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Taiwanese Lawmakers Come to Blows

A scuffle breaks out during a debate over a proposed recount of the weekend vote that the president was deemed to have won by a hair.

March 24, 2004|Tyler Marshall and Tsai Ting-I | Special to The Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Parliament's first attempt to end Taiwan's postelection political crisis degenerated into fisticuffs Tuesday as rival legislators pushed and shoved one another after the session was abruptly adjourned in disarray.

The scuffles broke out as members debated an amendment to election rules that would allow an immediate recount of last weekend's disputed presidential balloting -- a proposal widely seen as the first step out of the turmoil that has gripped the island since opposition candidate Lien Chan refused to accept President Chen Shui-bian's narrow victory Saturday.

Later in the day, another group of delegates from both sides met behind closed doors and reportedly resumed talks on the proposal.

The legislators met to discuss a proposal offered by Chen that would make recounts mandatory for any election in which the margin of victory is smaller than 1 percentage point. Emotions boiled over after opposition lawmakers abruptly closed the meeting, amid accusations that Chen was stalling. The opposition said Chen could quickly order the recount by executive decree.

Lien said Monday that he would accept the results of any recount, and Chen issued a similar statement Tuesday.

"I won't object to a full recount if that helps establish the truth," Chen said.

Chen won by two-tenths of a percentage point after a bitter campaign that concluded with an election eve shooting, which slightly wounded him and Vice President Annette Lu. His opponents claim that the attack was staged to win sympathy votes, which Chen denies.

Lien's refusal to accept the results plunged the island into political uncertainty, triggering protests and sporadic violence in two cities. As the uncertainty dragged into Tuesday, stocks on the Taiwanese exchange tumbled for the second day as the market lost nearly 3% of its value. It fell by twice that amount Monday.

Lien has challenged the election's validity in Taiwan's high court, citing numerous irregularities and calling for an investigation of the shooting. So far, Lien has failed to produce any compelling evidence to substantiate his claims.

Among other developments:

* In a 45-minute speech, Chen appeared to support the opposition's call for an independent investigation into the shooting, dismissed opposition charges that he rigged the election as "the biggest insult to my integrity" and showed the 4-inch-long abdominal flesh wound to leaders of the five branches of the national government in an attempt to end rumors that the incident had been faked.

* A protest that began on election night outside Chen's presidential offices continued Tuesday. Each day the gathering swells to several thousand in the late afternoon, then shrinks to a few hundred by midnight.

* Beijing's official New China News Agency accused Chen of trying to "kidnap the will of the island's people" by promoting two referendums, one of which called on voters to demand the withdrawal of nearly 500 Chinese ballistic missiles aimed at the island. Both referendums failed to pass after the opposition called for a boycott of them.

* Police in the southern city of Tainan, where Chen and Lu were shot, said each was hit once by separate bullets fired from a homemade handgun. Hou Yu-ih, commissioner of the island's Criminal Investigation Bureau, said Chen's vehicle was going 20 mph and it would be impossible to shoot accurately enough to purposely cause only a minor wound. His comment appeared to exclude the possibility that the shooting was staged.

Times staff writer Marshall reported from Hong Kong and special correspondent Tsai from Taipei.

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