Standing up for peace

In what is being called the largest protest to ever be held in a single city in Taiwan, around 1 million people turned out on the streets to protest China's `Anti-Secession' Law

By Jewel Huang and Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Sun, Mar 27, 2005 - Page 1

Around 1 million people, led by political leaders including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), yesterday took to the streets of Taipei to protest China's "Anti-Secession" Law, which sanctions the use of "non-peaceful means" against Taiwan.

Participants from around the country expressed their abhorrence of China's threats and their hope for peace, saying that the Taiwanese people's voice should be heard by the whole world.

Launched by the Taiwan Democratic Alliance for Peace, a group made up of 34 civil groups and over 500 societies, the march yesterday created a record turnout for a demonstration in a single city in the history of Taiwan.

According to the Associated Press, about 1 million people took part in the march, while organizers said about 3,500 tour buses carrying participants coming from around the country poured into the capital city. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), one of the organizers, said that more than 1 million people took part in the march yesterday.

Former president Lee yesterday marched on route No. 7, with the "Anti-Aggression Team," which was organized by pro-independence groups. He walked with the marchers for about 2km along Hoping E Road near Da-An Forest Park (大安森林公園). Seemingly in a good mood, Lee smiled and greeted people the entire way, stressing that he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.

The massive demonstration started from 10 different places in Taipei City at 2:30pm, with each route given a different name and a different designation to symbolize confronting the 10 clauses in the Chinese law. In order to control the speed of the 10 teams of marchers, the organizers employed Global Positioning System technology to make sure the procession did not descend into chaos.

No major accidents or conflicts were reported yesterday.

Along the way, marchers chanted slogans like "Defend the freedom of Taiwan" and "Taiwan is not part of China" as they streamed through the city. Many people brought their pets along, costuming dogs with cloth and balloons bearing written slogans condemning China's legislation.

At about 5:15pm, President Chen stepped onto the stage to chant the slogans "protect democracy, love peace and defend Taiwan" and to sing the song She's our baby with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who waved green flags and placards.

Chen did not make a speech, as he had previously vowed, and no major political figures delivered speeches at the rally.

SONGS OF FREEDOM

Before Chen's appearance on stage, the atmosphere climaxed when the leaders of civic groups and political leaders led the participants in singing songs in chorus in various languages to highlight the people of Taiwan's hope for peace and democracy.

As the melodious notes of She's our baby, sung in Hoklo, Friends and We are family, sung in Mandarin, Hakka's true colors, sung in Hakka, and We shall overcome sung in English, wafted through the warm air of the spring afternoon, many of the people singing had tears in their eyes.

Although the participants in the march were of many different ages, ethnic groups and nationalities, they all said that they did not approve of China's threatening Taiwan with the Anti-Secession Law.

"The purpose of the march is for us to come out and say aloud that we are firmly opposed to China's Anti-Secession Law, and that we want peace and we don't want war," said a pharmacist surnamed Yeh (), who works in the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital "Today's march also symbolizes a non-violent movement and shows our love of the land."

A 63 year-old retired lawyer surnamed Chu () said that he could not stand China's ambition to swallow up Taiwan, saying that taking to the streets was the least he could do for the land he lives in.

"We don't accept China's military threats and we won't allow this law to become a long-term menace to our country," Chu said. "China's threatening to deal with Taiwan's independence using `non peaceful means' only exposes the Communist Party's vicious nature."

Frenchman Thomas Lecoq, 23, one of the numerous foreigners who participated in the march, praised the magnificent scene of yesterday's protest, saying he was touched by the people of Taiwan's passion and sincerity.

"It is so beautiful and impressive. I totally support Taiwan's appeals and support Taiwan's democracy," Lecoq said. "I think China's law is bad and Taiwan absolutely has to say aloud it rejects China's rule."

THE PRESIDENT

Realizing his promise to take part in "the historic sacred moment ... and to march with and stand alongside the people of Taiwan," President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday joined the hundreds of thousands of marchers in the rally, marking the first time in Taiwan's history that a serving head of state has taken part in a street demonstration.

Starting from his residence at approximately 3:05pm, Chen appeared at the intersection along one of the protest routes between Renai Road and Hangzhou S Road.

Accompanied by his daughter, Chen Hsing-yu (陳幸妤), his son-in-law Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘), and his two-year-old grandson, Chao Yi-an (趙翊安), the president's appearance at the march instantly drew a loud cheer and commotion from the high-spirited protesters.

Chen's appearance also caused brief chaos among the media, particularly among photojournalists, who began walking backwards to try and get a shot of the president.

First lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), suffering from a cold, did not take part in the march on the advice of her doctors. Chen's three-month-old grandson, Chao Chien-ting (趙翊庭), was also absent from the rally, as was Chen's son Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), who is currently studying at the University of California, Berkeley.

Holding an inflatable baton in each hand, Chen, beaming with smiles, chanted "oppose aggression, love peace and protect Taiwan" and waved to bystanders many of whom called out "President Chen! President Chen!" in excitement.

Accompanying the president in the march were the Presidential Office's chief aide-de-camp, Major-General Shen Po-chih (申伯之), Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成), convener of the Presidential Office's medical task force, Huang Fang-yen (黃芳彥), and National Security Bureau (NSB) Director-General Hsueh Shih-ming (薛石民).

SECURITY

In a bid to ensure the security of Chen and members of the First Family, the high-profile group was also flanked by some 500 security personnel and plainclothes bodyguards. For security reaons, the detailed times and locations of Chen's appearance in the march were not made available to the press until two hours before his appearance, at 3pm.

Chen has in the past blasted China's Anti-Secession Law as a "law of aggression" that sabotages cross-strait and regional stability. He said on Thursday that he would take part in the protest to "shout `we want democracy, love and peace' to the other side of the Strait."

After marching for about 25 minutes, the president arrived at Ketagelan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and, once again, drew thunderous cheering from the hundreds of thousands of protesters who were already at the site.

Chen then left the scene, before reappearing at 5:15pm, taking the stage alongside the 34 conveners of the event, chanting "oppose aggression, love peace and protect Taiwan."

Keeping his word that he would not deliver a speech at the rally, Chen merely chanted slogans and sang songs along with the crowds.