Hong Kong-controlled Next Media said it was set to sell major Taiwanese publications to local businesses despite protests the move would make the country's media more pro-Beijing. "Lawyers from the two sides have nearly finished their work on the legal documents of the deal," a senior official from Next Media Taiwan told AFP on condition of anonymity late Tuesday. The Tw$17.5 billion ($600 million) deal will see Next Media -- controlled by Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is a vocal critic of China -- sell off Apple Daily's Taiwan edition, Taiwan Sharp Daily, Next magazine and Next TV. Nearly 200 students and activists protested outside the cabinet offices in Taipei earlier Tuesday, arguing the deal would create a pro-China media monopoly. They chanted slogans and scuffled with dozens of riot police while attempting to push their way into the government buildings, but there were no injuries or arrests. Such issues are still sensitive in Taiwan more than six decades after it split from China following a civil war. Beijing views the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, although ties have improved in recent years. A key concern is over the pro-Bejing views of one of the prospective buyers, Tsai Eng-meng, founder of Want Want China Holdings Ltd., the biggest rice cracker producer on the mainland. "I'm afraid Tsai may further interfere in the editing of news related to China," legislator Huang Wei-che of the China-sceptic opposition Democratic Progressive Party told AFP. In 2008 Tsai purchased the China Times group, which includes free-to-view China Television station, satellite channels Cti TV and influential broadsheet newspaper China Times. The other prospective buyers include the chairman of the Chinatrust Charity Foundation Jeffrey Koo Jr -- with whom Lai signed two memoranda of understanding in October -- Formosa Plastics Group, the leading industrial conglomerate in Taiwan and Lung Yen Life Service Group, according to the Next Media official. If completed the deal will mark Lai's exit from Taiwan 11 years after he expanded his media empire to the island with the launch of Next magazine and Apple Daily, which have both been commercial successes.
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