arrived in China.

His Nationalist Party ended decades of hostility with China's communists when he met Beijing's leaders on Friday.

The Nationalists fled to Taiwan after they were toppled as China's rulers by the Communists in 1949.

In Taiwan, the island's president says he respects the opposition's moves. But he says China must meet eventually with Taiwan's government to start normalizing relations.

Speaking shortly before leaving for a diplomatic visit to some of Taiwan's South Pacific allies, Chen told reporters he would be sending a personal message to China's leaders.

He asked opposition politician James Soong of Taiwan's People First Party to relay the message during talks in China this week. President Chen didn't reveal the contents of his message.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and accuses the island's president of pushing for independence.