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Taiwan's President Displays Scars in Attempt to Heal Grievances

As his rival continues to push for a recount in the close balloting, Chen Shui-bian releases photos of his treatment for a gunshot wound.

March 22, 2004|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Chen Shui-bian on Sunday released photographs of his hospital treatment and his personal physician gave a detailed account of emergency procedures as Chen sought to counter opposition claims that an election-eve attack was a campaign stunt that helped him win sympathy votes and pull out the narrowest of victories.

Opposition alliance leader Lien Chan has refused to accept the result of Saturday's presidential election in which he was defeated by fewer than 30,000 of the nearly 13 million votes cast. On Sunday, he repeated calls for the vote to be annulled.

Soon after Lien initiated legal action early Sunday challenging the result, Taiwan's High Court ordered ballot boxes sealed. Hundreds of boisterous opposition supporters who spent election night outside the presidential office building in Taipei were joined by as many as 10,000 opposition backers Sunday as Chen's aides made public new information on the attack.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Chen's personal physician, Hsiao Zi-you, used a series of vivid color photographs -- some showing Chen on an operating table -- to describe how he cleaned, then sutured a 4-inch-long, 1-inch-wide abdominal flesh wound that he said had been caused by a gunshot.

"Whoever calls this a conspiracy is unreasonable and inhuman," declared Chen spokesman James Huang, who conducted the news conference. "I hope these photos will put rumors to a stop."

Opposition leaders, however, remained unconvinced.

"Even after seeing those photos, we still can't believe it," said lawmaker Feng Ting-kuo. "It's impossible that this could happen the way it did."

A statement issued by the opposition alliance Sunday demanded that an "impartial, ad hoc medical examination team, including both domestic and international experts" investigate Chen's wound and that a similar team of ballistics experts study the bullet and shell casings recovered after the shooting.

The opposition also called for an immediate "transparent, full-scale and centralized recount of all ballots."

Some of the hastily fashioned placards at Sunday's protest in Taipei read: "Dirty Election," "Cheat!" and "The Bullet Can Make Turns" -- a reference to what some said was the odd trajectory of the bullet that hit Chen. His vice president, Annette Lu, was also injured in the attack.

The president was wounded while campaigning in the southern city of Tainan on Friday. So far, police have made no arrests and named no suspects in the case.

The opposition's rejection of the results plunged the country into uncertainty and there were worries that the tense atmosphere could explode into violence. Today, Taiwan's stock market opened with a large loss, finishing down 6%.

In a brief victory statement Saturday evening, Chen appealed for calm and warned his supporters against taunting opposition voters. Apart from a brief clash between opposition backers and riot police in the southern port of Kaohsiung early Sunday, the country has remained peaceful.

Sunday, Prime Minister Yu Shyi-kun told reporters that the government respected the opposition's right to challenge the results but urged Lien not to worsen an already tense atmosphere.

"Questioning in the courts and on the streets are two different things," he said. "We have to place our trust in the objectivity of the courts and wait for the results of the investigation."

Lien, leader of the Nationalist Party, which ruled Taiwan for more than half a century, and his running mate, James Soong of the People First Party, led demonstrators on a predawn march from the alliance's campaign headquarters to the presidential office, then joined the protest late Sunday. In a speech to the crowd, Lien repeated allegations that Chen had, in effect, stolen the election through a series of illegal actions.

"This election is invalid," Lien said. "We demand an immediate recount of votes in an open manner."

In addition to lodging charges of unfair campaign tactics, the opposition has challenged the vote count, charging that irregularities could have made the difference in an election in which the number of spoiled ballots dwarfed the margin of victory by a factor of 10.

Some opposition leaders said the street protests were needed to pressure the courts to act quickly. There were indications the opposition was far from united behind the decision to challenge the results, with some analysts predicting that support for the protest could quickly erode.

"They don't have the entire party with them," observed Soochow University political scientist Lo Chih-cheng. "There are those who disagree."

Many Taiwanese fear that challenging the results could damage the island's successful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule -- a decade-and-a-half process that many citizens count among the nation's greatest achievements.

Lo described Sunday's protest as a "last stand" for Lien, 67, and Soong, 62, who, because they believe defeat would spell the end of their political careers, had little to lose in challenging the results. "I don't think they can get a lot of people behind them," he said.

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