Fist fights, vocal protests and minor scuffles marked yesterday's official national day celebrations, while President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) later brushed off tens of thousands of protesters calling for his resignation.
An official ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries yesterday was marred by scuffles between pan-green and pan-blue lawmakers while Chen was delivering the National Day speech outside the Presidential Office.
Later in the day, a group of protesters estimated at 120,000 by Taipei City police besieged the Presidential Office and called for the president to step down. The number was far short of the 1.5 million protesters organizers said had attended.
The day's festivities began with red-clad Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) legislators attempting to disrupt Chen's speech, chanting "A-bian step down," making thumbs-down gestures and holding up red banners that read "Depose Chen."
PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), who attended the ceremony for the first time since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power six years ago, tried to lead his party members in approaching Chen during the middle of the president's speech.
Security personnel quickly moved to prevent them from approaching the president and began to remove the lawmakers, who had turned violent. Security also snatched folding chairs from the hands of the angry legislators.
DPP legislators, who were sitting between the KMT and PFP groups, became enraged by the disruption.
DPP Legislator Lin Kuo-ching (
PFP Legislator Fu Kun-chi (
The celebration's preparatory committee said it had tried to prevent any conflict by erecting a white cloth barrier separating the lawmaker's seats from the president's grandstand.
Beating the barrier
Lee Ching-hua and KMT Legislator Chen Chao-jung (
Meanwhile, protesters had gathered around the fringes of the ceremony zone, and tried to block the four lanes of Zhonghua Road to prevent Chen Shui-bian's motorcade from leaving.
Unable to tell which car the president was in, the crowd rushed onto the road from the sidewalks whenever an official-looking black car appeared.
Several of the entrapped vehicles were carrying top government officials and foreign diplomatic guests. Protesters encircled the vehicles, smacking and kicking at the cars while shouting: "A-bian step down!"
Even before the ceremony began, DPP legislators including Lin Kuo-ching and Lee Ming-hsien (李明憲) had been blocked from entering by protesters, and had to be escorted into the ceremony by police.
A middle-aged woman caused a stir when, prior to the start of the ceremony, she threatened to immolate herself by igniting a bottle of liquid in the restricted area. Police carried the woman away, and the bottle was found to contain only water.
The Presidential Office later yesterday issued a statement condemning the behavior of opposition legislators and the anti-Chen Shui-bian protesters.