Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Lee holds key to Chen's re-election

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former president Lee Teng-hui joins hands with members of the public during a visit to Kaohsiung Municipal Girls' Senior High School on Feb. 15.

PHOTO: LIN YA-LIH, TAIPEI TIMES

As the presidential election campaign enters its final month with the two pairs of candidates tied in a close race, former presi-dent Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) could hold the key to the success of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) re-election bid by expanding the "pro-localization" vote base.

Although he retired after 12 years as president, Lee is not resting on his laurels. After handing over the reins of power to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000 and leaving the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the same year, Lee has played an active role in civic movements promoting the establishment of a Taiwan-centric identity and "building a complete nation of Taiwan."

With the various campaign activities picking up speed in the finishing stretch to the March 20 election, the biggest event exemplifying Lee's dedication to consolidating the will of Taiwan's people and his determination to help Chen's re-election will be the upcoming "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally," which is expected to attract more than 1 million participants around the country on Saturday.

One goal of the rally, which will take the form of a 500km-long human chain, is to drive home the message that Taiwan's people reject the threat of China's 496 missiles being pointed at them. It will also commemorate the 228 Incident of Feb. 28, 1947.

The chain will start at the "peace island" north of Keelung County, where many of the victims' corpses were buried in the aftermath of the 228 tragedy.

People will join hands all the way from Keelung, down along the western coast of Taiwan across bridges, along the beach and mountains, and then down to the southern tip of Taiwan's Oluanpi (鵝鸞鼻) in Pingtung County.

"This is a historical event, because we are not only commemorating the tragedy that took place in Taiwan, we are also indicating our willingness to move forward. We are calling this event not only to protect Taiwan, but also as an event to promote reconciliation," DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said yesterday.

"We are reconciling the oppression and bitterness of ethnic conflicts of the past and moving forward in the spirit of solidarity to protect Taiwan from unwanted external threats," Hsiao said, adding that this is reflected in the event's name, because "holding hands" also means "spouse" in Taiwanese.

"It not only signifies the literal meaning of holding someone's hands, it also embodies the values of love and partnership," Hsiao said.

The idea of a "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally" was inspired by the 1989 Baltic Chain, in which 2 million people in the three Baltic countries Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia formed a 590km-long human chain to express their opposition to Russian occupation.

Following this massive event, the three countries started the process of holding referendums to vote for independence. In 1990, Lithuania became the first to declare its independence by means of a referendum, despite Russia's military threat.

Estonia and Latvia later used the same process to declare independence.

Mart Laanemets, a research fellow in the Center for Oriental Studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia and currently a Taipei-based academic, said yesterday that "the importance of the Baltic Chain is that people gained the confidence to demonstrate their willingness to pursue independence. After the human chain rally, there was no retaliation by Russian troops, and that helped us to gain the confidence to push for independence step by step."

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