Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - Page 1 News List

President Chen loses `soft coup' appeal

SAY IT LOUD A 2005 ruling fined the president NT$1 and ordered him to apologize to the KMT's Lien Chan and PFP Chairman James Soong in three local newspapers

AGENCIES , TAIPEI

The Taiwan High Court upheld yesterday a Taipei District Court ruling ordering President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to apologize to his two rivals in the 2004 presidential election for insinuating that they had attempted to stage a "soft coup" after losing the election.

In 2005, the Taipei district court ruled that Chen had damaged the "reputation and integrity" of former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and his running mate People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).

The district court also fined the president NT$1 -- the symbolic amount the plaintiffs had sought -- and ordered him to run half-page apologies in three local newspapers.

Chen could appeal the high court ruling in the supreme court, a court official said.

The president caused an uproar in 2004 when he said in public that the two opposition parties had tried to topple his government through a "soft coup" using mass rallies after his re-election.

"We're not talking about a military coup. It's a so-called `soft coup.' They did not actually mobilize tanks and cannons," Chen had said.

During the second trial, Chen's lawyer produced what he claimed to be "evidence" substantiating the coup remark -- a written report by former minister of national defense Lee Jye (李傑), then chief of general staff, to the president.

Lee said in the report that Tsao Wen-shen (曹文生), a former strategic adviser to the president, came to his office on March 24, 2004, to suggest that he "feign sickness" to create social disquiet.

Lee also said that former chief of general staff Lo Pen-li (羅本立) asked him to do the same, although he rejected both requests. The lawyer claimed that the requests were aimed at putting pressure on Chen's administration.

The high court ruled yesterday that Lee's report should not be categorized as a "formal document." It also noted that the report was written on Nov. 25, 2005, or later and the president could not have had it in mind when he made the "soft coup" statement in November 2004.

Moreover, the high court said that as Lee's report did not say that the two officials were making the requests on behalf of Lien and Soong, it did not constitute proof of a "soft coup" attempt linked to them.

The court said in the ruling that the president had damaged the reputation of Lien and Soong.

For weeks after the vote, which Chen won by just 0.22 percent, tens of thousands of opposition supporters held at times round-the-clock protests outside his office calling the election unfair.

They said that an election-eve shooting that slightly injured Chen and his running mate Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) had affected the outcome of the poll.

The opposition parties said the shooting was staged by the ruling party in an attempt to win sympathy votes.

Chen declined to comment on the court ruling, while the Presidential Office said it would not comment on the matter until it had received the ruling in written form.

An official at the Presidential Office, who asked not to be named, said that Chen would let his legal team handle the matter and would likely appeal.

Chen's defense attorney, Lin Chih-hao (林志豪), yesterday said that his team would file an appeal.

The appeal must be filed within 20 days of receiving the ruling in writing.

Additional reporting by Ko Shu-ling

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