Thousands join pan-blue rally against Chen

By Mo Yan-chih and Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 1

Thousands of protesters yesterday under the lead of the People First Party (PFP) took to the street calling on the president to step down and assume responsibility for the recent string of allegations of corruption involving government officials and the president's in-laws.

Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九), who had said on Friday that he would not attend, had a last-minute change of mind and headed to the rally in front of the Presidential Office after the KMT's national convention, which was also held yesterday.

With protesters waving flags, carrying signs and some throwing water balloons at President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) portrait demanding his resignation, PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) rallied supporters on Ketagelan Boulevard and said that unless Chen steps down of his own accord, the protests would continue every weekend.

Soong also took aim at the KMT's plan to launch a campaign demanding the resignation of Cabinet members, saying that recalling Chen was a better and more direct way to deal with the problem.

Dissatisfied with what they called the KMT chairman's "weakness" and "impotence," some of the protesters directed their discontent toward Ma.

A group of PFP supporters tried to barge into the KMT's headquarters, located at the end of Ketagelan Boulevard, throwing eggs and setting a truck on fire to protest the KMT's passivity in response to the PFP's recall plea.

A man who claimed to be the owner of the burnt truck said later that he set fire to his vehicle to express his disapproval of the spate of scandals allegedly involving Chen's in-laws.

Ma later appeared at the rally, swamped by reporters and demonstrators as he walked to the stage. Hecklers shouted "Ma Ying-jeou is a coward!" and threw eggs at him, while others cheered him along the way.

Addressing the crowd, Ma said he supported the idea of asking Chen to step down, either through a direct motion to recall the president or a Cabinet resignation.

"The people have lost faith and trust in the president," Ma said. "Only by [Chen's] stepping down can the truth behind the scandals be revealed."

Ma said Chen's decision to relinquish party responsibilities and let Cabinet members make their own policy choices was a ploy to let the public forget his family's "involvement in the scandals."

Ma said that during the KMT's convention, party members had reached a consensus that they would ask Chen to step down through whichever method that would prove most efficient.

Both Soong and Ma called for more pan-blue cooperation.

Soong urged protesters to gather again next weekend to continue the demonstration against Chen.

Prior to appearing at the rally, Ma, addressing the KMT's 17th national convention, said: "I strongly demand that President Chen consider resigning from his post now to win some respect and sympathy."

Setting the tone for the KMT's position once again in response to mounting pleas from party members to recall the president, Ma said both the recall motion and the proposal to have the Cabinet resign should be held back until the time is right.

"The more upset the people are, the more the KMT needs to prepare before we act as a responsible opposition party. Otherwise any failed attempt would only disappoint the general public even more," he said.

Ma's remarks won the support of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who doubted the feasibility of both the recall motion and the proposed Cabinet resignation.

But Ma's attempt to constrain party members from taking drastic moves against Chen and his government failed again, as many members urged the party to "do something" immediately in response to the public rage against Chen.

"Chairman Ma should not underestimate his influence. We believe that if he comes forward [to support the recall], public support rate will rise at least 20 percent," said KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中), who first proposed the recall motion.

Ting said he would continue to push for an impeachment, but denied that his action was a challenge to Ma's authority.

Given the high threshold required for the passage of an impeachment proceeding, several other KMT legislators, including Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) and Justin Chou (周守訓), instead proposed pushing for a Cabinet resignation during the convention.

KMT central standing committee member Lien Sheng-wen (連勝文) and KMT Legislator Yao Chiang-lin (姚江臨), on the other hand, proposed initiating a mass protest to invite the public to voice their anger against Chen.

According to KMT Spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文), Ma in the end decided to attend the rally as he felt the need to address pan-blue supporters' views. Cheng decline to go into details on the reasons behind Ma's sudden change of mind.

Rally organizers said approximately 100,000 people attended the protest, but the Zhongzheng First Police Precinct put the figure at around 10,000. They did not give details on how the figure was reached.

The rally ended at 6pm and as of press time the crowd was slowly dispersing.

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