Sat, Dec 08, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Protests fail to stop removal of inscription

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Construction workers remove the Chinese characters that include the name of dictator Chiang Kai-shek at the entry arch to the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: WALLY SANTANA, AP

Emotions continued to run high at the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall yesterday as protesters and supporters traded angry volleys while work on changing the inscription on the hall's entry arch proceeded. The original four Chinese characters, dazhong zhizheng (大中至正) were removed from the white arch yesterday afternoon after six-and-a-half hours.

Supporters applauded, while protesters booed and jeered outside a barricade of barbed wires when the final character, zheng (), was peeled off at 5:26pm.

The installation of the new inscription, "Liberty Square" (自由廣場), is expected to be completed this afternoon, a ranking official from the Ministry of Education said yesterday.

The Taipei City Government opposes plans to alter the inscription and has claimed jurisdiction over the hall. But the central government argues that decisions made by the Cabinet-level Council of Cultural Affairs trumps any made on a municipal-level regarding the site.

The city government has refused to back down.

"All workers and police officers who assist in destroying the inscription face a minimum of five years' imprisonment for vandalizing a historic site. Stop your work at once. You are being used by your superior," Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元), commissioner of the city government's Law and Regulation Committee, said repeatedly through a portable speaker while watching the crane ascend up to the arch.

Lee Yong-ping (李永萍), director of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, slapped a NT$1 million (US$31,000) fine on the Democracy Hall for tampering with the plaque and the inscription without the city government's approval.

Aside from changing the inscription on the entry arch, the ministry unveiled last night a new plaque bearing the characters minzhu jinianguan (民主紀念館), or Democracy Hall, that is expected be installed on the blue-roofed mausoleum in the next few days, the ministry's secretary-general, Chuang Kuo-jung (莊國榮), said.

The original plaque, which bear the characters "Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall" (中正紀念堂) will be taken down after being separated into 15 smaller pieces.

Chuang said if it suited the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), he was willing to personally foot the bill to have another set of the same inscription made and hung up at KMT headquarters or at the home of the its presidential hopeful, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

The project's chief technician, Tseng Yi-ping (曾一平), from Do and Find Engineering Consultants Co, said that workers would sand down the surface and paint over the residue before installing the new characters today.

But Tseng could not confirm when the plaque would be installed because the city government's Department of Labor has refused to issue a permit to certify the safety of the construction site.

Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) likened the hall to an "umbilical cord" that connects the pan-blue supporters to dictator Chiang Kai-shek's regime. He said that although the government does not demand the cord be severed, it urges the supporters and the city government to strive for full democracy.

The removal of the inscription yesterday was marked by intermittent clashes, but these were mostly verbal.

More than 600 police officers were dispatched to maintain order.

Supporters called protesters "idiotic leftover garbage of an authoritarian regime" while the protesters screamed at pan-green devotees to "go home and eat themselves."

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