TAIPEI — Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui strongly urged Tokyo on Sunday to issue him a visa for a medical checkup in Japan, saying his heart condition is worsening.

Lee explained his heart problems in a press conference and said he needs to enter Japan urgently for treatment. He also warned Tokyo that barring him from seeking medical treatment would be detrimental to Japan-Taiwan relations.

Lee dismissed allegations that his heart condition was not a genuine reason to visit Japan, in the wake of strong resistance from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and some cabinet members. “To say I have political objectives, doesn’t make sense. I have already retired as president and am an ordinary citizen now,” the 78-year-old former president said.

Lee said he has had heart problems since his late 40s but that his condition deteriorated in the fall of 1999 when a massive earthquake devastated central Taiwan. He was still president at the time and toured the quake-hit areas to console victims and assess damage. “At that time my heart was quite troubled, and I also had problems walking,” Lee said.

When visiting Britain last summer shortly after retiring from politics, Lee said he “had trouble walking even 100 steps.” Stumping on the campaign trail on behalf of then Vice President Lien Chan in last year’s presidential election, Lee aggravated his condition and frequently suffered chest pains.

Last November he had an angioplasty to widen clogged heart arteries, and he said he now needs to take special medication for his heart condition three times a day. He keeps the medication handy in case of a heart attack. Lee said his problem arteries were 80 percent blocked, causing a lack of oxygen and requiring follow-up angioplasty.

The former president applied for a visa April 3 for a medical checkup at a renowned cardiology center in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. But the government in Tokyo has sent mixed signals as to whether it would grant the visa on humanitarian grounds.

On April 6, Japanese government sources said that they planned to hold off issuing a visa to Lee, leaving the decision to the next cabinet, which is expected to be inaugurated later this month. Lee responded by saying that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori should not try to pass the buck to someone else. He said he expected Tokyo to make a final decision on the issue tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

“That’s why I decided to call a news conference. I need to make my point,” he said. Lee said that Japanese people were firmly in favor of him visiting. There has been speculation about the seriousness of Lee’s heart condition. He has been seen playing golf also in recent weeks. But Lee said he needs to exercise to keep his high blood pressure and low blood sugar levels in check.

“Do I have to be dead before they believe that I am sick?” he asked.

The press conference was Lee’s first since retiring as president last May after 12 years in power. It was broadcast live on all major local television networks.

Lee said he has postponed to early May a trip to his U.S. alma mater Cornell University to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Lee Teng-hui Nanotechnology Research Center. He said he plans to fly to the United States after visiting Japan.

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