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President Ma arrives in Paraguay to warm welcome from leader, officials

ASUNCION, Paraguay -- President Ma Ying-jeou was warmly welcomed by outgoing Paraguayan President Frederico Franco and other top officials when he arrived in Asuncion late Tuesday on the latest stop of his five-country diplomatic tour.

Ma traveled to Asuncion for the Aug. 15 inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes after having made an official visit to Haiti, one of Taiwan's diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.

A crowd of about 100 Taiwanese expatriates waving R.O.C. national flags also greeted Ma at Silvio Pettirossi International Airport.

According to Presidential Office spokeswoman Garfie Li, Ma had a brief conversation with Franco in an airport lounge before heading to his hotel and told Franco the R.O.C. had a very positive impression of his visit to Taiwan in May.

Ma said was grateful for the invitation Franco extended at that time for him to attend the inauguration of Paraguay's new president, which is why he made the 42,000-kilometer journey to personally congratulate Cartes on his inauguration.

Franco said that Paraguay was the R.O.C.'s only diplomatic ally in South America, and he hoped Ma's visit to the country could help further consolidate their diplomatic ties.

Franco also noted that while many delegations were visiting Paraguay to attend the presidential inauguration, the only one he greeted in person was Ma's because of the warm treatment he received in the R.O.C. in May and to symbolize the two countries' friendly ties, according to Li.

Ma responded that he was grateful to Franco for welcoming him personally at the airport and saw the move as a sign of the importance Paraguay's president placed on diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Paraguay is the second official stop of Ma's five-country tour, that has already taken him to Haiti and will also take him to St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The trip to Haiti was of note because it was the first time an R.O.C. president visited the Caribbean country since formal relations were established in 1956.

During his stay in Haiti Tuesday, Ma joined with Haiti's President Michel Martelly in presiding over a ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a new Supreme Court building funded by Taiwan in the Haitian capital.

In talks at the presidential palace later in the day, Martelly described the R.O.C. as Haiti's most important ally, recalling that the first rescue team to arrive in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake was from Taiwan.

Ma, meanwhile, said the R.O.C. has been reaching out to Haiti based on the long-time friendship between both countries.

Besides finishing work on the 200 permanent housing units that were completed for quake victims last year, the government is also planning to promote other cooperation projects to help Haiti recover from the earthquake, Taiwan's president said.

The permanent housing project has received recognition not only from the Haitian government but also from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N.'s special emissary to Haiti, and helped boost the R.O.C.'s international image, Ma said.

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This photograph taken yesterday shows President Ma Ying-jeou, front left, and Haiti's President Michel Martelly, front right, participating in a ceremony marking the beginning of ...

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