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Shots, Firecrackers, and assassination:

An Attempt on the lives of the President and Vice President of Taiwan.

NewsMax Wires

Saturday, Mar. 20, 2004

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Chen Shui-bian survived an assassination attempt and reassured voters about his health and Taiwan's security Friday night, hours before polls opened for an election that focused on the military threat from the Chinese mainland.

Chen was grazed in the abdomen by a bullet and Vice President Annette Lu was shot in the right knee as they rode in an open-top red jeep down a packed street on the final day of campaigning in the president's southern hometown of Tainan. Neither wound was serious.

Police said at least two shots were fired and that there may have been more than one gunman.

In a separate taped message in which she appeared with a bandage on her knee, the vice president urged voters to go to the polls Saturday.

Some analysts predicted the assassination attempt could boost Chen's chances in what had been a close race.

The shootings stunned Taiwan, and about 800 Chen supporters - some with tears in their eyes - went to his Democratic Progressive Party headquarters Friday night for an orderly demonstration.

In addition to the presidential contest, an unprecedented referendum spearheaded by Chen asks voters whether the island should increase its defenses against hundreds of Chinese missiles pointed at it.

The United States has expressed its displeasure at the referendum, along with France, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Chen has angered the Nationalist opposition and Beijing by championing a separate identity for Taiwan.

China, which claims Taiwan is part of its territory and insists the two should be unified, fears the referendum could lead to a vote on Taiwanese independence. Beijing has bitterly denounced Chen, although it toned down its attacks recently.

China is a volatile topic in Taiwanese elections. The two sides split when the communists took over the mainland in 1949. Beijing wants Taiwan to unify and has threatened to attack if Taiwan seeks a permanent split.

Beijing waited more than six hours to publicly report the shootings, and then only in a two-sentence report on its official news agency.

Taiwanese officials refused to speculate about who fired the shots.

A "deranged individual" seemed the most likely suspect, said Steve Tsang, director of Asian Studies Center at St. Anthony's College, Oxford University, adding that the referendum might have heightened tensions and pushed an emotional voter over the edge.

Tsang said it was "inconceivable" the opposition or the Chinese government could have been behind the attack.

Some TV commentators suggested Chen and Lu might have staged the shooting to win sympathy votes, but ruling party official Su Chen-chang dismissed the conspiracy theories.

"The vehicle was moving too fast, and any lapses (by the shooters) could have had seriously injured the president," Su said.

Chen enjoys street campaigning and frequently wades into big crowds. Security is relatively relaxed because there's no tradition of violence against leaders on the island. The weather was hot in Tainan, so neither Chen nor Lu was wearing a bulletproof vest, said National Security Bureau officer Hsiu Tsung-nan.

As the motorcade drove by, people were setting off strings of celebratory fireworks.

"The vice president first felt pain in her knee and she thought it was caused by firecrackers," said Chiou I-jen, secretary-general in the Presidential Office. "Then the president felt some wetness on his stomach area, and then they realized something was wrong."

After the shooting, the president "was very conscious and he walked into our emergency room," said Chan Chi-hsien, head of Chi Mei Hospital.

Chen left the hospital about five hours later and returned to Taipei.

Doctors displayed photos of a 4{-inch-long wound just under Chen's navel. Chan said the bullet didn't penetrate deeply and no internal organs were damaged.

The Nationalist Party condemned the attack.

"We were very, very shocked," said Lien, who visited Chen late Friday night. His party even offered a $300,000 reward in the shootings.

Chen has accused the Nationalist Party of involvement in a 1985 incident in which his wife, Wu Shu-chen, was run over three times by a truck, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The truck driver and party insisted it was an accident, and the driver wasn't charged.

The election has been an emotional race dominated by negative campaigning even though Lien and Chen agree on most of the basic issues involving China policy. Neither candidate favors immediate unification, and both highly distrust the Communist leadership.

Chen has been more aggressive in pushing for a Taiwanese identity separate from China, raising tensions with Beijing.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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Tim, a lot of people thought the attempt was faked, so they brought in an independent forensic pathologist to confirm he'd been grazed. The pathologist...strangely enough, Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Edited by Pat Speer
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