- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s Election Commission yesterday certified President Chen Shui-bian the winner in the island’s March 20 vote, ignoring protests by his narrowly defeated challenger.

The announcement came even as hundreds of opposition protesters scuffled with riot police and stormed the Election Commission’s office, breaking windows and throwing eggs.

Mainland China, which considers the island democracy a renegade province and accuses Mr. Chen of seeking a complete break with Beijing, added its voice to the dispute.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement it will not “look on unconcerned” if the postelection situation leads to “social turmoil, endangering lives and property of Taiwan compatriots and affecting stability across the Taiwan Straits.”

President Bush in a statement congratulated Mr. Chen on his narrow victory. The statement stressed the need for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and urged Beijing and Taipei not to take unilateral steps that would alter Taiwan’s status.

The Bush administration, which had reacted cautiously as the disputed vote count proceeded, warned against violence in the aftermath of the close vote.

“We reject calls for violence, which threaten the very democratic principles to which we and the people of Taiwan are committed,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Taiwanese officials dismissed Beijing’s criticism as “unreasonable” and “rude.”

Taiwan “has never interfered in communist China’s domestic affairs,” said a statement from the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, which is responsible for China policy. “We hope communist China will completely respect our rule of law.”

Beijing has long insisted that self-ruled Taiwan is part of mainland China. It has threatened to take over the island if Taiwan slips into chaos.

A Chen victory is seen as a major blow to China, which believes he will use his second four-year term to move the island closer to independence.

Certifying the vote is a formality required by law within seven days of the election. Those who want to challenge the results can still do so within 30 days of the certification.

Some protesters said they thought once the vote results were official, the United States and other major nations would congratulate Mr. Chen, giving credibility to his victory.

The two main opposition parties, the Nationalists and the People First Party, were organizing rallies in downtown Taipei today and hoped they would draw about 500,000 people. Some analysts saw Beijing’s warnings yesterday as a signal to Mr. Chen’s government not to suppress the protests.

Mr. Chen won by a margin of less than 0.2 percent. Challenger Lien Chan of the Nationalist Party immediately demanded a recount, saying the vote was marred by irregularities, which he has yet to clearly document.

Mr. Lien has also said that the vote was unfairly influenced by an unexplained election-eve shooting that wounded the president and his running mate.

Yesterday, police for the first time released a picture of a man wanted for questioning. The grainy security camera image showed a balding man in a yellow jacket hurrying away from the shooting in the southern city of Tainan. He got on a motorcycle parked in an alley and sped away.

“He is not a suspect yet, but there are some suspicions,” said Wang Wen-chung, a deputy police chief in Tainan. Mr. Wang urged the man to report to police, and asked the public to help identify him.

Mr. Chen has agreed to a recount of the vote, but lawmakers were arguing over how to amend election laws so the recount is done promptly. Negotiations began yesterday, but they ended without a consensus.

“There’s little hope of things getting passed soon,” said ruling party lawmaker Jao Yung-ching. He said legislators aren’t ready to compromise.

The election dispute threatens to create a prolonged crisis that could paralyze policy-making in one of Asia’s most vibrant economies.

Taiwan’s stock market has lost nearly 10 percent since trading reopened Monday after the election.

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