- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Political turmoil set off by Taiwan’s disputed presidential election spooked major stock markets across Asia yesterday and threatened to drag on for months.

Taiwan’s stock market plunged by 6.7 percent. Stocks in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea also tumbled in reaction to Taiwan’s political unrest.

Thousands of protesters camping out in front of the Presidential Office in the capital, Taipei, refused to leave until the government ordered a recount of Saturday’s vote.

President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected with 50.1 percent of the ballots one day after he was slightly wounded in an apparent assassination attempt.

The challenger, Lien Chan, has insinuated that Mr. Chen faked the shooting to win sympathy votes. He also has said the vote was tampered with to secure Mr. Chen’s victory.

During a news conference yesterday with foreign reporters, Mr. Lien offered no specific evidence of voter fraud and dodged questions about whether he believes the president staged the shooting.

He also appeared befuddled about his campaign’s assertion that Mr. Chen increased security on election day to keep 200,000 police and soldiers from voting.

Government spokesman Lin Chia-lung dismissed the claim as a rumor, saying only 13,000 servicemen were on duty, as mandated by military regulations.

Taiwan’s High Court has agreed to consider Mr. Lien’s demand for a recount, but court chief Chang Chin-hsiung said a ruling could take six months.

Such a long investigation could prolong the uncertainty that analysts said caused Asian markets to plummet.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged Taiwan to return to calm. “It is important that the confusion there ends quickly,” he said.

Other governments in the region said they hoped that the turmoil wouldn’t lead to greater tension between the island and rival China.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged Mr. Chen to act with “a very great degree of moderation” in dealings with China. The rivalry was created by civil war in 1949 and relations remain frosty.

“I think the last thing any of us want in the Asia-Pacific region is an escalation of tension between Taiwan and mainland China,” Mr. Downer said.

Foreign Minister Eugene Chien assured reporters that Taiwan would be able to sort out the election confusion.

“Taiwan is a young democracy. We know that this is a crisis in our democratic path, but we are very confident that it will be resolved,” he said.

Later yesterday, Mr. Lien demanded that the president meet with him to discuss the fraud accusations “for the sake of stability, democracy and clean politics.”

Mr. Chen’s spokesman, James Huang, welcomed Mr. Lien’s suggestion and urged him to send aides to the Presidential Office to discuss how to set up the meeting.

Mr. Chen and Vice President Annette Lu were shot Friday while riding in an open Jeep in Mr. Chen’s hometown of Tainan. Nobody has been arrested, and police said yesterday they still didn’t have any suspects.

Meanwhile, the crowd of protesters swelled from an estimated 3,000 to 10,000 as people got out of work or school and joined the demonstration. Protesters from other parts of Taiwan were also on their way to Taipei.

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