Thu, Aug 10, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Presidential Office taking steps to beef up security

WAKEUP CALL A recent incident in which a man fired 13 flares into the sky in front of the Presidential Office before driving off has prompted a renewed focus on security

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

A 44-year-old man accused of firing flares in front of the Presidential Office, center, is taken into custody on July 28.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

At 10:25am on Tuesday, a mini-van blaring a loud, political song and sporting a huge placard calling for the resignation of Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) pulled up in front of the Presidential Office.

The vehicle, driven by a member of the pro-unification Patriot Association, was making a routine protest outside the Presidential Office. But the situation did not get out of hand, as the presence of watchful presidential guards dissuaded a hysterical, shouting woman from making any move to get out of the vehicle. When the traffic light turned green, the van drove off.

Security at the Presidential Office has been beefed up since July 27, when a 44-year-old man fired 13 flares into the sky in front of the building before driving off.

After the incident, the National Security Bureau and Zhongzheng First Police District formed a task force and, using witnesses' partial recollection of the shooter's licence plate number, swiftly identified Chang Han-ming (張漢明) as a suspect. The officials were then able to track Chang down and detain him on charges of endangering public safety.

However, the incident aroused concerns because of the presidential guards' inability to react quickly enough to apprehend the shooter at the scene.

While the manner in which Chang "protested" outside the Presidential Office is perhaps unique, it has become increasing popular to attack the building with automobiles.

In February this year, a drunk member of the military police accidentally crashed his car into the bushes outside the Presidential Office. He later turned himself in and was charged with endangering public safety.

In December last year, a 42-year-old man rammed into the Presidential Office with a vehicle he rented for the purpose.

A taxi driver suspected of being mentally unstable drove his vehicle into the Presidential Office in August 2003. And a similar incident occurred in June 2003, when a confirmed mentally unstable man smashed his car into the building. He was immediately arrested by presidential guards after the tires of his vehicle were punctured by a spiked security barrier.

Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) criticized last month's incident as a "breach of security" and said that the national security agencies should be held responsible.

The National Security Bureau, however, begs to differ.

Director of the bureau's Public Relations Department Liu Yen-wei (劉燕薇) told the Taipei Times that the bureau's role is simply to "coordinate" security agencies to ensure the safety of national leaders.

"While military police and law enforcement officers are responsible for the security of national leaders when they are inside the Presidential Office compound, we are in charge of their safety when they are outside the building," she said.

Ministry of National Defense Spokesman Admiral Wu Chi-fang (吳季方), disagreed, saying that there was no doubt that the National Security Bureau was responsible for protecting the country's leaders.

"It is not our responsibility to protect the president and vice president. Our job is to make sure the armed forces do their job," he said.

If the National Security Bureau was not in charge of the security of national leaders, why did it bother coordinating related agencies to ensure their safety, Wu asked.

While it is an indisputable fact that military police are stationed at the Presidential Office to offer protection to national leaders, Wu said that this was because the Minister of National Defense used to work there.

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