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Taiwan Protesters Storm Building as Panel Certifies Vote

China hints it might intervene as fury over disputed presidential election continues.

March 28, 2004|William Foreman | Associated Press Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan — About 2,000 protesters stormed the Central Election Commission headquarters Friday after it certified the results of Taiwan's disputed presidential election -- violence that rival China hinted might provide a reason to take control of the island.

The protesters scuffled with riot police guarding the building, broke windows and tossed eggs after the commission officially proclaimed that President Chen Shui-bian won last weekend's election over opposition leader Lien Chan.

The demonstrators contend that the vote was marred by irregularities and an unexplained election-eve shooting that wounded Chen.

Feuding political parties have made little progress in deciding how to administer a quick recount of the controversial vote, in which Chen finished on top by two-tenths of a percentage point. Some opposition lawmakers were inciting violent mobs.

Although Friday's certification was just a formality and the vote could still be challenged, many protesters couldn't stand the thought of Chen's victory being formally certified.

They also worried that the move would prompt major nations like the United States to congratulate Chen -- praise that would undermine their claims that the world is on their side.

The White House applauded the "successful conclusion" of the election and urged Taiwan to avoid violent protests but acknowledged that legal challenges to Chen's victory remain.

"We reject calls for violence, which threaten the very democratic principles to which we and the people of Taiwan are committed," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement.

"The maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the welfare of the people of Taiwan remain of profound importance to the United States," he said.

The instability prompted rival China to warn that it won't just watch if the crisis worsens.

Beijing has long claimed that self-ruled Taiwan is Chinese territory. The communist giant's leaders have also said they would try to take over the island if foreign powers threaten Taiwan, if the island slips into chaos or if the Taiwanese reject eventual unification.

"The mainland side will not look on unconcerned should the post-election situation in Taiwan go out of control, leading to social turmoil, endangering lives and property of Taiwan compatriots, and affecting stability across the Taiwan straits," China's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.

Taiwan snapped back that the protests involved only a small group of people and that the island's legal system would handle them.

"China's unreasonable criticism of our domestic affairs just amounts to rude meddling in our internal matters," said a statement from Taiwan's Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, responsible for China policy.

In its statement, the White House said both Taiwan and China should use restraint.

"It falls to Taiwan and Beijing to build the essential foundations for peace and stability by pursuing dialogue through all available means and refraining from unilateral steps that would alter Taiwan's status," McClellan said.

Before the violence, opposition lawmakers pumped up the crowd with speeches about how they had warned officials that certifying the election would trigger chaos.

"I warned them this could cause a volcano to erupt. It's like a match that could ignite the fuse to a powder keg," lawmaker Lee Ching-hua told the rowdy crowd, which minutes later charged into the building.

Lien told another crowd that Chen was to blame for Friday's turmoil. Without condemning the violence, Lien said he warned the president that certifying the vote would spark trouble.

"Mr. Chen Shui-bian, you are the nation's leader. You have to calmly think. There's no way we can continue this forever. You have to take the biggest responsibility," he said.

Meanwhile, Premier Yu Shyi-kun, Taiwan's No. 3 ranking leader, urged Lien and his running mate, James Soong, to help the government maintain order.

"Don't let March 27 become the nightmare of Taiwan's democracy," Yu said.

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