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President Lee Teng-hui Friday was elected chairman of the ruling Nationalist Party, a move that strengthens his mandate to lead this prosperous island after four decades of Chiang Kai-shek family rule.

Lee, 65, is the first native Taiwanese to lead the party, which was formed 94 years ago on the Chinese mainland and still claims to be the legitimate ruler of all China.

The Chiang family matriarch, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, made a rare public appearance at the 13th party congress that chose Lee. She urged delegates not to forget the contribution of old-guard members facing retirement as a reform-minded younger generation seeks power.

Madame Chiang, at least 86, walked slowly as bodyguards and a nurse followed. She received warm applause from the delegates and shook hands with Lee.