- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Nearly 500,000 people, many clad in throwaway yellow ponchos against a cold drizzle, surrounded Taiwan’s presidential office and blocked major streets yesterday to protest last weekend’s disputed presidential election.

A day after the Election Commission certified him the winner, President Chen Shui-bian promised again to back a recount of the election that he narrowly won, and endorsed an investigation into the bizarre shooting that wounded him shortly before the vote.

Many protesters said the shooting gave Mr. Chen an unfair, last-minute boost at the polls. Others believe conspiracy theories that the president staged the shooting.

“This was a very dirty election. We want the truth,” said protester Carla Wang, a 56-year-old employee at a trading company.

Waving red Taiwanese flags, the protesters filled up the wide boulevards in front of the presidential office and spilled over into the side streets.

Some protesters brought a 15-foot-tall Statue of Liberty that had a tear in her eye and the slogan “Strive for Justice” written on her body in Chinese characters. The crowd totaled 470,000, according to the Taipei city government.

The massive rally went on despite a vague warning from mainland China on Friday that ongoing turmoil might become an excuse to take over the tiny island. Beijing has long insisted that Taiwan is Chinese territory.

At the end of the four-hour rally, losing candidate Lien Chan of the Nationalist Party addressed the crowd and repeated his demands for a recount of the vote.

“If someone uses nasty means to gain power, such power won’t be effective and won’t be respected,” said Mr. Lien, a 67-year-old former political science professor and ex-vice president.

Mr. Lien never said whether he would accept the results of a recount, and he didn’t mention the president’s pledge to hold a recount.

During a late-night news conference, Mr. Chen repeated his willingness to hold a recount, and he promised that he would accept the results. He challenged Mr. Lien to do the same.

“We haven’t rigged the election, so why should we fear a recount?” Mr. Chen said.

The president said that if Mr. Lien formally petitioned the courts to nullify the results, he would endorse the move and urge judges not to bother holding hearings on the evidence so that the recount could be done immediately.

Mr. Lien’s handling of the controversy has been confusing. Sometimes he demands a recount, and other times he talks about holding the vote again. Sometimes he treats the unexplained shooting as the most important issue.

Many believe an internal power struggle is going on between moderates who just favor a recount and hard-liners who want a new election. Mr. Lien is presiding over a coalition of his Nationalist Party and the smaller People First Party.

Yesterday, one of the most popular moderates in the Nationalist Party, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, said Mr. Lien should just accept the results of a recount.

But the hard-liners have been more visible, and at times they have used violence to push their points. On Friday, members of the People First Party helped incite a crowd of about 2,000 to storm the Central Election Commission as it prepared to certify Mr. Chen’s victory. The mob broke windows, tossed eggs and scuffled with riot police.

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