Thu, Dec 06, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Isolated clashes as hour nears for plaque removal

STANDOFF Relatives of victims of the 228 Incident held a vigil at the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall while the city laid roadblocks to prevent cranes from approaching

By Flora Wang and Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Protesters face off in front of Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei yesterday amid a dispute over removing the calligraphy plaque on the hall's front gate.

PHOTO: SAM YEH, AFP

There was shouting, cursing and sporadic shoving yesterday as supporters and protesters gathered at the gateway to Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, as a face-off between the central government and the Taipei City Government continued over the removal of a plaque referring to dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

The Ministry of Education obtained permission to remove the plaque, bearing the inscription dazhong zhizheng (大中至正), after Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) approved an amendment to the measures for designation and abolishment of historical sites (古蹟指定及廢止審查辦法) proposed by the Council of Cultural Affairs.

The move has triggered strong protests from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP), some of whose members are Chiang loyalists and support Taiwan's eventual unification with China.

While some family members of the victims of the 228 Incident staged a silent sit-in in support of the ministry's plan, dozens of protesters of MOE's decision launched 24-hour protests at the hall, shouting slogans and waving banners.

"We should not distort history. It is a waste of money to change the name. There are more urgent things for Chen Shui-bian's [陳水扁] government to do, such as improving people's lives," a woman protester said yesterday.

But supporters said that the change was essential.

"It's a necessary step in achieving transitional justice. Every country is doing it," a man surnamed Chen (陳) said. "It has only become such a controversy because the DPP isn't strong enough."

The amendment allowed the ministry to remove the plaque from midnight last night.

Earlier yesterday, the Taipei City Government laid roadblocks by the gateway to prevent cranes sent by the ministry from moving closer.

Taipei City Government Department of Cultural Affairs Director Lee Yung-ping (李永萍) and Department of Labor Director Su Ying-kuei (蘇盈貴) attempted to lead several workers to remove the scaffolds used by the ministry to cover the hall and scolded police deployed by the National Police Agency (NPA).

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) lambasted the central government yesterday, saying it seemed to have imposed "martial law" on the city by sending NPA officers to the hall without notifying the city government in advance.

"Deploying police without informing the city government is the same as a crackdown on the city government and residents," Hau said.

"Such behavior is the same as that of authoritarian countries when martial law is imposed," he said.

Hau was referring to the NPA dispatching some 120 police officers to surround the gateway on Tuesday night.

At a press conference, PFP Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) criticized Lee Wen-ming (黎文明), section chief of the NPA, saying that the agency should have turned down any request by Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) or other government chiefs to deploy officers at the hall for "personal or political reasons."

Lee defended his actions, saying that his agency had held meetings to discuss how to appropriately carry out all the tasks they had been assigned.

BOYCOTT THREAT

Chang, however, threatened to boycott the budget of any government agency that was involved in the removal of the inscription.

KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said at a separate setting yesterday that he would undo any removal or name change to the hall if he were elected next year.

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