Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Aborigines take to the streets in protest

SEEKING JUSTICE More than 4,000 members of Taiwan's 12 Aboriginal tribes demonstrated for hours in front of the Presidential Office, calling for the vice president to resign

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTER

An Aboriginal man clenches his fist during a demonstration on Ketagalan Boulevard yesterday as Aborigines representing all Taiwan's indigenous peoples gathered to protest recent comments by Vice President Annette Lu.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The Aboriginal community came out in force yesterday, with Aborigines from all over the country marching on Ketagalan Blvd yesterday afternoon to protest recent comments by Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).

Wearing red headbands reading "oppose racisim" and "chu tsao," or "out of the grass," an Aboriginal war call, over 4,000 Aborigines from all 12 Aboriginal tribes and from across the nation marched arm-in-arm to the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon, chanting "Only by acting up can we get respect," and "Annette Lu, step down!" to the honks of supportive drivers, as the protest passed through the streets.

Taking a stand in front of the Presidential Office beginning at 2pm yesterday, protestors and Aboriginal representatives called for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Lu to issue apologies for Lu's remarks earlier this month that Taiwan's Aboriginal people were not the first inhabitants of the country, and that the victims of Tropical Storm Mindulle living in mountainous areas should move to Central America.

Protesters demanded that Lu and Chen publicly apologize and acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the first people to settle in Taiwan, a demand that Lu has steadfastly refused to fulfill, despite her gradual softening of her original stance yesterday.

"The Taiwanese Aboriginal people have suffered from generations of outside government control and oppression. When the government changed hands, the indigenous people originally gained new hope, but time has proven that the Aboriginals are facing just another `rubber-check' government; a lying government; a racist government," said protest director and People First Party (PFP) Legislator Lin Chung-te (林春德) at the rally yesterday to supportive horn blares and cries.

Speaking from a platform at the rally, the legislators repeated their demand that Lu apologize and back her apology with a commitment to policies advancing Aboriginal land and cultural rights.

Increasing the international profile of the event, the legislators made a public call to the UN's Human Rights Committee at 9pm last night, reading a statement explaining the series of events leading to the protest and the Aboriginal community's displeasure with the government's handling of the situation.

Aside from the 11 Aboriginal legislators organizing the event, the rally gained support from political figures such as Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉), who spoke at the rally in his capacity as Chairman of the Council of Aboriginal Affairs at Taipei City Government and Aboriginal representatives from communities in Chiayi, Taichung, Nantou and Taitung, among others.

The protest mood was surprisingly peaceful as protestors sat on Ketagalan Boulevard listening to tribe representatives' speeches and cultural performances, despite worries of violence breaking out because of some protestors' insistence on bringing ceremonial knives and guns. Such concerns seemed unwarranted, however, with only one licensed ceremonial knife, owned by Taoyuan County council representative Chen Tai-yu (陳泰宇), in evidence.

To combat accusations that the protest was politically-motivated, protest organizers were careful to avoid possible party affiliations, with independent legislator and deputy convener May Chin (高金素梅) calling repeatedly for protestors to put away national flags that they might have brought, due to the flag's connection with March's pro-blue camp protests against the results of the presidential election. Protest workers also worked to keep overzealous pro-blue supporters from crashing the rally by patrolling the protest perimeter and asking the small number of bystanders waving New Party and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) banners to leave the area.

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