10 Jan 2003

Kiribati Opposition leader predicts close race of president

11:45 am on 10 January 2003

One of Kiribati's three presidential candidates claims that the incumbent Teburoro Tito may use development funds from China to finance his campaign for February's election.

The opposition leader, Taberannang Timeon, says that the presidency race will be close and that Tito may resort to buying votes to ensure re-election on February 25.

Mr Timeon recently replaced Dr Harry Tong as the opposition leader after party members voted for him as their presidency candidate.

He alleges that on the eve of last year's elections, China had given the government funds for development of which a portion was used to finance the campaign of Mr Tito and some cabinet ministers.

At that time, the Chinese Embassy and President Tito denied the allegations and criticised the opposition of running a smear campaign.

But Mr Timeon rejects that. .

"W e suspect that he's getting assistance from overseas. Perhaps the Chinese embassy here is giving financial assistance. They call that money for development projects, but where is that money going to? It's not accounted for and it's money under the table. Most of the people in Kiribati want a government that is transparent."