Assassination bid may help Chen in
polls By Laurence Eyton
TAIPEI - President Chen Shui-bian was wounded,
but not critically, in an assassination attempt on the
eve of the presidential election and controversial
referendum Saturday on targeted Chinese missiles that
has divided this island, provoked Beijing and prompted
warnings from Washington. Taiwan was in shock; Chen
might benefit from a sympathy vote.
released from the hospital, all campaigning was
suspended, the polling will go ahead as planned on
Saturday, and Chen - who leans toward independence and
stresses a separate Taiwanese identity - might receive a
sympathy vote. The election has been too close to call
and a two-week blackout on polling results has made it
impossible to predict the winner.
violence is virtually unknown on this island of 23
million people, including 16 million eligible voters,
and shock and grief were widespread. The assassination
attempt was considered likely to boost Chen's chances of
reelection. Core supporters were expected to be more
motivated to vote while floating voters were expected to
see a vote for Chen as a vote against political
Chen, 54, and his running mate Annette
Lu, 59, were shot at 1:45pm Friday as they rode in an
open vehicle in a motorcade in Chen's home town of
Tainan in the south of the island. Chen was grazed by a
bullet across the stomach. He did not lose
consciousness, walked into the hospital for treatment
and urged the population to remain calm. Lu was shot in
the right knee; she also was treated and released. Chen
had not been wearing a bulletproof vest, as had been
Chen's wound was 11
centimeters long and three centimeters deep, requiring
TV viewers saw dramatic pictures of
the president standing in a red open-top
four-wheel-drive continuing to wave as a red blood stain
spread across the front of his white windbreaker. He
appeared not to notice that he had been wounded.
"They are both conscious and their lives are not
in danger," Chen's chief of staff, Chiou I-jen, told a
All campaigning was suspended
by all parties - Chen's Democratic Progressive Party
(DPP) and the rival Kuomintang (KMT) and People First
Party (PFP), together forming the so-called pan-blue
alliance that is considered sympathetic to Beijing and
favored by the Chinese government.
campaigning was suspended, supporters of both sides
continued to assemble in places designated as rally
venues into the evening, and police were concerned that
clashes might take place between the rival camps.
Several shots were fired, as Chen's supporters
were setting off firecrackers, drowning the noise of the
gunshots. At first Chen's security detail thought that
he had been injured by flying debris from the
firecrackers. The bullet hole through the jeep's
windshield told a different story.
two shots were fired from two different handguns and
that two spent shell cases had been recovered from the
They issued sketches of two men they
wanted to interview, but declined to say anything more.
A news blackout was imposed on the investigation.
Chen, head of the DPP, was facing off against
his presidential rival Lien Chan of the KMT and his
running mate James Soong of the PFP.
election campaign has been extraordinarily tense, with
the two camps running neck and neck for months and both
sides suggesting that defeat would mean the end of
Taiwan's current political status, in a manner abhorrent
to their supporters - an apparent reference to either
China's military intervention or increased influence on
an island where Taiwanese prize their separate identity.
Chen's supporters believe that unification with
China is inevitable if he loses while the opposition
pan-blues believe a Chen victory would make Taiwan
independence - and China's military intervention -
inevitable. As a result the atmosphere has been one of
desperation; some analysts think the shooting was the
result of the febrile election atmosphere.
was elected to the presidency in 2000 with only 39
percent of the vote. The election has been close and
Chen has narrowed the distance between himself and Lien
by emphasizing the importance of Taiwan's distinct
identity, separate from China that regards the island as
a breakaway province. China has vowed to reunify island
and mainland at some point, even if military force is
required - a conflict that would draw in the United
Chen also has won support by emphasizing
that China is menacing the island - and as if to make
his point, China and France conducted joint military
exercises in the Taiwan Strait this week. Chen also
succeeded in pushing through a "defensive" referendum -
to be held on Saturday at the same time as the
Voters will be asked whether
China should be requested to remove almost 500 missiles
currently targeted at Taiwan and, if Beijing refuses,
whether Taiwan should buy advanced military defense
technology, such as anti-missile systems. Voters also
will be asked whether they favor resumed dialogue with
China on improving relations.
China supports the
opposition ticket and US President George W Bush has
warned Chen about holding a provocative referendum that
could upset the delicate balance in the Taiwan Strait
and among the US, China and Taiwan.
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