Taiwan's Ma to open air routes with China on July 4

Taipei - Taiwan President-elect Ma Ying-jeou has tentatively set July 4 for launching weekend charter flights with mainland China, as part of his plan to engage Beijing and improve ties, a spokesman said Friday.

"We are working hard to start the direct cross-strait charters in line with our goal," Lo Chih-chiang said

The National Policy Foundation, a think tank of Ma's Nationalist Party or Kuomintang, said in a recent report that it had completed the direct weekend charter plan.

The service would begin taking passengers from China for the weekend and carrying them back on Monday noon.

Chen Shih-yi, a foundation spokesman, said Ma had instructed that the service be started from July 4, and be extended to Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan for vacation after Beijing and Taipei work out an agreement.

Taiwan and China split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Taipei has banned direct links with the mainland and only allowed Chinese visitors to visit the island via a third area. It has also barred planes from flying directly to and from China, except for those operated during major Taiwanese holidays.

But the island has decided to ease its restrictions to allow Chinese to come to Taiwan directly in order to increase tourist revenues.

Ma, a China-friendly politician who won a landslide victory in last month's presidential election, has vowed to further open up the island to China and forge direct transport link in 2009 after he assumes office on May 20.

Chen said Taiwan will open its international airports in Taoyuan in the north, Taichung in central Taiwan and Kaohsiung in the south for charter services. Flight points from China will include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen, he said. (dpa)

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