Tue, Dec 11, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Hall's reopening draws crowds

MIXED RESPONSE Some criticized the decision to change the plaza's name to `Liberty Square,' but others hailed the move as a break from the past

By Jenny W. Hsu and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

A woman shouts for President Chen Shui-bian to step down as she stands in front of a group of Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers who were planning to give flowers to Ministry of Education Secretary-General Chuang Kuo-jung at the ministry in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: CNA

National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (台灣民主紀念館) attracted hordes of tourists and curious onlookers at its opening yesterday morning. While the name change to "Liberty Square" (自由廣場) drew a handful of protests, most visitors had positive comments about the government's decision to change the hall's name from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂).

After being sealed off to the public since Thursday, the Democracy Hall made its official debut at 10am yesterday, with its newly decorated arch and brand-new name plaque.

Ministry of Education Secretary-General Chuang Kuo-jung (莊國榮), who oversaw the project, said the renaming of an area that was originally designed to worship dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was long overdue.

"Foreign tourists can now truly experience Taiwan's transitional justice," he said.

The renaming project was part of the administration's push to purge the nation of all remnants of Chiang. In March, Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) ordered the removal of a Chiang statue from the city's cultural center. Seven months earlier, Chiang Kai-shek International Airport had been renamed the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

Chuang said no decision had been made yet on the 6.3m statue of Chiang inside the hall or the signature blue-trimmed white wall surrounding the 240,000m2 park. However, there has been talk of relocating the statue and demolishing the wall.

One elderly woman, who identified herself as Wang, bemoaned the government's hasty decision to rename the site, but said it would not deter her from doing her daily exercises at the plaza.

One supporter said that renaming the plaza "Liberty Square" was most fitting because it symbolized that the nation had been "completely liberated from the grasp of the evil Chiang regime."

Several Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers went to the ministry yesterday morning to commend Chuang for his leadership in overseeing the project.

Chuang has become a household name because of his snappy comebacks and caustic remarks about the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its top leaders, including calling presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) "sissies," "gay-like" and "wimps."

Chuang also ignored Taipei City's Department of Labor's lawsuit against him and the ministry for allegedly vandalizing a historic site, saying he had nothing to fear because he did not break the law by following an order from the Council of Cultural Affairs.

Earlier yesterday, Su Ying-kuei (蘇盈貴), director of the city's Department of Labor, conducted inspections at the memorial hall.

Su said the city government had sent an official document on Thursday urging the ministry to "improve the scaffolding" covering the hall and to halt further work.

However, the ministry resumed work on the hall without obtaining the city government's go-ahead, Su told reporters.

Su said the city government had filed lawsuits against Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝), Chuang and other personnel involved in removing the inscription from the gateway on charges of interference with official business and violation of the Criminal Code.

"The Taipei City Government will never allow anyone to override the law. We will punish anyone who disregards the law," Su said.

"We hope everyone can understand that no one can override the law, not even the president," he said.

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