Feb 29, 2004

Taiwan: over 1.5 million link hands for Peace and Democracy

More than a million and a half people gathered on Saturday 28th February "to protect Taiwan" and "strive for peace and democracy"

More than a million and a half people gathered yesterday from north to south under a sweltering sun to express to the world their desire "to protect Taiwan" and "strive for peace and democracy" in the biggest demonstration ever held on the island.

Former president Lee Teng-hui , 83, described the moment at 2:28 p.m. when he, President Chen Shui-bian and at least two million other people in Taiwan lifted and joined hands as the "most moving moment" of his life.

For his part, Chen declared that "as a Taiwanese, I feel incomparably proud."

The long-planned "Hand in Hand to Protect Taiwan" human chain, which formed and dispersed virtually without a hitch, was timed to mark the 57th anniversary of the February 28th Incident of 1947 when over 10,000 Taiwanese were killed by Kuomintang military forces suppressing a spontaneous uprising.

Mention of the incident was a taboo during the period of martial law rule, which was lifted by the KMT government in July 1987, and long a focus of opposition to the KMT and a source of resentment between the "mainlanders" who came to Taiwan with the Chiang Kai-shek regime and the Taiwanese victims.

But the atmosphere in Miaoli, where the keynote ceremony of the event was held, and the rest of the island was far more like a democratic carnival than a political rally.

Over 10,000 people began to pour into a field near the Taiwan Fertilizer factory in Miaoli City and were entertained by performances including indigenous Bunung singers, a young Hakka dance troupe and flamenco dancers interspersed with simulcasts of activities in other cities and counties.

Lee and Chen met there at around 2:15 p.m. after separately driving to the site in uncovered red jeeps, waving to lines of people several persons deep who were waving DPP and Chen campaign flags along the entire route.

Standing with Chen and Lee on the stage, backed by the slogan "Ethnic Solidarity, Hands Linked to Protect Taiwan," were representatives from all of Taiwan's Hokhlo, Hakka, mainlander, aborigine and foreign ethnic groups, including a woman from Changsha, China, who is married to a Taiwanese.

The emotional peak of the event was reached when Chen and Lee, together with well over a million people across the island, joined and lifted their hand after a one-minute nationally broadcast countdown at 2:28 p.m..

The participants, many of whom were in tears, shouted slogans "love peace, oppose missiles," "unity among ethnic groups," and "join hands to protect Taiwan."

"The Taiwan people have used the most simple, solemn and sacred method of hands linked in hand to express to the world their resolve to protect Taiwan's sovereignty and democratic development, economic prosperity and lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait," Chen said.

"As one of the Taiwan people, I know my the feelings in my heart are the same as you, incomparably proud!" Chen declared.

Chen said that by linking and lifting their hands, the Taiwan people had used their two hands to "form a democratic Great Wall" and "let the world see the collective will and identity of the Taiwan people to protect Taiwan."

"People from Taiwan's cities, countryside, fishing ports and even compatriots from the United States, without regard for party affiliation, ethnicity or political stands, are holding each other in a powerful grip with the world as witness," Chen said.

Chen said that the Taiwan people had used "the softest and most joyful method to show to the world their unity and common desire to strive for peace."

Chen expressed the hope that the participants "can disseminate this force and on March 20, use democracy and reason to cast two votes" in the scheduled peace referendum to be held in tandem with the presidential election the same day.

Lee described the moment as the "most moving in Taiwan history " in his life and as the time when "the Taiwanese people reaffirmed their national identity and refusal of China."

"This is the power of the people and Taiwan's hope," said Taiwan's first locally-born head of state.

After the brief speeches by Chen and Lee, the event concluded with a singing of "Believe in Taiwan," the main theme song of Chen's re-election campaign.

DPP Secretary-General Chang Chun-hsiung related that "in the past, February 28 was a collective scar, but now we can turn this wound into a collective force for ethic harmony and to cherish Taiwan and peace and leave behind the past shadows."

Chang told the Taiwan News that while yesterday's event took inspiration from the two million person long human chain in the three Baltic Countries in 1989, "our focus is different."

"They aimed to let the world know about their drive for freedom and independence, but we are doing this to foster internal unity and ethnic harmony and show to China our desire for peace and resolution to defend our democracy and sovereignty," Chang said.

The DPP secretary-general acknowledged that the event could not be entirely separated from the presidential campaign.

But Chang said that the organizers had been asked to ensure that no campaign flags or banners were on the stage and added that the invitation issued to the pan-blue presidential and vice presidential ticket of Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan and People First Party Chairman James Soong had been "sincerely made."

"We invited them as a gesture to promote internal unity," said Chang, who added that the two were apparently otherwise engaged.

(Taiwan News)