Sun, Sep 10, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Protest turnout lower than expected

WET PARADE Taipei police estimated that less than a third of the expected number joined the rally, with pan-blue bigwigs like Ma and Soong appearing beside Shih

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Shouting "A-bian step down!" and giving the thumbs-down sign, tens of thousands of red-clad protesters packed Ketagalan Boulevard and adjacent roads yesterday afternoon in a sit-in protest aimed at ousting President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

While former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德), initiator of the "Million Voices Against Corruption -- Chen Must Go" round-the-clock protest, expected a turnout of more than 300,000 people on its first day, the Taipei City Police Department's Zhongzheng First District put the number at around 100,000 protesters.

People started to gather on Ketagalan Boulevard before the protest formally started at 3pm.

"A-bian is destroying our judicial system ... This is a rare opportunity to express our anger. I know it's not good to take my baby outside, but I really want to express my feelings," Yeh Yu-chen (葉宇蓁), a housewife who arrived early at the site and sat down in the "static" area under the sun with her 10-month-old baby, told the Taipei Times.

Shih arrived on a jeep at 3:30pm, and led about 10,000 protesters in a demonstration along Zhongshan S Road, Xinyi Road, Renai Road and back to the boulevard.

However, the Shih camp's plan to form imitation Nazca Lines in the shape of a giant drawing compass turned into disarray as Shih's jeep was swamped by media personnel and the event's organizers failed to coordinate and redirect the participants.

confusion

Aside from the Nazca Lines, people who had already registered online were asked to sit in the "static" area along the boulevard, while others gathered in the "moving" area along Renai and Xinyi roads.

Upon finishing the parade, Shih delivered a brief speech urging Chen to be a "free man," rather than a "prisoner in the Presidential Office."

"If A-bian doesn't step down, Taiwan will be paralyzed," Shih said on a makeshift stage on Ketagalan Boulevard.

The purpose of the sit-in protest, Shih said, was not only to fight corruption and demand the resignation of Chen, but also to "rebuild Taiwan's core values."

"This is a historic moment. Tai-wan and the world are watching. Our children are watching, too. They are watching whether we have the determination to end Chen's power," he said, adding that the movement would not end until Chen steps down.

downpour

As Shih led the crowd to sit down and began the sit-in at around 5pm, rain began to fall.

Event organizers had asked participants to wear red clothes to the protest. The sea of red, however, turned into a crowd of yellow as people hastily put on raincoats as the downpour continued.

Although organizers called on the participants not to let the weather conditions weaken their determination, the rain prompted many to leave.

Elsa Wu, who attended the sit-in with her friends, said she would join the sit-in for a while despite the rain, but not for 24 hours.

"We support this protest, but we all have jobs to do and can't stay here and leave our things behind," she said.

Up to 4,600 riot police were on hand and some 600 barbed-wire barricades were set up, according to Taipei police.

The barricades kept the protesters away from the Presidential Office compound.

Although the organizers called for a peaceful and silent sit-in, the din from the demonstrators shouting slogans and deafening sounds from the camp's audio system sparked protests at the nearby National Taiwan University Hospital.

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