Taiwan's Ma asks speaker of legislature to step down

TAIPEI - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Wednesday urged Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to step down over accusations of illegal lobbying, in a move that paves the way for a power struggle for the president and his ruling party.

Wang should take the initiative to resign, Ma told an unscheduled press briefing. The president has used strong words in the past few days, condemning Wang for his alleged interference in a legal case and calling it "the most serious infringement" of the independence of Taiwan's judiciary.

"Speaker Wang cannot avoid the most critical issue - the fact that he had lobbied the case," the president said.

The dispute has hit the island's financial markets. About one hour into trading, the main TAIEX has shed 0.5 per cent to stand at 8,171.89 points, largely lagging regional bourses.

Some analysts say the index could drop to as low as 7,800 points if the incident escalates.

Wang, who returned to Taiwan late on Tuesday from Malaysia, has denied all the accusations, saying Ma has been misled by the Special Investigation Division, which is under the Supreme Prosecutors' Office.

Wang, 72, has been the speaker since 1999. He is an at-large lawmaker appointed by the ruling party, but is widely seen to be able to gather support from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the ruling party.