Kiribati's pro-Beijing leader re-elected: state media

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The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is a collection of 33 far-flung atolls and reefs scattered over an area the size of the continental United States

The pro-China president of Kiribati has won reelection, state media in the tiny Pacific nation reported Tuesday, fending off a challenge from his Taiwan-supporting rival.

Radio Kiribati said incumbent Taneti Maamau garnered 26,053 votes to claim a second four-year term, finishing more than 8,000 ahead of opposition leader Banuera Berina.

"The president-elect of Kiribati is Taneti Maamau," Chief Justice John Muria told the radio station.

"Congratulations Taneti Maamau and congratulations to the people of Kiribati. God bless you all."

Maamau switched Kiribati's allegiance from Taiwan to China in September last year, just a few days after another Pacific nation, the Solomon Islands, did the same.

Berina was highly critical of the move and praised Taiwan, raising the possibility he could rekindle ties with Taipei, which has been engaged in a battle for diplomatic influence with Beijing in the Pacific.

At the time of the switch, Taiwan accused China of engaging in "dollar diplomacy" to buy off its few remaining allies.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949, but Beijing sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold.

Taiwan and China have been engaged for years in a diplomatic tug-of-war in developing countries, with economic support and other aid often used as bargaining chips for diplomatic recognition.

The island nation of Kiribati, with a population of about 110,000, is a collection of 33 far-flung atolls and reefs scattered over an area the size of the continental United States that sits about halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is a collection of 33 far-flung atolls and reefs scattered over an area the size of the continental United States

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau switched allegiance to Beijing last year amid accusations that China was buying off Taiwan's few remaining allies