TAIPEI -- President Chen Shui-bian suffered the biggest setback of his administration yesterday when prosecutors indicted his wife for corruption and said they have enough evidence to charge him, too -- an announcement that could quickly end his fragile leadership.
The news sent thousands of antigovernment protesters into the streets of the island's capital, and the main opposition party , the Nationalists, said it would launch a new recall drive if Chen doesn't resign by Monday.
Chang Wen-cheng of the Taiwan High Prosecutors' Office -- who announced that first lady Wu Shu-chen and three aides were indicted on embezzlement, forgery, and perjury charges -- said there is a strong possibility that Chen will also be indicted after he leaves office.
Under Taiwanese law, a sitting president cannot be indicted other than on charges of sedition. Chen, who didn't comment on the indictments, has said he would step down if there is evidence of wrongdoing.
If Chen quits with two years left in his second term, his outspoken and unpredictable vice president, Annette Lu, would likely take power. That could raise tensions with rival China, which reviles Lu and has called her "insane" and "scum of the nation."
A civil war split China and Taiwan in 1949, and Beijing insists the residents of Taiwanese must eventually unify with the mainland -- a notion the pro-independence Lu rejects. China has warned it will attack the Taiwanese if they stall too long on unification, and the United States might help defend the democratic island of 23 million people.
Chen's nemesis, Nationalist Party leader Ma Ying-jeou, demanded that he resign immediately. "He has lost the people's trust and respect, and as he is burdened with scandals, he can no longer lead the people nor effectively represent the country," Ma said.
Leaders of the president's Democratic Progressive Party huddled to discuss the charges. The meeting broke up with party officials insisting that Chen explain the allegations within three days.
There has long been grumbling inside the president's party that the scandal-tainted Chen has become too much of a liability and should be dumped before the 2008 presidential election.