Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Anti-Chen protest fizzles, then regains signs of life

WORKING HOURS Only a few hundred people showed up to call for the president's ouster during the day, but by evening their ranks had swelled back to Sunday's numbers

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AFP, TAIPEI

A man gives the thumbs down on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei yesterday as he calls for President Chen Shui-bian to step down.

PHOTO: LUO PEI-DER, TAIPEI TIMES

The number of protestors demanding the resignation of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) fell sharply yesterday morning, as their round-the-clock campaign entered day three, but several thousand protesters came back to the center of the capital in the evening.

Many protesters went to work yesterday, instead of joining the hundreds of campaigners who spent the night camped out in front of the president's office in the capital in driving rain.

Despite the dwindling numbers and signs of lost momentum, the demonstrators -- wearing raincoats and red protest headbands -- ?resumed their anti-Chen chants bolstered by the appearance of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德).

The surge of evening arrivals boosted the flagging morale of organizers, who saw the protest's numbers dwindle on Sunday amid chilly weather and rain.

"To tell the truth, we were surprised by the new arrivals," said Emile Sheng (盛治仁), spokesman for the anti-Chen campaign. "Doubtless this was a boost to our morale."

Sheng put the turnout early last night at around 10,000.

Shih, leader of the campaign to force Chen from office, gave the thumbs down sign to the protesters who in reply yelled "A-Bian, step down!" referring to the president by his nickname.

Sheng said on Sunday night that he had expected the sharp decline in protest numbers, as many people opted to return to work and heavy rain was forecast to continue.

The Taipei City Police Department's Zhongzheng First Precinct said around 100,000 people had taken to the streets of Taipei on Saturday, but the number dwindled to only 10,000 or so on Sunday. Police estimated that last night, there were slightly more people participating in the march along the "Nazca lines" than had been the case on the previous day.

The Shih camp on Sunday initially agreed to scale down the rally zone to meet the traffic demands of a business day, but the zone was later expanded due to the increasing crowd.

Still, Sheng said the numbers didn't matter, but that continuing the campaign around-the-clock was most important.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the anti-Chen campaign was starting to show divisions about how they should now proceed, now that the initial momentum of the protests was spent and the president was showing no signs of backing down.

One of the issues on which they were divided was a proposal to launch a nationwide strike next month to increase the pressure on Chen to resign.

Yesterday's edition of the Chinese-language China Times newspaper reported that a plan to hold a nationwide strike has been under consideration by the anti-Chen camp.

An anonymous source was quoted by the paper as saying that a nationwide strike will be held next month if the campaign's demand that Chen resign isn't met.

Confronted by reporters yesterday, Shih didn't rule out organizing a nationwide strike.

"There are different ways to make social movements meet with success, by violence, by peace or with a strike. All possibilities exist," he said.

Shih said that he, for the moment, has no comment on the strike plan.

"The idea hasn't been completely discussed. It's still a personal opinion," Shih said.

Chien Hsi-chieh, the head of the pan-purple alliance, told reporters that it was his idea to initiate a strike.

"A strike would be the last resort," he said.

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