Protests against Chen re-election results go on

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Opposition activists Monday refused to disband protests until authorities agree to re-count Taiwan's weekend presidential election, won by the incumbent one day after he was lightly wounded in a mysterious shooting that critics say influenced the vote. 

Governments in the region said they hoped that the political turmoil over President Chen Shui-bian's narrow re-election victory Saturday would not lead to greater tension between the island and archrival China. 

Chen, who campaigned on a China-bashing platform, won with just 50.1 percent of the vote, compared to 49.9 percent for opposition candidate Lien Chan, who has pushed for a more concilatory approach toward China. 

The margin was just 30,000 votes. 

The opposition said Saturday's election was marred both by Friday's shooting and by voting irregularities. 

They say the attack unfairly earned Chen sympathy votes, and Lien raised questions about more than 330,000 ballots that allegedly were spoiled. 

"The whole world is concerned over whether Taiwan has had a fair election,'' Lien's running-mate, James Soong, said early Monday while visiting opposition activists rallying near the Presidential Office to demand a recount. 

"Down with Ah-Bian,'' the Lien supporters shouted, using Chen's nickname. 

Lien separately has petitioned for the election results be nullified, and it could take months for the courts to decide how to respond. Taiwan High Court chief Chang Chin-hsiung said Monday that a ruling would come within six months at the latest. 

"It could come in one or two months after we finish the investigation and have debates about it,'' Chang said. 

The election dispute cast a cloud over Taiwan's stock market, which had already stopped trading for the day on Friday when Chen was shot. 

Shares opened by plunging more than 6.5 percent Monday, close to their daily limit of 7 percent. 

The New Taiwan dollar lost 0.3 percent against the U.S. dollar, and the central bank began intervening to stop its slide. 

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged Chen to act with "a very great degree of moderation'' in dealings with China, which wants Taiwan to rejoin the mainland. 

"I think the last thing any of us want in the Asia-Pacific region is an escalation of tension between Taiwan and mainland China,'' Downer said. 

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for moves toward stability. "It is important that the confusion there ends quickly,'' he said. 

Chen and Vice President Annette Lu were shot and slightly wounded Friday while riding in an open Jeep in Chen's hometown of Tainan. 

Nobody has been arrested, and police have not identified any suspects. 

To head off speculation that Chen staged the shooting, his office released photographs of his wounds, and prosecutors said tests had shown that two bullets found at the scene had been fired from a gun and were the ones that injured Chen and Lu. 

The opposition believes the shooting may have given Chen the edge he needed to win.But a referendum championed by Chen and also held Saturday failed because many voters decided to boycott it. 

The ballot question - Taiwan's first island-wide referendum - was fiercely opposed by Beijing, which saw it as a rehearsal for a vote on Taiwan independence. 

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and China wants the island to rejoin the mainland and has threatened military action if it moves toward independence.  

The ballot question asked whether to beef up Taiwan's military defenses against China. 

Lien's party argued that Chen did not have the legal authority to call the referendum and successfully rallied Taiwanese to skip the vote. 

Lien's supporters scuffled with police in central and southern Taiwan after the election results were announced late Saturday, and an estimated 10,000 convened Sunday in front of the Presidential Office to call for an immediate recount. 

The High Court ordered all ballot boxes sealed to preserve evidence, but did not immediately order a recount. 

Hundreds of LIen supporters were still were blowing airhorns near the Presidential Office early Monday as businesses and schools in the area reopened. 

Protests in Taipei have been peaceful, unlike demonstrations in the capital after the 2000 presidential election. 

After that vote, supporters of the losing Nationalist Party threw eggs and sticks at police and roughed up several party officials. Police used water cannons to disperse the angry mob. 

Lien has demanded that the government form a task force with medical and criminal experts to investigate the attack on Chen and its influence on the election. 

The deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Huang Wen-chung, told reporters Monday that investigators still had no leads in the shooting. 

"There have been no breakthroughs so far,'' Huang said as he urged the public to share any possible evidence. 

Officials in Tainan said they would honor Lien's request to preserve potential evidence, including the president's medical records, X-rays and eight hours of videotape from the emergency room on Friday. - AP

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